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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: Tim Johnson
DOUG: In this episode, we’re going to take a look at working with smaller startups and how you can get the best results for them in that scenario. So, Tim, what are some of your top tips?
TIM: Well, I love working with startups because the people have all of this energy. They’re often technically focused, and so they really need help and know they need help. So that’s creating a great environment to work with. What we focus on is trying to get a lot of the basics in place. So, for example, many of these companies have never talked to media. So we obviously are very focused on getting media going and getting them trained, getting them prepared, working on their key messages, working on how they present themselves, and then getting a lot of the other basics going. Getting their social media going and getting their speakers program going, getting a decent content development program going. So for many of them, just getting the basics off the ground is a big step.
DOUG: So we’ve spoken to people at larger agencies and being at a smaller agency yourself. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of that in the process? I assume being nimble is one of them, but how does that work to gain the startup’s confidence for you?
TIM: Well, nimble is definitely one, we can move very quickly and they move very quickly. Sometimes within a matter of weeks, the business model that they told us about at first is in the trash and they’ve got a totally new one. And we need to respond to that quickly. I think something that small agencies bring, as I have about 40 years of experience, and a company with a budget of five to ten thousand dollars a month wouldn’t get anywhere near somebody with my level of experience at a big agency.
DOUG: That makes a lot of sense. One of the things that you pride yourself on is trying to work within those smaller budgets, but still give them larger budget impact, especially in the startup world where there might be a charismatic leader, or so we hope. But it’s typically the founder who’s involved when you’re in startup mode, how do you try and be a force multiplier for the budget?
TIM: Well, we try to outthink and be more creative than our competitors with bigger budgets. And for most of our clients, our clients are the smaller ones in the competition. We’re competing against companies that are often very well-funded. So as an example, we went to a media event before CES, a lot of work for one client. One of their competitors was there, had a big space. We had a teeny space. So what we did is we brought in three TV monitors and had an NCAA tournament on the whole time.
And so our booth was packed the entire evening because all of the reporters would rather be watching the NCAA than being a media event. And because it was media, only every business card that we scanned was on target for us.
DOUG: That’s a good creative example. One of the other things that can be challenging for a smaller company is keeping talent. Right now, it’s very competitive for talent. You’re in the Oakland area. While the whole pandemic is an extremely uneven impacts on communications in the startup space, it’s sort of forced a lot of startups to come forward with new ideas, new thinking. How do you go about keeping talent, recruiting talent and keeping them happy?
TIM: We do a few things, and we try to create an environment that will make them want to come in the first place and stay. And I think about when I was an account executive, what did I want in my environment and what did I get that I liked and what did I get that I didn’t like? And that goes to everything from where you’re office is…
DOUG: What are some of the likes for the employee of today who’s starting out and maybe they’re disliked and you’re trying to avoid. So that people watching this can say, “hey, we’ve got to avoid doing this, Oops, I’ve done that.” I’ll give them some recognition.
TIM: Well, it’s even where your office space is. So I’ve always had office space near Market Street in San Francisco, because it’s where all of the BART lines and bus lines congregate. So it makes it easy for people to get to work. So that’s a very basic thing. Another is we have very personalized training. So every person has an individualized training plan that we update on a quarterly basis. And then in a more general sense, every day I’m thinking about our value proposition as an agency and what are we doing for our people.
DOUG: That’s interesting, that the individual training program you don’t hear a lot about, because people sometimes organizations have their training system, if you will, that they’re trying to fit people into. What are some of the factors you take into consideration when you do the individualized training?
TIM: Well, I look at the accounts that they’re on and I look at the accounts that they want to be on, and I’m very focused on where they want to take their career. So I had a person who came in and at first wanted to focus on media relations and writing, and we were able to accommodate that. And then a year into her tenure, I said I really wanted to get into Web design. So we sent her to Web design school on Friday afternoons and we let her use our website as a guinea pig while she was learning.
DOUG: And it really seems like having engaged employees who would appreciate that kind of flexibility as their interests evolved, that might show up for an organization in dealing with the clients because it’s a client. You want people who are passionate, fired up and really focused.
TIM: Yes, exactly. And we also try to treat them like adults. So if they need to take two hours to go to a doctor’s appointment, we don’t track whether they do the extra two hours at some other time. We just assume that they’ll make it up when they when they need to make it up.
DOUG: Tim, in our remaining time, could you sort of give some feedback, some free advice, for people or CEOs at startups about some of the most important things they need to be thinking about that they might not currently be thinking about.
TIM: I think they need to think about investing in marketing and devoting the time that’s necessary to make it successful. A good agency will pick and choose when they need the CEO. But when they say they need the CEO, he or he really needs to appear. And if you look at successful startups, they’re often the ones where the CEO is willing to do that.
DOUG: You talk about how talented the younger people coming in on are your team and how to learn from them. It’s just a good thing. I feel that I didn’t have to compete with them when I got out of school because that would have been really challenging. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas.
TIM: Thanks for having me.