Every Friday in Survive and Thrive, we talk to communicators who are not just surviving, but thriving. Between COVID-19, reopenings and then rolling back, kids home from school…maybe forever (?), working from home, and not touching another human being for months, most of us are surviving, at best.
But what about those who are surviving AND thriving?
Perhaps they added a new revenue source or followed a passion or are taking a sabbatical or discovered they actually love homeschooling or completely changed careers. Today we talk to Susan Diaz, the CEO of c+p, about how she’s making the best of the worst crisis in a century.
In March of this year, I felt strangely calm. It almost felt like I knew what to do.
Deep on the inside, though.
I hadn’t yet figured out the confidence to go with the ‘baby conviction’ flutters I was feeling in my tummy at the time.
I remember my mom tut-tutting at me, in the least panicked voice she could put on (because in general, even pre-pandemic, panicked voices just make me stop listening, and she knows that).
It was making her anxious that I wasn’t panic-buying groceries. “We don’t know how long this will last’, she said. “And you have a child. Are you sure you have enough things?”
No, I wasn’t sure.
But I was sure I’d find what I needed, when I needed it.
Yup, woo-woo, mystic crystal revelations AF, I KNOW. And it’s so NOT like me. But I decided to follow where it led.
I Was Already Effectively Quarantined
What my mom wasn’t seeing is that some of my habits (of which she previously disapproved) kinda set me up perfectly for this sort of thing. And I was vaguely beginning to see that.
Like what you ask? Here’s a relevant selection.
I haven’t been inside a grocery store in several years, barring the odd corner store dash for a forgotten something. I’ve used varying versions of pick up, and later, delivered groceries. So while the rest of Toronto was crashing Instacart that second week of March, trying to create new accounts and getting shut down, my order was logged and due later in the week.
I batch cook, with my husband, twice a week and double up pretty much anything that will go in a freezer to pull out at a different time. So I always have a bunch of meals in my freezer. We were never big on take-out. We chose to save instead for fewer and finer going out experiences, and vacations. That we can’t take anymore. But whatevs.
I’d upload myself to the cloud, if I could. I’ve said that for years. In the meantime, I’ve found every way possible to interact with humans online. And while I periodically step out for meetings and such, and connect (fully masked!) with real, three-dimensional, people, there’s little I can’t get done from behind a screen.
I run a fully virtual team of senior marketers. We’ve built remote working infrastructure. And most importantly, we were already invested in the things, in my opinion, it takes to build relationships online: the time for people to shoot the sh*t and have a laugh. And the technology and clients that allow us space to experiment and have real FUN.
What I called my life—one I had carefully curated—was what everyone else was calling quarantine!
What Keeps You Up at Night?
My partner in the firm, Will Lamont, and I run a podcast called “The 4am Report.” (And yes – it goes live every Thursday at 4AM!)
In it, we ask marketers and founders ‘what keeps you up at night?’
That turned out to be a prophetic question.
In March, we had a calendar planned for the next quarter, and some episodes already in the can. But that planning didn’t feel quite right.
The first thing we did was put in place a new roster of guests who could speak to various aspects of the crisis.
You can’t, in all integrity, have a hook involving being up all night and not deliver, can you?
We spoke to (and continue to speak to!) financial advisors, crisis comms people, lawyers, and workplace specialists.
And it’s insanely fun!
The Ripple Effect of Seeing your Own Balance Reflected Back at You
The high of that action —that shift into crisis mode, as it were—bled into me, and my introverted persona began to evolve.
I got busy chatting. Phone, Zoom, all kinds of things. And telling people what I think. And speaking up with an answer; if I had one.
From there it was a short hop over to doing more of one of the things that I hate more than almost anything: getting on video.
We’ve done many forms of it for c+p digital as a whole, with great results. But me. On video. On my own? It’s one of my least favorite things.
Through the chats (both on and off “air”) I was hearing that people were in a tizz. And, with our library of crisis comms content growing, we could help. So we did.
For the first few weeks, I made a video a day with a solid tip on what small businesses could do online to take the Covid-19 crisis in their stride.
For example, one of the first things we did was to ditch the archaic opt-in on all our “running a business during a pandemic” (good times!) content. The goal was to help our peers not engage in lead generation and we advised clients and others to do the same.
And while the frequency of those videos has reduced, here’s what happened. People heard! AND, we got really comfortable showing up and producing content. For us and others.
That is the gift that keeps giving.
I Refuse to “PIVOT”
I also said to myself, “Self, as someone who has built a digital marketing business, if I’m panicked now, then I built the business wrong!”
From that clarity came some quality niching in how we marketed both ourselves, and the business.
We leaned hard into our podcast. We ran with additional episodes (more than our scheduled once a week), reacting quickly to the insane pace of the news cycle these past months. And we dug our heels in, and snagged more elusive guests.
We had already been creating podcasts for a few clients and realized we really, really enjoy it. And we decided we wanted more of them.
We also saw that more and more people were venturing into podcasting (given the huge clutter that came from the mass exodus online). So we set up a masterclass series on the nuts and bolts of podcasting, and that continues to be a fun way to expand our network, and meet new people.
We chiseled away, and narrowed the masterclass down to one solid goal. We show attendees how a few podcast episodes—with a hook, story, solid guest, great writing, and some imagery can result in three months worth of content in the can.
And we don’t just mean episodes. The writing, the visuals. ALL of it. Real brand play.
(Because we do believe dropping an anchor in the sound medium is one of the most valuable things you can do in 2020. Legit. Think smart speakers taking over our homes.)
Of course not everyone can DIY this. And that’s why agencies exist.
This SUPER SHARPENED our offering.
This level of clarity would never have come in pre-pandemic times. With our commitments to other people’s priorities holding us hostage.
This level of clarity would never have come without the ease of hooking up virtually with people, (versus the time wasted in the mindless scheduling of in-person meetings). That allowed me to have a 100 conversations in the first month alone. Fuelled by equal parts being-a-little-scared and being-obnoxiously-curious.
And a lot more conversations since, many with the same people; people I might never have met were it not for Covid-19.
Have we somehow become billionaires since? Heck no!!!
But I know we’re on the right path to what post-pandemic success might look like for us. And most importantly, I know I have the courage to say it out loud.
I’ve long resonated with Jim Collin’s articulation of niching in his book “Good to Great”. He likens it to a hedgehog’s strategy. Unlike the crafty fox that comes at the hedgehog with a plethora of moves, the hedgehog has one move. It rolls up, and uses its spikes.
Taking that little nugget out of an esoteric metaphor and into practice feels deeply gratifying.
Gratitude is a Mind-Altering Thing
I’ve struggled with mental health for decades. This lock-down is the kind of thing that had the potential to unhinge me. While I’m used to being home for hours, I’m CERTAINLY NOT used to being home for hours with my husband AND nine-year-old daughter.
This meant finding space. And I did that. I used that space to focus on gratitude.
One thing in particular. I really got grateful about the fact that the lack of schedules was taking away a lot of stress.
I spoke to friends I hadn’t in ages and watched endless amounts of shows I never get to watch otherwise. I started a yoga challenge. (I never finished it, but feel free to applaud for the first bit). I really got to know, and like, my daughter! Dude, she’s funny. I discovered JUST how funny.
And here’s the piece de resistance! ?
When the Ontario government announced their plan to have kids back in school, full-time, mask-on in September, I said ‘no thank you’.
Me!!!! I minimally dislike all kids; mine included! ?
But say hello to Canada’s newest set of uncertain-how-but-very-determined-to-get-it-right homeschool parents.
(P.S. My husband, daughter, and I were on the same page. Phew! That’s always a huge relief and something to be grateful for. Also, see how I’m evangelical about this gratitude gig??!)
Gratitude is a mind altering thing.
And I am glad a world changing disease—one that will likely have us all up in virtual reality headgear PRETTY soon—has made me find gratitude for my life, my family, and my team, and helped me appreciate the value of all that I have.