S4E19: Taking a bold stance with your business, with Lori Jones (CEO of Avocet Communications)

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S4E19: Taking a bold stance with your business, with Lori Jones (CEO of Avocet Communications)

Lori Jones (CEO of Avocet Communications) speaks to Xquadrant's Founder, Richard Medcalf. We're continuing our season on "CEO Success Formulae", where highly impactful CEOs share what’s driven their success to date - and explore what it will take to reach the next level.

In this conversation, you’ll discover:

  • Why marketing is often the 'forgotten lever' on the CEO dashboard
  • Why most companies are bland, and the importance of taking a bold stance
  • The conversations leadership teams need to have before the business can really get noticed

"Creating and changing perception are equally difficult"

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Transcript

Richard Medcalf
Hi Lori, Welcome to the show.

Lori Jones
Oh, it's so nice to be here, Richard. Thank you so much.

Richard Medcalf
No, looking forward to this. I know you've had decades in marketing, and you're now running your CEO of Avocet communications, particularly get in straight away really with with your success formula, right? How do you have you succeeded as a leader, but also how do you help other leaders succeed and other firms succeed? That's your business, right? Is helping get messages out there. So before we jump in, why don't you start by just telling us a little bit about what is Avocet? And how did you end up in the top job.

Lori Jones
So Avocet is fully integrated marketing communications firm. What that means is that we integrate your owned assets, which is strategic development, and branding, you know, tradeshow all of those things that the brand has total control over with earned media, which is PR, and then content earned, and shared media, which is content and then paid, which is all paid media. So we integrate all those things together to ultimately create a fully outbound awareness based program that increases exponential growth for our clients. How I landed in the top job, you know, I laugh quite often, this is a family business, and I interviewed 21 years before I was even offered the initial jobs. So that is a lot to be said for my father, after all those years still wanting me to come work for him was one of the greatest joys of my life. The day I had not planned on it. I was a broadcast journalism major. Second semester, my senior decided it wasn't for me. And we had an opportunity. My father had the firm starting in 1980, we had the opportunity for me to go work for him. And I said, yes and it was the second best yes, I've ever said in my life. The first or the second, rather, was saying yes to my husband, when he asked me to marry him.

Richard Medcalf
Nice. Nice. Yeah, really nice. So okay, so you're running this integrated communications agency? What's, what do you see, chief executives? When do they do marketing? Well, and when don't they? How does the chief executive help or hinder that effort to really create growth for brand?

Lori Jones
Yeah, and I think it depends on the size of the business, right? There are a lot of CEOs that are startup and they're handling marketing on their own. And then of course, there are a lot of companies that might be going after their series A or you know, and have 20 employees, what does that look like versus someone who might have 100 200 300 employees. So there's, there's quite a wide range. And I think it also changes a little bit based on industry. But if I'm, you know, take all of those elements and put it into one sweet spot on areas that I think can change or hinder. You know, it's not getting in the way of marketing and sales, realizing that marketing and sales need to be aligned and product should be at the table as well, in a very, very big way. And being bold enough to want to make a difference in the mindset of the audience. There's nothing that will hinder a company from growth than wanting to look like or wanting to sound like everyone else in the industry break out of it, differentiate. And that is where ultimately, I think CEOs can help their teams impact the bottom line. 

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so do CEOs. So I get it, there's there is a lifecycle of companies and people at different stages are doing different things. But I'm hearing is that yeah, that willingness to change, perspectives, change mindsets. And that requires a bit of it does require a bit of bravery, right? Because at least at least you know, what you've got at the moment, you know, you generate generating some results. So that's where incremental thinking comes in. It's like, well, we can just press a bit harder on the marketing engine on the sales engine, and so forth. So how do you? How do you kind of see that shift of you know, or how do you help CEOs? Think through? Do I really want to change? Do I really want to rock the boat? Right? We've all seen marketing campaigns that have backfired, for example, right? 

Lori Jones
And yeah, you can be you can be too bold, but you also don't want to be boring. And that's our mantra, we take brands from boring to brave, right? And if you imagine a range of acceptability, so imagine a scale and there is a one on the left hand side and a 10 on the right hand side, and boring is a 110 is a bold within your industry, there is a propensity for how bold you can go. So keeping audience in perspective and defining how bold we can go is the key to that, because you can take it too far, there's no doubt about it. But we what we'd like to do is on that range of acceptability, you know, what is the strategy. So we take a look at differentiation points of parity versus points of differentiation, studying the competition, listening to our audience via reviews, listening to your inner customer interviews, really finding out a lot about the about the above the brand, and its perception in the marketplace. And what we find all too often is there is this big cluster, if you will, of brands that are, you know, one or two or three or four, why not, and they're boring, they sound like everyone else, they look like everyone else, why not? If they're clustered right there, why not be a six, why not be a seven. And sometimes you need to manage it, if they're if the competitors are really clustered, you know, at a one to three, maybe a five is all the industry can handle at this stage. So we systematically go in and devise a program with messaging and communication and tactics, that definitely moves the brand to that, to that to that side, knowing that that differentiator in the mindset of the audience will help push all those brands aside, maintain them there. And then, you know, and then you stand out. And when you stand out, guess what you get noticed? And when you get noticed, guess what? It increases your growth of the business?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's interesting that you're saying that I was thinking around industries that I often work, you know, work in tech and telecoms and software, as a service, digital, these kind of things. And you're right, there's a lot of, there's a lot of fashion, and a lot of clustering around some of the things you know, lots of lots of even, you know, fresh Software as a Service players, their websites all look a bit the same, right? They, they're their technology is perhaps different if you have to scratch beneath the surface. But in terms of the overall feeling you get from this company, or for the company, you don't particularly get a strong fight one way or the other. 

Lori Jones
No, you don't. And, and so you bring up something very interesting. So a lot of tech companies are started by engineers, and engineers are, you know, they're brilliant, right? They they are developing the product, they're developing the solution, whatever it might be, they have an idea they can build it. But the product, what we find in most situations is the same brilliant minds believe that the product will sell itself, guess what it does not. We've proven it time and time again, with our clients, whether they be technology or SAS clients, that once you understand the people don't buy, what you do they buy, why you do it, right. So they don't buy the feature, they buy the benefit of that. And if we can shift the mindset of our messaging and our go to market strategies to more benefit, I sound like a broken record. We've been talking about that for years and years and years. But most tech companies are comfortable with features. So when we shift that mindset to the more provocative side of messaging, and creating excitement about what how this will change their life, their business, whatever it might be, that is when we impact. And from a challenger standpoint, this is a lot of Challenger brands, typically, right. And from a competitive standpoint, we need to decide through our strategic development process. Do we want to challenge someone that can be very difficult in a lot of tech spaces? Or do we want to challenge some thing, and that is where we can really help, you know, move again, on that range of acceptability brands, you know, to a five, six or even a 10? We do have brands who want to be who are the 10 and want to aspire to be that 10

Richard Medcalf
Which is interesting. Yeah, I like to say when I when I'm working with my clients on their impact and multiplying their impact, I said the set the center of strategy, leadership and purpose. And actually often purpose is a bit of a weak spot. And people think, yeah, we just need to focus on strategy piece or leadership. But purpose is important, so many ways, and actually, knowing what you stand for, and what you really are for as a company and what you're not. You know, sometimes people have that or it's not as defined, but often it's not that clear, especially for older companies where the original founders vision is perhaps a little bit diluted, and people are now into well, we just got to deliver this quarter's results and then the next quarters, but actually, as a CEO, you put your job is to put some heart back into that and to say, what is it that I'm standing for as a leader? And what is it that we want to stand for as a business? And I think when you have that then marketing does become a lot easier, right? Because it's not just putting a new splash of coat on.

Lori Jones
Uh, you know, you know, painting your pig on a lipstick, you know, whatever you want to call it. I mean, it's so the purpose, the vision, the mission, the values all have to be aligned with marketing no matter what. And one of the first things that we start out with from a strategy standpoint is getting the leadership team at the table, and understanding what their vision mission and values are. That, especially in a day where culture is so important as well, is a litmus test for ultimately what we can do to move the brand. And, and, and defining that vision, maybe even through a vivid vision. So a CEO, where do you see the company three years from now? And how are we going to get there, not just from a business plan standpoint, but making sure every employee within the organization understands how we're going to get there, right? The vision as though is future futuristic, right? The vivid vision as though, you know, it's your 2025, as we've just done a, b, c, and d, and we're celebrating because of why, you know, that is where you really can, I think, catapult and keep the team on the same bus and in the seats that are going to impact the bottom line for the business.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I see a lot of it. Yeah, absolutely. I see it a lot until people have that then everything else is really you can't really have a strategy. You can't have a brand strategy. You can't lead people. And it's easy to get caught up in the day to day and not answered those bigger questions.

Lori Jones
It's it's I mean, I face it in my own organization, the goal of every team member surrounding me is free up. Lori, free up Lori so that I can focus on the business instead of the trenches. Yes, we are. It's just a fact of life.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. And I find when I work with my clients, one of the first things we address is almost always, how do I work on the next level of activity? Right, right. How do I level up? It's always there, right has to start in a diary.

Lori Jones
And it's important for growth, right? Because if we stay at the level of of activity that we operate in day to day, how are we able to vision, the future, how we're able to build the team around the future? And that is where we, you know, us saying get stuck in the mud.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. I'm thinking about how CEOs, again, get in the way of this process of clarifying branding. And we've obviously there is a sense of clarity about the business and the values, we've talked about a motivation. But I'd love to get your view is, you know, CEOs are often they'll either come from the sales side so that they they love the customer conversations, the deals and that kind of aspect now, or they come. Or perhaps they come from a slightly more internal focused side, they've been a CFO or COO or another internal role. And they're, they're kind of a bit more internal focused, right, they're going to making sure the engine is running. And there's probably a little bit of a shortage, I'm thinking of CEOs who naturally, you know, turn to marketing and branding as, as they go to lever, I suppose. So just wondering what your observations are about that, or, you know, whether you see certain CEOs who really get success versus those who don't really use the lever.

Lori Jones
Right. So I think on number one, alignments important and number two, the gotta give permission, right? So be bold, can be daunting. It means so many different things to so many different people. That is why we've got a range of acceptability, how do you define bold, right? So once you provide the mindset and the okay for the team to move and be more progressive with their approaches, I think that's that is very, very important. That then creates the alignment internally. Right, we can take this to the next step. And let me tell you a quick story about a brand that we've been working on for 14 years. I'll never forget several agencies up for this piece of business, very large retailer in the United States. And I went into pitch, didn't think a lot about it, I went on my own. And I walk into his office, and he's got his entire senior team standing. The pitch was a stand up pitch, never experienced something like that in my life. That immediate that immediate reaction, the body language of me walking into the room, and totally not expecting what I did, told me immediately that this is a bold leader, and that he wants to push the needle. So we I had a couple, you know, ideas in my head pocket regarding where we could take the brand and what it was going to take to ultimately move the brand to surpass competitors. that had the awareness in the market this brand did not. So I, you know, I knew my audience based on that that quick move, we, we presented the approach, he he bought it, but by having the entire senior team there, it told the very small marketing team at the time, okay, we can move the needle it told, you know, the store heads that okay, you know, we can be more progressive here. And ultimately what we've done is we that brand was $20,000,000.14 years ago, it's 125 million today. And the competitors are, you know, you never wish ill will on a competitor at any point in time ever. But we've had to competitors move out of the market. So that's what bold branding, marketing, bold leadership, bold mindsets do, to catapult people in, in a in a industry?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's fascinating. I mean, one things I work on when I'm often starting with execs, is really get their sense of what would it be to your why would you care so much about that you want to 100 exit, you know, what is it that is so meaningful to you, you stop at nothing to achieve it? And, and the other thing, the other thing, the other thing that comes up for me is this question of perception, because the branding is about changing market perception in a way. And it my role is less about market perception, but it is of working with leaders and often about how they are perceived by key stakeholders in and outside, but also within the company. And I always say, you know, perception lags reality, it always lags reality. So yeah, even if you've become the most innovative company out there, the market will not see that because they're going to assume that you're the laggard that you always used to be. Now on a personal level, even if you are no longer the micromanaging leader used to be, but really empowering and etc. Most people will still imagine you as the old micromanager from last year, because they're not focused on you. They're focused on themselves, right, they're not watching things change. And it's often not one of my roles is to help create environments where the perception can catch up with, well, first of all, create the reality but then make sure perception catches up. Because in leadership, you know, if the people don't perceive it, then it almost doesn't exist because people are still going to be demotivated or fed up with you, even if you changed. And the same as I think it might be saving on a brand level, right? That company can make internal changes and transformations. But somehow you need to get that message.

Lori Jones
Well, and it needs to be repeatable, right, and it needs to be believable, and it needs to be motivational, all too often. You know, perception is reality, we know that. And people's realities are all different. So if you have a starting point on ultimately what we can do to change that, I mean, so creating and changing perception are equally as equally difficult, right? There might be something very negative in the marketplace that we need to overcome the way in which a product launch was not ready, and it went out to market. And so we've got to overcome that negative perception, right? Or the perception of something very, very positive on the you know, on the opposite side of that the the product launch was so successful, we couldn't deliver on time, how do we overcome that, then we there are millions of different examples, right. But it's it's placing a stake in the ground on ultimately, you know, back to passion back to the vision on what we stand for, and how we're going to take care of that situation, whether it be something super positive or negative that we need to overcome.

Richard Medcalf
Absolutely, absolutely. So let's let's move on, I want to give you a few quickfire questions as we move towards the end here, just to the coming out of your own leadership experience. And it's always good just to kind of try and distill some of that wisdom. So what's the favorite quote that you might live by or use with your teams or even personal, personally important for you?

Lori Jones
Well, you're going to catch me off guard on that one. You know, I think I'm going to bring my father into this. So my father and I worked side by side for 25 years. It was absolutely incredible. And he retired about seven years ago, and unfortunately, we lost him prior to COVID. And one thing very early on that he shared with me, and I've I'll never forget this, it will stay with me forever. We were coming out of a meeting with course in their cars course tech brand, as a matter of fact, in Colorado, and I was so in awe over what I was hearing him talk about in that meeting that the the the wisdom that he shared was so great. It was so deep And I was in awe. And we came out of the meeting got in the car. We went to lunch all the time, you know, went and got a bite to eat. And while we were sitting down, I said, I said, you know, I said, I'm truly in awe. I can't wait until I have the till I become the expert that you are. And he said to me, Lori, I'm not an expert, because I learned each and every day. And so we can be, we can form expertise on a topic, but that topics always changing. So we've got to continue to learn. We've got to continue to listen. And, and know that way, there's always something around the corner that we can do better.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Love it. Thank you. What about do you have a favorite app that you go to? What's what app on your phone? Would you not live without? 

Lori Jones
Well, personal app is yoga with Adrienne. So I am a yogi. And it's what helps me balance my work life. And I'm a mom of four kids and husband who's very successful and busy as well. So my personal app is yoga with Adrienne, on a professional standpoint, pq, the Positive Intelligence app is an incredible, incredible app for just, you know, in a tense situation, really normalizing how you respond in that situation, through quick, different scenarios that you can do with your hands, your mind to just calm the situation down and respond in a positive productive way.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, nice. What about a book a book that's really influenced you?

Lori Jones
Yeah, outside of the Bible, which is my go to each and every day. I think God's wisdom is something that really drives me and is very, very important. I would say good degrade. You know, it's very motivational. And it's one of those one of those life changing mindsets, again, you know, always learning always growing, that you're growing, never becoming that expert, that can really motivate teams and leaders alike.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, fantastic. Um, what about? What advice would you give your 20 year old self to go back in time, um, definitely to listen more.

Lori Jones
You know, I think a lot of college kids come out of school feeling as though they know it all because of the degree that they have. And the fact of the matter is that it's a bridge. You know, college is a bridge and the day you enter the doors of your first job, first real job for the first time, is to ultimately listen and never stop.

Richard Medcalf
Thank you. Thank you, for those, put you on the spot asked a few questions. It's nice to get some of that wisdom. So here's my radio funnel, funnel question really where as we, as we kind of start to think about wrapping up. And no matter how much we've achieved, there's always a next level to get to salary once you know, what's your next level, right? What are you going to need to do differently yourself, to multiply your impact, right? So move beyond where you're at.

Lori Jones
I need to let go. We are we've grown 42%. This year, the agency has and in the US and I know this is happening globally, we have a hiring issue. In order for me to get to the next stage of the company lifecycle and grow it exponentially and maintain the clients and the team that we have. I've got to let go. Let everyone do their job. Get the right people in the right seats, the right expertise, so that I can continue division where we're going next.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, fantastic. Yeah, it's always so often the case rather, we were always having to let go. It's like parenting or whatever, you know, you're always having to.

Lori Jones
It's so hard, isn't it? And, and when you have a business that, you know, that is a family business, and I own 100% of it, now it's my baby. Yeah, I mean, there's nothing more important than the four children and my husband, but this is still you know, a baby and it's very important and close and emotional for me.

Richard Medcalf
So if people want to find out more about you and about the company, how do they get in touch?

Lori Jones
So please email me. My email address is long, by the way, it's lori@avocetcommunications.com and you all you can also tweet me at LoriJones.

Richard Medcalf
There we go, perfect, Lori. Hey, it's been great to talk. Thank you again for these thoughts on bold marketing and the relationship to the CEO. I think it's been really interesting and I wish you all the best as you continue to let go in the business.

Lori Jones
Thank you, Richard very much. I deeply appreciate the conversation.

Richard Medcalf
Bye now.

**Note: This transcript is automatically generated.
Please excuse any errors.

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