President & CEO of Church + State, Robin Whalen, joins Leon to talk about the past year in her business and how companies are differentiating themselves by moving past marketing cliches and offering their customers a clear vision and set of values.
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Thanks for having me, Leon.Leon Goren:
Hi, I'm Leon Goren, CEO and president of PEO leadership North America's premier peer to peer network and leadership advisory firm. Welcome to our snippets podcasts. Robin Whalen, president CEO of church and state teacher and speaker joins us today. Church and State is a strategic creative agency headquartered in Toronto doing work for both SMEs, that small medium enterprises for you that don't know and some very large multinational and Canadian brands. Robin is a partner within the firm, and she joined it back in 2016. She's also been in the agency world for almost 25 years. Robin, it's great to have you with us today. So Robin, I thought we kick it off with something that I read recently that you've posted on LinkedIn. And I'm sure there's a great story behind it. And it's sort of I just grabbed it because everything's about meaning and purpose these days in terms of you know, what we've come through. And your words were to walk with purpose, one must wake with purpose. So tell us a little bit about the story behind that.Unknown:
Well, actually, they're not my words, they're my business partner, Ron tite. They're his words. And that's what he's a master of that we were tasked with doing a secret santa this just this past holiday season. And he pulled my name. And his, his joke for me was always that I'm a heavy Walker. And it kind of stems back to this, the fact that everything I do is, I'm a very planned, very planned person. And I'm always on a mission. And I always have an agenda. So I don't saunter into a kitchen, I march into a kitchen, I don't walk into a boardroom, I kind of explode into a boardroom. So with that comes very heavy steps. So he would hear me all the time. And he'd say, there's wailing walks with purpose. Because my the sound of my heels in a pre COVID world, in an office environment was really heavy. So he decided when he pulled my name for a secret Santa, that he would come up with this, this saying, to walk with purpose, one must wake with purpose. So it was very much a Ron type metaphor for how I operate day in and day out. And, again, not my words, but I would say it's probably the perfect personification for how I approach my day.Leon Goren:
I think you deserve to steal those words. I think they should be your words, he gave it to you as a gift.Unknown:
And I gave it to me as a gift. He signed it with my name, he printed it on a poster. I've hung it on a wall, and I could absolutely tell people that those are my words. And you know what, moving forward, that's exactly what I'm going to do. So thanks. I'm there. Yeah, soLeon Goren:
there. So you know, I am browsing through your website, and you guys just do something credible, creative. We've had Ron talk about different things. He's hosted our conference and stuff. But one thing really stuck with me other than the Think, Do and say, I'll come back to that. But he had something to talk about. People used to vote with their wallets. And now they vote with their time. And so as I was reading that, and I was trying to put it in perspective of where we're at today. And, you know, again, I bring stuff to the pandemic, and now we're marching out of it. The relevance today and possibly, as we emerge like the next six months, do you think that's going to change? Or are we really we're sticking with that in terms of how people are behaving?Unknown:
No, I don't think it will change it, if anything, I think it will become, you know, more prevalent as we move forward. Which is, is odd in one way when you think about it, because on one hand, we've got more free time than we've ever had before. We're not going anywhere, we're not commuting, we have no pressures on our schedule in terms of attending events. So we should have arguably an abundance of time yet what we're seeing from our clients or our personal lives from our friends is that it's actually turning out to be the the opposite. So that that metaphor of Have you used to vote with your wallets and now you vote with your time is is more the case than it's ever been before. Probably because we are hooked on our screens. We are consuming news you know at at a rate that far surpasses anything in the past with with with past elections in the US with upcoming elections elections and in Ontario and Canada. And then you add on the fact that business is exploding now and everybody is preparing to to exit COVID if you don't as a brand, as a marketing firm, if you don't know how you're going to capture the attention of your consumer in the wake of all of the expand And accelerated forms of media, you're just not going to be seen. So I think if anything, No, we didn't know it when when when we came up with that phrase, but it is absolutely more relevant now than it's ever been before. And I think it's just going to continue to be the case brands have to stand out, they have to stand apart. And most importantly, kind of going back to that purpose. They have to stand for something that is about so much more than the thing that they sell or the product that they offer.Leon Goren:
Going back to your purpose message really at the beginning. Right meaning Yeah, this is really important. Do you think, you know, over the last several months, a lot of leaders have been somewhat cautious marketing, as always, you know, back March 2020, everybody pulled back on everything. Nobody was writing checks for anything. We now sort of feel the momentum, right? We were we've talked with a lot of members months ago about pivoting, thinking about the future strategizing timing right now, from a marketing perspective, are we at the point in time right now where these leaders should be thinking about really investing in their messaging and in their marketing, as we sort of come out of this. And I really believe we are coming out of this because US economy is roaring back, and we'll be behind them. So I guess two questions. One is your own personal perspectives, in terms of brand, even your own organizing? Should we be spending money on this right now in terms of the marketing, putting us out there? And to what do you see in your, with your clients? Are they actually going ahead and doing this? And I starting to get results?Unknown:
Yeah, I would say, I hesitate to say it's, it's too late. But not only should we start thinking about it, we should have started thinking about it a long time ago. And we we you know, we use this, this metaphor that in the sport of car racing, the people think that races are one in the straightaways, but they're actually, they're not one on one in the straightaways. It's about how you actually go into into the corners and how you come out of it, that determines who wins the race. And as you said, I agree, we are coming out of this. We absolutely are. And in the context of time, it's not that far ahead. So the time to start thinking about it was eight, nine months ago, and we're absolutely seeing that reflected in the business that we do. And we work on with our clients. So we're, we're well past the stage of Okay, what do we do, and we're in the stage of having these plans implemented and put in place and if for no other reason, than brands need to meet consumers, where they are and where they are, is thinking about what's next in life, we're all ready to come out of this healthier and stronger, and that's where brands need to meet us is in the future state, not in the past and not in the current. So we're seeing a lot of talk. And we certainly recommend this to our clients to really start going back to maybe some old notions of customer relationship management, how do you nurture those relations, relationships with your customers and build on the moving forward from a loyalty perspective? How do you as a brand stand out? I think the the days of leaning on advertising tropes and cliches like vicey one more commercial about I'm not wearing pants and my Xoom call, like we're tired of that we don't need to be confronted with with the reality. We need to not rely on cliches and have a purpose behind our message and know what we we stand for. And for brands to constantly be learning and be curious and think about the future and the future state a year, two years, five years down the road. I don't think I think the time to think about like how, you know, how are we going to manage through COVID We're done. Now we're thinking about how do we how do we plan for a post COVID reality? So we're absolutely seeing that from our smaller clients to our, you know, the National retailers. It's all about the moving forward.Leon Goren:
Yeah. So I think that it's important, I think the listeners should you know, it's never too late right? But what I getting from you is the urgency if you didn't react and start many of them have thought about it they just haven't executed on a bunch of this stuff. There is still time to execute you just got to get moving on this stuff right now.Unknown:
Absolutely. And unit the rat reality is when we look back a year Yes, business halted when this started, everything halted. But not for long. by about three months in to our initial lockdown. Our clients started you know, very tentatively putting messages out there that were sensitive to the times and sensitive to the environments. But business went on and what they found was that people were buying people were investing, people were dipping their toe back into the market and in various in different categories and in different ways. So now if we even look at today's news was about how Toronto and Vancouver real estate markets are absolutely exploding. Even if you use that as a gauge for what's happening in other categories, if you haven't started, you know, now is the time and i think it's it's a test, learn apply kind of methodology. If you haven't done anything, you need to start doing it now and do it fast, learn from the mistakes, learn from the success and adapt moving forward.Leon Goren:
That's great. So I wanted to ask you one more question before in this is a want to get the perspective of yourself. You're working in agency, I've never worked in agencies by worked in professional services for I think agency work is so demanding. Like you're dealing with clients, you're always facing your client, they need stuff very quickly. There's a lot of pressure. And you and I talk really quickly about the business perspective, I get it. But there's been a lot of talking in the community about the mental element, right. And the challenges of post pandemic is the number of cases coming up and people really fatigued, stressed, and in your world, because you have to be so responsive, it's probably a double whammy. So I'm curious, in your room, what do you are there ideas that you guys are looking at? No, you're a small firm, so you're probably agile and able to adapt? But how are you guys dealing with this? In terms ofUnknown:
Yeah, I want to completely agree with your, you know, your interpretation of our business, it is very demanding from a timing perspective. And again, what's this odd dynamic as well, we don't have a commute. And you think we have more time, the pressures on our time have actually increased, because everybody's working out of their basement or out of their living room or out of their kitchen, it has put an absolute pressure on this work life balance. So we have seen one year in the dynamic has has changed. It ebbs and flows like everything else. But most certainly we are having more discussions than ever before about mental health, feeling that people have a separation between work and home. And as an agency. We don't we don't make a product and we don't sell widgets. So our product is our intellectual property. And our intellectual property is at the hands of our people. So how they feel about work is incredibly important. They're our most valuable asset. So we have seen an absolute increased need for support, and for balance, and I would be lying if I said we have all of the solutions. But we are trying. So from looking at our very traditional benefits package and seeing how we can augment it with additional mental health services. You know, we have looked into programs, the Ontario government has actually recognized that this is a real need. And there are free services for therapy and counseling through the Ontario government. So we're doing a bit of a hybrid, looking at augmenting our plans, making sure that our employees know what services are available to them. Because sometimes that is buried in Benefits Administration, you don't necessarily know to also increasing the amount of time just to talk to check in to see how people are feeling to have regular meetings where we're not talking about work at all, and then trying to force some kind of separation between work and home so that we cut off the day on a Friday early if we can we you know, make sure that we implement a bit more free time and insist on people taking vacation, because we're seeing that without us insisting it's very easy to just stay on the computer and work. So again, no real solutions, but this, how's our solutions? Those are ideas. And I mean, those are our words. I hope they I hope they help. But at the very least making sure that we stay in touch with every person that works with us to see how are they feeling? Is there something that we can do, we're actually even looking into a guided virtual meditation session, not mandatory, but anyone that wants to join, and we make it during the day during the work day. So that people feel like they can kick back and take their mind off of work. It's more important than it was last February because the lack of separation.Leon Goren:
Robin, thank you so much. We are so lucky to have you as a PEO member you joined it a year ago just to be able to share some of your insights your energy and your passion and and learn from you. So thank you so much for joining us today.Unknown:
Well thank you and thank you for having me. It's It's an honor just to be a part of the group.Leon Goren:
That's great. If you're interested in our live webcast, the way forward live and or any other snippets please take a moment and visit us at pod family Leadership calm you'll find on our site various previous recorded webcasts and snippets. These include guests such as Professor Janice Stein, Harvard's Rosabeth Cantor, Michael beer, Rob chestnut, Dr. Greg wells, Dr. Jason So, Mitchell goldheart and many others as we cover such topics as Mental Health Leadership, world reset and a host of others. Thank you for joining us today and we look forward to seeing you again shortly.