Michael Kempner, Founder & CEO of MikeWorldWide, believes that caring is the antidote to cancel culture. He offers insights into how brands can maintain a positive reputation in the current environment. Michael also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing crisis communications as an ongoing strategy rather than a reactive tool or an afterthought.
>> More episodes here
About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MICHAEL KEMPNER
DOUG: Since 2008, I’ve been speaking with Michael Kempner, asking him to look into his crystal ball about what’s ahead in the world of PR and communications. I’ve been doing it on video, so I’m really glad he’s back again. Michael, thanks so much.
MICHAEL: Thanks, Doug. Great to be here and great to see you.
DOUG: So, what are some of the changes, surprises, or pieces that PR people really need to be preparing for?
MICHAEL: Well again, we live in a totally unpredictable time. If you had told me a year ago, we spoke that the central topics would be still very much the same – COVID, Donald Trump, and the erosion of democracy, were the topics then and to a large degree, the topics now, but the big piece that was part of 2021 and I think we’ll leave it accelerate into 2022 is that we live in the era of reputation, where reputation, purpose, how people see you in the world, how your employees see you, how you consumers see you, is your most important asset.
DOUG: Yeah, and those are becoming more intertwined than ever before. You can’t sort of have different messages to different constituencies. How do you navigate around that, so a firm has a consistent message that plays with everyone that they’re working with or at least a sufficient number?
MICHAEL: From the disparities of COVID to extreme weather, to the Great Resignation, to the largest social justice movement in a generation, I truly believe that caring has moved from a feeling to a market maker. In an era of reputation, we judge companies and brands by more than what they make or say, we judge them by how they show up in the world. This makes caring the most enduring form of relevance and the most valuable form of currency we have. Predicted on trust and proven by action, caring is the catalyst for all positive change. In this era where all the power is with the consumer, all the power is with the employee, in an era of diminished labor and again, this Great Reassessment, reputation is everything. And companies that don’t understand that, don’t understand that at their peril, which really should mean the golden age of public relations. That’s what we do. We help companies find and communicate their purpose. We help companies understand and manage their reputations, and we make sure that they show up in the world as a caring, considerate, important organization.
DOUG: Yeah, so for organizations that haven’t necessarily been that or been defined that way in public perception, are there some keys to going about changing and communicating what they’re doing, whether they’re turning a new page, or they just haven’t effectively communicated that previously?
MICHAEL: We actually believe that caring is the antidote to cancel culture, but it has to be genuine, it has to be real, has to be authentic. What is a company’s purpose? How do they communicate it both internally and externally? It’s really a mutual contract between your employees and companies, consumers and brands, societies and business. When you show people you care, they will too. They will advocate, invest, share, buy, your product. So, very much what you do today will not only have an impact on you today, but will be long remembered into the future. It does not mean you don’t have to have a high-quality product or service, of course it does, but it’s no longer just enough to have a high-quality service or a product. People will determine whether they want to work for you, or whether they want to buy your product very much by your reputation, something that we started calling the “corpsumer” in 2018, but in those days, there was a segment. Today, it’s how the world has changed. The “corpsumer” really is the intersection of business, consumer, and society, and what motivates people to act on behalf of or equally important to advocate against. It’s not just about finding fans. It’s also making sure that you don’t find those detractors that will advocate against you as much as they will for you.
DOUG: Right, and in this world, it’s very hard to prevent the sort of negative advocates. There’re going to be people there who have an ax to grind. And it seems sort of the communication methodologies out there allow small percentages of troublemakers or people who have had legitimate negative experiences more powerful. How do you try and mitigate that for the clients you work with?
MICHAEL: We take a full ecosystem approach that’s at the juncture of brand and reputation, informed about what your audiences care about most. You can never stop every negative comment or a disgruntled employee, but if you come to work every day, and do the right thing, and are true to your purpose, it goes a long way to people understanding and believing your story than that of a random third party. The other thing that companies need to understand is crisis communications is not an afterthought, it’s not a separate department. Today crisis communications is always on, always engaged. Your consumers are always engaged, your employees are always engaged. We live in an always engaged society, an always engaged world. And so, crisis communications has to be incorporated into everything you do and to really understand what are the potential downsides, and how you can work to prevent them.
DOUG: Yeah, in the PR industry itself, and we’ve been fortunate enough to experience, sort of the companies that were doing things well before the pandemic seemed to have grown to the point where they’re having some of the best years they’ve ever had. Clients are also experiencing, the ones doing well, the need to get more people. What are you seeing, obviously, the caring component is a way to attract employees, and lack of will spur people from wanting to leave your organization, but when you’re in growth mode, what’s some advice you have about how do you attract new employees because not just maintaining a level, it’s actually growing your team to service the work you have?
MICHAEL: Not to date myself or date you, the fact is, if you kind of almost look at a circle, a diagram, where we focus on salary and title, we lived to work. Today, work is very important to them, but work is part of their life, it’s not their life. And employers, particularly those who grew up in a different era, really need to understand that, with things like mental health and self-care are paramount. Title, salary, enjoying what they work on, enjoying their peers, are all critically important. So, that that pie chart that would show title over here and salary over there is now many different pieces: self-care, mental care, enjoying what you do, liking your co-workers. It is a much larger, compensation, it is a much more dissected pie today, and people have to understand that you need to lead with all pieces of that pie and no longer look at things like mental health as something that separate, everything you do today has to be through the lens of self-care through mental health. In many ways, people work to fund their side gigs. They work to define what they really want to do, so how do you make your organization a place that understands all of those different pieces of the pie and delivers that full employee experience, because it’s very different, almost the antithesis of how you and I grew up, and how we were motivated.
DOUG: That’s really interesting you say that, and we’re a 17 person company as of now. So, even through COVID, we have full team meetings at least one every day, just so people get a chance to talk about what’s going on in their lives and share and learn what other people are doing, because being separate, being in a hybrid work model, it’s difficult to do. What are some of the tools, techniques, and approaches you’re using and recommending to clients to help mitigate sort of the changes in how we work? I mean, compounded with the changes in how people want to experience work as part of their life, those are two huge changes that have really taken off the last two years.
MICHAEL: You cannot communicate enough. So, how do you communicate through the appropriate channels, through the appropriate tools on a regular basis? How do you make sure you’ve got important two-way feed mechanisms? How can your employees truly have an impact in their future, in their work environment? And make sure you’re listening and make sure you give the appropriate feedback, and again, listen to them. When we talk about new incentives and new benefits, my first answer is, ask people, is this what they want? It’s pretty simple, people will tell you. But I would say that a purpose, authenticity, communication are the three most important things, along with reasonable work hours, fair pay, and treating employees the way that you’d want to be treated.
DOUG: And I think an important point here is that creating that environment of trust, so you can have that relationship with them. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas, definitely a lot for people to think about as we move into 2022 and see what the future holds. I’m sure I’ll be talking about that next year. Thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAEL: Doug, great to see you. And here’s to a COVID free 2022, and I look forward to seeing you soon.