Jennifer Fleming, President of TallGrass PR, shares some of her father’s favorite sayings that have stuck with her throughout her career.
By Jennifer Fleming
My dad is known not only for his sparkling blue eyes and his kindness, but also for what my brother and I termed “Lester-isms.” Some are bizarre and funny: “It’s like a monkey peeing in a cash register; pretty soon this is going to run into money.” And some have shaped the 3-year-old girl with pigtails into the leader, mother and wife I am today.
I’ll admit I’ve always been a little “Type A.” Everything I do, I do with focus and drive— my love of work and play, my passion for success and my deep appreciation of relationships. I, like so many others, grew up in a home strict on discipline and rules, but I was also raised in an environment of communication, expectations, loyalty and love. How have I applied them to my own team and career?
Communication – Where are you going? What time will you be home?
Every time I left the house, these two questions were standard. And now, they are critical to our team.
Where are you going? – Whether it’s discussing next week’s pitching strategy or charting a strategic plan for our clients, knowing where we are going is essential. When I see someone on the team struggling, one of the first questions I ask is, “What’s the goal we’re trying to accomplish?” In the day-to-day hustle, it’s easy to lose your course and direction, to get into the “doing” without considering why you’re doing it. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Focusing back in on the “where are you going” question helps maintain focus and gets us closer to our goals.
What time will you be home? – Think about how many requests or tasks you delegate or are assigned in a day. How often do you assign or ask for a specific delivery date? At TallGrass, every new hire receives our “promises” presentation directly from our Chairman, Jeffrey Hayzlett. And annually, he reviews it with our entire team. The premise is simple, you can ask, but if you don’t communicate what you need and by when, you may not achieve the desired outcome or meet the deadline.
Saying, “I need the DocuSign report” is less effective than “I need the DocuSign pitching report by 5pm EST on Wednesday, July 23.” And don’t forget to say please!
Clear communication creates trust and defines clear expectations.
Expectations – Work Hard, Play Hard
As a child, everyone in our home had chores. I would plug into my Sony Walkman and listen to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album while doing what seemed like insurmountable piles of dishes. I mowed, I swept. I picked up dog doo. And if it wasn’t done right, I was expected to redo it.
At the same time I played hard too. We spent hours outside, riding bikes, playing Kick the Can and Red Rover. My Barbies had the best Dream House, stylish and spic and span. I took on play much the same way I did chores, with passion and fervor. And when I needed quiet downtime, I read voraciously.
Work hard, play hard is one of my favorite sayings. In fact, I use it in every interview I conduct. I understand and appreciate that not everyone has this same philosophy. So I’m clear about it – if you don’t feel the same way, you’re not a fit for us.
There’s a time for hard work, but there also needs to be time to play, to decompress and re-energize. Everything moves fast today. We are never truly unplugged. PR is a 24/7 gig. I never want to miss a media inquiry or an urgent request from a client or my team.
But I do know when I need a recharge. Whether it’s a walk around the block between meetings, or a few days’ vacation, I make sure to make the time to play. Playing frees our minds, gives us perspective and “unblocks” us so we can work better, be more creative and productive.
Loyalty – Dance with the One That Brought You
Another “Lester-ism” – dance with the one that brought you. Relationships are the bread and butter of any business. Whether or not you are in sales, you “sell” something every day. I don’t think of selling in the traditional sense. Part of successful selling is building and maintaining relationships over time.
My life and career “dance card” have been full. I’ve been fortunate to have fantastic mentors, bosses, co-workers and friends who have shaped me, people from whom I’ve grown both personally and professionally.
Urban Dictionary defines this phrase as, “The principle that someone should pay proper fealty to those who have gone out of their way to look after them.”
I am cognizant of those who have gone above and beyond for me, who are my loyal core. I keep a list handy of my media friends and past, present and future clients and contacts. I periodically reach out, sometimes for no reason other than to say, “Hey, how are you? Anything I can help with?” Do the same and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of times it leads to something positive.
Never forget who brought you to the dance.