Episode 341

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How does your agency show up in the world? As agency owners, we have a responsibility to know what’s going on — with our business, our employees, and our clients. There’s a lot going on in the world, and understanding how these things affect the worldviews of others in our space is the first step in deepening our agency relationships, elevating our business, and making sure we go beyond the “one-word” values our industry seems to be riddled with.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Karley Cunningham of Big Bold Brand joins me to talk about ways agencies can actually implement their mission, vision, and values into their processes in order to leverage them as strategic branding tools. She also offers expert insights into identifying the worldviews of the audiences who matter most to you, knowing when to take a stance on the important issues, and what to do when your worldviews no longer align with those of your clients.

Brand Strategist and Business Growth Accelerator Karley Cunningham takes businesses from overcrowded, competitive spaces out into blue ocean territory where they can confidently stand out and thrive as brand leaders in their sector.

Having built three successful businesses, Karley knows what it takes to start, develop and lead a company that delivers results. Her entrepreneurial success story is featured in the awarded book: The Widest Net by Pamela Slim. In addition, she’s a sought-after mentor and speaker for national and international business organizations and the host of The Made Possible Podcast.

Believing deeply in the practice of givers gain, she is well-known and networked and rarely goes a day without making a referral or connection. As a former pro athlete, Karley is performance-driven. An avid mountain athlete, she is a two-time finisher of the BC Bike Race, a seven-day, 325 km mountain bike stage race, and is always looking out for her next trail running adventure. When not focusing on the business or expanding her network, she can be found somewhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest with her wife and dog in their 4×4.

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 Relationships

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How to proactively influence the way your agency shows up in the world
  • Why it’s important to understand our client’s worldviews, how they align with our own, and what that means for our business
  • Ways to implement your mission, vision, and values as strategic branding tools
  • How to accelerate your business, improve employee retention, and deepen client relationships by taking your mission, vision, and values “off of the page”
  • When it’s important to take a stance on important issues, and how to start those conversions with clients
  • What your consumers want to know about where you stand
  • How to identify and align the worldviews of the audiences who matter most to you
“Agency life is better when you’re working with clients that you love.” @BrandMaven Click To Tweet “The farther apart you get, the harder it’s going to be to work with your clients.” @BrandMaven Click To Tweet “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. They buy what you stand for.” @BrandMaven Click To Tweet “We don’t have to do big things to show our audiences that we’re serving them in a way that matters to them.” @BrandMaven Click To Tweet “You don’t always need to be the one with the answers, you just have to be aware of the problem, and the worldview, and the need.” @BrandMaven Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Karley Cunningham:

Resources:

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 and keep 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 and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build A Better Agency. I hope you’re having a great day, and I want to thank you for inviting me to spend part of your day with you. You know that I do not take that for granted. I am always grateful that you make time in your day and your week for me and for my guests. So I thank you for letting be a part of your day today.

So here’s the deal. I am going to introduce our guest in just a minute, but I want to tell you a little bit about the topic first and how it came to be because then the resource I want to offer to you will make more sense.

So Karley Cunningham is an agency owner up in Canada, and she has lived the agency life for quite a long time, actually started her career as a graphic designer, but really got hooked on brand, and not the visual side of brand, but the contextual side of brand, like how you actually bring a brand to life. If you have read Pam Slim’s book, The Widest Net, Karley’s business is mentioned quite prominently in that book as an example of somebody who really leveraged the strategy that Pam teaches in that book. I know that Pam and Karley have done quite a bit of work together.

So just of connecting all the dots if you’ve listened to Pam’s interview on the podcast around The Widest Net. Both of them, by the way, are going to be at the summit. Pam is a keynote speaker. Karley’s going to be leading a round table. So you have a chance to meet both of them in-person in a couple months if you join us for the summit.

Anyway, what Karley and I are going to talk about today, there were so many things so we could talk about as we were prepping for today’s conversation, but where we landed was we landed on this idea of how she’s got a new workshop that she’s teaching that I found fascinating, which is the whole idea of really understanding someone’s world view as a part of your relationship. So whether that’s employees or prospects or current customers, really understanding their worldview and how the world is affecting them and seeing how it aligns with your worldview, and what that does for your business. So I want to really dig deep into that conversation because I think it’s a fascinating one.

So I know one of the worldview topics we’re going to end up talking about is the racial equality topic that we all been having some conversations around the last year or so. So I wanted to remind you of a tool that I’ve talked to you about before, but we haven’t talked about it for a while. So we put together a racial equity report card, so a way that you can grade your agency to see if you are basically putting a dent in racial equality, how you are approaching it as an agency, how you are contributing to it in your community.

So if you go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/racialequality, all one word, you can download that report card. Some agencies are using it quarterly. Other agencies are using it annually. Some are sending it to their clients to let them know that this is a focus area for them and something that they care about. Others are just keeping it as an internal tool. Anyway, however you use it, I hope it’s helpful, and I just in my head as I’m prepping for talking to Karley, I just thought, “Oh, that would be a good thing to remind you that we have out there.”

So with that, I want to cut right to the chase and get started with Karley because I have a lot of questions for her, and I think this is going to be a topic that’s really rich with meaning and opportunity for you to really reflect on how your agency shows up in the world, and how you show up in the world, and how that aligns with the other folks in your sphere of influence. So without any further ado, let me introduce you to Karley Cunningham and dig in. Okay?

Karley, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Karley Cunningham:

It’s my pleasure to be here with you, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So for folks who aren’t familiar with you and your work, give them a little lay of the land in terms of your background and how you came to do the work that you do today.

Karley Cunningham:

I’ve been in the industry for 20 plus years. It’s always scary to add up those numbers.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, it is.

Karley Cunningham:

Started my career on the graphic design side. That taught me a really great lesson in the value of visual communications and how to communicate things on a single page without so many words. I’ve worked in so many different aspects. I got into web early when everybody’s like, “Eh, web, it’ll go away. It’s just a trend.”

Drew McLellan:

The past, right?

Karley Cunningham:

Yeah. “It’s just a passing phase,” and eventually found my love of brand, developing brands, working with leaders to really dig in and figure out what are your fundamental beliefs and truths and how does that affect how you’re going to build your agency or your business. In our case, we work with business owners and leaders to do that and then help them figure out, “Okay. So now that you have this set of tools, it’s more than just messaging. It’s really a strategic set of tools. Now, how are you going to take that off the page and implement that into your business and how are you going to teach the rest of your team to do it?” The beauty is when all of that comes together, it aligns everyone and everything under essentially a one core set of tools and a strategy. It’s fun.

Drew McLellan:

Right. It’s really interesting. Last year at the summit, I led a round table on that very topic, that mission, vision, values, what do you do with them. I was fascinated at how often agency owners and, by the way, this is not what we’re going to talk about today, but as our first assign of the day, I was fascinated how many agency owners, it’s in the handbook, it’s on the wall, and they’re done as opposed to that’s just the start. So it was really a fascinating conversation. So I’m sure your work is fun and rewarding as you help people recognize how to actually use them as tools.

Karley Cunningham:

Yeah. Work is really fun for me. It’s going to sound funny, but after we’re done working with the client because what I’m always doing because I love to hear about their successes is I’m always following up saying, “Tell me how it’s come off the page and what’s happening.” Our superstars who are taking it off the page often in really unique ways, their business is accelerating-

Drew McLellan:

For sure.

Karley Cunningham:

… and their people are seeing more success. So that’s the fun part.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s employee retention, right? It increases. Its client retention increases. Its client connection increases. So you’re right, everything … It’s less expensive if my employees stay put. It’s less expensive if my client stay put. It’s less expensive, I can sell more to the same people. So yeah, I’m sure they do see exponential growth when they actually leverage the tools the way they should and could.

Karley Cunningham:

Agency life is better when you’re working with clients that you love.

Drew McLellan:

For sure.

Karley Cunningham:

Part of the tool we build is target audience profiles.

Drew McLellan:

For sure. Well, and that gets to actually the topic that, a beautiful segue, thank you, that does get to the topic that I want to talk to you about because I know you’ve got a workshop where you’re helping agencies or corporate clients really figure out how to, as part of the profiling that they’re doing for prospects, begin to understand those prospects’ worldviews and how that’s going to impact the work they do together. So can you talk a little bit about what prompted you to start that workshop? How did you see the need, and how are people responding to it? Then I want to dig into the content of it, but first, just how did it come to be?

Karley Cunningham:

Like so many other things, thank you, pandemic, we had so many business owners and leaders just freaking out going, “Okay. Well, what now?” and how many times did that happen through the course of the pandemic? It wasn’t just solely the pandemic that was causing issues. We’ve got the climate crisis going on. Prior to that, we had the refugee crisis, the Syrian refugee crisis. Then we’ve got how are we dealing with COVID. Then you’ve got the vaccine issues. Do we? Don’t we? Are we pro or against? Then we’ve got George Floyd and the uprising of systemic racism in Canada. It was the discovery of the hidden graves at the residential schools, and that was huge here.

You’ve got the issue with the ports and transport and supply chain crisis, and now you’ve got the great resignation. When I built the deck, even I presented it a few months ago, I presented it about three weeks ago and I had to add, “Okay, and now we’re on the precipice of a potential a world war.”

So there’s been so many things that have happened and have continued to basically pummel business owners and we’re acquire all of us to be present in the moment. I was like, “Okay. So we’re all trying to hold our businesses up as business as usual, but there’s all these extra added layers of stress caused for employees, stress caused for our clients.” So this workshop was really about how do we get ahead and what can we do to lead. If you want to take a real run at it, how do you become a brand leader in your space for those target audiences that you serve?

I think there’s a responsibility for leaders, agency owners to be sensitive to, “Well, what’s even going on with our staff? Do we have staff who are from the Ukraine?” One of my clients, both founders, have Ukrainian heritage. So we’re cutting them some slack right now. We’re slowing down the timelines. We’re checking in on every call saying, “Are you good to dive in today? Do you need to talk about anything not business before we get clear?” It’s a lot.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it is a lot. It is a lot. Well, and I think for some agency owners, it’s fascinating. I think a lot of this came to a head in the states, anyway, with George Floyd and all of that, where some agency owners, you could see them running to the fire that they wanted to take a stand, they wanted to share either their own personal opinion or a cultural thing from the agency’s perspective, and others were like, and I try and keep, and the political environment here in the states, I know, and a little bit in Canada, too, political environment over the last decade here in the states has been a little dicey, right? So people have been very leery about expressing their political opinions.

So I think a lot of agents owners are like, “Do I wait into this? Do I not wait into this? Do I have these conversations with my employees or with my clients?” So the whole notion of spending time at a workshop, really thinking about it, trying to decide where you land on all of this, and then how do you begin those conversations to learn about what other people’s opinions are, I think sometimes we get ourselves into a lot of trouble because we just assume that everybody has the same opinion as we do.

So I was with a guy that I know reasonably well. I’ve known him for years and we’re business acquaintances, and I was with him earlier this week, and we were, of course, talking about Ukraine, and he assumed that my political allegiance was, and where I fell in the liberal conservative strain was exactly where his was, which, by the way, it did not, but he just was talking like, “Of course, we were going to be in alignment,” and I thought, “This is really interesting that he’s making all these assumptions about what I believe because I’m a certain age, because I’m White, because I’m male, because I’m a business owner.”

I know he checked all these boxes and went, “Well, Drew must think like I do,” and it turns out I actually don’t. So it was just a really interesting microcosm that I was thinking about as I was coming into this conversation with you and how important it is to have a little more self-awareness and a little more awareness of the people around us. So the timing of this was is perfect, I think. I think you’re right. The world is, we plenty of issues facing us now, and maybe we always do. I think maybe our weariness from COVID makes everything feel heavier.

Karley Cunningham:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

We do have a lot of heavy issues facing our world right now. So talk a little bit about how you help your workshop attendees approach this topic, this idea of understanding other people’s worldviews and how do you weave that into your business relationship.

Karley Cunningham:

What we did was we created a five-step worldview analysis process. I’m really process-oriented so I need to see where things are going, and I’m also very results-driven. So anytime I do a workshop or a talk, it’s less the big inspiration because in conferences, inspiration’s great, but you’re always walking around going, “Well, what can I do with it now? How do I apply this?” Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yup.

Karley Cunningham:

So the good old dog and pony show of mad men era, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Karley Cunningham:

So the five-step process is really about honing in, is identifying a few key people in that ideal audience. So we could be talking prospects, ideal prospects ahead of us. We could be talking about our existing ideal clients, how do we, as you said earlier, keep them loyal. We could even be talking about our staff.

One of the workshops said, “Yeah, great resignation, I believe, is their biggest challenge. Hone in on that.” So identifying the names of those key people, so personifying them. You were talking to your network contact who made some assumptions. So getting in and even having conversations with them if you can, if it is a really dicey, touchy issue, then it warrants a conversation, but identifying who those people are so you can see them in your mind, and then considering which of the crises that I’ve listed affects them the most right now, and what are they then expecting. So speculating how that’s changed their worldview.

Just to dive in because even in building this workshop I was like, “Okay. Hold on a minute. I need to check myself and talk about the right thing here and the definition of a worldview.” It’s the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of our reality that ground us and influences our perceiving, our thinking, our knowing, and our doing. That can be foundational. These types of crises affect people’s values. Rarely do our values change. We’re all questioning the person in your family that pops up about who feels differently about vaccination than you do. Wow. That’s a surprise for some of us. For others we’re like, “No. I just expected it,” so that constant, even subconscious evaluation.

So understanding where our people, our community, and specific groups are at because they’re all affected by different things, and then to determining how that affected worldview affects their expectations of you and your business or your business and your team. So what do you need to change, if anything?

Drew McLellan:

So is this about figuring out what my worldviews are as an agency owner or my agency’s worldview is, putting that out into the world to attract like-minded people or can a Biden supporter serve a Trump supporter? You know what I’m saying? If you understand each other, can you still work together?

Karley Cunningham:

I think if there’s a mutual level of respect and a deep respect in a long-time relationship and being comfortable being in that gray space with each other, knowing that we’re going to agree to disagree, I think that becomes the detention point. I mean, I think back to a business previous iteration of I call this version 3.0 is I had a business partner and we set our values with this saying, but how we expressed and actually defined those values, this is what taught me to go beyond one word values like integrity and trust and family first, what do I actually mean by those things.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. What does that look like? Right. Yeah.

Karley Cunningham:

Yeah. Actions speak louder than words. Behaviors speak louder than words, so behaviors around those values, but really pull a detention point between us, and that’s eventually what was either going to cause it to snap, but I made a choice because I knew we weren’t aligning and I had to cut the cord and we dissolved the business. So it’s really the farther apart you get, I think the harder it’s going to be to work with your clients. I mean, even coming back down to our business purpose. Simon Sinek said it right. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. They buy what you stand for.

So when we get into political, I think so many business owners have been used to keeping their head down. In the conversation I was having with I will call it a younger business group who were really learning to step into the bigger role of leadership recently, they were all having that dilemma of, “Wow! Business has become about politics.” How long can you avoid it for?

Drew McLellan:

So really, it is about, part of the goal in identifying, is about alignment and maybe recognizing where there’s not alignment. So you have to have a higher level of sensitivity around it, but ultimately-

Karley Cunningham:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Ultimately, are you suggesting that we wear our worldview, our business’ worldview, which is typically the agency owner’s worldview, should we be wearing that on our sleeve? Should we announce to the world, “I’m a liberal conservative. I think climate change is a hoax. I think,” whatever it is you think? I mean, should you be saying that to the world?

Karley Cunningham:

I think it comes down to, I’m going to pick on the introvert/extrovert version, how much of your personal life and personal beliefs do you make public. Are you comfortable making public? I’m very comfortable, having been, I’m Caucasian, but I’m also a member of the LGBTQ community, and I’m very passionate about women’s rights. I call it equalism. Equality doesn’t resonate with me, and also about LGBTQ issues. So for me to be in a room of, say, very religious folks, I need to check. It’s one of my first conversations. Okay. So I need to disclose that this is who I am. Are we going to have an issue? It’s my decision to judge what’s going on in that room as to whether that’s a safe place for me or not.

So it really comes down to the business owner. If you’re comfortable with keeping divider lines and boundaries very, very high and strong and you’re not fluxed by it, then I don’t think it’s an issue for you, but if it’s something you’re passionate about, yeah, fly your freak flag, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Karley Cunningham:

Fly your colors.

Drew McLellan:

Well, but it’s interesting because for you, it’s very personal, right? I mean, it’s who you are, right? So on the flip side, I’m a straight White guy, but I have strong opinions about all of those issues that you just listed. I’m also a dad of a daughter and I have a lot of friends in your community that I feel very passionately have the same rights as everyone else. So for me, it’s a little less personal. They’re not going to come attacking me per se because I don’t represent those issues, but I have a passion around them and a belief around them. So for a lot of people, it may not be their issue, but it doesn’t mean it’s not their issue, if you know what I mean, right?

Karley Cunningham:

Exactly. I mean, it’s not my first identifier, for sure. So my clients are various different people from various different walks of life, and there’s a comfortability for me in that because I, in a way, as I move my way through the world and build my business, learned to become relatively adaptable, and it’s easy for me to be with people as long as there’s a strong sense of respect on many different levels.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. This is fascinating.