PR’s Top Pros Talk… Tips for Brand Growth in Changing Environments – Alex Slater
Alex Slater, CEO and Founder, Clyde Group
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: ALEX SLATER
DOUG: It’s been more than a year since George Floyd was murdered, causing massive social disruption, but also a lot of disruption and choices that had to be made at companies that engaging on issues. So, Alex, you’ve got some information about a new survey about where CEOs are on this important debate. Should they be jumping in? Should their company be getting involved or not? Where do they stand?
ALEX: The bottom line is they stand very much like the country. They’re divided 50-50. Something I found really striking is that according to a recent survey, 40 percent of the C Suite thinks diversity and equity is a waste of time and resources in their companies. Thirty four percent of their staffers agree, by the way. So, you know, and last month, a poll of Fortune 500 CEOs asked if they should hold back or speak their opinions on social issues. They divided straight down the line. What does that mean? I mean, breaking it out. Number one, calling diversity, equity and inclusion and communication around it a waste of time for a CEO to say that, especially a Fortune 500 CEO, shows a lack of business acumen. And there’s multiple studies that show that investing in diversity, equity and inclusion actually increases employee engagement, profitability, creativity. So, you know, just from a dollars and cents point of view, I’m very surprised to hear that. And we like to work with clients to avoid that sort of scenario, though frankly, I haven’t encountered it very much. So there’s literally a payoff. That’s number one, separately and slightly more in the gray area is this idea of engaging on social justice issues. And that might be George Floyd. It might be violence against Asian-Americans. You know, we’re divided 50-50 on that as the country is. I will say I cannot imagine the progress or at least movement will be made. Can you imagine a company now that wouldn’t stand up against anything that is anti-gay, for example? It’s pretty unimaginable, right? So progress seems to move in one direction.
DOUG: The politics are divided, as you allude to. Are there certain types of companies that should it’s less important for them to engage? I mean, one of the things we’re seeing, especially among millennials, is more of a tolerance for these types of more open engagement and for companies moving forward into the future. I’m guessing you share like me that you should have an awareness and should include a focus on creating more of a diverse workforce, but maybe other sort of guidelines for how quickly they should jump in or not.
ALEX: Yeah, I mean, authenticity, believability and concrete action are the guidelines with action standing the first. There’s very real diversity washing going on across the country. And that, by the way, is a in no small part due to our industry of communications. Right. We jump very quickly to what we know, which is communicating to audiences instead of starting with the fundamentals of being able to create a plan that is real and that you can report on from that before you communicate well before you communicate out is really important as it is communicating to internal audiences and getting their buy in before you go out to the world.
DOUG: And that really also creates improved workplace culture is also debates around that of how important that is. You obviously place a large importance both for yourself and your own organization as well as the companies you advise. How do you move forward to improve a culture?
ALEX: I can speak for us. Our vision from the beginning of a different I got my start on the founding teams of two different really well respected agencies and loved the experience in both, but also noticed the differences in culture. And that was the foundation for Clyde group, whose vision, our vision is to be the best agency to work with and the best agency to work for. That’s a really broad vision. So what we wanted to back it up with in order to create a really clear, inspirational culture was what we call our seven principles. Those are ways that our team members are encouraged to show up for work, to interact with each other, interact with clients, create work product, and they range the seven principles from some really obvious but fundamental ones, such as promoting the first thing.
DOUG: I’m going to let you jump into those in a moment. But I think it’s also important to get into the idea that it’s not necessarily in conflict to be a great place to work for clients to work with and also to be a better place to work at. Often it’s been seen that those are in conflict for the best client service. We’ve got to work everyone to the bone and they’re feeling threatened. Stress and pressure. Those don’t always align. And then I’ll let you jump into those principles.
ALEX: And I’m glad you brought that up, because I think it is a fundamental tension and I think it is a false dichotomy. But in the majority of minds of those that might be my age, so let’s call it optimistically mid career, that might be my age or above. They learn the different way. They learn by being, you know, by being oppressed and being told they had to work till nine thirty pm at least to move forward. So it really calls and people talk about how millennials have to adapt. I think it’s us that have to adapt to the next generation .
DOUG: For sure, and I think that’s been in the news. JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, with their firm requirements that employees have to come back to the office full time when it’s not really for everybody, if you’re fortunate enough to have that flexibility where you can perform your job from a different location as well as if you’re on location and that sort of gets tied in with the principles you operate in.
ALEX: Yeah, it’s funny, you mentioned JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. I think one of the things that struck me in their internal communications around that was the rigidity with which they proposed these rules, I think. And what we’re advising our clients as they’re coming back to work is make clear that this is a moment of iteration there. You were listening to this. You will adapt policies and outlook as it goes along. No one has the answers here, so they shouldn’t communicate that they do.
DOUG: Great. And why don’t you dive into those principles, took a little parenthetical break, but I think you covered some important staff within that.
ALEX: Happy to. So Clyde Group’s vision is to be the best agency to work with and the best agency to work for. We’re really excited to be validated recently. It’s the best agency or the best agency in America actually by Provoke. What I will say is this that is really broad and that people, especially newer generations, want very clear inspirational guidelines and culture to thrive at work. So we develop principles in consultation with management consulting experts, with our team critically. And there are seven principles. Our guides to how people should show up at work. They should interact with clients with each other. What work product is our best practice. They range from really obvious ones, such as be committed to diversity of opinion, as well as hiring to less obvious ones, such as a culture of relentless and obvious feedback. Up, down and across the organization. I try to ask for feedback on a regular basis, at least every couple of days, and that’s a lot to enact. The final one that I’d really point out that I think is interesting for the whole industry is focusing on outcomes versus outputs. It is really easy for us in the communications industry to start to get caught up in our production of paper, press release here, Op-ed there, LinkedIn post here. It doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t come together as a strategy and most importantly, achieve an outcome for the client.
DOUG: Right. It’s funny in the days when media relations were so primary, if you would, as someone says, we made eighty seven calls, well did anyone do the story? You know, that’s far more important. Not a great point you made is the importance of sharing feedback up, sideways, and down the food chain. Normally, it’s thought of as something for a manager to do to the team. But people in leadership posts like yourself and myself who are fortunate enough to be that, we often want feedback from others around and that’s just as important for being effective. How do you create that culture where people will manage up, so to speak?
ALEX: That’s a great question. It’s not easy and it definitely doesn’t come naturally to particular people, particularly to people who are early on in their career. I hear that a lot. So part of it is onboarding, but part of it is also acknowledging what we know from the data science, which is one size does not fit all when it comes to receiving and giving feedback. So being able to embrace the good feedback can be a two minute conversation after a client meeting. Saying, I would approach this maybe a little differently to an email before a client meeting being like, you know, focus on your client’s strengths to a formal 30 minute sit down at the end of the week. That’s like, “let’s review the different aspects of your written product this week” as examples, of course, alongside with a formalized twice yearly review process that is much more in depth.
DOUG: That’s great stuff. And I think you’ve shared some great information for the audience. I know my team will take it to heart and I expect to be ripped with feedback as soon as the team gets a chance to view this segment. Thanks so much for your contributions.
ALEX: And if you have any feedback for me, I’d love to hear it.