On this week’s episode of Performance Delivered, we’re joined by Bob Gold, Founder and CEO of Bob Gold & Associates, one of the premier independent integrated communications and public relations agencies in the country. He is also managing partner of Hemisphere Technologies, Inc., which is dedicated to investing in publicly traded and privately held technology companies. Bob holds a Master’s degree from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, and is the author of the popular children’s book, The Shiny Penny.
“The reality is that working remotely is not going to go away. I think we’re going to see, as we progress further and further, a hybrid approach to all businesses, not just to an agency business. We’re going to see that, with conferences, some people will still want to gather and some people won’t want to travel. So, that’s going to be our challenge— accepting this new hybrid model.” says Bob
We chat about growing your business from home, as well as:
- The balance between physical and virtual in the workplace
- Keeping collaboration and innovation flowing in a virtual setting
- The challenges of WFH
- Taking measures to create a safe office environment for returning employees
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today, we’re going to talk about growing your business during the working from home world. Here to speak with me about the topic is Bob Gold, who is the founder and CEO of Bob Gold and Associates, one of the premier independent integrated communications public relations agencies in the country.
Bob is also managing partner of Hemisphere Technologies, Inc, which is dedicated to investing in publicly traded and privately held technology companies. He’s the author of the popular children’s book, The Shiny Penny, and holds a master’s degree from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California where he also sits on the Alumni Board of Directors. Bob, welcome to Performance Delivered.
Bob Gold: Thank you, Steffen. It’s so nice to be here with you and to be with one of the new influencer podcasters in the country.
Steffen: Thank you so much. Bob, before we are going to talk about how companies can grow your business during a working from home environment, tell our listeners a bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career?
Bob’s Entrepreneurial Journey
Bob: How I got started. You know, I think the truth is that we need to look at moments of pain and moments of discomfort as great growth moments. And I have been what I will say fired twice in my life, laid off whatever you want to call it. Once from a PR agency that within 10 days from the day I was let go, I started and launched what is Lifetime Today as their first PR person.
And spent a long time in the cable business. And then when I left Fox Sports, again, not by my choosing, so you can pick the name, I ended up starting my own business 23 years ago. So this conversation is a great conversation to have about overcoming difficult times and using the pain of a difficult time for growth and development.
Steffen: When you founded your PR company, did you go after a specific industry in the market? Or what did you focus on in the beginning?
Bob: Well, you know, I’ll tell you first of all, when I started my company, like every entrepreneur, I thought of what’s a great name to brand my company where, you know, to give it an independent identity? But the truth is I had worked at Lifetime and HBO and in the sports world. And I had established my own brand.
And I realized that the strongest brand for a company to accomplish and win business would be myself. So it became Bob Gold and Associates. And because I had been in that cable television and programming world, that’s where I work the room, if you will, because that was the room that I was in. And interestingly enough, I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought I was just going to consult for a few weeks until I got my next corporate gig.
But in five weeks, I earned five clients from technology to programming. And that was my life-changing moment of realizing after six months the universe has spoken to me and this is what I was going to do, have my own business and begin to hire employees and grow it and continue that success. So you, I think it’s always best to work a Rolodex of people you know than people you don’t know.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. It’s always good to focus on where you stand out and kind of trying tune, build new strength in a new industry. As a company, you know, before COVID-19 started to impact everyone’s life. Obviously, not only individuals but also companies. Had you set up your business already as a remote business? So were you, the people that work at your company worked remote or was that a situation that you had to adjust to?
Bob: Yeah. No, I, in fact, have had long-term ongoing discussions and disagreements with staff because I like having staff in my office. And working remote is not something that I was comfortable with and still not comfortable with.
You know, what I have found despite others, you know, screaming how productive they are and work from home, that was especially junior staff, working remotely without supervision, without the ability to pop your head in and have a quick conversation or solve something or demonstrate something, it becomes difficult. And so work from home was a pretty major adjustment as well as making my office building a safe environment for people who chose to continue to work there.
Steffen: I think what you just said is very interesting. You said, you know, it’s difficult for junior staff. And, you know, obviously, we here at Symphonic Digital, we have been set up as a business where everyone works remote. And obviously, the situation hasn’t really challenged us in that regard that we had to find, you know, processes, tools, etc, to make things work, to make things smooth.
But I, when I talk to my business partner, I always say, you know, what, the greatest challenge is going to be for us in the future, when we can start to grow further, when we want to bring in more junior people to kind of train them, to keep an eye on them because it’s easy when you’re in an office environment, right?
And you see when someone is stuck, when you see that someone doesn’t comprehend what you want them to do. But when you work remote, even with on video, right? When you’re on the call, it’s sometimes hard to get those cues. What are your thoughts? Do you think there are there ways to overcome that situation? And still, you know, bring in junior people and help them grow although you might have to, to a certain extent have them remote?
A Hybrid Approach to Business
Bob: Yeah, well, I think what the reality is, is that working remotely is not going to go away and is a permanent part of our fixture and style. But it’s not all one or the other. I think we’re going to see, as we progress further and further, a hybrid approach to all businesses, not just to an agency business. We’re going to see that at conferences, we’re going to see that some people will still want to gather and some people think you know what, I don’t want to fly, I don’t want to travel, I don’t need to.
And I’ll come in by Zoom or whatever. And so that’s going to be our challenge of accepting this new hybrid model. And I think that we haven’t hired any junior staff during this time. But I have to tell you, I do feel like a superhero because we didn’t lay anyone off during COVID and we didn’t cut any salaries. And we still haven’t. But we haven’t hired anyone on that’s junior because of a training concern.
Steffen: Yeah, I mean, I speak to a lot of agency owners, and some of them really had to make hard decisions, whether they’re asking their staff to accept a pay cut, or even having to lay off people. And I mean, it’s always hard, right? Because it’s nothing that individual has done, you know, because that person hasn’t delivered or anything. It’s just the circumstances make you do that, you know?
A second to go, I just want to touch on that before I want to move on, as you said, you like to have people around you in the office. In addition to the fact that obviously, you can keep an eye on people, can keep a better overview also from a training perspective, it might be easier to have them around you in an office environment. Is there another reason why you prefer having people huddled around you rather than remote?
Bob: Yeah, my experience is that remote working, it tends to be a tactical plan. If you’re looking at strictly tactical executions, it’s very strong and you can click off everything on the list that you were supposed to do and get it done. Collaboration, innovation, creativity tends to happen when people gather, not when we’re separated. And except for more highly skilled and developed levels of executive, that’s the challenge.
Getting creativity alone, with the distractions of home. And in the agency world, we fight a battle of a balance between being creative and strategic and finding creative solutions for strategic problems and tactically being more arms or legs and just getting the work done. And that’s the issue of work from home and being in the office.
Steffen: That makes sense. Well, how is this working from home situation changed your business? I mean, companies have started to bring people back into the office, obviously. And I think we jumped on, you talked about the fact that, you know, I had to think through how to keep a safe work environment, which is obviously a big topic for everyone, right? How to stay safe. But how has this situation changed your business?
Bob: Yeah. So we were blessed because we had migrated to Microsoft Teams, shameless plug for Microsoft, simply to go into the cloud for all of our work solutions because it was getting time to think about new servers and situations for everyone here. And that just seemed to be the sense of where it goes. So, we’d already gone to Microsoft Teams when it was time to work from home.
And therefore, it was seamless for us, for video calls for connecting with each other through their Slack-like messaging system, through email, document, sharing all of it. Suddenly, we really didn’t have a hiccup. In that regard, we were blessed. And each employee was given a bonus which was to pay for any equipment that they needed while they were at home or their utilities from working from home or to put in their pocket. And so that worked out nicely, you know, in that regard.
Steffen: Sounds like there wasn’t a big impact on the business. You had kind of already done certain things before COVID-19 hit which afterwards, kind of helped you run the business, run projects, work with your team.
Learning From Past (or Current) Economic Disruptors
Bob: You know, I have to tell you, having lived through 2008, 2009, which I was completely unprepared for like a lot of agency owners, I was just unprepared for the level of cutting and what went on and how to position and go forward. In this case, I’ve been incredibly focused. I’m not letting that happen again.
And so we have been nimble, we have pivoted, we created on-demand pricing programs for clients that said, you know, pay us a monthly minimum retainer to cover, nominal retainer that covers our administrative time, setting up the files, time for phone calls, and then every project you want on top of that is an add-on project that we will build for you individually.
And that was actually terrific for winning business when no one wanted to spend and everyone wanted to harbor their dollars, which actually could have been more than a, you know, spending in a month than a retainer would have been. We launched a bankruptcy practice seeing that bankruptcy was going to be growing across companies and industries and, you know, have one business in that category as well.
I think the whole sense of how to move forward, the bigger issue from work from home is the new economy that we’re operating on. We went through months where clients did not want to be on more than one or two months contract. They’ll take it slower.
The year-long contract wasn’t happening. Now we’re on three months and we’re actively getting requests for six and 12-month contracts. But people are still very uncertain. Companies are uncertain on how to spend and how to move forward. And flexibility, awareness, tight controls on costs so that you’re looking at what does it cost to do a news release or a media tour or something along that line? That you are covering every dollar and making sure you’re serving a client appropriate to the budget in, as you might have, within a retained relationship.
Steffen: That’s interesting. So shorter contract, I would think also translates into less planning security, you know, in the mid and long term. How have you tackled that issue?
Bob: Well, I will tell you, and that is none of my staff are getting raises this year at all. And they won’t going into the first quarter of next year for sure. They will get bonuses so they’ll make more money. We are looking at title, you know, growth, but we cannot, because of the uncertain area, we can’t create a new baseline of higher salaries, which you know, and then you have to grow from that and grow from that and that inflationary area. Because the business, honestly, we have, we were hit so bad, I honestly have to say my wife died from cancer in 2018.
That was a terrible year for me. And obviously, I took my eye off the ball. his year because of COVID. It has been financially a tougher year for us, and we’ve earned significantly less than I did when my wife passed away. We are earning less than when 2008 and 2009. We have to understand this is not a stable economy in any market area.
Steffen: No. Did you implement new procedures to kind of adjust for the situation? You obviously said, you know, you’re kind of, there are no pay rises, people still get bonuses and things like that. But what about procedures and processes?
Bob: Yeah, so, in fact, I gave away 10% of my business to two employees so that they could take much more one on one guidance of other individuals on staff. I needed to work less and stay focused on the strategy and the winning of, you know, making rain is our number one focus. And myself and one other staff member are really, really, really focused on that. And then, just managing the rest to get through.
And it’s been a, it has been, you know, tough work, I will say. It’s been timely. I’ve had one of my guys who’s a leader is getting his MBA at USC right now online. And so I don’t know how he does it, how he does, manages the staff and our workload that is here. Plus, just recently married and getting an MBA. Let’s talk about stress. He’s got it.
Steffen: Yeah, I remember the times my wife did her MBA while working full time. That’s not fun, that’s for sure. How about working with clients and media? How has that changed during the pandemic?
Bob: Yeah. Well, I have to tell you, first of all, the media is working from home. And we don’t have everybody’s cell phone. And it used to be you’d send out a pitch or you’d have a conversation and then you’d call up for follow up. And you can’t get ahold of anyone because they’re not in the offices.
And so you’re more and more reliant on email, Twitter or LinkedIn messaging, trying to get their attention and get a response because you don’t have a phone number to reach these people. And that has really changed some of the responsiveness. I also found, quite a number of reporters and editors have become more responsive to email as a result of these changes and less phone calls. So, you know, I guess it works both ways. But it is a much more distant relationship.
Steffen: Do you have to accommodate for that? I mean, if you will have to wait longer if it is hard to get people to respond, I mean, that must have an impact on your delivery timeline.
Bob: Yeah, so we’re a little bit of an unusual PR agency in that in every single contract, we have guaranteed outcomes and results that you’re buying. You’re buying so many tier one and so many tier two story placements. You’re buying so many media and analyst briefings. You’re buying so many byline placements. And, you know, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. If I can’t look at a client and say, This is what we can get, you know, shame on me. So, you know, the time of best efforts has dramatically changed.
Well, there are stories that I thought were slam dunk, but if you can’t get through, especially the someone in the entertainment media, you know, keep in mind, during this time, every publication, every news outlet, every broadcaster and cable network has cut their staff significantly. Their offices are closed, their studios have closed, the satellite offices have closed. I mean, the whole sense of resources that you could pick on has changed dramatically. And that affects story outcomes.
Steffen: Does that mean there is more work for your team to do at the end of the day?
Bob: There’s more nagging. There’s much more nagging. But now with clients, you know, the other side of that, the work with clients has not changed at all. In fact, if anything, it’s kind of refreshing. I have only one client I travel for to Arizona, which puts my heart in my throat when I go, and spend a day in their conference room.
This is a bankruptcy client that, you know, obviously has a lot of needs and a lot of things that can’t be discussed otherwise. So otherwise, it is globally, people are simply spending much more time in Zoom calls or an equivalency and we’re being very effective. And our clients, some of our clients have actually doubled their investment with us because of the successes we are having.
Bob: Thank you.
Steffen: How about collaboration? What are the biggest challenges there when it comes to, you know, making sure that the people in your team work collaboratively together? You know, you earlier talked about junior staff and the challenges there are when it comes to them, but even for most people senior people as they’re not sitting next to each other, as they’re not kind of spontaneously can huddle up and kind of talk about things, how has that impacted the business? And how have you overcome that?
Biggest Challenge to Maintaining Collaboration
Bob: Yeah, so, you know, everything is fluid. And I own my office building that’s two and a half blocks from the ocean. I mean, it’s just a gorgeous part of the world that we operate in. And as such, I have other tenants in the building and I needed, who stayed here, and lucky for me, everyone kept coming to work. We put in a glassed-in reception area, everyone is, when you walk into this building, I don’t care if you left for lunch and come back, you have your temperature checked, you have questions that are answered.
We have step in pull door openers, everyone is in their own private offices, no one is allowed in the office that doesn’t work here, deliveries are kept at the front reception area. We’ve create, you know, and hand sani and gloves, masks are located throughout the area. And anyone in a public hallway or going in the restroom or the kitchen, you know, has to wear a mask. We only allow one person in the kitchen at a time.
We’ve created a pristine, safe environment for people to continue to work and feel comfortable that they are in a safe place. And the advantage is, it’s all a ground floor building. There’s no elevators that anyone needs to take. So for my staff, because of the collaboration, the training, the other issues, we now have moved to a place of feeling confident enough that they can come in two days a week. And it’s a staggered two days a week. So Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is when people are in the office and we can work together.
Every Monday we have a Microsoft Teams call, and now we make them a training and planning call in addition to key work experiences or things going up. But we try to keep the group call to about a half-hour. And then we do, I have an unusual skill when people are in the office, every morning at 9:30, we close the office, we forward the phone lines and we walk to Pete’s Coffee and we all get Pete’s and we will stand outside in the parking lot and kick off the day holding our coffees and talking about, you know, what we need to address and where we’re struggling, where we’re having success. It might be success for another client and another team.
So that’s kind of playing on both ends, right? We have people in the office but three days a week, they’re home. And that way I think we can move forward and really look at the strengths and professional development of every employee. We are back now to doing professional review, and moving them forward. Because what happens is, it becomes much more obvious in a work from home environment where strengths and weaknesses are in the output of the work.
Steffen: Yeah, I hear you. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve been doing remote work since 2013. And it took us a long time to identify who is really capable of working remote without, you know, much guidance. And not everyone is, you know, because some people just need the social aspect. Some people need people around them.
Not to monitor what they’re doing but they just thrive in an environment where they have people next to them. So what you just said is basically, you know, they are three days a week where people come in two days, basically out of the three days. Is that something that you think you would keep going with even if we have a vaccine, even if things go back, air quotes, to normal?
“Back to Normal”
Bob: Yeah. You know, so I have one employee who has three small kids and she, her family is all in Boston, and every summer she goes home to Boston and the rest of the year is here. But, you know, the entire summer, she likes to be home. You know, schools out there back in Boston. So the cousins and the families can all be together. That was an issue. Now with work from home, you know, she’s got highly defined areas to deliver on, to be measured on.
And that seems to be working. We have one gal here who lives up in LA and commutes all the way from Mid-Wilshire down to the beach cities. And, you know, that’s over an hour. She probably, while she actually is loving coming back to work we actually, we will take the management team and go for lunch or do a little shopping and browsing. There’s so much therapy in just going shopping and just sitting in a restaurant and having lunch and being out of the four walls of your home.
People need a change of pace. If you work all day in one room in your house and then you go to another room, well, maybe that might be okay but most of us are working in the same rooms that we live in. And it’s very tough. And there’s a lot of distractions in the home that we don’t have in the workplace. It’s, and we need change. We are not creatures of being basically imprisoned in our own homes.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Well, Bob, I think we’re coming towards the end of this podcast but what I wanted to know from you is what things got more difficult with this work from home environment and what things got easier? Do you have things to share?
Bob: You know, Steffen, that’s a really good question. I think all of us have learned to live in smaller worlds. You know, less travel, less shopping, less getting dressed up to go out for parties or gatherings and finding a way to live, hopefully, positively, really, happily, in this smaller world, is the challenge each of us have at work as well as at home in our lives. And what I think is the biggest challenge is that, you know, look, it’s a depressing time. So many people are out of work, can’t find their way forward. And they have family members, some of whom might work here.
And we’re seeing increase in suicides, increase in depression, mental health. We’re seeing increase in use of alcohol and drugs, which is all understandable. And, you know, that doesn’t happen without affecting people because we all have families where this is going on, and it affects us here too. So keeping out science, trying to be positive and hopeful and giving people a way forward, it’s the most important way we can go. Let’s have a plan and let’s ask for help in getting there.
Steffen: Thank you for joining the Performance Delivered Podcast and sharing your thoughts on, you know, how to grow a business or even, you know, to mention business during this situation when a lot of people have to work from home because they might not be able to create a secure work environment in their office building. If people want to reach out to you, want to find out more, what you’re doing at Bob Gold and Associates, how can they get in touch?
Bob: It’s easy. Just write and say hello. Hello@bobgoldpr.com. And I promise we’ll get back to you. Hello@bobgold PR, like public relations, .com.
Steffen: Wonderful. Well, thanks, everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.