Leadership through the COVID-19 crisis

Leadership through the COVID-19 crisis


They say ignorance is bliss. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, many of us find ourselves wishing for unknowing bliss we knew just a few weeks ago.

Little did any of us know that this virus would have Americans hunkered down at home for weeks on end, with major events canceled and schools out for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), as early as a few weeks ago, my company was starting to get a close-up preview to what might be coming our way through our PRGN partners, which is a collective of more than 50 hand-selected public relations firms spanning six continents. With PR leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities across key cities throughout the world, we had a front-row seat for what was happening in China, Italy and even Washington state before COVID-19 made its unfortunate and unwanted debut in Tennessee.

As agency owners shared what they were seeing with their clients and in their cities, the severity of the situation became apparent quickly. As a business owner, I experienced mixed emotions. While it was alarming to hear the financial impact from peers, I was grateful for the lead time, albeit brief, that allowed us to ensure our clients had updated crisis communications plans in place.

It has also been encouraging to lean on business owners in cities that were dealing with COVID-19 before it hit Nashville. As we all know, this pandemic is changing daily, and a business owner who has been living this for even one week longer than we have can provide invaluable expertise.

For example, while chatting with Aaron Blank, owner of The Fearey Group in Seattle, he reminded me of the importance of a quiet place to think. For him, his jacuzzi is a place where he can creatively and safely think about the status of both his business and their clients without distraction. This quiet time led to his spearheading BusinessSavingBusiness.com to bring together business owners (virtually, of course, because of social distancing) who are currently faced with tough decisions.

Your message matters.

How we act and appear to the world now has the potential to impact our brand for years to come — good or bad. Especially now, your message matters, both from you as a leader and your brand voice. Leaders set the standard for how others under their leadership behave. As we have all seen, fear is contagious, and your ability to keep calm and stay level-headed is critical.

Throughout all of this, three things have been obvious.

In times of crisis, saying the wrong thing can wreak havoc for your brand. Now is not the time for off-the-cuff remarks or emails. Be thoughtful and deliberate. In this age of social media, anything you say or write could end up on the web. Don’t be afraid to correct the record and set facts straight at any sign of misinformation.

Optics matter.

As a business leader, you are living under a microscope right now. Employees, clients and vendors are all looking at you for clues and direction about what to expect. Everyone wants to know what is next in a time when that is impossible to predict.

True story: We rewrote an article for a client three times over the past week. As soon as it was approved, something changed. As a leader, I chose to roll with the punches and do it with a smile, showing my team the attitude that I expect. Why? Because I know being frustrated — especially in a business of our size — could have a nearly immediate domino effect, particularly in such uncertain times.

This is why having a go-to spot is critical. Find a place where you don’t have to be “on” and decompress. Mine is the running trails (six feet away from other runners, of course) or at home with my golden retriever puppy, who has yet to ask me one question about COVID-19 and the impact on our company.

If you’re asking employees to social distance, show them that you’re all in it together. Our company has set up a Marco Polo group to ensure we don’t lose the day-to-day camaraderie. Rumor has it we have some virtual happy hours on tap and maybe even a group online workout coming up.

This is also not the time to post on social media about your amazing travels (even if the pics are pre-pandemic) or to get overly political online.

Work the plan — but be nimble and never be opportunistic.

The point of contingency plans is to have them before you need them. If you don’t already have a business continuity plan and communications plan, at a minimum, do some “what if” scenarios with your leadership team. It’s OK for plans to change and evolve. The key to success is how we communicate those changes.

Depending on the industry or message, now may not be the time to launch that new product or promotion. When uncertainty is prevalent, your key audiences probably aren’t as likely to pay attention or act. Stay agile.

Most importantly, stay resilient. Nashville is a city of creative and resourceful people. How we do business and take care of our employees through these unprecedented times are what people will remember.


Five Things Business Leaders Can Do To Create A Fantastic Work Culture

Five Things Business Leaders Can Do To Create A Fantastic Work Culture

Make sure your team understands how they’re making an impact in their role. Help your employees see how even the smallest administrative task contributes to the success of the company. We do monthly reports for our clients that showcase all of our results from the month. The feedback we receive from our clients after we send these reports is so valuable. It takes every team member to ensure we achieve great results and, ultimately, maintain our clients as partners for the long term.

Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Reed.

Lauren Reed, APR is the founder and president of REED PR. She earned her Accreditation in Public Relations designation in 2010 and has been a long-standing member of the Public Relations Society of America, serving as president of the Nashville chapter in 2017. She is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization and serves on the board for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Lauren has been named to the Nashville Business Journal’s (NBJ’s) 40 Under 40, received a Nashville Emerging Leader Award, and was on the NBJ’s Most Admired CEOs lists the past two years. Lauren was also recently named to the Nashville Post’s InCharge list and has been featured in publications such as StyleBlueprint, Bizwomen and The New York Times. She co-hosts the Relentless Marketing & PR Podcast. But Lauren would say her crowning achievement is establishing REED PR’s Be The Good program in which the company uses a portion of their annual revenue to provide funding for volunteers to go on service trips both at home and abroad.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Incollege, I had the opportunity to study abroad in London. One day, we were able to shadow the largest PR agency in the city, and I had an aha moment that this was the career path for me. However, I never thought I would own my own business due to the perceived instability. I refer to myself as an accidental entrepreneur, but I’m so grateful for the journey that brought me to today. I’ve come to realize that being an entrepreneur is one of the most stable jobs around. I control my own destiny, position and job description.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Just a few weeks before COVID-19 hit, our company moved into a beautiful, brand new office space customized just for us. We were barely in the space two full weeks before our Mayor issued the stay-at-home order. With a clientele that focuses on hospitality and consumer brands, we saw an immediate impact to our revenue and in the business community.

Because I’m so close to our own local business community through Entrepreneurs Organization, I saw the panic and fear small businesses were facing firsthand in addition to the challenges hitting our own business and our clients. We knew that we wanted to do our part to help other small businesses who were struggling due to the pandemic and we quickly launched the COVID-19 Communications Hotline on March 20 — one week after we shut our office doors for the stay-at-home order. The hotline gives business owners a free, one-hour Zoom with two of our team members to brainstorm and strategize for their communications needs during this difficult time.

We’ve been able to help a number of small businesses and our team has quickly developed the crisis skills needed to support our growing client base of senior living communities.

Our landlord would likely say that the most interesting day was when we brought a donkey into our office for a video shoot…but that’s a longer story!

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our agency has a program called Be The Good. We take a portion of our revenue each year to help fund service and mission projects for people traveling all across the world. Unfortunately, Be The Good is on hold due to the restrictions on international travel. However, the COVID-19 Communications Hotline has been our way to give back our time and services in the meantime. We’ve been able to take on a lot more clients and projects in the senior living industry — an industry, as you can imagine, that has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Disappointments happen when expectations are not aligned. It’s so important to take time on the front end to align on expectations. There’s nothing worse than an employee expecting their job to look one way, and then feeling like the situation or job completely different. This is also true with client relationships, not just employees. To avoid disappointment and unhappiness I try to align on expectations and maintain regular communication.

Along with those expectations, I believe we all need to be realistic about what a job provides. We are here to equip our employees with the tools to succeed and show our team their path to success, but we can’t be everything to everyone and not all matches are a great fit. Ensuring happiness in a job is a two-way street and it begins with clear communication with and from team members.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

As the agency owner, my most important client is my team. Our people are our biggest asset. If I make sure our team is engaged and provide them with tools to be successful, they will be more productive. Greater productivity increases profitability and allows them to get more bonuses, contributing to their health and wellbeing.

Conversely, if someone is unhappy, it can have a severe impact on all of the above. The key to making someone happy in their job is learning their expectations and knowing when you can or can’t meet those expectations.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Understand your employees’ work styles, and meet them there. Our team uses a tool called Predictive Index that allows us access to incredible data on each employee’s work style and how they need to receive information and work within a team.
  2. Connect with all levels of your team. Our interns and entry-level employees are just as important as our vice presidents. I must be an ally for all of them, and they need to know they can come to me. Our team knows I like to take runs and hikes, so they have the freedom to schedule a run, hike or walk with me where we can connect and catch up.
  3. Assign someone on your team to help oversee company culture activities. I may think I know what our team wants to do, but someone who is in the day-to-day work with them is likely more aligned. We have a Senior Account Manager who helps plan birthdays, holiday events and hang-outs outside of the office.
  4. Encourage open communication. Allow for feedback and truly listen to the desires of your team. Even if you can’t implement everything they want, sometimes they want someone to listen.
  5. Make sure your team understands how they’re making an impact in their role. Help your employees see how even the smallest administrative task contributes to the success of the company. We do monthly reports for our clients that showcase all of our results from the month. The feedback we receive from our clients after we send these reports is so valuable. It takes every team member to ensure we achieve great results and, ultimately, maintain our clients as partners for the long term.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I think the pandemic is changing this for us. This year, the barrier between work and home has significantly broken down. Society has been forced to recognize working parents. As a single working mother, it’s on us as business owners to continue to give the same level of respect to working parents after the pandemic that we have during the pandemic. If you keep your employees engaged, they will be more productive. We want our team to feel fulfilled in their personal lives more than anything.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

As a seven on the Enneagram, I love to have fun. I believe it’s vital that everyone understands their roles and their value in that role. I also appreciate giving and receiving feedback as often as possible. It’s how we all grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m fortunate to have a great mentor in Hannah Paramore Breen, founder of Paramore Digital. Hannah has been a constant source of encouragement and guidance. She basically gave me the playbook for starting an agency, even when I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I thought I would be freelancing until I found a job. She gave me the confidence to start my own business and has always been there to listen and bounce ideas off of.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In addition to our agency’s Be The Good program — which provides funding for volunteers to go on service trips both at home and abroad — I strive to make an impact every day. As a working mom, I want to encourage other women that you can put your kids first and still run a company or pursue your professional career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.” — Woody Allen.

It’s funny to see where I am now because it’s different from what I had planned. I’m grateful that life turned out the way it did, especially since I never thought I would be a business owner.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to inspire a movement of gratitude and positivity. Taking a few minutes each day to reflect on something you’re grateful for will help alleviate anxiety and put things back into the right perspective.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!