Guest post written by Eric Yaverbaum
Ericho Communications is a full-service public relations firm where I get to help my clients tell their story of how they’re working to create positive change in their respective areas of expertise. Our work, everything that we do at Ericho, is based on a core belief that we each have an opportunity to leave the world better than we found it, and striving for that is part of what makes our time here meaningful. We, as a collective, can only be better with greater compassion and greater opportunity for all, and as the CEO of Ericho, I get to help amplify the voices of experts who not only believe this as well, but who are actively working toward this same mission. My clients are just as passionate about making a positive impact on this planet as I am (I’m extremely selective about the clients we work with in order to ensure that’s always the case). I also work very closely with all of my clients to make sure that both my company and theirs are continuing to grow with integrity—if you don’t ensure that your actions are always in line with your words, then you are building a house of cards that’s inevitably, sooner or later, going to collapse.
Everything we do is completely personalized and bespoke for every client, something which is not found at an agency with a revolving door of clients and talent. We build real relationships and long-lasting partnerships. And the level of creativity we bring to the table is unmatched. We genuinely love telling our clients’ stories, putting them out in the world, and shining a light on the great things they’re doing, and I think that genuine passion and commitment to the work—and our clients—is what makes our influence as outstanding and outsized as it is.
It wasn’t always this way for me; this approach came after decades of experience running a traditional agency. I started Ericho Communications in 2007 after I had successfully built and sold my first big agency. After the merger, I initially stayed on as a managing partner to help ensure a smooth and successful transition, but I found myself missing the work I had been doing as an owner, and I wanted the challenge of building a company from the ground up again. I also found that I was unhappy inside the Wall Street machine (i.e., the holding company that had bought and merged us). I was eager to creatively engage with all the moving parts of a business again—something that had been a part of my professional life for decades—and I had a vision for a different kind of agency, one built around balance and doing good, that I wanted to bring to life. I found myself wondering: I had built a successful company from the ground up, could I do it again?
I knew from the outset that I wanted to do things much differently this time around—I had grown and learned from the past and knew that there were ways in which I could apply those lessons. Most importantly, I didn’t want the job to consume me the way it had previously when I was building and growing my first agency— I had kids and a family that I was raising, and to be completely honest, there were more important things to me than just my business. I came to the realization that I could build an agency that offered work-life balance for both me and my employees (and even my clients as well!).
I wanted my work to be more about purpose, not just profits, and I wanted to make sure that I could balance my work life with being a father—it was important to me to be able to be present at the basketball games and piano recitals. This balance had eluded me while running my first agency, and I was determined to learn from the past in order to not repeat it. Making purpose central to my business this time has been a game changer and has had amazingly positive results on both my life and on my company. While it’s still work, I truly love it, and it’s so much more gratifying. As the leader of my company, I’ve seen that my emphasis on creating work-life balance is mirrored back to me by my employees and that they are happier and ultimately more productive because of it.
It’s not lost on me how relevant—and vital—this approach has become since the pandemic. It’s a big piece of our success, and it’s allowed us to not only survive but thrive through these tumultuous two years. The past two years, during which the world has been enveloped in the pandemic and resulting economic upheaval, have been difficult (I think that’s universally true at this point), and it has thoroughly convinced me just how important effective leadership is for companies—it’s leadership’s job and responsibility to share calm, not chaos. Chaos is so easy to find (especially during times like these). Just turn on the news and there’s plenty. As business leaders, we need to be the light in the dark and see our people through.
From shuttered business and economic turmoil to concerns about rising inflation and supply chain disruption, there will inevitably be challenges (we are, after all, living through unprecedented times), and the only way for business leadership to move forward is with honesty, transparency, compassion, integrity and, most importantly of all, hope. As a leader, it’s important to remember that the buck stops with you. Lead from the trenches, not through fear, but through compassion, camaraderie, and hope. Your people are your responsibility. You need to fight for them; and you might just find when you do, they’ll fight for you too.
With that in mind, below are a few key pieces of advice for those looking to build a business with intention, integrity, and purpose, and stay that course even through times of uncertainty and great difficulty.
Know who you are. This requires real soul-searching, but it’s necessary because you need to figure out what your core values are. Really take your time here to get to know yourself and what beliefs you want to build your company on. While this may seem like a daunting task, it’s one that you’ll find well worth your while—once you’re clear on your core values, every decision you have to make in building your company will be clear (guided by your values, you’ll be able to grow your business with integrity). At some point, you’ll likely face a decision that puts making more money at odds with your core values—this is why you have to be so clear on what they are. That clarity will help you stay aligned with what matters most to you. Without it, you’ll be tempted to compromise, which will only undermine you and your business in the long run.
Always, always start with honesty. I say this every day and will keep saying it until I’m blue in the face because it’s that important: integrity matters. Without it, you have nothing. It’s not just your word, but your actions. Your team, your clients, your customers, and your partners need to know that what you say is what you will do. Never is this more true than in a crisis. While it may feel easier to keep things close to the chest in times of uncertainty, this is precisely when you need to be forthright. Dishonesty—whether outright or by omission—is never the answer and will always come back to haunt you. It’s true, being open and honest could open the door for concerns and questions that need to be addressed, and you often won’t have all the answers. But concealing problems will erode trust, undermine efforts to overcome, and ultimately do far more damage than the initial issue. It’s perfectly okay to not have all of the answers all of the time, especially when it comes to external crises like the pandemic; just be straightforward about what you do know as calmly as possible. By being honest from the get-go, both your team and clients will know that they can count on you no matter what—even in a crisis—and that if you say something, you mean it. Integrity is what you build your business on: it’s how you create trust, forge your reputation, and establish strong, lasting business relationships.
Be the calm in the storm. A good leader will always do their best to ground and take care of their team and clients. Both will instinctively look to leadership in these situations (especially with anything unprecedented) and their reaction will mirror yours. Your reaction implies what you believe the outcome of the situation will be, so if you appear alarmed or afraid, then that will be their reaction too. Yes, these are uncertain times, and the pandemic is unprecedented, but we always have hope. There is always a silver lining, and learning how to communicate it effectively is essential. While things may be scary and unpredictable, the focus does not need to be—and shouldn’t be—on that. Just as quickly as life can go badly, it can also turn back around. A leader has to be the light in the storm for their team. Over these last two years, we’ve all survived so much, and through it all, we’ve come together; if we continue to stick together and be there for one another, we can be sure that we can weather any storm that comes our way.
Lead with compassion. How we treat people matters. This is especially true in business and isn’t just about your clients, but includes your employees as well. Your team makes your business possible. Treat them as such. Leading with compassion, in my experience, not only brings teams closer together, but makes them exponentially stronger in the process. Do your best to understand your employees and to empathize with them. Ask them for feedback—what do they need to do their best work, where are they running into roadblocks, what pain points do they have, and what support do they need—and then listen with an open mind to what they have to say. Always do your best to give them the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification. Know that there are pieces of your employees’ lives and work that you don’t necessarily see and look for ways to understand and support them better. That’s what real leaders do.
Communicate openly and often. I know as a 40-year communications professional I’m biased, but clear, effective communication is vital to every business. This is a skill every leader must hone. Proactive communication is something I preach a lot. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and open up a dialogue—and be receptive to feedback. I’m a big proponent of what I call intellectual friction. Being able to speak your mind and vice versa with your collaborators is how your best work gets done. I cannot stress how important communication is, there are so many misunderstandings that could have been easily avoided if only people spoke to and listened to each other. Communicating isn’t just about words, it’s about connection, a meeting of the minds; it’s how you build real working relationships. Too many think communication is just what you say, and yes, of course honing your messaging is important, but that’s only part of it—if you want to be understood, then you also have to understand who you’re speaking to. It’s also important to back up your communication with actions—if you receive feedback, then figure out how to implement it—remember, words without actions are just words, nothing more.
Start from within. Don’t forget to work on and take care of yourself; you can’t lead effectively if you’re coming apart at the seams. Do your best to cultivate your own inner peace and purpose. This will help you weather any future challenge that should arise. Stay focused on what drives you and stay true to your moral compass. A successful leader doesn’t have to have it all figured out. But you do need to learn how to take on challenges, how to overcome setbacks, and how to harness hope so that you can be there for your team when they need you most. One thing I like to say a lot is to never ride the roller coaster. It’s something I tell my team, my clients, and even on occasion, myself. Uncertainty, setbacks, challenges, failure, crises—these are all things you have to be ready for as a leader. You will inevitably face each of them. The only thing that we can ever really control in life is how we respond when we do. Cultivating inner peace and really knowing yourself as a person (including, but not limited to your strength, values, and principles) is what will help you navigate all of the future challenges of life from a place of calm and integrity.
Keep perspective. While having money in the bank is certainly easier than not having it, ultimately, it cannot buy anything that truly matters—love, happiness, or good health. Do your best to fully understand this sooner rather than later, because you’ll learn this at some point, one way or another, and you’ll find yourself wishing you had lived life with this perspective when you do. The things that truly matter are never for sale and aren’t conditional or controllable by outside forces. Keeping this perspective will not only help you remain calm in a crisis, but will also help you make better long-term decisions for your business. Perspective provides an invaluable sense of clarity. More than ever before, in times of difficulty and darkness, you will need that sense of clarity to be the light in the storm for those looking to you for leadership.
About Eric Yaverbaum
Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, is a communications, media, and public relations expert with over 40 years in the industry, having co-founded Jericho Communications and served as President from 1985 until its successful sale in 2006. Eric has worked with a wide-range of top-of-their-industry clients, including Sony, IKEA, Progressive Insurance, Domino’s, Beachbody, H&M, and fitness guru Jack LaLanne. Eric is also a bestselling author who literally wrote the book on public relations – the industry-standard bestseller Public Relations for Dummies – as well as six other titles, including Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs (with over a million copies sold). He will be recounting his lifelong ability to look towards the bright side for his upcoming book The Audacity of Silver Linings, set to release in 2022. He is a regular TV pundit, and his expert commentary has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post, The New York Times, HuffPost, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Business, Inc., and PR Week, among others.