Remote is not Regression: Leading in a Remote Environment

About the Guest Author

Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr., DM, is connecting remotely daily at MyWingman, LLC, a Business Leadership and Management Consulting company in Davenport, Iowa that serves the Quad Cities and the Nation.  Dr. Burl is also the author of the Best Selling Book, “Inspired, Not Retired: Leadership Lessons from Father to Son” and coauthor of “Can God Trust You with Trouble?”

 

Sometimes doing what we do may feel like regression.

 

As professionals, we are all accustomed to certain things like the corner office, big desks and nice computers with plenty of space to do our work.  Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are forced to work at home, which is a dramatic change.  This concept of Remote Work or Working Remotely may feel like a regression in what you or your organization have accomplished.  This is only true if you allow it and at this point, I will diverge from my normal self and use a cliché’:

 

But leadership makes the difference.    

 

In this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment, leadership is the glue that holds the organization together. Leading remotely is almost routine when your organization is spread across several states and square miles, the situation requires it, and you operate regionally, nationally, or globally.  Even in those environments, leaders must establish certain parameters to help spur success in the organization.

 

1. Establish Routine Connections.

Most people are creatures of habit (routine) and interaction (connections).  When working remotely, establishing routine connections is vital to the health of the organization and its members. People need to hear from their boss, coworkers and stakeholders as routinely as they did when business occurred in-person. So, what meetings, phone calls, events and motivational moments can you continue while working remotely?

 

2. Develop Stability.

When situations are the most uncertain is when stability is required the most. Routines and connections are two parts of that. Updates about all facets of the work environment are also key, so that people feel like they are informed.  This may include updates from human resources (HR), business development (BD), operations (OPS), and logistics and supply, just to name a few. A good one for HR is also Recruiting and Retention.  Are we still hiring or are people leaving in droves? For BD, are we gaining new clients or are we struggling to keep who we already have now?  Informed people work much better and have a higher commitment than organizations that keep people in the dark. How are you developing stability in your organization?

 

3. Inspire Accountability.

Accountability is a good thing, although it has been cast as a fiendish tool used by management to keep tabs on people.  One accountability measure that establishes routine connections and stability is having a Battle Buddy or Wingman/woman. Working remotely does not allow us to just walk over to someone’s desk and say, “Can you check this for me?” so, find a Battle Buddy to bounce things off each other. You become each other’s editor, muse, sounding board and backup. You hold each other accountable. Who is your Battle Buddy at work?  Who has your back? Who keeps you straight? Are they doing that right now?

 

4. Empower Communication, Collaboration and Innovation.

I have witnessed many innovative ways to help others during this pandemic. Can you use that same type of innovative spirit in your business? Empower everyone to communicate freely, collaborate openly and innovate without fear of repercussions. What can be done in your business that has never been done before? Who has a skill that was unknown until now? Who works well together and has formed a High Performing Team?

 

5. Value the Impact of Connectedness.

Do not miss the boat on this one. As much as you may dislike Zoom, Skype, Google Go-To-Meetings, Microsoft Teams or the literally hundreds of other video teleconference (VTC) platforms, the connectedness they allow provides great value. In the prime of my CEO tenure, VTCs were reserved for the elite or those in trouble, so I only had the phone. Now, being able to see a coworker, boss, family member or friend can make a huge difference. Even when you meet wearing a mask and being socially distanced, it has a wonderful impact on morale and well-being. Do you value connectedness? Are you creating connection opportunities both professionally and personally?

 

How will you continue leading during this Remote Work Environment, so that it does not feel like regression is occurring in your organization?

 


Marketing in Times of COVID-19

Organizations like the American Marketing Association and the ANA provide a range of useful articles on navigating your marketing efforts around COVID-19. Here are three of our favorites:

 

The New Reality: A Guide to Marketing in a Post-COVID-19 World

This guide can be downloaded and shared as a pdf. It focuses on new consumer habits and expectations, including a growing demand for experiential and agile marketing, a higher reliance on virtual influencers, and society’s new focus on brand’s sustainability efforts. Another article, The Big Shift: A Prediction of What’s to Come Post-Pandemic, complements this content.

 

Allow Adaptation to Fuel Creativity Amid Isolation

Struggling with being creative when being refined at home is a common issue. The article suggests remedies like dividing your work into windows or 30-minutes to allow time for interruptions like helping your child with an assignment. Re-adjusting the approach to brainstorming with colleagues by limiting participants and trying out innovative work processes is another way to keep your creative juices flowing and to stay productive. The article Lead with Creativity, Not with Capital explains why remaining creative truly matters.

 

5 Steps to Pivot from In-Person to Virtual Events Today

This article provides an easy-to-follow approach to evaluating your physical events and deciding on whether to provide them virtually. They encourage a steering committee to analyze available resources and infrastructure to identify gaps. The final virtual events must provide a unique value to easily assess through appropriate virtual channels like life videos, blogs, audio files, PPT slides, etc. Similar considerations should be made in the area of healthcare marketing.

 

As always, please reach out to us with any questions and comments.


Congratulations Adrian!!

We are proud to announce our own, Adrian Vander Wille, has received his second master’s degree from the University of Oregon this past month.  This second Master’s degree is in Sustainable Business Practices .

So, what is an MBA in Sustainable Business Practices you ask?? We are excited to have Adrian help fill us in on this exciting adventure he underwent over these past two years.

Adrian says, “I had already received an MA in Economic Development and International Studies and a BA in Economics, Business, and Middle Eastern Studies. These interdisciplinary programs play towards my passion for economic development and how businesses operate in a variety of institutional environments around the globe.

So, it came to no surprise for me to find there is no all-size-fits-all approach. I realized long-term economic development requires both a quantitative and qualitative approach which needs to be adjusted over time. The same applies to businesses of all sorts.

As many young economics graduates, I appreciate the University’s focus on behavioral economics and interdisciplinary studies. Some majors primarily focus on the environmental and social impacts. It made sense to embed my passions in the broader framework of sustainability.

Broadly speaking, the term sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It turns out to be a surprisingly complex concept when applying it to businesses which is why I encourage you to check out Bob Willard’s resources at https://sustainabilityadvantage.com/.

Sustainability means innovation since it requires changes to business models and how global economies and societies operate. I took classes like Clean Energy Finance, Greening Sports and Events, Industrial Economy, Supply Chain Management, and Strategic Cost Management. I had the opportunity to take a trip to Asia trip and  tour businesses in Thailand, Vietnam, and China committed to creating a better world.  We were able to discuss their successes and struggles. We also met with a number of business leaders and toured headquarters like Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and Tillamook.

My MBA projects included creating a feasibility study for LO3 Energy leadership to assess the viability of entering the German market with the intent to decentralize the energy market with a unique software enabling owners of photovoltaic installations to sell their excess energy to community members supporting renewable energy. In another project, I worked with the Portland Trailblazers to create a marketing plan to promote their efforts to reduce scope 3 emissions.  I also had an opportunity to work with Orchid Health, a rural health clinic, to develop a marketing plan to increase awareness and improve their brand equity.

This focus fits perfectly to the current Zeitgeist and my years of experience marketing products and services. I help clients conduct their business in a sustainable manner considering emerging demands for economic and environmental justice, as well as associated issues like greenwashing. I make sure corporate communications reflects their efforts in an authentic manner making them believable and appealing to consumers.

The goal is to align social, economic, and environmental matters through a truly sustainable business strategy and corporate vision. In times of uncertainty and division, sustainable business practices are not a cost center anymore. They become the key to guaranteeing a firm’s long-term success.”

We are excited to incorporate Adrian’s experience into what we do for our customers at Media Link.  We know in this field of media and advertising, there is always more to learn and explore.  Our field continues to evolve and reflect the changes within our society.  Please reach out to Adrian (adrian@medialinkinc.com) and congratulate him when you get a chance.  This was an incredible undertaking and we are so happy he had this opportunity to build onto his already impressive portfolio.


Digital Radio Advertising

Demand for digital radio services has been growing for years and many advertisers discovered this medium as a valid alternative to terrestrial radio campaigns. The big players in the market are Apple Music, iHeart Media, Pandora, and Spotify. You can directly negotiate a schedule with respective advertising representatives.  However, there are now two self-serve platforms available and we want to make sure you are familiar with their features as well.

Pandora

Pandora just recently introduced their self-serve platform via AudioGo. The minimum campaign budget is $250 and you can set the flight by determining a start and an end date. Commercials may be up to 30 seconds long and you can upload three different sizes of display ads that appear when your commercial plays: 300×250, 300×600, 500×500. They all link to a website of your choice.

You can target by gender and ZIP codes. Pandora uses similar age categories as Google Ads: 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65+. You can also make sure commercials only run within specific music genres. In addition to the traditional genres, Pandora offers a couple of unique genres not provided by Spotify:

  • Christmas Music
  • Controversial
  • Schlager
  • Top40/Hits – Pop
  • World

Spotify

Spotify’s self-serve platform is intuitive and easy to use. Like Pandora, the minimum budget is $250 per campaign and you can set the flight by determining a start and an end date. Commercials can be up to 30 seconds long and can upload one 640×640 display ad linking to your website. ZIP code targeting is available as well.

Spotify has a couple of advantages over Pandora. First, Spotify produces your commercial without any charge. You submit your copy, select a voice (i.e. male/female, age, English accent, language), select/upload your background music and then Spotify will create the commercial for you to review. You will still have a chance to request changes, so there is no commitment associated with this feature.

Second, Spotify offers additional campaign features to promote artists like serving commercials to fans of certain musicians. Another feature focuses on announcing new shows or merchandise sales.

Third, Spotify offers unique targeting abilities.  These unique targeting opportunities include; targeting usual genres, certain interests of listeners determined by listener behavior and real-time context by focusing on playlists used for commuting, celebrating, studying and more. You will not be able to combine different targeting strategies, but you can target specific age ranges starting at the age of 13.  You can also select specific platforms (desktop, iOS, Android). Both platforms allow smaller businesses to access the marketplace for digital radio advertising after high minimum budget commitments have created barriers in the past. Please contact Adrian at adrian@medialinkinc.com if you would like to learn more about digital radio advertising.


Promoting Your Business During COVID-19

Our Senior Marketing Consultant, Adrian Vander Wille, participated in a Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce webinar series for small business owners. His presentation “Promoting Your Business During COVID-19” introduced a 5-step process for business owners to act immediately without any cost. You can watch and share the webinar recording on YouTube. Here is a brief summary:

Step 1 – Assessment

Take a step back and assess your situation. What are your main challenges? Who are your main stakeholders and what are their main challenges? How do you communicate with your stakeholders and are there alternative platforms you should consider? What information do you need to relay and how do you do this in a consistent and strategic manner?

Step 2 – Online Listings

People learn about your business through your website and social media, but there are many more online listings you may not have direct control over yet. Claim listings like Google My Business or Bing Places and learn how to utilize them to improve your online presence – without paying a cent!

Step 3 – Social Media

Learn how to improve your COVID-19 updates posts within seconds. Explore automated responses, online and live events, and see examples of a small business successfully applying these techniques.

Step 4 – Paid Advertising

Keep your business top-of-mind with Google Responsive Display ads. Use remarketing strategies and generate leads to follow up when people are able/willing to spend again. Consider selling gift cards and merchandise online.

Step 5 – Innovation and Strategy

Every crisis exposes weaknesses, but also strengths and opportunities. Use business analysis tools like the Value Chain Analysis to better understand what makes your business unique and competitive. Think outside the box and come up with innovative ways to improve your products, customer service or distribution network. Innovation is not limited to large corporations!

Please contact Adrian at adrian@medialinkinc.com for a copy of the slides. Don’t hesitate to connect with him on LinkedIn; he is more than happy to answer any follow-up questions.


Home Offices – The New Normal

There has been a lot of talk about Home Offices as a temporary solution to social distancing, but many businesses, including Media Link, have already successfully employed this strategy for years. Our Sr. Marketing Consultant, Adrian, has been living on the West Coast for over two years now, “Setting up a webinar to have a face-to-face conversation with people thousands of miles away only takes a minute. Because our team is so young and agile, texting and face time is second nature to all of us now.”

A benefit of using webinars is that you don’t need to spend time on organizing rooms, coffee and snacks. You won’t be late because of traffic and you have the opportunity to meet your colleagues in a place truly special to them (pro-tip: introduce you pets!!). Webinars though your home office makes printing copies of presentations redundant, because you can email the pdf in advance and simply share your screen during the conversation without losing eye contact. According to Entrepreneur and Forbes, there are plenty of other benefits to consider:

  • No commute saves employees money, time and lowers their carbon footprint.
  • Employers may be able to downsize office space, expand employment and save on office supply, snacks and other variable costs.
  • Since Millennials and GenZ value flexible work arrangements, home offices make you more competitive and may increase retention rates.
  • Home offices allow employers to access a larger labor pool. The perfect job candidate may not be able to move, but this won’t be necessary with a home office.
  • Working from home makes many people more productive, because they experience less interruptions and can truly shape their office to fit their needs.
  • The amount of sick days will likely decrease, because contamination risks are lower when anyone coming down with something switches to working remotely.
  • Employees may claim Home Offices on their tax returns.

Home Offices have never been this easy to implement. There are dozens of services to manage teams remotely and to make sure team members communicate efficiently. Meetings can simply be set up via Webex, Skype, Zoom or other services. Online meetings are often more productive, because you can easily share your screen to introduce documents and email them to other participants. You can also take advantage of personal chat windows to coordinate with others.

Organizations new to this model have a chance to evaluate the feasibility of having staff work remotely and to get their feedback. Some employers will make working from home a standard option or apply it to bridge days when productivity is low.

Rest assured; Home Offices don’t have to be solely functional. You may even consider permanently transforming a room into a working area you and other family members can use even after returning to regular work arrangements. A separate “office” room can help children focus on their homework. Your spouse may finally have a quiet place to write on their novel or engage in art projects. Here are a couple of home office ideas and tips as inspiration.

Always feel free to schedule a webinar with us to experience some of the benefits yourself! Right now, please contact Ben to see his Star Wars memorability, Adrian to see a painting from his favorite artist Franz Marc, and Natalie for her cats Olaf and Jackson.


The Best a Man Can Get

Generation Z is the most diverse and egalitarian group of Americans we have ever seen. Many established marketing strategies will have to be adjusted accordingly. Companies need to decide whether they take a stand on social and environmental issues, because this generation has lost trust in the political process and is therefore eager to vote with their wallet.  

Donations do matter.  Sponsoring events for those who suffer is the social good people want to see. Corporate social responsibility is beneficial to your community, but how exactly does your business affect the wide range of stakeholders they serve? Providing value to your community beyond fantastic products and great service is how you can differentiate yourself from the competition. This may include social and environmental initiatives that go way beyond donations and sponsorships.

Storytelling is becoming an effective strategy to reach Gen Z, because they are often doubtful of abstract and vague messages like healthy or natural. They want to know where and how is your product made. Are you monitoring your supply chain for ethical wrongdoing and, if it exists, how do you react? Transparency will create trusted relationships with your consumers for years to come.

You may say Gillette using a controversial video is risky. They may have lost consumers, but they have also attracted new consumer segments who value their public stance against toxic masculinity – an issue bouncing around our education system and has been in politics for decades. This new generation wants to see change and since politics aren’t trusted to provide that change, they’re looking at the next most influential group in the Country: Corporate America.

Walking the talk is crucial, though. Figuring out whether your pledged support truly materialized is simple, so businesses engaging in white washing will be called out publicly. There are plenty of certifications and alternative business models to consider. Focus on the triple bottom line, become a certified B Corp or support one of hundreds of social and environmental initiatives.


2020 Marketing Predictions

There are plenty of 2020 predictions for the marketing industry, so we took a moment to weed through industry insiders’ comments. Here are our top 3 picks:

Digital Marketer

Digital Marketer provides 17 predictions from 17 industry experts. Videos will remain crucial for any campaign, and businesses will focus more on LinkedIn and IGTV. “Woke Marketing”, the mixing of politics into marketing messages, rises due to the election year. Companies will need to decide whether they want to be part of a public conversation by taking a stance or remain neutral. Both strategies have pros and cons. TikTok emerges as a potential new platform to reach the younger generation organically and via paid ads. Read more here.

Think with Google

Google provides 10 high-level predictions. Privacy concerns, automatization, machine learning and individualization reach critical levels. Marketers have more customer information available than ever, but concerns about people’s privacy are at an all-time high. Automatization may help keep data anonymous, yet allow us to utilize sensitive customer information. Read more here.

Single Grain

Single Grain provides an extensive list of 42 digital marketing trends for 2020. Not only does Single Grain explain trends, it also uses quotes, infographics, videos and other visual aids. They also provide plenty of valuable follow-up sources, so this is a great source if you are interested in the details. They address topics like conversational marketing, visual search, smart speakers and browser push notifications. Read more here.


Internships for GenZ

Millennials have outnumbered the Baby Boomer generation, and GenZ is entering the labor force. It is time to not only read about GenZ’s habits, but to get to know them personally via internships.

According to the Washington Post, “[GenZ is] known to value compromise […], a byproduct of their diversity and comfort with working with peers from different backgrounds. They are also in line to be an ‘adaptive’ generation. These cohorts tend to come right after disruptive generations that change society in significant ways, such as millennials. When adaptive groups come of age, they take the problems that were brought to light by their predecessors and try to work them out.”

What does this mean for businesses?

Attractive internships for the GenZ generation will have to provide a high level of autonomy. They want to learn about the big picture, but their attention span is historically short. Engage with them on a frequent basis and focus on where they feel most comfortable: the digital realm.

Providing meaningful work and engaged mentoring are necessary if you plan to hire interns. GenZ is a generation of doers. The more they get involved with the key operations of your business, and how they fit into their ideological world view, the more likely they are to stay.

There is even a new kind of mentoring you may want to consider: reverse mentoring. GenZ are digital natives who want to change the world. They have a unique way of looking at the world which is an asset for management and beyond. Confront your intern with a challenge the business is currently facing, and ask her to come up with a plan by doing research, interviewing employees, etc. Let them share new trends and innovative solutions. Let them mentor management whenever appropriate.

We at Media Link have been enjoying insights from our interns for many years. We take time getting to know our interns from the start, so we can create an individualized bundle of responsibilities and tasks to improve the skills necessary for their future careers. Some of our interns like to focus on creative tasks such as copy writing and social media; others prefer the data driven nature of market research and tracking campaign success – our goal is to create a good fit. Interns meet with our internship coordinator on a regular basis to talk about their progress and to adjust tasks where needed.

Around 10 students run though our internship program each year.  We are so proud to see their growth and see where their path after graduation takes them.  Over the last few years, we have extended our mentoring into a part-time position for those interns who have exhibited a special passion for our field. This ensures they can continue to grow both personally and professionally to help them better prepare to be our next generation of marketing professionals.


Net(-)working

We all know it’s crucial to foster relationships in and out of the office. Reach out and make connections with people in different fields, so you can take advantage of anything that comes up.

But don’t forget the digital realm. Dig up old LinkedIn posts and polish them up before reposting them to be more relevant to today’s standards. This way, you are using content you are already know, which they may have missed when you posted it a couple years ago.

Live text chats have increased in popularity. Larger businesses profit from setting up a live chat option on their website, so customers can instantly get in touch.

Google your key words into a search engine and see the top results. If they aren’t competitors of yours, then reach out and try to strike a deal with them to put your information on their site. This way you are indirectly on the first page of search results, which will greatly increase your exposure.

Pay close attention to how users interact with your website and react to the results you find. Always keep updating your site and listen to what your users are asking, because they’re the ones you want to keep happy.

Hosting webinars is increasingly popular. The more focused a webinar, the more relevant it will be for your clients/customers to log in to listen and interact. Another video-based tactic is vlogging, or video blogging.

If you notice your customers showing an interest in your articles, then don’t ignore them. Respond to comments and thank them for contributing. Consider writing an e-book, if you have a good amount of complementary copy available.

Its common knowledge social media is one of the largest driving forces for companies, but don’t just use the most well-known sites. Consider expanding to sites like reddit and others with great online communities.

Last consider adding a “call to action” or CTA to your site.  This tool leaves spots all over your site to encourage users to act. You could offer your e-book as a download.