Episode 248:

The Black Lives Matter movement has triggered a global conversation that has been a long time coming. Like other business owners, agency leaders are wrestling with the questions and concerns about racial equality in their agency and in our industry. How should our agencies respond internally and externally?

The demand for conversations about racial equality is louder and more urgent now than it has ever been. Employment attorney and discrimination complaint investigator Jennifer Long has a scalable, business-centric response to moving towards racial equality that will help us create consequential and sustainable change.

What can we do to take meaningful action? Should we be issuing an anti-racist statement? Or use our social media channels to post memes? How do we handle this well and respectfully while also not taking our eye off the ball and helping our agency recover from COVID and the economic downturn?

It’s critical for agencies to have their house in order before they publicly bang their drum, and Jen can help us understand how that works from a business perspective. Her recent engagements have been focused on helping organizations expand their racial consciousness and messaging around this topic.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Leaders

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How agency leaders should respond to the need for racial equality
  • How to provide your team with the right resources to educate themselves about racial equality
  • How to improve your hiring practices and align them with racial equality
  • Why implicit bias negatively influences the workplace
  • How agency owners can put together a course of action that is meaningful but also enables them to continue operating profitably
  • What you can do to take a stance on racial equality without being criticized as a hypocrite
  • Examples of companies that are dealing with this issue successfully

The Golden Nuggets:

“There is a real opportunity for companies to figure out what is unique about them and show their support for racial equality through that uniqueness.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “Now is the time to use your organization as a vehicle to create the world we all say we want.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “Racial equality doesn’t just happen. We are all participating in a system, and in order to dismantle the system, we have to acknowledge the cultural filters through which we see the world.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “After reviewing their company through a racial lens, agency leaders can identify what they want to improve on in as little as a couple of hours.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “We are a racist culture, so all of us have been programmed to see individuals in a certain type of way.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “The challenge is to move away from the status quo and actively dismantle the systems that only provide you with white job candidates.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “You’re either racist or anti-racist—there is no more neutral.” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet “If YOU the agency leader and YOU the person want to be better, it all starts at the same place. Where are you at now and where do you want to go?” -Jennifer Long Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Jennifer Long:

Resources mentioned:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for being here. I know that you are crazy busy, especially if you are listening to this in real time. I know this is a time of great change challenge, so I appreciate you making the time to join us. I believe this is a super important episode for us to share and I’m really excited to bring it to you. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about our guest and the topic in a second. But first I want to let so this is going to air in July of 2020. I’m telling you that because I’m about to tell you about an aberration to our workshop schedule. If you’re listening to this in like 2022 just ignore this part. Because of COVID, we are for the first time going to offer both our regular AE Bootcamp our advanced and our advanced AE Bootcamp virtually in September.

Two days of learning from me live. I will be live different than our on-demand course. With me the other AEs in a zoom meeting together. We will try replicate as much as we can, the collaboration and the sharing that happens in our live workshops. We’ve done a couple of these already it’s gone really well. I believe as participants, there’s plenty still to gain. But you don’t have to travel. You don’t have to worry about wearing a mask. You can just spend two days immersing yourself in how to be a better AE. If you’re an agency owner know that the purpose of these courses is to teach your AEs, honestly, what nobody teaches them, which is what their job really is. How they serve three different masters, the client, the agency owner and their internal team.

How do they serve those masters with a high level of excellence without compromising one or the other? The advanced AE bootcamp. That’s going to be for folks with four or more years of experience. That’s going to be September 1st and second. Just the regular AE Bootcamp for folks with less than four years of agency experience, that’s going to be September 3rd and fourth. You can head over to Agency Management Institute register for those. I will send you the Zoom information once you’re registered and we’re going to hang out for two days. We’re going to talk about what I believe is probably the most critical role inside an agency. When you think about it, these are the people who control, whether or not your clients are happy. These are the people who control the profit level of your jobs.

These are the people who control what you can sell to a client for how much. These are critical people inside your shop. After the two days hanging out with me, I promise you, they’re going to show up full of ideas, full of new energy and ways to help you make keep more of the money that flows through your agency. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, under the HOW WE HELP navigation, you can find the workshop schedule, say that five times through, and register there. All right? If you have any questions, shoot me an email. Let me tell you a little bit about my guest today and our topic. There’s not an agency on the planet that is not wrestling with the consequences or the questions or the worries that come around the resurgence of the Black Lives Matters movement.

Many, many agency owners all across the world are trying to figure out, does their agency take a position? How do you express your agency’s feelings about this situation? How do you answer your employees questions about what your agency’s stance is? What’s the difference? What’s the dotted line between how you as a human being feel and how your agency should respond. A few weeks ago, many of you who get our newsletter know that I wrote an article. I talked a lot about, I think that there are two paths that are before us. I think one is mandatory and one is optional. The mandatory one is action. I think all of us need to take action. We need to look at our businesses, we need to look at our hiring practices, our promotional practices. The people that we work with, the people we work for. The messages that we put into our clients, advertising and marketing. Are we being as anti-racist as we possibly can be?

I think that I believe, this is just my opinion, all of us need to do something in response to this. Without a doubt, we should have been doing something prior to the Floyd murder and all of this renewed energy around this topic, but we’re here today. This is not about looking backwards chastising ourselves for what we didn’t do. I think it’s really about looking forward deciding what kind of an agency you want to run how you feel about racial equality and how you can bake that into everything your agency does. That to me Is the path that we all must take. Then there’s the activism path. That’s the path where some businesses are whether it’s posting things on social media or it’s everybody on the team going out to a protest or whatever it may be. That I think is more optional. When I say optional, what I mean is, I don’t know that every business in the world needs to bang a drum about this publicly, is really much more important that we make sure that we have our house in order privately.

I think the danger is when we do one without the other. When we are out there and we’re putting up the black square, or we are posting means, or we’re releasing a generic statement about how we stand with the Black Lives movement, none of which I disagree with by the way. But when we do that we don’t look at ourselves and we aren’t ready to answer the difficult questions that our employees or our clients ask, then I think we’re at risk. I think we’re at risk of being called a hypocrite, we’re at risk of being a hypocrite. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take both action jump into activism. What I’m saying is I think you have some choices on that spectrum. I wanted to invite someone to talk with us about that. They could really look at it from a business point of view. How we deal with this personally is a whole different topic for a whole different podcast. But I wanted to invite someone who could help us think about this from a business perspective.

We’re already dealing with a lot, many of us have been knocked to our knees because of COVID. Some of you are still struggling to get your billings back in order. Many of you may have laid employees off or furloughed them. Then on top of that, just when you felt like you were getting your feet under you around COVID, then we had the protests the riots and this new discussion that is very important that we need to have inside of our agencies. But I know a lot of agency owners are telling me that they feel ill-equipped and they’re not sure what the right thing to do is and how much of their own personal feelings plays into how their agency should react. I think there’s a lot of uncomfortable questions to be asked. I’m going to just jump in ask them. Let me tell you a little bit about our guests.

Jennifer Long Is today an executive coach and consultant, a trained employment attorney and a discrimination complaint investigator. Her recent engagements have been focused on helping individuals businesses expand their racial consciousness and messaging around all of this topic. As background, Jen grew up in New York interestingly attended a public high school, a Catholic school and a Quaker school prior to going to college. Attended William Smith College in New York and then attended the Howard University School of Law which is a historically black college in Washington, D.C. where she graduated in the mid-nineties. She’s a licensed attorney in both the States of New York and California and today practices in California. I was introduced to Jen by a mutual acquaintance.

We had a really amazing hour-long phone call which was supposed to be about 10 minutes long stretched very quickly to an hour. I cannot wait to introduce her to you and to have her help us unravel some of these really hard questions. So that you’re feeling more equipped to know how your agency should respond to what your employees are asking, what your clients are asking and what your heart is asking you around racial equality and the current situation with Black Lives Matter. Let’s get right to it because I’ve got a lot of questions and I know you did too. With that Jen, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for making time to help us try make some sense out of what is certainly one of the more complicated issues that we as business owners probably have ever faced.

Jennifer Long:

Well, thank you for having me.

Drew McLellan:

I think this is challenging on many levels, but one of the challenges is that agency owners are A, they’re still reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus on their business. Many of them have been knocked to their knees in terms of that. Financially they’re already struggling, they’re exhausted from the fight. Now all of a sudden they are being called upon in many times internally from themselves to take a stand on the whole Black Lives matters issue and to recognize acknowledge that we can should do this better. Business agency owners, the people listening to this podcast know that they have a role to play in this movement of change. Many of them personally have been doing protests doing all kinds of made donations. I think one of the biggest challenges is trying to figure out how do I respond to this as an individual?

How do I, Drew, respond to this? Then how do I Drew, the business owner, the agency owner respond to this in a way that’s appropriate for my business and for my clients, my employees. Talk to me from your perspective, how should we begin to approach this? I don’t think anybody listening doesn’t want to be better and to eradicate the racial divide that we have, not only in our country, because we have listeners all over the world. We certainly are seeing protests happening all over the world. I know this is not just a US problem. How should we begin to approach thinking about how our business should participate in this movement of change?

Jennifer Long:

That’s a great question. I think there’s a real alignment. If we’re working with the assumption that you, Drew, the individual and the business are both wanting to do better be better. I think the alignment is you’re going to start at the same place, which is where am I now and where do I want to go? The deviation between the individual and the business is how you analyze where you are and where you want to go. For the business side of it, you’re going to first start with what is your employee pool look like.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jennifer Long:

Then you’re going to think about if it doesn’t look the way you want, why is that? You can look at your payroll, you can look at your promotion opportunities, you can look at your visibility opportunities in your organization. You can look at what outreach has your business done on the social activism side of things. In other words, has your company made donations? Is your company have partnerships with outside organizations? You can look and see, well, do those partnerships and outside organizations reflect where I want to be on this issue. If they don’t, are there opportunities for me to go find new partnerships in outside organizations. That’s the business side of things.

On the personal side of things, you’re doing an inventory as well, but you’re also probably going to be doing a lot more educating.Again, that’s for yourself also for your business, because not everybody who wants do better knows how to do better. From the personal side, I would say, if you’re not very savvy or you don’t have much experience, you can enlist help. There’s so many outside resources now. Because of COVID, there are so many virtual classes that you can take. People who have been doing anti-racist work for so long, who can help guide you navigate these terrains in a very safe way. As safe as it can be given that you’re going to be re-examining your point of view on the world?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting I heard somebody talk about there’s racist and there’s neutral and then there’s anti-racist. I think a lot of agency owners, a lot of people listening would very quickly say we are not a racist organization. We don’t discriminate. But I think most of them, when they look, they would say we’ve probably been in the neutral area. Which means that when we get job applicants, if they all happen to be white, then we choose amongst the white applicants. What we haven’t done is said, how could we encourage more people of color or more people with different diversities to apply for these jobs? We haven’t really actively gone out tried to generate more diversity in our candidate pool, for example. I think for a lot of people they’re trying to figure out how do I… I just accepted it for what it was.

Now my eyes are open and I realize maybe there’s stuff I should have done to fix what I recognize was a deficiency, but I just accepted it because I wasn’t doing anything to prevent it. I was giving myself like a check mark, okay, well then I’m not racist. As opposed to saying, look, we need to create a partnership with a college in town that has a large population of people of color. Or we need to tap into the high schools in our area to talk to those kids about all the opportunities in the agency business, particularly those high schools, perhaps that have more people of color or people from underrepresented groups. I think a lot of us are trying to figure out like, not what I did wrong, but what could I do more, right?

Jennifer Long:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that’s the challenge of the moment. There is no more neutral. That is the moment we are in. There is no longer, I’m just going about my business. Apart from individual businesses, the country now faced with there is systemic racism. Whether or not you know we are all participating in that system of racism. You’re either racist or anti-racist, there is no more neutral.

Because there’s no more neutral, to your question about, well, this is the way we conducted business and these are the results we got. I think you pointed to something very important, which is what does your outreach look like for black people, indigenous people, people of color. I went to a historically black law school. Those are great places to look, to find candidates for agencies. Then they have like all universities colleges, alumni communities that you can partner with. I think part of what the challenge is, is to move away from the status quo and to actively help to dismantle the systems that only presented you with white candidates.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. I’m going to ask what, even in my head feels like a really uncomfortable question, but I know it’s a question people have in their heads. I’m going to go out on the limb. Let’s say I have-

Jennifer Long:

Go for it.

Drew McLellan:

Two candidates, one is white and one is black. My population in my office is predominantly white. Should I hire the black candidate no matter what? Should I hire the black candidate only if they’re the better of the two candidates? Am I being racist if I hire the white candidate, because I think they’re actually a better fit? Like help me unpack that because I think that’s the sticky stuff that we have to talk about.

Jennifer Long:

I think that’s a great question and I’m going to put on my employment law hat for that question because-

Drew McLellan:

I forget you come with many different qualifications to this conversation.

Jennifer Long:

There is a lot to unpack with that. I think embedded in the question is a lot of the dialogue around affirmative action. Which is I’m not hiring the best candidate and that has to do with perception. Again, remember the status quo is white, is the norm, that’s the standard. Anything that isn’t that can be viewed as deficient or giving away something that belongs to someone else. I can’t exactly answer that question with a blanket statement, but I think that we need to step back from that unpack the question. Because like I said, embedded in that is that these two candidates are not equally qualified. I think businesses really part of what you’re bringing up, both in this question the previous question is implicit bias.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that.

Jennifer Long:

Implicit bias is something that happens unconsciously. It’s a way that based on all of our societal input we come up with ideas about who different types of people are. For example, if you say African-American, there’s going to be a tape that’s playing that you may not be aware of that’s going on in your mind. There’s a lot of science behind this and the same is true if you say white person, if you say Latino, if you say indigenous person. Part of the work that individuals agency owners will be doing is unpacking their own implicit bias.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Because everybody’s tape is going to be different, right?

Jennifer Long:

Everybody’s tape is going to be different, but we’re all again in a racist culture. We have all been programmed African-American people like myself, white people, Latino, whoever has been raised here has been programmed in a certain kind of way to see individuals. Now, many people, many of your listeners, I would imagine, may do some type of mindfulness work. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a way of tapping into the quiet in your mind and having awareness around it. Just the mere fact that you’re aware I could have an implicit bias. Studies have shown it, you can have two applicants, you can have an applicant with a white sounding name less qualifications and an applicant with an more ethnic name better qualifications. The white sounding name applicant will get picked more times than not. It is perception.

Ibram Kendi who is big in the world of anti-racist talks about where do you see racial disparities? In schools, when you see achievement gaps or where you see salary gaps in education, that’s racism. It’s not happenstance and I think, again, when we look at where we are in the country, the conversation is this doesn’t just happen. We’re all actively participating in a system. In order for it to be dismantled, we all have to awaken to what’s in our filter. Robin DiAngelo who wrote White Fragility talks about, I think that percentage and don’t quote me on it is something like 73% of white people can go from cradle to grave and never have any meaningful relationship with a person of color. What does that mean? Where is that white person getting all of their information about black people, indigenous people people of color. TV?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. Social media.

Jennifer Long:

If we just do a quick survey of those places, what are those images usually like? She goes further to say, it’s not they’re never taught that they’re missing something of value. When we’re at the table we’re making decisions the table looks one way, does anybody say, wait a minute, we’re missing some voices at this table and these are valuable voices that can help us give us a different perspective help us to grow our marketing. I think that’s where the opportunities are.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think this is going to be a lot of hard soul searching work for all of us, but I also think you’re right. I think there is opportunity. I think that’s the way we as agency owners need to approach this, which is I have an opportunity to make my business better, stronger, more attractive to candidates even before all of the recent news and all of the discussion about police brutality. Even in the last couple of years, our industry has been criticized by clients that we are too homogenous. That we don’t have as many women in leadership positions as we should. We certainly don’t have enough racial diversity amongst our employees and certainly not amongst the leadership of agencies.

This has been a criticism long before this most recent awakening as you call it. This is something we have to deal with we should have been dealing with already. This is the opportunity for us to make a better world, but selfishly to also make a better, stronger business. I think, I believe that most people want to do both. Again though, the challenge is when I’m talking to agency owners right now, they’re like, “I don’t know what to do.” We’ve formed a committee, everyone has formed a committee because that’s what everybody does. We formed a committee we’re all reading a book, or we’re all doing something and we’re trying to educate ourselves. I’m starting to look at the business practices. I look out at my staff and I’m either happy with the mix of human beings out there or I’m not.

But what do I say, how do I say it? What do I say when my employees want us to shut down for a week join the protest? How do I, as a business owner find the right cadence to do this to do it in a way that A, doesn’t shut down my business, but B, I demonstrate that I do deeply care about this issue. I do want my business to be anti-racist, I want to be anti-racist. How do I do all of that while serving clients while dealing with employees who are also all over the board emotionally. Because I think everybody is reacting to this emotionally, but not with the same emotions. How does the average business owner of, has a staff of 12 people, how do they approach this and how do they put together a course of action that is meaningful, but also allows them to, when they get questioned, demonstrate that they are changing?

Jennifer Long:

I think the first step is taking a deep breath, truly. I think once you’ve been able to, you have to gather yourself before you can do anything. You have to put on your own oxygen mask. I think for business owners, it is important, you have to make sure that your business is solvent so that you have a business that employees can be a part of and you can have the stress of having the business. You have to keep your business in mind. I think for each agency that will be different depending on who their clients are.

I want to just go back for a second to something you said about the agency business already being challenged. Part of what is happening in the collective is people are more discerning. They become consumers whether it’s your direct client or your client’s clients, they’re much more discerning they are able and more concerned about the backstory of businesses. It’s not just what your front end product Is. It’s how are you going about getting that front end product to the consumer? As an industry, it sounds like you all were headed in that direction anyway.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Jennifer Long:

I think one should put your oxygen mask on, then you systematically sit down, like I said, and you review your organization with the race lens. What do we look like? Who are we being right now in this organization? Are we being supporting the status quo, or are we in the anti-racist category? If we’re not in the anti-racist category, then I truly believe that organizations can with the input of whomever needs to be at that table. It may be employees, It may be just senior management, whatever the company culture is. Can within a couple of hours really identify the areas that they want to work on. I’m going to give you an example of a client I work with.

She has a very successful business. When the George Floyd murder happened everybody was posting things she did not want to post something that was just a generic, Black Lives Matter. She wanted something more personal. We talked about what that was for her company culture, who she’d already been. So books are important to her. We talked about how can you use books to communicate your first step in this journey? Then we were able to come up with a series of initiatives that really help propel and have outlined what the next couple of months would look like.

Drew McLellan:

Then her statement was, “Here’s what we’re doing specifically, as opposed to, I’m going to put the black square up.”

Jennifer Long:

Right. I think that the black square is only going to create more questions.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, honestly, I think that’s one of the greatest risks. Is you can jump on the bandwagon go to, in essence, I’ll call it social media activism, or you put out the statement, you put up the black square or the Black Lives Matter thing. Then somebody says, “Well, tell me about your business. How many African-Americans work for you.” All of a sudden the hypocrisy of making that statement without owning that you still have work to do also puts us at risk.

Jennifer Long:

Absolutely. Some of the pitfalls here are doing exactly that. You put up your statement that isn’t authentic to your organization or what your organization has been about. Then people come forward, whether it’s internal to the organization or external to say, “Excuse me, that’s not true. Why are you posting that?” I’m going to give you an example that I thought was fascinating. Some of you may have heard of the clothing line reformation. They put up a statement sure enough employees came forward and said, “We didn’t get promotional opportunities. The CEO wouldn’t even look at me when I was in her presence. There were no people of color in leadership.” It led to a series. The CEO came out apologized. Ultimately the CEO had to resign in order to really save the brand. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jennifer Long:

Because it was in direct conflict to the lived experience of the employees. If you are in an organization, you run an organization where you know that there have been issues, then you should probably start there. Dealing with those issues, with the awareness that you have now do your best to try to right that wrong.

Drew McLellan:

I think some of that comes from two thoughts. One, boy we better understand this is not only for our own business but we have to advise our clients to make the choices too. But I think part of the challenge around this is that if you don’t step out put the black square or make the blanket statement, because maybe that you have not put in the effort that you could or should have. Or to your point in this story, maybe there you have actually been racist inside your organization. But even if you’ve been in that neutral space that has gone away, I think people feel guilt. They want to be able to say I’m not racist.

They immediately throw the square up or the whatever, because what they don’t want to say.. I was talking to a friend the other day and we were talking about this. She said, “Well, I know I’m racist.” I was like, “Tell me more about that.” She said, “Well, I know that I have implicit bias and all.” But she said it without any guilt without any, like she had taken herself off the hook. Not because she didn’t think it was bad, but she wasn’t beating herself up over the fact that she believes she was racist had work to do. I think that’s part of what’s underneath all of this.

Jennifer Long:

Well, it’s the, I’m a good person. I’m a good person and because I’m a good person I don’t want to believe that I have been harmful to another human being. It’s not about whether or not you’re a good person or not. This is deep conditioning. I’m just going to put a a little star next to that. We’re not talking now obviously about people who hold deeply overtly racist feelings. We’re not talking about those people, but we’re talking about people who without knowing have been reinforcing a racist system. I think what you mentioned about your friend is exactly where you need to be. The tools you need to get through this is you have to have a level of humility.

You have to let your defensive guard down and to say, “That was a perspective I had before. It’s not the perspective I have now. So what am I going to do with the knowledge that I have now?” Because it’s not about going backwards. I think that the companies and individuals who I have seen that have been successful are those who are humble and who are moving forward. They can make a statement like, “I’m aware of my deficiencies and here’s what I’m doing to get better.” Versus not anything at all. Or versus putting up a square or making a statement that’s not authentic.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I want to talk more about this. If we’re going to make a statement how do we do that in an authentic way in a second. Let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come right back. Hey guys, sorry for the interruption. But I want to tell you about a workshop that we offered in 2019 that was so amazing. We are offering it again twice in 2020. The workshop is called Sell with Strategic Insights. It was the brainchild of Robin and Steve Boehler from the Mercer Island group. Basically it was born from the idea that when they watch agencies pitch, one of the things they’re not seeing is a lot of strategy. Or the agency may have had a strategy, but they didn’t explain it very well.

Good agencies are losing in those pitches because they’re not articulating a really strong strategy. The other reason why we’re doing this, because one of the things I hear agency owners say all the time is that you are the bottleneck in your shop because you’re the only one, or maybe you have one or two other people on your leadership team who can really think strategically for both your existing clients for biz dev opportunities. We put together this workshop to teach you a methodology that you absolutely can take back to your shop teach everybody in your agency.

That will allow you to approach a current client or a prospect with an amazing strategy that really grabs their attention and makes you look very different from everybody else. I will also tell you that of the 100 agencies, but it probably wasn’t even a hundred because a lot of people brought more than one person. Let’s call it of the 70 or so agencies that took a workshop in the last two sessions.

Those agencies have reported over $39 million of new AGI that they absolutely can credit based on the client’s comments to using the methodology that they learned in that workshop. Again, $39 million. Anyway, this workshop is going to be in August in Chicago and in January of 2021 in Orlando, Florida on Disney property. Check it out on the website. Again, Selling with Strategic Insights, I highly recommend it. It’s really amazing, and it really can change how you and your agency approach and deliver strategy for clients and prospects.

All right, let’s get back to the show. All right. We are back I’m here with Jennifer Long and we are talking about Black Lives Matter and all of the discussions around racism that we have been facing worldwide really since the murder. I was talking to another agency on earlier and she said, “One of the things I’m afraid of is we’re all reacting to George Floyd’s murder, but there were lots of murders before that, that we didn’t react to. Is that inauthentic? Do I look like I’m just jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else did when really I should have been raising a flag and saying, hey, what’s going on a long time ago?” This gets back to your question of, it’s not about your past behaviors and actions it’s about what we are willing to say and do moving forward.

Here’s what I’m hearing you saying, correct me if I’m getting it wrong. What you’re saying is A, you don’t have to react in a millisecond. You can take a breath, you can think about. Probably as an agency, sooner you’re going to have to start thinking about your own personal experience and bias. Then how does that influence the company that you run and then bringing a team together, whether it’s your leadership team or whatever and putting together and making an agreement, we all agree that we can do this better than we are. Let’s put together a plan of what we’re going to do. Once you have the plan, is that the appropriate time to make some public statements? Because what I’m hearing you say is it’s probably not okay anymore to not say anything.

Jennifer Long:

Yes. It’s not okay to not say anything. Especially if you, and we’re limiting this conversation to people who really want to be better. I would say that you could even, if you haven’t already made a statement, I think there shouldn’t be too much of a lag time between your awareness. Because I think there are things that are going to continue to happen. They’re maybe more than one statement that needs to be made. I think that if your starting point is, “I don’t know what to do yet, but I know I need to do something.” I think you’re sufficient in saying that, “I see something that I didn’t see before and I know I need to examine myself and my organization and that’s what I’m going to do as the first step in this journey.

Many companies are saying it. It isn’t completely satisfying, but it’s also the truth, right? The alternative is to do what we just said absolutely don’t do which is to say something that’s completely inauthentic. How quickly can you mobilize and actually come up with a statement, a mission that is reflective of your organization. I would say again, there’s a real opportunity for companies to find what’s unique about them. What’s unique about the way that you deliver your business. To focus on that uniqueness and to find a way to express your support through that unique perspective. Because you’re not going to get through this without being real with yourself. As I mentioned before, the consumer down the supply chain are too sophisticated to not be transparent. You’re not going to get away with it. You might as well not even try.

Drew McLellan:

Especially in this world of 24/7 news and social media and everything else. If you want to know a company stand on anything, you can find it somewhere.

Jennifer Long:

Right. Their past positions. You might as well start with where you are. One way I think to get over the hurdle of I’m a good person, I’m a bad person, that internal negotiating is to really think about what’s at stake here. What’s really at stake are the lives black people, indigenous people and people of color. That’s really what’s at stake. Not only are we talking about personal physical harm, but the quality of life that we have to live in a society that doesn’t see us as completely valuable, as equally essential. When you are able to take yourself out of the mix and to turn your support and focus and energy to, I need to show up for another human being, I need to not allow them to continue to suffer. I think that is energy inducing.

Drew McLellan:

While our focus right now is on Black Lives Matter and appropriately so, I think part of this too is stepping back and looking at all the implicit biases we have around a lot of different things. Around gender, around sexual orientation, around race. For me, it’s part of this is about choosing the world that I want to live in and the world that I want to leave for my daughter and if I have grandchildren someday. How can I be part of a solution? I think agencies, that’s what we love to do. We love to solve challenging problems. I think if we can take and turn this a little bit and say, okay, here is a societal problem that is putting human beings at risk. How do I help us solve that problem? How do I be a voice in that mix? Then it’s not really about me anymore, which should have never been in the first place. It should be about the problem and solving the problem.

Jennifer Long:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

If I’ve contributed to that problem on purpose, not on purpose, it doesn’t really matter. As of tomorrow, I can start contributing to the solution.

Jennifer Long:

I think you nailed it. It’s how can I use myself and my organization as a vehicle to create the world that we all say we want. Now is the opportunity to actually bring that to life. Agencies have a huge part in that. You shape how we view product. How we view services. What language can you speak now that mirrors the mission of creating a society where we’re all seen as essential. It’s important for all of us to be at the table.

I was thinking about how our industry and our work has changed in some ways people’s perception of what a family is. I think about what commercials used to show as a family, which was always white man, a white woman, and a couple of white children. Now we see biracial couples. We see families with no children. We see families with two dads. A lot of that is our work. Putting that out into the world as, look, this is reality. This is “normal.” This is what we should all expect to see. There’s no reason why we can’t have a huge impact on this issue.

Exactly. Going back to, again, the implicit bias we talked about, if we can create new narratives and new imagery. Then we can again raise human consciousness. We can actually, I don’t know where I saw it, but somebody essentially said when COVID happened, maybe we can come out of this better. I actually took that as a personal challenge. I think this is the same.

This is deeply personal for me and my family and part of my own decision around this is this is a moment where I can personally challenge myself to step out of even my own comfort zone to be an advocate for myself and for other human beings. Because as you pointed out this Black Lives Matter, black lives have not been considered essential, but there are many other lives that aren’t considered essential. That’s not the world I want to live in and it’s not the world I want to give to my children. This is an opportunity for those of us who want this better world to step come forth and really stand up for a dream?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re so right. I just want you guys to know that Jen shared with me a link, which we’ll put in the show notes about, you can actually take a test around implicit bias, so we’ll make sure that’s in the show notes. Jen, who’s doing this well. Who can we look to as examples of companies that you think are presenting themselves and dealing with this issue, honestly, genuinely, but they are dealing with it?

Jennifer Long:

Again, I’ll start with the authentic. I will say that because it’s something you’ve mentioned a few times, I do think that there is something to being efficient. Not in terms of short-circuiting, but I do think the not marinating on it, but I think part of we’ve dissected why people are marinating because they’re focused on themselves and what does this mean about them rather than solving for the problem. But I think once you get your attention on solving the problem, then you’re able to come up with really interesting and dynamic examples. There was another company I was talking to and they are in the fashion world and they came up with an idea of starting an internship. Then they also decided to do a mentorship where they were helping other small businesses figure out how to navigate.

For example, the COVID, many smaller businesses are really suffering because they couldn’t navigate the whole loan PPE situation. Having partnerships where you can create, like you said, going to HBCUs and pulling from undergrads giving internships to the younger generation, and then for other businesses that may be similar to yours where you can help mentor. I think those are really two strong places where I think companies can do well.

Then obviously donations can be really powerful. Those businesses that are able to very efficiently examine their organization, see where their areas of growth are and then capitalize on their strength, use what they do well to build a bridge and examine your processes. Because the status quo has us run process and a certain type of way. Part of that is who’s at the table. How do you invite more people into your table?

Drew McLellan:

For agency owners whose employees are pushing them to really step out into the activism space, what’s the balance? How do I as a business owner? I have all these employees, some subset of them wants to be out protesting every day, want’s us out protesting every day. They’re so emotionally caught up in it and I want to respect their feelings. I want to support their need to express their voice, but I also have a business to run. How do I help, how do I explain, or how do I find a balance that they know I care about this issue? They know that we’re working on some things, but we can’t spend eight hours a day fighting this fight and forgetting that we have clients to serve and work to do.

Jennifer Long:

That’s an important question. I think, between COVID and the racial justice movement that’s happening, there’s a tremendous amount of stress happening for everybody. How do you create employee engagement in a meaningful way? One thing that I think has been important I know several employers who have not said you can have eight hours, but who have given their employees a certain amount of time where they themselves can go out and do what they think is right and just in the moment.

Whether they go to a protest or they volunteer for an organization, employers have allowed employees to do that. I think that’s an important feature to incorporate, especially right now. Another important piece of this is how well suited, and this is something for the owner, the executive to examine again, enlisting support. Employee engagement is not necessarily intuitive. How can you create team building opportunities. How do you create check-ins? But you want to make sure you have the skillset to do that. Not every manager should run an employee round table conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, right. Let’s say I’m one of those employees that that’s not my gift. Then what do I do?

Jennifer Long:

Then I say you find help with an expert who that’s what they’re trained to do. They’re trained to help bring in, you can either bring somebody in, or you can do something with a virtual facilitator, somebody to assist you in that process. Because some of the things that I have seen go wrong is where, again, because of the need to be responsive, you send a manager in to talk to a group of employees who are full of emotion and that manager has no skillset to respond appropriately. You just have to build partnerships. I think that’s also, again between COVID and the race journey.

Drew McLellan:

People are just raw.

Jennifer Long:

Right, they are extremely raw. Not every manager is trained to deal with raw emotion. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Drew McLellan:

They also are raw, everybody’s raw. You’ve got lot of vulnerability all in the same place. As you were talking, one of the things that struck me is, we’re trying to undo hundreds of years of racism. As you were saying every institution, every system has this baked in. Part of this too is also giving ourselves a little bit of a break and recognizing we’re not going to solve this in a month, or we’re not going to solve this by the end of 2020. This is going to be something that we as a people are going to be working on for a while. We don’t have to get to the finish line in 30 days.

Jennifer Long:

Absolutely. I think the 30-day analogy, that’s the beginning of the journey. We’re just mapping out a course of action that we can take over the next few months. You and I talked about this before, which is, this is the low hanging fruit phase. This is what can I touch right now that doesn’t take huge infrastructure. It may be the donation. It may be giving your employees a few hours to do volunteer work or to go to a protest. Then there is the deeper work, which is, are our salaries reflective of the value that we have of all human beings. Are our promotional opportunities reflect that? Do we have visibility, does our workforce? Those things take much more time. But you can also in those areas set small goals for yourself. Then you have to add on to that. How will if you’re successful? How are you going to measure this?

Drew McLellan:

I was telling you when we chatted before we hit the record button, I have an agency that I think has really come up with a really great way to handle that, which is they basically self-assess the organization and where they could be more anti-racist. They gave themselves a letter grade for each of those things and have publicly put that out into the world and are going to grade themselves every quarter. Every time they get a better or worse grade, they’re going to explain why the grade moved the way that it did.

If for example diversity ratios amongst employees, if right now they have a D and they move themselves up to a C, it will be because they hired, I’m just making this up, three people of color between the grading periods or whatever. They’re publicly acknowledging, here are all the places we need to get better and we’re holding ourselves accountable and you can hold us accountable too, because we’re going to show you our progress. That feels to me like it’s not overwhelming. It’s acknowledging you have lots of room for improvement, but it also shows that you’re committed to it and you’re going to take action no matter how long it takes.

Jennifer Long:

I think you said it very well with this, it’s the accountability piece of this. I do think that there are a lot of companies who are publishing what their goals are because they do want to be held accountable. The report card is a great way to track their progress. That doesn’t mean there won’t be setbacks along the way. But it’s a great way to set themselves up and to show commitment, I call it stick-to-it-iveness. You’re going to need a lot of stick-to-it-iveness to actually bring to fruition the meaningful change that we all aspire to.

Drew McLellan:

We have a lot of work to do.

Jennifer Long:

Yes, we do. But I think that once you understand the what’s at stake, you understand that there’s no more neutral ground. You understand that every human being is essential and that’s what the fight is for.

Drew McLellan:

I feel like in some ways we’ve just scratched the surface of this and we probably have. But any final thoughts as agency owners are wrapping their head around this and they really do believe that, as you said, I’m sure there are some that don’t want to, and we’re not talking about them. But the vast majority of them want to do the right things for the right reasons. Any messages they begin this journey? Anything that you want them to be thinking about or know, or be mindful of as they stumble? Because I think there’s going to be a lot of stumbling in this. As they stumble forward to try and do this better.

Jennifer Long:

Yes, stumble forward. As you and I talked about this as well before, which is we teach our children that there is no, as we say, “failure.” It’s just, so there will be some fumbling and maybe you won’t always say the right things or make the right moves. Again, having humility in the process and not being defensive about that and just own it. I’ll share with you that I had a conversation with a white woman who I met. We were talking about racial justice in our town.

She said to me towards the end of the conversation, “Listen, if I say something or do something that is not right or feels uncomfortable, please tell me about it. I really want to know, and I really want to learn.” I think that if we all approach this with a growth mindset and to be authentic, to be diligent, to be committed, then I think you will get where you want to go. It will take time, but the consumers that I’ve seen and I’ll include myself in that category have a high tolerance for those things. There isn’t a high tolerance for people who are just making statements and then doing nothing to back it up.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, or indifference.

Jennifer Long:

Right, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Better to do it badly than to not do it at all.

Jennifer Long:

Yeah. I don’t think you’re going to do it badly if you’re sincere. you may make a mistake or two, but you won’t be disastrous.

Drew McLellan:

It just might be a little awkward sometimes.

Jennifer Long:

It definitely would be awkward and uncomfortable for sure. Somebody will call you out on something and it won’t feel good, but you’ll get over it because you’ll remember what’s at stake.

Drew McLellan:

This really has been great. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation with all of us and to help us figure out how to navigate this and to do it well and honorably and authentically. I think this is a huge opportunity for us to leave a mark in a much more significant way. I think that’s exciting. I think it’s part of why we wanted to be entrepreneurial, I think it’s part of why we chose the industry we did, which is we like to make change for the good, we like to tell stories that uplift people. I think we can use our skills to help move the needle on this if we really focus on it. I’m grateful for your time. Thank you for being with us.

Jennifer Long:

Thank you for having me. We’re in this journey together.

Drew McLellan:

I’m going to be calling you again, you know that.

Jennifer Long:

Please do for sure. We really are in this journey together. I think we said it earlier, what more wish could you have than to leave the world in a better place for our kids and the people that we love and value. Thank you for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet.

Jennifer Long:

Good luck to everybody.

Drew McLellan:

We will get there together, that’s for sure. Jen, if people want to find out a little bit more about you or they want to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to connect with you.

Jennifer Long:

They can find me on LinkedIn.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. We’ll include a link to Jen’s profile on LinkedIn in the show notes so you’ll be able to find that. Jen, thank you so much, again, for this. This has been awesome.

Jennifer Long:

Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

All right guys. This wraps up a very important episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for listening. Thanks for sticking through the episode. I know at some points, this might’ve been a little uncomfortable. I’m hoping it’s also inspiring. We help the world see the world for how it really is and how it can be. That’s what we do every day. I hope we can harness that and be an important voice as an industry and as small business owners in this movement and in this cause and in making this change.

I’m grateful that you’re stuck around, thanks for listening. Huge shout out to our friends at White Label IQ. If you’re looking for somebody to white label, PPC design or dev, they are a fantastic partner. They’ve been a part of AMI for decades. Know them, love them, trust them. Reach out to them at whitelabeliq.com/AMI to see this special deal they have for podcast listeners. I will be back next week with another great guest to get you thinking a little differently about your business and in this case the world. In the meantime, you can always track me down at Agency Management Institute. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 4:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s build a better agency podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today so you don’t miss an episode.