Leadership and Engagement In a Time of Crisis with Lee Odden

leadership and engagement

As CEO of TopRank Marketing, Lee Odden knows a thing about leadership and engagement. He has to, since his agency is all about developing B2B influencer campaigns. You can’t have influence, after all, without a clear vision and a strong voice.

Today, Garrett welcomed him to Agency Ahead to talk about leadership in this time of crisis. Check out the full podcast below.

Looking for the highlights?

  • (3:23) How to communicate with employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • (5:06) What’s the most important thing for agencies to be focused on right now from a leadership and communication standpoint?
  • (8:47) How should agencies approach the delicate dance of helping clients make their business even better during this time?
  • (11:28) How can you help clients who are in a really bad spot right now?
  • (13:21) What’s happening with B2B influencers right now, in a time where one slip-up can have a huge brand reputation impact?
  • (16:26) Is there a new normal on the horizon? 
  • (18:46) What brands are handling this situation really well?
  • (21:45) Lee’s right now causes.

Don’t have time to tune in? Here are the highlights.

Communicating with employees during the crisis

Launch regular meetings to discuss what’s going on, what changes are taking place, where support is necessary, and what decisions are being made, especially in this time where rapid-fire decision making is so vital.

Lead in with the human element.

“Hey team,” says Lee, by way of example. “Here’s what’s going on. Here are useful resources for you and your family. Here’s what that means from a work perspective. Here are changes we anticipate. Here’s the time frame we anticipate looking at, and here’s a cut-off point for either bringing things back or continuation.”

He stresses that you need a, “What can you do? What do you need?” dynamic. He also stresses ensuring employees have those resources. 

What's the most important thing for agencies to be focused on right now — from a leadership and engagement standpoint?

“I’d say making sure you’re staying close to your customers,” says Lee. “Learn what you can to better support them. Try, if you can, to anticipate changes and other resources they need. Offer those up before they ask you.

One of the most valuable things an agency can provide is that proactive solution.”

In other words, don’t wait for the client to ask for help. 

Lee also recommends looking at communication channels like video. Do posts about what’s happening right now. He cites a recent one on the TopRank blog: Should Covid-19 Stop B2B Marketers from Marketing? 

In truth, TopRank has put out dozens of posts about marketing during a pandemic on their blog, which is well worth checking out in its entirety.

Why are these posts performing so well? Why is it so important to hit these touch points?

“Validation is an important thing for confidence in a time like this.”

He recommends all businesses look at current social channels and get those profiles up to date.

“Also look at SEO,” he says. “Nobody wants to hear about what you’re selling right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking. They are looking.”

His three big takeaways for this point?

  • Reinforcing communications about what you’re doing to support your community.
  • Reinforce communications about what you’re doing with your team.
  • Create interesting things.

How should agencies approach the delicate dance of helping clients make their business even better during this time?

Lee says many of his clients are quite interested in knowing what other companies are doing. 

“They want directional validation in terms of whether they should pause, or what kind of messaging change they might want to have.” 

He says his agency is guiding clients through those sorts of decisions. He notes opportunities that have popped up too.

“There are a lot of small businesses that are now tasked with having their workforce work remotely, and they don’t have computers to give to them.

We have a client, Dell Outlet, that sells refurbished technology. We said: this is an opportunity for you to do something. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s donating, I don’t know if it’s creating package deals or something, but this is an opportunity and it’s relevant.”

Always be asking yourself where the opportunities lie, both for your agency and for your clients. 

How can you help clients who are in a really bad spot right now?

“The most important thing,” says Lee, “as a marketer, is understanding our customer’s customer, and looking at trend data relevant to their industry—then trying to think about how that overlays with the solutions you provide.”

He urges marketers to think about what all this information actually means. Does it mean the business needs a change in narrative or messaging? Does it mean a shift in content formatting? Does it mean taking a pause?

It could mean backing off demand gen and shifting more towards brand-level types of messaging.

“There’s already a trend towards more purpose-oriented marketing these days. Certainly this is an opportunity to accentuate that.”

What's happening with B2B influencers right now?

Lee notes that communications with influencers are as important as communications with customers. 

“Some programs we have are always-on, ongoing communities with people the brand has relationships with. We have to be open with them about what this time means for how we’re engaging with them.”

Lee says, if you’re looking for B2B influencers, you should look for the ability to create clarity where everyone else sees confusion and uncertainty. He wants influencers who have both domain expertise and a knack for being empathetic about the time we’re in.

He also speaks about being empathetic with influencers themselves, many of whom are also having a tough time because they essentially work in the gig economy. 

Is there a new normal on the horizon?

“I think the alternative formats that work well in this environment also happen to be formats that are going to work well when we go back to normal,” says Lee.

“That means video, that means podcasting, interactive or online virtual events, even direct mail. Especially in B2B, where direct mail is really picking up, dimensional mailers and stuff like that. I think these things create more of an experience.”

TopRank is even doing virtual reality worlds with influencers right now, all with that mantra of “creating experience” firmly at the top of mind. 

Lee thinks there is going to be a lot more “infotaining” content in the future as more people get inspired to stick with these engagement formats. 

What brands are handling this situation really well?

Lee is really happy with what one of his clients, Monday.com, is doing.

“They’re doing this remote work offer. They’re giving software away for free: access to Monday.com, free to remote workers for a period of time.”

Lee notes they worked very fast to offer the remote work community this access. 

He also mentions a new company, Sococo, where you can create a virtual office space with avatars that can walk up to each other’s “desks.” (Their tagline, “work remotely side-by-side,” is certainly relevant to the times).

Finally, he’s been pretty impressed with companies who are focused on the brand side of things like SAP, Dell, and LinkedIn.

What's your right now cause?

Lee asks listeners to support their local restaurant and hospitality industry by purchasing some gift cards to their favorite restaurants in their local community.

He also suggests donating to The Foundation for Tomorrow and Doctors Without Borders because of the work they’re doing, internationally, to support people during this crisis. 

Connect with Lee Odden

Want more of Lee’s advice?

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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