Alyson Campbell: “Take responsibility and be accountable”

Take responsibility and be accountable. Take responsibility for your company’s culture and create a culture that empowers people, starting from the top. A good example of this is from CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, who posted an open letter to his U.S. employees in response to Covid-19. In his letter, he explained how the company […]

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Take responsibility and be accountable. Take responsibility for your company’s culture and create a culture that empowers people, starting from the top. A good example of this is from CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, who posted an open letter to his U.S. employees in response to Covid-19. In his letter, he explained how the company would navigate the pandemic, with the priority on the health and well-being of them and their customers, specifically outlining next steps the company would be taking so employees weren’t left wondering what was going to happen next. This is a great example of taking responsibility and being accountable from the top to your employees.

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

Alyson Campbell is the CEO & Founder of Heart & Soul PR, Inc., based in Los Angeles, California. With her 15 years of experience in PR/marketing for a range of global, mid-size and boutique agencies, she has served Fortune 500 clients from Mercedes-Benz to Procter & Gamble, to Hewlett-Packard, the Timberland Company, and more, and founded Heart & Soul PR in 2015 to provide opportunities for emerging brands to develop and grow their business with strategic PR, marketing, and consulting services. Her mission is to bring back the humanity in business and ultimately change the way business is done. Heart & Soul PR, Inc. is proudly woman-owned and operated and has a fully woman-powered team.

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

I did not intend to pursue a career in public relations. I was double majoring in Journalism and Music, and involved in a variety of a groups in college including serving as the Arts & Entertainment Editor for my college newspaper, The Northern Review (Ohio Northern University), performing in various plays and musicals and traveling abroad as well as singing throughout the country, in addition to student senate. My senior year of college, one of my roommates approached me about coming to a meeting with the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). With a more than full course load plus my existing activities, I was skeptical on taking on anything else, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made! I traveled with PRSSA to their annual conference in New York City that year and fell in love with the city and made a promise to myself that I would make New York City my home after college. I began plugging myself in to the PRSSA chapter in addition to networking and I was on a plane the day after I graduated college to New York City to interview for a variety of public relations jobs. I love the creativity in public relations and while I will always be a journalist/writer at heart, I think I have a unique advantage in what I do day-to-day understanding the media side of this business.

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

In my line of work, it’s always about building and growing relationships, and that often includes various meetings, events, and at times, exposure to high profile people. I had a meeting scheduled with a film director In Los Angeles, Monty Miranda, and music engineer Matt Brownlie, both of whom I have worked closely with to discuss some related business. On my way into our meeting at the Mondrian Los Angeles, pro basketball player Dennis Rodman pulled up at the same time as me in valet parking. Whether or not he recognized me from a prior event I had been a part of in the Hamptons years prior, I went up to say hello and he asked if I would join him for a drink. I told him I was on my way to a meeting, and he asked if he could join me for the meeting! In I walked to the hotel with Dennis, and Monty and Matt both texted me before I arrived to the table — are you coming in with Dennis Rodman?! Dennis stayed with us for the whole meeting. I don’t think we accomplished anything on our agenda, but it was an awesome experience and shows the power of connection and synergistic energy.

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

In addition to servicing our existing client roster, I am focused on co-developing some new lines of business with our partner company, Hightail Media, a gaming creative and social media marketing agency that works with brands including 2K Games, Amazon, Facebook, and EA. As the gaming market continues to grow, complemented with our work in the general lifestyle market categories, we’re able to expand our core service offerings and capabilities to extend to live streaming, production, and related virtual events, allowing us to extend our reach and service to more brands seeking support in these areas.

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

People are not inspired and supported in their roles.

Many companies seem to have this beautiful roadmap laid out on paper that they can articulate, but there is no follow-through on that roadmap. I don’t think one day someone just decides they are unhappy with their job; it’s the day-to-day challenges that get to people over time when they see nothing changing, including if they have brought it up to their superiors. I also think Americans are overworked and underpaid. It’s the company’s job to generate a profit, and many companies are doing whatever they can to exploit their employees, especially in competitive industries. The sentiment conveyed is that if you don’t want to take on additional responsibilities you’re not a team player, or you can be easily replaced, which leads to resentment over time. I also think there is a large gap during the beginning of the employment process, especially in the interview stage, between the employer and prospective employee; the rosy picture often depicted of the company or the role can be quite the contrary. Employers are rarely in the business of revealing what challenges lie ahead in this prospecting process, for fear of scaring off the prospective employee, so the person hired takes the role and it turns out to be something completely different than what they thought. Support once the person is in the role is critical too, and that doesn’t just mean a once a month meeting reading off an agenda; companies need to create personalized and actionable plans for each of their employees; I don’t think there is a one size fits all because every human is different and has different goals. These action plans shouldn’t only live in a document, but should be helping shape the career trajectory for each person with clear rewards/incentives for related milestones.

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

If companies do not recognize what is happening with our unhappy workforce and take action, an unhappy workforce will continue to persist and we’ll see an even higher percentage of employee dissatisfaction — which affects all of the areas you’ve described here — productivity, profitability and employee health and wellbeing. There is a fine balance between perceived “perks” of the job from the employer. I’ve seen things like unlimited paid time off, snacks, scooters, and health classes offered to employees at the expense of their base salary. These things are nice and do possibly contribute some added perks to the job, but they should not replace someone earning a higher salary or their earning potential for the future. As I said before too, these types of perks also have to be actionable. It’s great if you can tell your staff they have unlimited paid time off, but is that truly realistic? How will you manage a program like this? The Covid-19 pandemic has also changed the way in which employers and employees have to relate. With many workers now remote for an undefined period of time, I think employers have to be even more understanding than they were before the pandemic. Working from home hasn’t become a perk, but rather, a necessity. Employers also have to remember employees’ productivity and health and wellbeing the same as if they were managing them coming into an office every day; it doesn’t mean that employees can take on more work or spend all of their waking hours in front of their computer just because they don’t have a commute.

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

  1. Create a space to hold open, and safe conversations with your employees. Managers and executives should be meeting with their direct reports or other employees frequently, once a month, at minimum, if not more frequently and create an environment that invites open and safe conversation; this means that both the manager/executive and the employee can freely share how they are feeling without judgement and that both can ideally bring both positive and constructive feedback to the table. Also, managers/executives can create a space that allows for their direct reports to meet with others in the company that don’t report directly to them and can serve as mentors. An example of this in action is that I had a non-formal, designated mentor at a company; we worked together, but she was not my direct manager. We would meet for lunch or drinks outside of the confines of the office; these forums were in fun and safe environments where we both felt comfortable to have the dialogue we needed; where we could share our collective ideas or concerns without worry.
  2. Get your employees involved in creating your culture. This sounds simple enough, but there shouldn’t just be a mentality of this is how we’ve always done things. Invite employees, especially newer hires, to contribute ideas with other team members. You don’t necessarily need a formal committee, but have a way that employees can express their ideas for company culture. This goes a long way in ensuring that employees stay invested, and not just dictated to. One of the coolest examples of culture in action I’ve seen is Keeper’s offices in LA; according to an article in Muse by Clio, they developed a happy corner to share their passion with clients and open the door to their office culture to show who they are. They are also working with a mezcal brand and when clients or partners come in, they give them a mezcal tasting “to learn about the craft, clarify their thoughts, or blow them away. Some of the best creative ideas stem from this process.”
  3. Don’t just tell, do. Practice what you preach. It’s one thing for employers to say they are implementing something, get their teams rallied and then not do something. I see this happen too often. If you are going to do something, do it. One of the principles from “The Four Agreements” that has always stuck with me: Be impeccable with your word. A personal example of this is how I earned a piece of business from a simple, but timely email reply. I had told the client that we pride ourselves on the timeliness of our responses. The prospective client called me to say he couldn’t feel this statement was more true and that he was so impressed by the timeliness of our responses, that that was enough for him to entrust us with his business and they signed the contract the next day.
  4. Be the first. Lead by example. It is not up to all of the employees of your company to improve your work culture. A mentor recently said to me, “Be the first.” I really like this because it puts the onus on ourselves as leaders/executives to take responsibility and be the first and lead by example. The standing ovation is a great example of this! Have you ever noticed how the person who stands up to initiate a standing round of applause inspires the rest of the room to get up as well? Someone has to be the first to initiate it.
  5. Take responsibility and be accountable. Take responsibility for your company’s culture and create a culture that empowers people, starting from the top. A good example of this is from CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, who posted an open letter to his U.S. employees in response to Covid-19. In his letter, he explained how the company would navigate the pandemic, with the priority on the health and well-being of them and their customers, specifically outlining next steps the company would be taking so employees weren’t left wondering what was going to happen next. This is a great example of taking responsibility and being accountable from the top to your employees.

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

I think we have to do a complete 180 when it comes to changing work culture. We can no longer simply just go through the motions. I think small steps, one day at a time, can make a big difference, on a larger scale over the course of time. For example, it’s not difficult to recognize employees in the form of hand-written cards, small monetary tokens, or formal bonuses if they’ve gone above and beyond. Depending on the line of business, it also should be the standard — not the exception — to be working within business hours. Employees shouldn’t feel the need to have to check their phone after hours without fear of repercussions, for example. And when employees go on vacation, that should absolutely be a ‘do not disturb’ zone; everyone needs time off. As a society, we have to give our employees time to recharge and reset more frequently, and I think employers should look at offering mental health days at least once a quarter in addition to vacation. Yearly reviews that are positive should lead to more salary. Employers need to begin to develop a more healthy and happy workplace culture which starts from the top and is not just lip service, but consistent actions that show employees they are heard, felt, and seen for their contributions.

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

I am a collaborator. While I guide the ship, I don’t ever want it to be on an island without my team’s contributions which are super valuable to me. I give my team a lot of autonomy and empower them with their tasks, so they also understand their tasks within the whole, not just as a ‘to-do’ list. Recently, I tasked one of my junior colleagues with writing a Scope of Work. I gave her a brief training on it knowing that it was the first time she would write something like this and it wouldn’t be perfect, and that was okay, because it gave her the experience and the confidence to do it next time even better. I also recently had each of my team members junior to senior, contribute to our client’s 2021 plan. They were responsible for researching and writing each of their sections of the plan. It wasn’t about having everything perfectly laid out or written as I knew I would have to finalize it with an executive review, but like my other example, put the responsibility in their hands, empowered them with the information they needed, and allowed them to put their best foot forward and contribute to our plan for the year to the client. Whenever possible I like to move away from just the ‘to do’ list so that my team also feels brought along with the process and recognizes that their contributions matter not only to me, but to our clients. I think leaders will have a lot less headaches and stress if they can learn to properly train and guide their team, ask for their team’s contributions, and allow their team members to contribute, rather than just dictating.

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

Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. Sandra Sokoloff is a mentor of mine from one of my former agencies. She took me under her wing, bathed me in the media relations process as the head of our media relations team, and allowed me to soar. Her leadership style is delightful and she should be applauded as she helps provide direction and gives you the tools you need, but makes you do the work. She is also someone who has always looked out for my best interests. When I’ve needed to run something by her, I know she’s just a phone call away. We’ve also helped each other throughout the years, and I think that’s one of the best kinds of relationships you can have.

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

I hope that I inspire each person I have the opportunity to come in contact with; one of my key missions is to light up each room I walk into, literally or figuratively. As a service-based business, I have helped more than 17 clients in my own business, and countless clients throughout my career to date, achieve success for their brand based on their business goals. My client roster has included some exceptional non-profits with various missions; I love having the opportunity to work with these brands to share their stories and messages with the world including helping bring more awareness to a range of causes from preventing teen prescription abuse to healthcare in underserved areas, to people with disabilities and inspiring young girls in leadership. That is why I named my company Heart & Soul as my mission is to bring back the humanity in business, and ultimately change the way business is done. I focus on working with like-minded brands who also work with their heart and soul.

I love mentoring as well and have served as a mentor and guest speaker with California State University of Long Beach (CSULB) fashion’s merchandising program, and have also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity’s Power Women Power Tools event. I hope to have the opportunity to contribute my talent in ways that will continue to inspire others in all I do.

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

“Fight and push hard for what you believe in. You’d be surprised you are much stronger than you think.” — Lady Gaga

So often, we limit ourselves or have limiting beliefs about what we can do. We are so much stronger and powerful than we think and I have always been a firm believer in pursuing with passion what you want.

When I was beginning to plan my career to move to New York City from a small town in Ohio, I was met by comments of those who just didn’t think it was possible that a firm in New York City would want to hire someone who wasn’t in the vicinity or whom hadn’t worked in the profession that I was entering. I didn’t need to tell them anything, I just proved them wrong.

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

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, I would love to inspire more action that continues to accelerate opportunities for better representation for people of color, including with income equalities and related systemic changes for more equal representation in all areas of business and of life. I continue to hear countless stories of people of color who continue to be treated sub-par in our society and this is unacceptable. We have to continue to work to create an inclusive society that provides equal opportunities for everyone and that starts with more action around understanding why this gap continues to exist; it starts with our top lawmakers as well as our systems and businesses taking responsibility to do something about it to change it; it is also the responsibility for each of us, especially those of us with built-in privilege.

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