S4 E79 | eXpert Tease: Maren Hogan CEO of Red Branch Media holds an honest conversation about doing the right thing during difficult times

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Chris Hoyt, CXR 0:16
All right, everybody. Welcome to the CXR podcast and our expertise segment. I’m Chris Hoyt president of CareerXroads and this is where we grab 10 minutes with an industry personality or influencer to share just one thing with you, our listeners so that one thing might be a difficult lesson learned, or a career changing victory or defeat. The only guardrails are that it falls within any number of topics that hundreds of our leaders told us were a focus for them in 2020. So it could be equity, it could be ethics, leadership, you name it. Now, if you’re interested in weighing in, and what’s important moving forward this year in 2021, capital can’t believe it’s 2021. You can take part in our 2021 priorities benchmark that is actually open to everyone and found within the Research and Reports section of www.cxr.works. Now. If you’re attending a live today, you get to participate via the chat feature of a broadcast. So feel free to ask the guest a question or two. And if we’ve got time, we’ll make sure to try to answer them. If we don’t have time, you can always think of something later you’d like to ask you can always join us in our open and free exchanges that are actually found at CXR.works/talenttalk. So all that I’m really excited today to introduce our guest and one of my longtime friends, Maren Hogan. Maren is the founder and CEO of Red Branch Media, a full service marketing and advertising agency. Maren, how are you?

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 1:36
Great. I’m doing great this morning.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 1:39
Well, it’s lovely to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 1:42
Thank you.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 1:44
Maren our topic. Always I I feel like I want to tell everybody that I’ve just been I’ve been jockeying to get you on on the podcast for a really, really, really long time. I think I’ve just really wanted you on the podcast for a really, really, really long time. But we have made it happen. So our topic today is something that while I think some simplistic at heart, I found a little bit challenging just sort of put in to the right words, right? Or at least words that felt powerful enough for me to convey really what we wanted to talk about. And I can you know, I can summarize it as doing the right thing, even when that can’t be measured. But you are the maestro of vocabulary. How would you sort of position what that conversation that we had about why this is important and what we wanted to talk about and share?

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 2:38
Yeah, so when you first approached me about what I would want to share, obviously, much of it is completely shaped by 2020. And everything that happened in that year, and I’m sure everybody’s got their own horror stories and triumphs to share. But the thing that I really wanted to hone in on and I did find it difficult to articulate as, as we both did, was really, there’s a lot of blog posts and books and podcasts, talking about doing the right thing, because it’s good for your bottom line, or because it will increase retention, or because it will make you a better leader or whatever. And I didn’t hear a whole lot of discussion about doing the right thing. Just because it was the right thing, or people who had done the right thing. And it still sucked. And so I think that that is for me one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned as a leader overall, but definitely through like this sort of roller coaster, that you know, running a business, managing employees dealing with the bottom line, and issues of leadership. I think that that’s one of the biggest lessons that has come home to roost, but trying to find the way to put that like doing the right thing, just because it’s the right thing. And people are like, for an end result of what and it’s like yeah, like the end result is like literally that you just do the right thing.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 4:05
Yeah, there is. It’s been really interesting. The last Well, I mean, we’ve had a hell of a year or two, certainly in in North America logo world with social injustice and the pandemic and trying to do the right thing for our employees trying to do the right thing for our teams. But sometimes it’s sort of feels like this is gonna sound terribly pessimistic and maybe sometimes it feels like people are doing the right thing. Because they’re just supposed to, or because the media is sort of telling them that they should or because of what the optics will be if they don’t. But I think you’re right you don’t often hear the flip side of doing the right thing when it when it stings a little right because it is the right thing to do. I mean, do you have sort of an example. Mini story would tell us about sort of doing the right thing when it when it hurts a little bit to do the right thing.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 5:00
So many and I just want to clarify quickly, there’ll be a couple of examples. And some are real. Like, in the end, the good guy wins kind of story, but some of them are, some of them are like, we did the right thing, and it just was terrible. Or we did the right thing. And we, you know, ended up getting screwed over. I don’t know if I can say that I, anyway,

Chris Hoyt, CXR 5:24
We are a PG 13 on all the podcast stuff. So you can say screwed over?

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 5:29
That means I can say that word one time.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 5:32
You can, yeah, you can you get Yeah, you get a freebie.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 5:38
I’ll be nice. Um, so an example, I think that comes to mind is when all of this started. So for those who don’t know, I run Red Ranch Media, as he said, a full service marketing and advertising agency. The reason that I’m in this space is because of the prime primary, you know, chunk of our clients are in the HR recruiting tech and services business. So in the very beginning of the pandemic, we lost 45% of our receivables virtually overnight, or 45%. Sorry. And so that was very scary, obviously, as anybody can guess. And we really should have sort of immediately contracted, right. And I had all of these friends working at fortune 500 companies and all this other stuff like and they were getting laid off. They were getting furloughed. They were having to work at 80% of you know, pay for 120% capacity, things like this. And my partners, and I just sat down and we were like, what, what should we do here? And we just, we didn’t have enough business to support the number of employees that we had on our payroll, and not by a longshot. And so we just decided, Okay, well, we didn’t get into business to throw people out on the street during one of the most difficult times, and I’m not, I’m not dissing anyone who did that. I just wasn’t a choice we decided to make. And so what we did was, we had kind of an emergency meeting, I remember it was in a restaurant like the last time, you could go to restaurants, like March 12, or 10th, or something like this. And we sat down, and we decided on our plan, which was essentially to just keep everyone for as long as we could, and to try to come up with like, nonprofit work, or work on Red Branch or something like that, to keep them on staff. And so, you know, we all took pay cuts, we kept them on staff, we sent out weekly letters, sort of to say, Hey, you guys, this is what’s happening. This is what we’re in the process of applying for, so on and so forth. So by the book, we did everything, right, ethical leadership, one on one, bla bla, bla, bla, bla, and we thought, surely, these efforts are gonna pay off in the end, we’re going to have a loyal, retained excited workforce. And in the end, that’s not what happened at all. What happened was, certainly some people were loyal and excited and engaged. But for the most part, and not, not to their discredit at all, they were also scared, and it was chaotic. And I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but I do think a lot of people went through a great deal of trauma. And even if you weren’t the best workplace of your life, you don’t want to, you don’t want to be reminded of that. So slowly, as we went through the spring, in the summer, in the fall, you know, again, making sure that these people stayed on staff and making sure that we took pay cuts and all this other stuff. We just found ourselves people were like, yeah, sorry, I’m gonna, I’m gonna make more money over here or Yes, sorry, I would just rather be in an office and we don’t have an office anymore. And so we were just like, the three of us, I have two partners that run Red Branch with me, and we were sitting there and going, why on earth didn’t this work. And what happened was, we came to the conclusion that I shared with you, which is, it did work. Because if you’re doing the right thing, simply to get a benefit. In the end, obviously, the benefit is the nice cherry. But if that’s why you’re doing it, it’s not really truly the right thing. And so, for us, it was a it was a real eye opening moment and sort of led into our 2021 planning for the for this year, obviously, and saying, Here’s here are the decisions that we’re going to make because they’re the right decisions to make, not because we’re pissed off because these people took off, or we don’t understand, you know, we also have, you know, similar issues with client loyalty and such and going down and receivables and all that. So, it really was eye opening and it has transformed the way that we’re leading with our team. We’re still doing those transparency We’re still making sure everyone stays employed that wants to all those good things. So that’s like one example. And probably the biggest one. That’s kind of last year.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 10:08
Well, that’s a tough one. Because I mean impacts your life when you’re the business owner, the business is your life, right? How well the business is doing leaks into the kitchen leaks into the living room leaks into the bedroom, like, it just follows you everywhere. But I think the optimistic marketer in me wants to say that, you know, at the end, of course, you did the right thing for the right reasons. And even if even if they left, right, they left with good hearts, right, they left with for the for the right reasons, they didn’t leave because you were mistreating them, they didn’t leave because you weren’t willing to sort of lay down on the tracks for them, like they left with good things to say about you and good feelings about the organization they work for.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 10:52
Yeah, I do think that that’s an added benefit. And even even people that we’ve had more recently that have decided to take another role, because for some that like I said, they don’t want to work remote 100% of the time, or they’re they have moved away or the pandemic has changed their life circumstances, for whatever reason. It’s always with the caveat that they’re like, this is the best place I’ve ever worked. We’re really going to miss you, like, you know, all of these different things. And I think that I would like to say that that is its own reward. I’m not entirely sure that it is and I don’t think anyone that’s being like truly honest, I would say that it is but I still think that the the original precepts, the cornerstone of this whole conversation remains the same.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 11:40
Yeah, did you? Did you have a, I’m going to push the boundaries of our PG 13 rating? Did you have an oh shit moment? When you were doing the right thing? And you know, you sort of said you regrouped with with your leadership there, your colleagues, where you thought, we’re doing this all wrong? Oh, my God, this could be the end of us. Was it? Was it that level of sort of internal panic for a moment?

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 12:03
Um, I’d like to say that there was one oh shit moment. The fact of the matter is, is every time something comes in and kind of hits us, we realize, okay, what can we learn from this? What can we take from this? We definitely had that at the beginning. So the 2021 planning that I just sort of referenced was a big meeting between the three of us figuring out like, what are we going to do, like we had a scorched earth strategy, we had a, let’s just go bigger go home strategy, we had a let’s limp along as long as we can strategy. But in the end, I think we realized that, again, the right thing to do is the right thing to do. And we just felt like, if we can’t run a business, ethically, with kindness with empathy, then we’re really we really shouldn’t be there, we should just all, you know, go and do the work that we want to do in, in service of other companies or something like this. I think that having three partners really helps I describe us as a stool, because when one of us is like, That’s enough, everyone’s fired. The other two are usually like, okay, let’s talk about this. So we definitely temporary each other in that way. But when it comes down to it, even when it’s in black and white on a piece of paper, which I’m a notorious like, here’s a document, here’s a spreadsheet that at least here’s another document. It still is definitely the way that we want to do business. And it’s really I mean, we say it’s all the time, but we talked about building that better, which is so corny. I know. Because like literally everyone’s saying that. But we really don’t need in here.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 13:51
Just don’t say lean in anymore.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 13:57
Yeah, so we’re, we really want to do that. And when it gets frustrating, and we’re like, okay, we used to be at this margin, we’re not, you know, why aren’t we there anymore? Or, hey, we used to be an employer of choice. Why aren’t we feeling like we’re getting the kind of applicants that we want or anything like this, we just sort of refer back to that document. And it’s become really some place where we can center ourselves and say, we made these decisions. We put these milestones in place. And that’s what we’re going to do come hell or high water, both of which I understand have happened like in Texas and other places, this past week and a half. So,

Chris Hoyt, CXR 14:34
Maren, I love it. I absolutely love it. So I just I want to say thank you. I’m so grateful for your time today. Thank you for your work and your heart within our space. It truly does just make you golden. We appreciate you.

Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media 14:47
Thank you. I was really happy to share that with you. And I hope that it resonated a little bit. I know it’s a little bit Dr. Seussian. I still think it’s worth discussing.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 14:58
Awesome. Well, everybody next week. We have an equally impressive guest Heidi height. She is the senior recruitment Marketing Program Manager at Sleep Number. And she’s going to get all tactical open here with key elements to consider for programmatic advertising, how she’s used it successfully and then of course her thoughts on the impact of the potential demise of internet cookies, you may not have known that they were going away and all that user tracking that results from that so until then, we hope to see everybody online at www dot CSR network slash towel talks. Thanks

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