3. Part 2: Alicia Thompson on self-reinvention after a job loss and bad PR.
Rudy: Hey, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse. In part two of my conversation with Alicia Thompson we talk about the biggest professional upheaval any of us can experience, losing your job. How do you bounce back from that and how do you prepare for it? Alicia also shares her thoughts on why PR has such bad PR. And lastly, we talked about the qualities of people who are in marketing and why we like them. Check this out.
Earcon: You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse.
Rudy: So, I want to talk to you about sensitive subject. I know we’ve talked about this before in terms of upheaval and you’ve experienced an enormous upheaval by the worst upheaval that we all have nightmares about in that you lost your job.
Rudy: I travel around a lot, I’ve worked in a lot of different companies, and that is the single most unwritten fear everyone has. And of course it always is there. If you have a job, you’re always worried about keeping the job. But the difference, and this is my opinion, the difference was always if I work hard, if I do my job, if I, unless we lose business, if I do what I’m supposed to do, I’m going to keep my job but …
Alicia: Not true anymore.
Rudy: Now it’s like, “Well guess what we just changed.” Instead of, “We’ve had the strategic plan working for two years.” Like, “No, we’re going somewhere else.” That’s what I’m seeing and it sounds like you’ve experienced that very thing.
Rudy: So, you want to talk a little bit about that?
Alicia: Yeah. I mean it’s become so commonplace and I can’t tell you how many of my friends and colleagues were all in the same boat but yeah my job was eliminated in April and I think it’s one of those situations where in the back of your head you always know it’s a possibility but when you get called to the office in HR and say, “Your job’s been eliminated.” You have this moment of like, “Oh wait, wait, you’re joking right? I wasn’t expecting this.” And then, you go to this moment of panic where like, “Okay.” So then you start thinking about your, all these things go through your head within a ten second span and then you have one of two reactions and you either go, “Okay, I’m going to embrace this for what it is and let’s talk about the financial part.” Or, you have a meltdown.
Rudy: Or you do both.
Alicia: Or you do both, one first and then the other. And that’s why one of the things I always tell young women, especially, when I speak is having your financial house in order. You can’t predict the future. And I know kids graduate, kids, sound old, young people graduate from college and now they finally have income and they want to buy this. I’m like, “That old adage your parents tell you pay yourself first. It’s really important.” Because these days you don’t know if you’re going to have a job. You can be great at what do to your point and the next day you don’t have a gig.
Alicia: So, I think part of the other thing that was important to me is over the course of my career making sure I had built good relationships, not just made me get contacts because good contacts are great but the relationships are important because when you find yourself in a situation like this you need to be able to call on good colleagues that you’ve worked with in the past. And don’t be embarrassed and don’t be afraid to tell people, “Hey, I’m out of work.” A lot of people go through that, they’re embarrassed. And I’m like even firings are as taboo as they used to be, certainly getting laid off and transitioned out isn’t a bad thing. So, feel free to tell people that, take that burden off of yourself and let people help you.
Alicia: We have a really hard time letting people help us. Be open to people saying, “Hey, let me contact this person to let them know you’re out of a job. Let me connect you with so-and-so. You guys have coffee. I don’t know if they have anything but it’s good for you to meet more people.” And so, you have to work your network and that’s exactly what I’ve done and have some good leads and have skills to fall back on with signature leadership being able to do some special projects and some freelance gigs that way. And you just, keep your head up, it is what it is. Life is just too short to let a blip, and it is a blip in the greater span of your life, get you down.
Rudy: Well, I think two things. The relationship thing is very important. I have found for as much as advertising and PR gets sort of, have bad PR. I want to ask you about that later. But we have this reputation of being these manipulative, sleazy people. I’ve been in this for 30 years. I really, most everyone I’ve met in this business has been wonderful.
Alicia: Good people.
Rudy: And whenever I’ve needed anything you reach out and you say, “Hey, I need this.” Or even if it’s, “I need work or I need … Can you recommend that?” Always fast to help. I’ve never, because everybody’s been there and even if you haven’t been there you’re worried that you’re …
Alicia: You’re worried that you’re next. So, good karma comes back if you help people. So yeah, I mean I just think one again don’t be embarrassed. It is what it is. It’s the trend now unfortunately. And in our industry, marketing PR and ad dollars are the first to get cut so we’re usually the first ones out the door.
Rudy: Well, I’m in creative and my background is advertising so now that’s changed quite a bit.
Alicia: Yeah. And the running joke is that, the running joke used to be that the PR people were the last ones out the door because we had to send out the final communication but that’s not true anymore.
Rudy: So, you had mentioned not being embarrassed when you lose a job. I wonder how our role and how our view of work has changed. So, it used to be like my mom, my mom had a job, she had family, she had a job and that was, she had to pay the bills. It’s moved from job, then you have a career, and it’s almost now it’s a calling. How much of our egos are wrapped into what we do for a living?
Alicia: Huge, huge amount. We get caught in having the title, and the corner office, and the assigned parking space, and the stock options. I call them the golden handcuffs. And I think what’s crazy is when you lose a job or when you opt to leave a job there is this mourning that goes along with that where you’re like, “Oh, who am I?” Without all the trappings of what you had you have to take the time to figure out who you are because work has become, for most of us, the center around, everything else in our lives revolves around work and the fact that we are attached to some device that allows us to check email and for people to get in touch with us at all times, it makes it challenging.
Alicia: And I remember when I left Popeye’s of my own accord and when I left because I was the face of the brand in the community there were people in Atlanta that called me Ms. Popeye’s and I was like, “Oh God. They don’t even know my name.” And so when I’d run into them they’d go, “Hey Ms. Popeye’s.” “Well actually I’m not with Popeye’s anymore, my name’s Alicia.” It was a momentary lapse of like, “I don’t know who I am without that.” And I think a lot of people struggle with that because that has become such a core part of ego for people to be able to say, “I am the X, Y, Z of X company.” That it’s a very difficult transition when that’s no longer their situation.
Rudy: So how do you adjust to that? First of all, how do you avoid that? How do you avoid making that be such an integral part of your identity?
Alicia: I think it’s part of how you’re wired and I think our world today has made those types of things important and relevant and that’s what gives people their sense of self but I think it’s a personal reflection that you have to go, “Whoa.” You have to reprioritize things in your life. And I think it’s a lot easier for people with families than it is for those of us that don’t have spouses, and children, and things like that. And that’s why some people say when something traumatic happens in their family finally the light bulb goes off that, “Oh wait, my wife’s having surgery. I can’t be at that meeting. You don’t understand. This is what’s important to me.”
Alicia: And so, I think it’s a situation that happens or it’s just a self reflection where people reach a point in life and go, “I can’t do it.” But I see a lot of millennials that aren’t buying that. They are not drinking that Kool-aid. They are like, “No, I want to go hang out with friends, and I want to see my family, and I want to have work life balance. I want to go run in the evening. I want to go do this.” And so I think we’re seeing a generational shift. I think baby boomers, and Gen X’ers, we were all in that space but the generations behind are like, “You people are crazy.”
Rudy: Now, I hope that’s right. And part of it may be, and I’ve brought this up before, they started to come into the workforce during the economic collapse and the ones younger than them saw their parents lose everything in a moment. So I imagine that those sorts of trappings, maybe they’re more cautious of. I hope so because I think I’ve spent too much of my career worried about my career and not as much enjoying my career. So, I’m trying to change that now.
Alicia: And, I have a couple of colleagues that I knew were like, “When I retire I’m going to do X.” And, “When I retire I’m going to do this. I bought a plane. I bought a boat. I’m going to travel with my family.” And then they retire and six months later they’re dead. That happened to two of my colleagues. Within six months of retiring they were gone. And I’m like, “You spent 40 years working your fingers to the bone, not spending time with your family, and now when you thought you were.” And, you have those moments where you go, “I will not be that person. I promise you. I just can’t be that person.” So, I do believe we’re seeing a generational shift and we’re seeing millennials and those folks really saying, “Yeah those things aren’t as important to me as they were to my parents.” And I’m hopeful that that sentiment will continue in the generations that follow and we aren’t just in a pendulum swing that will come back the other way at some point down the line.
Rudy: That’s the good part of the upheaval.
Alicia: Yes, absolutely. Maybe there’ll be some positive change, some change for good in people’s behaviors.
Rudy: PR has such bad PR. So, whenever anybody, let’s say a government organization hires a PR agency people lose their minds, “PR, why do you need that?” In a movie the PR guy is, he’s never the hero.
Rudy: Why is that? Why does PR have such bad PR?
Alicia: I think it all starts with a really prominent person in the history of PR which is PT Barnum.
Rudy: Of course.
Alicia: Duh. But I think people don’t like to be manipulated. It is human nature not to like to be manipulated which is I think why advertising is not, we’re leading the crowd by advertising slightly behind us, is that people sometimes feel that spin or the stories that PR people place with the media are only put there to put their brand, client, product, service, in a wonderfully glowing light. And we are, that’s exactly what we’re supposedly, that’s what we’re hired to do. But people really take offense to that until a crisis happens and then we’re the heroes. But I do believe it’s this just human nature of not liking to be manipulated and they see what we do in broad strokes as some type of a manipulation.
Rudy: And yeah, I’ve seen more and more in creative and in marketing how letting people in, like the Wendy’s example. People know that that is a team of writers. They know it’s not really. They let people in on the secret so they don’t feel like they’re being manipulated. But I was actually having this conversation with a friend about advertising, PR, manipulation. And we were at a Starbucks and she ordered a coffee with soy milk in it. There’s no such thing as soy milk because it doesn’t come from a mammal. It’s actually soy juice but if they call it that you wouldn’t put it in your coffee and she didn’t like hearing that by the way.
Alicia: Well, it’s the same with almond milk, and cashew milk, and all the other kind of milks that we’ve buy.
Rudy: It’s a manipulation but it’s a way to sell.
Alicia: Yeah absolutely.
Rudy: It’s all around us all the time
Alicia: And you buy it, that’s the problem. You can’t be mad at us because you buy the messages that we put out. So, it makes me laugh. My brother is very much a big brother conspiracy theorist kind of person and he hates what I do.
Rudy: Oh really?
Alicia: He hates PR. “You’re always putting this, adding this extra layer fluff that nobody really cares about.” I’m like you are still listening even if you’re complaining about it you heard it so.
Rudy: Mine, I have a better one. My mother met someone, this is a woman who was helping her, she met her maybe five or six months ago and she said, “She used to be in marketing. What’s marketing?” Okay mom. She just, I guess it was a mystery how I’ve paid my bills these last several years.
Alicia: It’s okay.
Rudy: So if you look ahead at things that are changing, what are you most excited about in this upheaval and what scares you the most?
Alicia: So, I think the innovation that is ahead and it’s going to be moving at even more increasingly faster speeds is something that I’m looking for because even though I’m out of it at the moment, maybe short term or long term, but just watching that is going to be fascinating. Because the generations coming up behind how they with “media” is so different than what I even, how I even engage, and to innovate, to be able to keep up with their short term attention spans and things like that is going to be fascinating. And then, that same speed of innovation terrifies me because as someone still working in the industry I can’t keep up that fast.
Rudy: I can’t either.
Alicia: So it’s like what happens to those of us that still have a lot to bring to the table but just can’t keep up with the pace of how things are moving forward. And so, where do the lines blur and where do we try to find a happy medium of appreciating the old while embracing the new?
Rudy: I was talking to someone yesterday, he’s an art director, I asked him what he was working on. He said, “Well, I’m just creating some social content.” And I said, “What is that?” He said, “Ads.”
Alicia: Just new terms.
Rudy: Just say ads. It’s like, “Yeah, they’re 15 second ads they’re going to run.”
Alicia: But they’re running it on social. And so, I think a lot of the skillsets that we still have it’s just now where the portals and the media by which they’re being pushed out. But if you don’t know the right terminology I mean my team at Edible Arrangements are millennials and they’d say something and I’ve probably got that strange look on my face like, “That’s something I’m going to have to Google when they leave my office.”
Rudy: Yeah, I’ve done that.
Alicia: And they would go, “Do you know what we’re talking about?” And I’d go, “No, why don’t you explain it?” And = both of them would just roll their eyes. Like, “How can she not know that?” And it’s like it’s not the world I live in.
Rudy: Yeah. Some things stay the same.
Alicia: Yeah absolutely.
Rudy: But some things obviously change. But I think a lot of the things that say the same just have different names.
Alicia: They do. They absolutely do. And I think the world of marketing is a very interesting world that I would say probably has evolved more so than a lot of other industries. It’s had to to keep out.
Rudy: Oh gosh yes.
Alicia: And I have a six year old niece and a three year old niece and I sometimes look at them when they’re playing on their iPads and things and wonder, “What is the world going to, how are we going to advertise to you guys when you’re 25? What does that even look like?” And it just blows my mind because I know it’s going to be something I probably couldn’t even fathom today.
Rudy: My youngest daughter’s never watch TV really. I mean everything’s on a little screen.
Rudy: So how do we talk to your nieces?
Alicia: You know I don’t know and I probably could tell you better after next week when the oldest one comes and spends a week with me. To your point, everything in her world is on a screen. It’s not on a TV screen. They know how to work the remote control but only to get to Netflix on the big television. Embedded messages which I find very interesting.
Alicia: Because I have, when I’ve spent time with him, watched or listened to Dora the Explorer albums and things like that with them and the subliminal little ads that could pop up in between the songs. And I’m like, “Wait, what was that?” [inaudible 00:18:02] And they’re like, “No Auntie we want to hear this song.” And I’m like, “I’m trying to hear the 15 second ad that just played.” So it’ll be I think a lot more, which I think it already is a lot subliminal. But I just, I have no idea what it’s going to be like. I’m going to be extremely fascinated to see the evolution that will happen over the next 15 to 20 years because it’s gonna be something that like I said we couldn’t even imagine.
Rudy: In the end we stopped to solve a problem in a creative way. So, hopefully that’ll keep us employed.
Alicia: Well, I don’t know given my experiences but I think the cool thing about marketing people is that we truly know how to recreate ourselves. And I think even when we’re laid off, or even when we decide to make a transition, or the industry continues to change and we find ourselves catching up we have a odd ability to be able to take a breath, step back, reassess the landscape, and dive right back in. And I think that makes us pretty special people because a lot of other folks can’t do that so.
Rudy: Well that is a perfect way to end this episode. Thank you so much.
Alicia: Thank you. This was fun.
Rudy: Yeah, let’s do it again.
Alicia: Yes, absolutely.
Rudy: Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. If you’d like to learn more about how to train the next generation of leaders at your company contact Alicia Thompson. Her email is AThompson@SignatureLeadershipllc.com. For show notes, previous episodes, and previews to upcoming episodes visit us at CreativeOuthouse.com/podcast. And if you liked this podcast please give us five stars, subscribe, and share it with others. And that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. Remember if the current state of marketing has got you confused don’t worry it’ll all change. See ya.
Listen to Part 1 of our interview with Alicia here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/380554/1398304-2-part-1-alicia-thompson-on-food-brands-crisis-and-women-leaders
Transcript by www.Rev.com.