Candice Simons of Brooklyn Outdoor: “Always start with the acknowledgments and praise first”

Always start with the acknowledgments and praise first. Your employees are working hard. If there is a problem or issue that needs to be addressed, let them know you want to help them and provide them with tools. Acknowledge where you may have had shortcomings with providing them with essential tools for success if that […]

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Always start with the acknowledgments and praise first. Your employees are working hard. If there is a problem or issue that needs to be addressed, let them know you want to help them and provide them with tools. Acknowledge where you may have had shortcomings with providing them with essential tools for success if that be the case.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candice Simons of Brooklyn Outdoor.

Since returning to Detroit in 2013, Candice Simons and Brooklyn Outdoor have been making waves in the out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry. After years of tenure spent in Chicago, Simons recognized a gap in the industry that could be filled by an energetic take on traditional OOH representation. She foresaw the void Brooklyn Outdoor would fill by providing unmatched specialization in national sales for independent OOH vendors nationwide.

The core services of Brooklyn Outdoor are as follows: traditional and digital billboards, large format wallscapes, hand-painted murals, transit advertising, street furniture, and experiential marketing. With sales representation in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the company has subsequently emerged as a regional and national force. Simons and her team are adept at thinking “outside of the board,” providing opportunities in places that they didn’t previously exist, and helping clients explore exciting new creative possibilities.

Simons and her team have been recognized time and time again by the following: 2019 OAAA Hall of Fame “Rising Star Award” and Silver Obie award winner, 2019 Ad Age Best Places to work, Inc. Magazine’s “Inc 5000” encompassing the fastest growing and most inspiring companies of 2018, Crain’s Business “40 under 40”, Crain’s Business Notable Woman in Marketing, D Business “30 in their thirties”, Stevie Award winning “Women in Business”, Michigan Celebrates Small Business “50 Companies to Watch”, Detroit Young Professionals Vanguard Award, multiple Summit International Marketing and Creative Awards, Michigan Economic Bright Spot Award, Corp! Magazine’s Diversity Business Leader, 2017 Enterprising Woman of the year, and the list goes on.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Candice! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

After working in Chicago’s out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry for nearly a decade, I decided to move home to Detroit in 2013 to start my own business. Despite its reputation at the time, Detroit’s resilient spirit and growing arts & entrepreneurial scene created an opportunity to build a new, innovative Detroit OOH industry from the ground up. That’s how Brooklyn Outdoor began. We are a national, OOH agency that specializes in billboards, transit advertising, hand-painted murals, wallscapes, and experiential marketing. Brooklyn Outdoor aims to bridge connections between local talent and national companies by hiring Detroit artists to complete creative work for our clients. We also have satellite offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I would have to say one of the most interesting/exciting moments of my career was winning the Rising Star Award at the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s OBIE Awards. At the awards ceremony in Las Vegas, I was recording the moment on my iPhone as the winners were announced — it actually took me a minute to realize they were talking about me and announcing my name! Winning that award is one of my proudest accomplishments so far in my career, and it was the most pleasant surprise.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The thing about mistakes when you are starting out is that they are never really “funny” when you are making them, but you can always look back and see a lesson learned and hopefully laugh through them. The Brooklyn Outdoor culture is all about learning from our mistakes as we go, so we celebrate and champion our staff on how they handle and rise above them. I’ve made my fair share of silly mistakes over the years, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Check in with your employees and give them the opportunity to give feedback and ask for clarity. If you don’t ask for feedback regularly, then employees are subject to ambiguity and frustration. It’s much easier to solve a problem if you know it exists. Also, it is really important that employees know what they are responsible for and how it fits in the bigger picture. Every role in the company plays a big part, and it’s important for your employees to know that. Recognize and appreciate where credit is due!

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Thankfully, our Detroit team has always (since 2013) been partially remote and our staff in our satellite offices have been fully remote. This definitely helped with the transition. Nonetheless, it has presented its own unique challenges. Everyone has been dealing with balancing work and home life at the same time. We use Slack to stay in constant communication with each other and have bi-weekly video chats. We have also been working really hard to stay engaged with our clients on both a professional and personal level.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

1. Communication: With less face-to-face communication, it’s important that your company comes up with an organized plan for communication. Scheduling and (most importantly) holding bi-weekly meetings you can quickly address issues and create strategy. If you’re not doing this, then you may not be aware of what obstacles your team is facing, or better yet what creative approach they want to share with you.

2. Reward and acknowledge: Working from home in a time of some much uncertainty can leave employees feeling stressed and disconnected. As a leader you should understand that and recognize people for their accomplishments and hardwork. A “thank you” or “great work” goes a long way when it comes to making employees feel valued and appreciated.

3. Family/work life balance: With most of the family at home, employees who have children may have a harder time balancing work with childcare. It’s important to remember that although we are all in this together, each of us is having our own experience and facing our own unique challenges. Being flexible with call-times and virtual meetings is a great way to reduce the stress of balancing family and work-life.

4. Know your staff: Some people are visual learners, others are verbal and so on. Without being together in an office or team setting, it may be difficult to focus on and cater to the needs of each employee, which can influence productivity, morale, and more. By knowing the way each staff member prefers to learn, and give and receive direction you will see much more productivity. One bit of advice is, pay attention to how people communicate in emails. Are they giving bullet points, or is it high in detail. Which every way a person delivers info, is likely to be how they prefer to receive it as well.

5. Making sure people have the technology and tools they need to work: Does your staff have the devices, software, etc. they need for a seamless transition from work office to home office? The last thing anyone wants is a poor wifi connection, or to be missing the software for a conference call. Setting up your team with the appropriate tools will remove obstacles that prevent them from excelling in their workday.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Video chat should become your best friend. We’re fortunate to live in a time where communication is so easily obtainable, so having the option to video chat is crucial because things can get misconstrued through text or email. It also circles back to having an open line of communication with your staff. Asking your employees what is working for them, what is not working, and how you can support them. By allowing your employees to express their needs and challenges, you give them the platform to ask for help without critiquing. Make sure your employees know you want to help them succeed and aren’t just picking on them.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Always start with the acknowledgments and praise first. Your employees are working hard. If there is a problem or issue that needs to be addressed, let them know you want to help them and provide them with tools. Acknowledge where you may have had shortcomings with providing them with essential tools for success if that be the case.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Since we’ve always been partially remote, we use an app called Slack. Slack allows us to create different channels where the staff can discuss different parts of the business. It’s super easy to use and keeps everyone in the loop. Not having separate Slack channels can be confusing and information can get lost. Having a variety of channels helps everyone stay organized and know who to contact and what to contact them about depending on each channel. Also, use a calendar everyone has access to so everyone knows if there is a meeting that day, or someone is out of office that day. That where there is no confusion when it comes to who is doing what.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

We use a reward system called Kudos, where when someone does a good job on a project or goes above and beyond their normal tasks, they get rewarded with “kudos points.” In turn, you can redeem the points for gift cards to a bunch of different places. It boosts company morale and it’s nice being recognized for your hard work. Who doesn’t like being told they’re doing a good job?

Sometimes we have Zoom happy hours as well. We’ll all hop on Zoom and just chat for about an hour about anything. It keeps everyone connected and it’s fun getting to know someone outside or work, even if it is virtually for now.

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. 🙂

One of the things I love about OOH advertising is that it is the oldest format of advertising. With that being said now is a great time for a refresh. Just as we continue to be innovative with formats, technology and engagement tactics, we need to be innovative on a different level. For a very long time there was one demographic we would see in leadership roles. It’s time for that to change. We have certainly made strides, but are nowhere near where we need to be. As someone who hopes to be a thought leader in the OOH industry, I have been working with my peers and leaders in OOH to start developing a diversity initiative. We are still fleshing out the details, but I cannot wait to see how far inclusion can truly move us and make our industry more connected.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is “integrity is key.” Standing firm in your ethical morals and boundaries says alot about a person and their brand. The more a person acts with integrity, the more successful they are likely to be. Integrity is definitely one of the core values I hold true in my life and in my company. There is no doubt that in business mistakes will be made, and there will be growing pains. However, if you let your moral compass guide you in the right direction then you can always move forward with a clear conscience.

Also, organizational behavior starts from the top down. Leaders should always project the integrity they want their employees to mirror. When you lead with integrity, then you start to see the people around you who share those values, and those who don’t. It’s a great tool for knowing who you want to do business with and who aligns with your company’s core values.

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