We kick off our third week of live interviews with a special roundtable of experts from mConnexions!
In this virtual chat, four members of our team talk about developing new marketing strategies and tactics to help your business get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
▪️ ???????????????????????????????? & ???????????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????. It doesn’t end after your initial email or meeting. We talk about how to stay on top of communications.
▪️ ????????????????????????????????????. What you say and how you say it matters now more than ever. How are you adjusting your marketing language? We talk about emails, social media, and digital event promotion. Hint: It is not business as usual and won’t be for a long time.
▪️ ???????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????? ???????????? ???????????????????????? ???????????? ???????????? ????????????????????????. Let’s also not forget that while we’re professionals with jobs to do, we are also people who are living through a pandemic. We talk about how to adjust workplace culture in this digital space to support one another, including our teams and our community.
Julie: Good morning. Welcome to our special Facebook live series called Expert Connexions where we are interviewing experts to help all of us during this COVID-19 pandemic. This morning we kick off our first of three live interviews today. Coming up today at one o’clock we’ll be talking to Vicki Hamilton Allen. She is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. All construction work has come to a stop, so we’re going to talk with Vicki about how the coronavirus is impacting her nonprofit and hear what she’s doing about that. Then today coming up at 3 o’clock, some major changes impact the spring housing market. Amy Jackson of 517realestate.com will join us to talk about what to expect if you are looking if you were looking forward to that spring housing market, we’re going to hear about all the changes there and what to expect but first, a few of my very favorites are going to join us today to talk about marketing. So let me bring them in. First, we have Stephanie Barnhill. Stephanie is, let’s bring that up there, Stephanie is an Organizational Consultant with mConnexions. Good morning Stephanie.
Stephanie: Good morning excited to be here today.
Julie: And we also have Alexis joining us. Alexis is a Digital Marketing Strategist, she’s a graphic designer with mConnexions. Good morning Alexis.
Alexis: Hey Julie. And then we have Katie Rexrode who is a writer and a Strategist with mConnexions. Good morning Katie.
Julie: I know I’m so biased that I keep saying some of my favorite experts are joining us but I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Ladies from the outside looking in we have been doing an extraordinary amount of Facebook lives lately. I think we will have nearly 20 and all by the end of today alone, which might make it look like we have a lot of time on our hands. The reality is we’ve actually taken many of the conversations that we’ve been having privately with all of our clients and we’re sharing them here on Facebook to help as many people as we can and we’ve all agreed that too it’s time for kind of this peek behind the curtains and I know I couldn’t be doing all of these lives without all of you and your support with our team.
Stephanie: Well and Julie I just want to chime in to make these Facebook lives look so easy but I know and we all know on our team that there is a lot of effort and it really does take a hefty amount of teamwork to make the dream work as we say.
Julie: Yes, teamwork makes the dream work. I even have my nieces and nephew saying that and they don’t know Steph that it came from your husband or wherever he got it from but um but absolutely we know there are a lot of changes for businesses. We’re working through them on a daily basis with our clients. We feel them here in our community, we feel them with their own business, and so thank you all for joining me to talk about the marketing aspects of this and I want to quickly say to our audience have your questions ready. Feel free to use the chatbox. Fair game anything you want to ask we are here to answer your marketing questions. So first Alexis I want to start with you um because you work on a lot of strategies. So as a brand or business what are some of the things that people should be doing online right now like what are some things that you would recommend businesses be doing?
Alexis: Okay that’s a great question. I know this can be kind of a scary time for businesses to figure out okay where’s the line? You know there was business as usual and now there’s today and where we’re at so you know where’s that balance? So the first thing I would say for businesses just across the board is to watch your tone. Don’t scare people. We want to provide information that is accurate and fact-checked but we don’t want to be too doom and gloom and we also don’t want to be too cheerful. You can’t ignore the fact that this is happening and that you know this is a scary time and it is an uncertain time and it’s okay to acknowledge that without going you know too far into you know this is a disaster and you know we’re all really freaked out. We want to stay positive while being cognizant of what everyone including you know ourselves as brands and businesses are going through. So I think that’s the biggest thing. Maintaining your brand and staying authentic. You are your branded business and that doesn’t need to change just because we’re in a different situation right now. So you want to maintain who you are. Your customers know you, your clients know you, they come to you for the services that you provide, so stick with that. You want to try to figure out how you can adjust your approach for the current circumstances, but don’t make broad-scale changes where you know completely changing up your messaging and what you stand for and what you’re doing. Stay consistent and stay authentic and you know and just be real. Be the brand in business that you’ve always been, but don’t be afraid to make changes that will empower your business to be successful in the current climate.
Stephanie: And Alexis I’ll just jump in real quick because I love what you’re saying you’re so spot-on with authenticity. I think it’s something that we know you know especially you know our team and marketing knows that this is authenticity is already important all the time right, but right now going this current crisis it feels like now more than ever people aren’t wanting to be sold to and they’re not wanting to be you know feel like they’re being swindled or taken advantage of during this critical time and so it feels like that this is it’s even more crucial now to really understand business. If you’re wanting to work with the business, what’s their mission? What are they doing to give back? How are they supporting that you know they’re their company internally, but also externally as well? And you know with every dollar that matters right now that we’re spending on purchases or services we really want to be aligned it feels like to me we really want to be aligned with companies that are doing good and sticking with their own brand and own mission and so I think I think your right authenticity is just as important now as it ever is but even more so.
Alexis: Yeah definitely I think you know you don’t want to abandon your clients and your customers you know. You don’t want to abruptly change your entire persona and who you are. I think one of the things that are so difficult about the current state of the world is there’s so much uncertainty. So as a brand or business don’t feed into that. Be consistent, stay authentic, do what you can to support both your community, fellow businesses, and your clients and customers. You know just letting them know that you’re there for them. You’re not trying to sell to them. You know now is not the time to implement you know your new latest and greatest sales strategy. You know we don’t want to capitalize on this time and try to take advantage of it but we do want to just be present and be available for the people who are going to rely on us.
Julie: Absolutely and Alexis and Stephanie both that you’ve been talking to, two things have come to mind. One Alexis you said like it is not business as usual right now. At this point any business that is pretending that it’s business as usual and by pretending you might not actually be pretending but if you’re still going through the motions. If you set up an email campaign prior to this stay home, this shelter-in-place order, then if it’s still running and it’s running like business as usual, something’s wrong. You need to stop that campaign. You need to reevaluate if you know any social media posts that you scheduled prior to this, look at the messaging. Alexis, we’re putting our heads together right before this broadcast because you know we had a post that had kind of snuck through and we were looking at okay how do we change the messaging on this? The content is still relevant. The content is still good, but we need to make sure that we’re addressing the situation and the reality of what people are going through right now and I think that any business that just continues to operate especially the sales part. Just continuing to operate as a business as usual, you’re missing out on a critical time to be able to actually connect with your audience. We often try ladies to really help our clients connect as people. It’s not just business to but even if you’re a business-to-business you’re still a business with people, connecting to business with people, and right now there’s no easier way to connect them with people but it has to be done in a way that’s genuine and authentic. So Stephanie you really nailed that too. Shari Pash and what she said in one of her interviews comes to mind because we need to find a way to be connected with people. It is not business as usual. Andy Bailey also talked about this and how if you are looking to profit during this crisis, if you are looking to if you are marking up your prices if you are trying to earn extra money off of people like that is not the way to be going about this. If you have a service to offer and you can do it at market value or even at a discount, perfect. That’s exactly what this country was built on the right. If you are able to pivot a little bit and offer a slightly different service. If you’re able to meet the needs of your customers in new ways that help your business and help your clients, then great like that is what this country was built for. That is what we need right now, but if you’re just out there looking to make a buck then you’re going to end up really turning off your audience.
Alexis: Yeah and I think there’s definitely an awareness that you want to have that you know now more than ever like now’s not the time to be cute. You know we’ve seen this when we mean this is a national emergency kind of on a totally different scale but we’ve seen this in the past with brands that have tried to kind of capitalize on things that are not so positive and turn it into a sale or you know an opportunity. That’s not what we want to be doing. That’s not the way to go and I think it’s really important to stay away from things like that and to just look at you know how can we support? You know how we can be encouraged? How can we connect? That’s something that’s obviously you know we’re really missing you know just on a human level, connecting with people. We’re all isolated, quarantined you know so for those brands and businesses that are able to kind of reach across that divide and bridge that gap a little bit you know that’s where you’re going to see success in the long term and that’s really what you’re looking to build at this point right. You know it’s not about driving sales, it’s about you know getting earning really earns that customer loyalty and earning a profit.
Julie: Absolutely. A couple of quick comments here I want to make sure we’re reading these comments as we go through and it looks like Stephanie has dropped out but we will add her back in when she can join. So Seth says, so true authenticity is crucial for all brands. And that’s a really good point, Seth. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you have to be authentic. Do what makes sense for you even if it doesn’t pay off now, it will in the long run. I couldn’t agree more Seth absolutely. Nathan Creswick, another entrepreneur, has chimed in here and says there are a lot of people online at this time, it’s a prime opportunity to connect. Absolutely and he also says it’s business unusual, business as unusual at the moment. So, Alexis, I want to jump back to you and ask, are you seeing any examples of companies that are doing it right or companies that are really doing it wrong?
Alexis: Yes, to both. So I actually just ran across this really interesting example yesterday which and I love this example because they think it really shows both sides you know doing it wrong and then what this person could have done to avoid doing it wrong in the first place. So talk about like Instagram influencers, Kristin Cavallari is a reality TV star Instagram influencer she also has her own business, her own jewelry line and for the last few days, she has been posting on Instagram promoting some sales that she’s got going on and a new fan messaging interactive service that she wants people to join so that they can you know communicate with her and hear more about her business. People are not having it. People feel like it’s really tone-deaf and it’s really a little bit out of touch given what we’re currently experiencing and you know kind of the fear that people are going through right now. They were not afraid to let her know in her Instagram comments that this really is – yeah no it did not go well. However and she definitely picked up on that, so a couple of days later she started sharing posts that were some behind the scenes at her warehouse and behind-the-scenes that some of her businesses talking about you know the reason that she feels so passionately about her business right now is because she wants to keep these people employed and these are some of the things that they’re doing to keep their employees safe and you know at the appropriate distance and you know sanitizing and hand-washing and all of these things and you know how much she values her team and her employees and that’s why you know she really wants to make sure that they stay afloat. That is good. That’s what you want.
Julie: That is totally different messaging right. Authentic and real and gets to your heart and you think I want to help her if I can.
Alexis: Yeah it’s person-to-person. yeah so that is an I love that example because I think it just shows that you can recover you know. If you do it wrong that doesn’t mean you just know you go dark and that’s it and you know we’re cut it off. You know you can come back from it but you need to just reevaluate. You need to rethink your approach. There are some other brands and businesses that have done similar things. KFC in recent weeks has pulled a campaign that was their finger looking good campaign, that’s not something you want to be promoting at this moment. Hershey candy –
Julie: As we are all trying really hard not to touch our faces.
Alexis: Hershey candy said has also pulled a campaign that was like it was a give a stranger a candy bar. Which is a great campaign in you know in the old world, not so much in our new world, but then you’ve got brands like Netflix that implemented that viewing party option, so that you can watch movies and TV shows with friends live and you know you can all be at the same time. We’ve got businesses actually here up in Traverse City in northern Michigan and that are distilleries that are making hand sanitizer. You know so they’re maintaining their status as a small business that is here for the community and providing a service. It’s not the service they were providing before exactly but it’s the service that’s needed right now that they can use their facilities for and there are examples of those types of things all across the country but I’m a particular fan of that because it’s happening right here in my community but so there are good things happening but I think is a brand and a company you have to be brave enough to evaluate your current strategy and to be able to make that step and say okay this isn’t going to work, we got to put this on hold and we’re going to do something a little bit different.
Julie: Absolutely and I think for a lot of businesses you know looking at it from this logical perspective. It’s a really hard place to be in right now because on one side we have this and I’m going to totally like overly summarize this but we have this really horrible thing that’s happening it’s affecting us personally. It’s affecting our friends, our families, our entire communities, and so we have this really horrible thing that’s happening and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with that. On the other side, we also have businesses that whether we own it, whether you own a business, or whether you work for a business, we all rely on businesses to pay our bills and so you have kind of this push-pull of the emotional side and then the logical side of okay I still want to keep my team employed, I still want to be able to pay my mortgage, I want to keep the lights on, You know so it’s this back and forth poll I think where we want to be able to help but we also need to think about how do we keep these businesses with cash flowing and keep these people employed and keep things moving to keep our economy going while at the same time our nurses and doctors and medical staff and grocery store workers and people are on the front lines you know keeping you know working on the actual pandemic and so I think Alexis a lot of what you’re saying is not just brand messaging but also how we’re in general communicating both internally and externally and so Katie I want to turn to you because you wrote for us a really great blog about internal messaging. So I want to ask you know when it comes to and really quickly so Nathan says, customers are looking for reassurance at this time and Nathan Owns Creswick farms and so Nathan I know you’re really feeling that right now as well. Thank you for all you’re doing and all that your team is doing. As you know I’ve been working really long days to help keep up with the demand for food right now and so but Nathan I wanted to point out your comment because customers are looking for reassurance and I think internally staff and employees are looking for that as well. So Katie, how should people be communicating with their employees during this time?
Katie: Thanks Julie. I think authenticity is very applicable when you look at the internal group as well. Ultimately your employees are going to help determine how well you do post-crisis. Are you being authentic with them? Are you being consistent and clear and messaging? I mean everybody knows there’s something terrible happening so it’s okay to acknowledge that and to say we’re doing as much as we can to get through this. Our goal is to keep the company going and their goal is to have a job. So really it’s a team effort. So you know you should be communicating quickly, you should be communicating often, you should give you sorry – you should also communicate well unlike me just there, but people are people know this is happening so if their leadership is honest with them they’re going to feel better about it honestly. You don’t need to commit to something that you’re not willing to commit to. What you need to commit to is what you’re doing now and how you’re looking at it as a leadership team. Pull together your key leaders, talk about how this is impacting the business. How it impacts the employees at every level. How it impacts your frontline staff could be different than how it affects your people management group. So it’s okay to just really tear your communications based on the audience, but again it’s just about consistency and also sets a parameter of how often you’re going to communicate. Are you going to do it weekly are you probably wanting to do it more than weekly at this point honestly? Maybe not every day. What is your typical approach to communication? Are you someone who does a town hall monthly? Then you should still do your monthly town hall, but do it online or audio has people call in. You want to make it as regular as you can in very irregular time.
Alexis: Katie I like that. Make it as regular as you can in irregular time. Do you think it is possible to over-communicate or are there parameters that you would recommend especially for that internal communication?
Katie: I think the over communication happens if you’re repeating the same information every day. Then people will consider it white noise. You’re going to send out your email, you’re going to send out your blog post on your internal internet, maybe it’s a call, so make sure you have something important to say something different and it could be what I always encourage leaders to do is to highlight some employees who are going above and beyond during this trying time. Maybe it’s someone who is working from home, and you know a lot going on at home, but it’s still logging in and really hitting their numbers. You know, really incorporating the company’s core values. Whenever you can do employee recognition in these situations people feel better and they feel more committed and they see that you see all of the commitment and sacrifice they’re making to make the job work and their life work. So don’t feel like you have to create something to talk about, but there’s plenty of things to talk about even outside of the specific issue that we’re all facing. Let’s try to find the positives too. So if you can update what the latest is the company’s approach and highlight employees, people are going to feel a lot better about what’s happening.
Julie: Absolutely I couldn’t agree more. You know I think to kind of get vulnerable for a moment here because I think that’s the space we’re all in right now, our audience included, you know we have a member of our team who has been personally affected by COVID and in fact attending a funeral today and so I think um we can’t underscore it enough, check in with your team, know what they’re dealing with. Whether they’re dealing with it directly or indirectly, what are their concerns? What are their worries? How are you making sure that your leadership team is there to provide support for them? How are you providing the support for your leadership team and return? You know I worked in news for a long time and one of the best news directors I’ve ever met and had the opportunity to work with, would have counselors to come talk with his reporters and his staff when they were dealing with really know difficult issues and so I think we need to think about those things. We need to think about the mental health aspects of the isolation. We need to think about the complexities of remote working with parents who are also dealing with you know homeschooling and I mean there’s so many things to be thinking about here and I know it can feel overwhelming because I get it. I feel it too. You know this is our you know part of our core team right here and we’re having these discussions, I’m having these discussions in some form every single day and so and I think you know Katie too, one of the things that you and I have talked about is transparency. I think we have to be really careful. We need, you know and speaking for myself, I try to be as transparent as possible with our team so that people know okay how these clients are doing? What is this situation? What does the workflow look like but also being guarded in whatever ways that I have to be so that I’m not taking my anxieties and putting them off onto the team? We don’t want this transference of stress to happen either. I mean I think if we have a well-functioning leadership team we have certain people who are dealing with certain aspects you know within the machinery of how the company works and so we’re all dealing with you know we’re kind of staying in our lane, but then there to listen and help you know when we need it, so I think there has to be Katie would you agree there has to be a balance of transparency but also we don’t want like we don’t want our interns to worry about the health of our company. I mean so there’s you know how do you recommend that companies kind of balance that?
Katie: I’m actually a firm believer in tiered communications. So once your messaging is agreed upon within the leadership or business continuity group and it’s really important that you’re having each part of the business before you finalize your messaging. Confirm with your CIO, confirm with their head of operations, does this make sense? Is this really what’s happening because at the end of the day you have to be truthful and once you have determined the key messages and usually I would say you want to keep it to between four and five key messages tops, that will be your consistent outline for the entire crisis. Once that happens, I highly recommend you tear your communication and by that I mean have a meeting with your people managers and your managers who are going to then have to turn around and be able to answer questions with your front line. So that to me will really help the anxiety that may happen if people don’t understand your example. An intern doesn’t need to know the same thing that an Operations Manager knows. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t valued, it just means it’s not helpful for them to get their work done. So understanding your audience is essential in these situations and it can be hard because time is of the essence and so probably your initial message has already gone out at this point in this virus stage of the pandemic, but it’s okay to give your tiered leadership tools to help them with the with who they’re managing. Create an FAQ that everyone signs off on. Think of the worst case scenario questions that you might get and have answers for them. They don’t have to be the answers to the question, they have to be an answer that says we hear you, we understand, we know you have this question, we don’t have the answer we’re working on it and that’s okay especially right now when as we’ve said throughout this discussion we know there are so many questions. Every day we get national and international news that is changing deadlines. I mean you know we just got pushed out to April 3rd and then three or four days ago we were hoping that everyone would be in a good position before Easter. You know every day I feel like my kid my school district is sending us some new communication about homeschooling and deadlines and when will our kids go back and when you can pick up information all of that is coming at us constantly so that is not something to be concerned about. What your concern should is people in your team are your greatest assets, so let’s make sure that they feel good today and tomorrow about where they work and who’s leading them through this and you do it in your internal communication is what’s going to make the difference and it’s okay just it’s really important that I’m going to say this again it’s okay to not have the answer. It’s okay. No one expects you to have everything. It’s better to not have the answer and own that than to say something that you’re going to someday have to justify and take back.
Julie: Absolutely Katie. Just to jump in, I absolutely love what you’re saying and especially this the tiered approach method of you know there are certain people that are going to have more information, there are some people that are going to have a little less information depending on what their roles and responsibilities are within the company, and just to highlight that the importance of transparency. So I believe that you know unnecessarily keeping employees on pins and needles for a long period of time is not good for morale right. So we’re all on pins and needles right now on some level so being able to address the concerns and the worries and the fears of employees to the best of your ability from the right person. Maybe that’s the executive team at the top of the company, maybe that’s their supervisor, maybe it’s you know some mid-level management that is stepping in. You know I think that whoever that appropriate person or role is and of course it should probably be coming from different areas from multiple areas within the company, but making sure that those are honest and real but not alarming I think if we choose to inform and not alarm then that will kind of steer the messaging that we’re sharing with the rest of the team. Also, I think this is a really unique opportunity to help leadership make an extra-special connection with their team. You know we’re all going through this at the same time for the first time through this pandemic so now a leadership these companies have an incredible opportunity to build trust you know with their staff and with their team. They have an opportunity to make connections that otherwise they may not be able to have you know that opportunity to do so because of the crisis that we’re going through. So well not keeping them in the dark and making sure that you were addressing things authentically. You can also use terms like we and us. You know I know everyone keeps hearing you know we’re in this together, but that’s true. The reality is it’s true we are on some level all in this together and we are responsible for our health and the health of everyone else in our family and community and that really those are the ties that bind right now and so I think that if we if a lot of companies and leadership can kind of be inclusive in their messaging and in their statements and maybe you can make those addresses through conferencing like we’re doing. So people can see you. They can see their CEO, they can see their manager, they can see the look on their face, they can see their body language. You know smile, you know use you know put your eyebrows up you know make sure that you’re not up here saying oh my gosh what are we going to do you’re thinking oh you know we’re in this together we’ve got this will inform you the best of our abilities to the best of our abilities. When we have information, we’ll keep you updated. We’re here for you so just really making sure that those messages are honest, but they’re also positive and uplifting and letting them know that they can trust you to the best of their ability right now.
Alexis: And I think in this day and age when you think about you know those methods of communication Stephanie like you said you know using video and really trying to get you know put your face in front of people. We’re really lucky in a lot of ways that this is occurring now and not you know 50 years from now we or 50 years ago, we have so many tools to be able to continue to establish that human connection that you wouldn’t have if you can’t see people face to face. You know it feels really isolating and you can feel really disconnected, but it doesn’t have to be that way and I think you know whether it’s from an internal communications perspective or an external communications perspective, figuring out how to implement some of these technologies that maybe we’ve never used before or you know just never had a chance to take advantage of them, they’re there. So figure out how you can implement them to maintain and enhance that connection to get some of that intimacy that you know we’re losing a little bit right now with the social distancing and with some of these quarantine efforts.
Katie: I will say because it’s such a confusing time that if you have a new technology platform that none of your employees have ever used, now is not the time to launch it. Use things that people are comfortable with that they expect to hear from you. I mean we’re all getting better every day that we talk on our online options, but depending on how large your staff is you know try to keep it to things that people are comfortable with because every little thing that you’re going to do different from normal could alarm people. So if you all of a sudden are having a company-wide hand all hands on deck video conference, people might think it’s the end. I mean it’s at the end of the company and so be a little bit consistent with how you typically do it and also when you are sending out invitations if it is a different approach be clear in the invitation, we’re going to try something new, it may or may not work but we’re hoping that this is going to give us attention you know get us face time that we’re not otherwise getting. I’m sure all of us have worked at companies where you get an invitation on your calendar and you’re like what is this? Why is there nothing in it? There’s scary things happening, let’s not do that today. You know that we already are scared about enough things.
Julie: Absolutely I think now more than ever when you send that message of hey let’s talk send that message and say hey everything’s great, do you have a few minutes to talk?
Katie: Checking in how you’re feeling.
Julie: Yes, an overabundance of caution for sure and also you know a couple of ideas that our team has implemented that may be helpful and if our audience wants to chime in we’d love to hear what you’re doing too. There are times when the team probably hates me for this but there are times when I will say hey this is going to be a video call. I don’t care if you’re in your jammies, I don’t care you showered today, like video call because it really helps our communication and we really truly don’t I mean you should have seen us all practicing this yesterday making sure the technology worked and none of us were camera ready and that’s okay. Just to be able to see faces and like Stephanie was saying like you see those reactions, you can read the body language, you can tell if there’s someone you should follow up with outside of that group call to see what’s going on. I want to go through some of these comments. We have some really great comments here and I apologize Katie and Stephanie. I think these comments are going to cover your faces so bear with me here. Seth Barnhill says yes transparency and employee communications is always important, but seems more necessary than ever. Absolutely Seth could not agree more. Natalie says, great ideas couldn’t agree more on the communication and being transparent. I think transparency is really key. I mean both of you Stephanie and Katie nailed it and are talking about that. Jill says, great points. Handling anxiety is so very important we are all feeling it even if the sources of it are different. Jill, I think that is so huge. Recognizing what people are going through in their personal lives and that there is no real distinction right now especially with everyone at home there ‘s a very difficult distinction between personal and professional. We are just all humans dealing with this together and we’re going to go through different stages of it. One of our clients Joyce Marter is a psychotherapist out of Chicago and she was on with us live a couple of weeks ago talking about the different stages of what people are going through. The different stages of grief as we’re dealing with this and so I think we need to recognize even throughout the course of a normal conversation that it’s not business as usual for any of us. A couple more quick comments here. I love this one from Nathan, Farmer, by the way, Nathan says as a manager I behave as a duck, calm cool and collected on the surface paddling like mad underneath. I think we are all feeling that right now and I think that really emphasizes a point as well that as leaders and when I say leader you can be the intern and be a leader. You can be a calm cool and collected you know up top or kind of we have we were joking about the COVID mullet where we’re all like nice and professional up top and then pajama pants on the bottom or whatever. It’s kind of the same idea with this duck but you can be calm, cool and collected. So when I talk about a leader I’m not talking about what position you are in a business either we all have leadership roles and strengths that rise to the surface but when it comes to communication I think that now more than ever the words we use matter. Alexis was talking about this when it talks about branding and messaging and marketing and the communications we’re putting out there externally. Katie’s talking about this when we’re talking internally with our teams. Words matter especially in a crisis especially when there’s heightened anxiety. When I worked in a newsroom I learned a lesson very early on when I was in my early 20s when I was you know as an executive producer working behind the scenes so it’s you know it’s chaos there are all these moving parts and pieces and there are times when you’re under pressure where you might just kind of snap at someone right. Where you just kind of like oh let’s just get it done, but I learned that that’s when it matters most to stay calm. When everyone else is feeling crazy even if on the inside even if you’re paddling under the water like Nathan frantically, the calmer and cool and collected you stay the more that’s going to rub off on everyone around you so you can actually get the job done. Okay, so Seth has a quick comment on before we move to our next topic or I’m sorry quick question so Seth is asking, in addition to communicating openly should leaders be checking in more now? Asking employees questions like how and what they’re doing? Stephanie I’m going to ask you that as our operations manager.
Stephanie: Yeah and it’s a great question and especially because it’s coming from my husband so I appreciate that. The answer is yes; the answer is an astounding yes. I feel like it’s again really important right now for that communication and you know as Katie and Alexis both mentioned that communication is happening on the right amount right now and I think one of those is absolutely encouraging people on your team to be coming to you when they do have questions and concerns or needs. That’s something we’re actually going to be I’m going to be rolling into here in just a moment more so stay tuned but absolutely I think that right now it’s really crucial that you know especially with everyone working remotely and everyone is maybe on different schedules now and has different things going on at home and all of these kinds of outside things that we can’t control within the company. That we’re making sure we’re checking in and again building that authenticity. Building that trust with them, with the team, to make sure that your team knows hey you know my supervisor or my manager or my director they have my back. They’re here for me and making sure that that line of communication that they know that line of communication stays open. You know so even if it’s after hours they can still send an email. Maybe there’s a hotline. Maybe you know there’s a different way of communicating you know internally through the team but making sure that they know that channel is available and open to them and that they’re encouraged, not just hey you can call me anytime, but that they’re encouraged to do so when something comes up. Whether it’s you know a crisis with a project you know or just their own kind of issues with their calendar or with their availability or otherwise.
Julie: Yeah so Stephanie I want to ask you look let’s kind of dive into that now then, do you have some ideas or tactics or things we can do to make sure that people feel encouraged right now because I have a feeling this will be helpful for our businesses but also for kind of the ripple layers in our lives of people to make sure we’re checking in on them. So any ideas on how we can make sure people feel supported?
Stephanie: Yeah and it’s in one word. I have one word and then I’ll stop knowing one word and then I will share a little bit more about it but the word is accommodating. Again I know this is something we’ve talked about and Julie or your other guests have talked about many times when it comes to working with our teams, but right now more than ever being able to accommodate your staff, your team, is vital. It’s absolutely vital, so be open to the needs of your staff so they can have the flexibility to work when they are most productive and that’s there’s something flexibility I mean especially they you know us Millennials like to get called out. I’m an old millennial, we’d like to get called out that we are so much more interested in flexibility and working from home and things like that then generations prior but it’s true and so leverage that. You know as a leader, as a company, make sure that you are accommodating especially right now during this crisis when self-distancing and needing to stay home and play the parental role or the caregiver role and in addition to playing you know the role of what you do for your company. It’s now really important and some will be available and focused in the morning, you know that’s my husband I can say. Some might be more productive in the afternoon or in the evening and within the ability and the structure of the company allow that. You know what they’re saying. Hear what your staff is saying and if they’re like listen I’m on dad duty, I’m on mom duty in the morning, it’s I can’t step away from it right now because you know I don’t have someone you’re helping or whatever that looks like for them. Just be open and adaptable to the best you can. Sometimes things yep there are things that have to happen at certain times but for the most part really lend that ability for them to make choices around their schedule. As long as they’re getting the work done. If they’re getting the work done and they’re doing good, then hey you know like let them have that freedom and let them build their work day around their overall schedule. Plus, your staff means varying levels of guidance versus independence right now. Some might need over communication, some might need uninterrupted time to finish a project, some might need a heightened organization and protocol, whereas other staff might need a more flexible approach and so that’s what you were saying earlier I want to get back to that is really understand the needs of your team and that it’s not all going to be the same and while you can’t have all of your ducks in a row all the time you know you can’t accommodate everyone’s needs it on every you know on every aspect just do your best and let them know you’re doing your best because that message is felt more than probably any message they’re hearing right now from the corporate or from the company. So the bottom line is employees want to feel that their leaders trust them to manage their work and their home life during this crisis, while maintaining a sense of connection and understanding. So ask your employees questions. What they need and what works best for them and listen to them and then do your best to accommodate those needs and everyone will benefit.
Katie: I know I have three kids and I’m in a circle of friends who all have multiple children who are all working from home, who did not work remotely before. So it’s been an incredible adjustment for them and everything that you said Stephanie makes everyone else’s lives easier and frankly makes everyone more productive. I have friends who are getting up at 6:00 in the morning and working from 6:00 to 9:00 because their kids get up at 9:00 and then from 9:00 to noon they’re parents and then the spouse is working during that time. I mean we’re all tag-teaming throughout and then maybe you log back in at 3:00 until dinnertime, you log out at dinner. So if the companies that are allowing that, are going to end up ahead at the end of all of this. There’s loyalty and it all goes along with internal communications, it’s all interrelated. If you feel your employees taking advantage of it, then you should say something and say listen we agree to this and you’re doing this how can we work together to get there.
Julie: Absolutely you know Alexis I know this is something that you talked about quite a bit because we were a virtual agency before this epidemic happened right and so some of these nuances of working remotely and juggling you know being at home and maybe getting distracted or thinking about the laundry or dishes or whatever when really it’s work time, those are things that we’ve all encountered before. So for us it’s maybe a little bit different as we adjust, but I have to point out and Alexis I know you have more tips on this, I have to point out that for your own sanity you have to designate work time and home time and even if you are not juggling kids or even if you know suddenly have all this extra time, work might be a great distraction right now. Awesome dive in, but make sure, I’ll tell you what Stephanie tells me all the time because I’m guilty of this even before coronavirus was even in my vocabulary. I’m guilty of this, make sure that when you’re off the clock, you’re off the clock. You need that mental time to reset for your emotional well-being, your mental well-being, but Alexis I know you have some ideas on this too on how you kind of differentiate between personal time and professional time.
Alexis: Yeah you know working from home is such an adjustment and I don’t think that you really understand how much of an adjustment it is until you do it and now you know I’ve been working from home full-time for about two years now and it’s been really interesting for me to see friends and family who are you know now making this change that otherwise would never have done this you know would never have had the opportunity to work from home. I think that the advice that I can give for working from home in the current climate is like you said Julie, to designate not only just work time and non-work time, but work space and non-work space. You know setting up even if you can’t at this point set aside an entire room of your house to be your office, but really setting aside a space where you know this is where my laptop or my monitor or whatever it is goes and when I’m in that space I’m working and then at a certain point even if it’s just for an hour or a half an hour or whatever window of time, when I walk away from that space, I’m away from it and I’m focusing just like you would if you left the office and came home that you give yourself an opportunity to take something of a break. Not just a physical break, but also a mental break. You know right now it’s a little bit harder. You know six months ago I would have said make sure that you’re leaving the house and then you’re going out and that you’re doing things. It’s harder to do that now, but you still can. You still can leave the house and go for a walk. You know take the dog out, take the kids out, take yourself out, go for a walk by yourself. You know you can like we said earlier taking advantage of technology. You know call your friends, FaceTime, call your co-workers. You know the people that maybe you sit next to and you would talk to you all day long, give them a call. Spend a couple minutes on the phone, check in with them about work, check in with them about your personal life. Maintaining those connections are so important and its part of what makes working from home a little bit of a challenge because it can feel really isolating and at no time more so than right now. So it is really important to continue to make those connections in whatever way you can even though it’s a little bit different than we you know then you might have done it before, but I think those two things you know setting that space, giving yourself a place to walk away from, in order to come back to home time and you time and continuing to reach out to people and to make those connections and keep those connections both professionally and personally. Those things I think will really help how people kind of ride this out and weather this storm and feel good about it when it’s all over.
Julie: Absolutely and you know from a marketing perspective I want to bring it back to our marketing conversation that we’re having as a marketing agency that I think it’s also important I mean it’s you know we talked with Laurie Lonsdorf about you know from the small business development center, her number one piece of advice was, know your numbers. Know where things stand. You know keep an eye on your cash flow right. So from a business perspective of course we have to know those logistical things, we have to have that logical part down, but we also have time right now set aside time and that might mean setting aside space like physical space in your house but set aside time for the creative part as well because from a marketing perspective if you can step away and take a walk and come back you’re going to feel so much more creative and think about the time and the opportunity we have right now to look at this big picture marketing strategy. To look at ok COVID has impacted and changed everything about how I’m wording things, what I’m worried you know what we’re actually putting out there and taking that creative space to actually think about it and start putting together it might just be a plan for the next week. It might just be a plan to get you through this week, but what messages do I need to communicate? What are my business goals to keep my business running, but then what language can I use, between what Alexis and Katie had said, what words are going to reach my audience? What words are going to be authentic? What words are going to be little transparent that we can make those connections, but also because like Alexis you’re giving the great example of the influencer when she wasn’t transparent it looked like she was selling. When she was transparent, suddenly those sales turned into keeping the lights on for her team and so I’d say transparency and our messaging, we don’t need to be telling people all of our business and you know insider information, but that transparency and this is a situation that’s affecting everyone and here’s what we’re doing about it. That’s what I mean by transparency. Okay so I have one more course than for Stephanie, but before I do that, Stephanie I’m going to pull you up full screen so I can also put this comment on this screen because this is going to help us transition. So Natalie says my manager has been reaching out to us often just to check in to see how we are doing mentally right now. She’s letting her team know that she’s there for us even if we wish we need to vent, worry, and anxiety. I appreciated that. She genuinely cares about our well-being and it has helped. What an amazing thing and then she goes on to describe the virtual happy hours that they’re having as well. I mean what a fun idea. So Stephanie what I want to ask you next is, we all know that having a thriving company culture is incredibly important. Obviously, there’s a different twist on that right now and many companies are finding themselves in these remote situations and let’s face it I think some companies, some businesses, are just trying to figure out the technology and that’s going to be a work in progress for a while. So how do we also still focus on the culture when we do have people who are in heightened anxiety, you know heightened stress, health concerns, you know I think like the mental health issues are at a max. The financial concerns are probably at a max. I mean all of these things are at a max. Plus now we’re working from home and trying to figure this all out. So what in the world can we do to be able to still focus on our people and focus on creating a thriving and not just surviving company culture.
Stephanie: Oh that is the question. Oh my goodness a great question and Natalie I just want to say how awesome that your leader, that your management, is so in tune and reaching out and keeping those lines of communication open and doing you know virtual happy hours. I mean that is crucial, that is such an example of what many companies and organizations should be doing right now. So thank you so much for sharing that. So workplace culture is always vital to the lifeblood of a company. I mean studies show it can greatly impact culture and can greatly impact productivity, sales, especially turnover and burnout. Oh my goodness look at our healthcare system right now, bless their hearts they’re working night and day. So when employees feel when they are valued, when they feel they’re appreciated, when they’re safe, when they’re included, they are more likely to remain loyal to the company. They’re more likely to be productive, healthy, so the workplace environment does play a significant role in company culture, the environment itself but thankfully it’s not the only factor because right now so many of us are working remotely. So I have three things I want to highlight as far as what kind of my top three would be right now and that’s one, communicate your appreciation. Two, show that you value your staff and your team, your employees and three, give grace. So first communicate your appreciation. So from the top down executive leadership, to two supervisors, gratitude should be communicated not just one time but regularly to staff and again this is something that should be happening all the time, but then especially right now when there’s so much anxiety and depression and fear and worry and strain really and not just and we don’t mean was paying a lip service. I don’t mean just saying hey you know a great job. I mean really understanding that your team, they are vital to you. I mean the best asset of any company are their employees and they need to feel that. They need to feel that gratitude, that appreciation. So truly noticing the hard work. Calling people out when they do something over you know above and beyond. When goals are met, celebrating you know especially if it’s a big win you know right. So it’s easy to make a big impact in the lives of someone and the lives and the personal and professional life of someone by doing very little. Just reach out. Make that phone call, send that message. I see what you’re doing, I’m grateful for your hard work, thanks for working that extra hour or two hours, thanks for helping out your colleagues. It really goes a long way to show that you value them and again this goes back to something we’ve already talked about that is available and be reachable. So if your employees have questions and concerns be there to listen. They might be stressed out; they you know might be trying to adjust to their new normal. Maybe they’re not so stressed out, maybe they’re doing okay and they’re working remotely and it’s going well but regardless just make sure that you’re there for them, that they know that you’re there for them, and making sure that they feel connected, taking care of, safe to the best of the company’s ability and the last is give grace. If an employee makes a mistake right now, if they miss the mark in some way, if they you know have an error, show some grace. This I mean and let’s have grace for all of us. Not just leadership to employees, but for our leadership too and for each other, for our friends and our families. We’re going through something you know that none of us have ever been through in our lifetime and it’s scary and its people are going to lose their business, they’re going to lose their homes. People are going to get sick and they already are getting sick and losing lives so now is not the time to nitpick, now is the time to give grace and to show up for each other both professionally and personally. We don’t know what our colleagues and what our team is going through mentally, emotionally, financially, or physically and a working from home environment and so if they’re in health care forget about it. They’re working long hours, probably worried about their own safety of their own health, and the health of their family being on the front lines and being exposed so we’re all trying to adjust to this at the same time while also kind of going through our own emotional states of fear and anxiety. So giving grace may be shifting responsibilities to your team if that’s something that would help you know. Stepping up to help financially if that’s something that the company is able to do, but at the very least giving grace for errors and mistakes knowing that the big picture is much more important than that little error they made on that spreadsheet. I mean really you know what’s happening right now in the way we show up for each other and the way we show up for our company and for our colleagues and for our families, that shows the integrity of the company. That shows the integrity of the person and let’s show that more than criticizing.
Alexis: Steph, I love what you just said about thinking not just of what’s happening in this moment you know that’s one small error, this one small situation, but thinking big picture because that and I know one of our Julie one of your speakers that you talked with last week talked about that same thing, that this is a long-term situation so we want to look you know we want to look to the future. You want to look like you know whether you’re talking doesn’t matter what you’re talking about whether it’s internal communications, external communications, and branding, messaging, you know working one-on-one with your staff. This is a long-term situation and we’re in it for the long haul so we have to be planning ahead and thinking you know forward-thinking and future thinking and that means like you said Stephanie you know giving allowing ourselves that opportunity to get used to what’s going on, get comfortable with it, learn it, understand it, and figure out how we can plan for the future success of our company, our employees you know but we don’t want to lose sight of the future and it can seem like a really uncertain scary thing to think about you know gosh what’s going to come next but really you know that’s what we all need to be looking at. That’s where our minds need to be, is long term you know both internally and externally.
Julie: And everything that you both have said, that all of you have said, applies to our marketing as well. So everything we are talking about as far as communicating with our team we should be doing on some level with our larger audience. With our clients, with our potential clients, with our social media audience, with their email audience, I mean all of these are part of the tactics that we use when it comes to marketing. I’ve had so many conversations this week obviously with our clients, with other business owners, who are talking about how they change their communications. What should they be doing right now? Where do they even start and I would say that if you’re looking for that starting point. The starting point is this, making connections and I know we would say that a lot around here because it’s in our name but it’s in our name for a reason because we really believe that marketing is all about the relationships. It’s all about the connections we’re making and now more than ever those connections matter and we’re seeing a lot of backlash as Alexis was talking about a lot of backlash from companies, a lot of major you know brands that have been positioning themselves that perhaps look like the perception maybe, that they are positioning themselves for profit instead of for the good of their team or for the good of their clients and customers. That is not the kind of communication you want to be having about your company and as we scale that down to you the smaller local level, what are people saying about you? What are you communicating about your company? What is your mission? What are your values? How are you portraying that out on social media? Have you gone silent? Have you disappeared and it’s okay if you have? If you need to focus internally or if you’ve got you know bigger battles to deal with okay, but just know that communicates something about you as well. Where are you in all of this? How is the community? How are you a part of the community? How is the community seeing your reaction and the more you can make that personal and when I say personal again we’re not we’re not airing the dirty laundry about our businesses, we’re not putting out information that shouldn’t be out there, but the more we can humanize it, the more we can connect to our audience, the better off we’re going to be both in the short term and in the long term because there’s going to come a day when we come out of this. I mean hopefully that’s much sooner than later, but we’re going to come out of this and we’re going to look around and we’re going to see who showed up. Nora said that so well when I was talking with her. Nora Luke and I just want to bring it back to that because there’s going to come a time when we look at who was standing on the sidelines? Who wasn’t there at all and who really showed up? We see businesses that are helping other businesses. There have been posts in social media groups of some facilities and restaurants that are shut down and so now their wait staff are serving as delivery drivers for other restaurants and I mean just this sharing of helping people find jobs, helping people, helping these businesses that are still open to keep running, helping to support each other and that’s just one example there are so many examples. In Michigan, I know that Governor Whitmer announced that now included on the Michigan website for all of the COVID information, there’s a list of ways you can volunteer without even leaving your home, how can you help other people in your community. So all of these things are all and I know I’m throwing a lot out there, but all of these are different ways that we’re marketing who we are and what we do including as businesses. And if you’re at home you are maybe you do have a little time on your hands, maybe for whatever reason, maybe work has slowed, maybe you’re out of work, and for that we really feel for you and we’re here for you. Think about how you can support your team, how can you support other businesses, how can you support your friends. It might be something as simple as sharing their messages on social media. It might be showing up to help in some way virtually. To check in on them to see what they’re doing. These are all things that are really going to pay off in the long run and maybe and I think Seth had commented about that a little earlier, that there are things that you can do right now that may not be money in the bank so to speak, but you’re going to be able to trade those in, there’s a value there and so Steph I really loved what you were saying about showing people their value. That can be internally, that can be sending a message, that can be sending something a little more and we have a friend whose husband’s company sent you know this at home delivery of ice cream sundaes for everyone. Another company that has given all of their employees a $1,000 to buy office furniture for their homes while they’re working remotely. I mean so things on a small scale, things on a large scale, and obviously you know not everyone’s in the position to do that and so but it’s just you know ideas ways to get creative to show that you’re there for people and just show that you’re there for your clients. What can you do to help promote them? Maybe you’re just sharing their posts on social media. Maybe you’re just sending them a quick note to say hey I saw that you did this webinar or I saw this email that went out you know you’re really doing a great job I know this must be hard right now. So many things we can do that we don’t typically think of as marketing, but in fact gosh you guys need to cut me off at some point because I’ll just ramble all day. Just the last thing I’ll say, I had this great conversation yesterday with someone who said to me, you know the number one way we get new clients is referrals. It’s all word of mouth. I go to networking events, I connect with people, and she said you know I closed a sale last week and that was that was great, but I really you know I need to think creatively. I need to think outside the box on what I’m going to do now. Yeah, there are a lot of people that I mean everyone’s thinking outside the box right now on what to do, but there are ways to still make those marketing connections. We just have to turn online and look at things a little differently.
Julie: Ladies I guess I should open it up to see if we have any other questions. This has been a great conversation. You guys are really killing it out there. Thanks for everything that you’re doing for mConnexions and our clients. Thanks for adding your discussion points. I’m going to ask you in just a moment for one for just a one-liner from you if there’s one thing you want to make sure that our audience takes away from today. So really quickly thank You, Nathan. Nathan says excellent discussion and thanks to you to all of our audience for joining in on this discussion. A lot of really great comments and questions here so thank you for that. So okay ladies I’m going to do a quick look through a quick round robin. I’m going to start with you Alexis. One thing that you want to make sure our audience takes away from this discussion.
Alexis: I think the one thing would be that now is the chance like you said Julie to connect. Now is the chance to demonstrate to your clients and your customers why they support you in the first place. Now is a chance to earn their trust and their loyalty and to show up and to show them that you’re going to be there and you’re going to continue to be there in whatever format that looks like for them for the long run.
Julie: Stephanie what about you?
Stephanie: I think my one-liner would be, be present. Just remember to be present to the best of your ability. Sometimes we’re a little you know forward thinking or past thinking but I think right now for yourself, for your family, for your employees, for your colleagues, be present, be engaged, be in the moment, when as much as you can so that way you can be available for them and they can be available for you.
Katie: I think I’m going to be truthful and authentic. Whether you’re communicating with your own employees, your clients, your potential clients, that’s going to take you through this. Always stick with the truth and be authentic and remember it’s okay if you don’t have the answers.
Julie: I love it and I guess I have to. I have to throw one in there to be fair to put you on the spot. You know I really think and this goes back to a conversation I had with one of our guests previously the phrase that we’re in this together sounds cliché, it sounds overused at this point, but if you really make those words matter, if you really believe in that and really live that right now, then it makes this whole crazy mess that much easier to bear and so and I’ll tie that back into marketing. We’re in this together when it comes to our marketing too because remember marketing is all about promoting who we are so if we’re authentic as Katie said and truthful, if we are present as Stephanie said, and like Alexis said if we are connecting to each other, and that’s what we’re promoting, then we’re winning in our marketing and that’s really what it’s all about. So ladies thank you so much for joining me. This was you, you’re all I mean I know how incredibly talented you are, but really thank you for sharing your time today with our audience and really connecting online.
Alexis, Katie, Stephanie: Well thank you Julie.
Stephanie: And thank you Julie for you know leading our team with such grace and boldness and you know fearlessness and you may not feel that way, but we are so grateful for you and for all that you are doing through these Facebook lives and for our team and for all of our clients as well so thank you.
Julie: Thanks Steph I don’t know about the fearlessness but I’ve got the transparency part down and it all starts with the tribe, so thank you so much. We have two more lives coming up for you today. In order to best serve our team, our clients, our families, we are putting all of our lives on today Tuesday and Thursday and so coming up later today we have gosh at one o’clock so just in just under an hour from now and be talking to Vicki Hamilton Allen. She’s the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. All of their work has come to a stop. Talk about a cross market nonprofit. You’ve got the nonprofit world, we have the construction world, we have the retail world with them restored, so we’re going to talk with Vicki about how the coronavirus is impacting nonprofits. Then at 3 o’clock some major changes impact the spring housing market. So we’re going to talk with Amy Jackson of 517realestate.com Coldwell Banker, to talk about what to expect if you were looking to put your house on the market this year. So all of that is coming up later today. I hope you can join us and we will see you then. Stay well everyone.