As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Brightman is President of 3E Public Relations (3E PR), a firm specializing in developing brand messages and creating voices for companies that are heard by target audiences via media outlets, social media, and owned content. He began his career as a journalist and editor in New Jersey.
I spent the first two years of my career as a journalist. The town I covered had a contentious political climate. I literally had to walk through a mob after a town hall meeting where a person stuck his finger in my face and challenged me, “You better cover this right.” After the story ran, that same person called and complimented me on the fairness of the article, but my mind was made up that journalism wasn’t going to be for me.
That led me to PR (or the “dark side” as a fellow journalist said on my last day at the newspaper). It allows me to continue to write, which is my passion, while helping build brands. The agency avenue lets me work with brands that have a likeminded approach to treating employees, partners, and customers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Early on in my tenure, I was interviewing a prospective employee who had already been given a stamp of approval from those who would be her immediate supervisor. I could tell she was nervous and that made me realize the magnitude of the titles “President” and “Partner.”
I simply asked her to relax and explained that we were just going to have a conversation. It seemed to work because she aced the meeting and we wound up hiring her. Fast forward three years when she decided to move on. In her final note to me she said she knew 3E PR was the place for her because I told her to relax and just talk to me during that interview.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are fortunate to work with Easterseals of New Jersey. In this relationship, we conduct media relations to promote some of their wonderful initiatives, such as its Supported Employment Program. By raising awareness of these programs, we help provide opportunities for people with disabilities.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
One reason there are so many unhappy workers in the U.S. is because our present culture makes it difficult to achieve the correct work-life balance. That same Forbes article noted that half of vacation time is not used. It is important for managers to encourage employees to take time off, if for no other reason than to re-charge.
When people are out of the office for personal reasons, it’s also important to not work (at least most of the time). Technology means work-related issues are only a click and swipe away. We encourage our employees to resist that urge and truly disconnect when they are on their own time.
The work environment is also a culprit. I hate the phrase, “it’s not personal, it’s business.” It seems to give permission to disrespect others and be rude. Supervisors and managers can make employees look forward to each day and create a healthy environment by:
Paying compliments — Recognize good work by employees and credit them for company success.
Making it personal — Learn about employees’ and co-workers’ interests and find common ground to build comradery and ways to support those interests.
Teaching, not degrading — When things go bad, treat it as a teaching moment to ensure it doesn’t happen again rather than an opportunity to beat people down.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
A happy employee is a productive worker. Giving people their just due for a job well done and recognizing their roles in company success will incent them to go the extra mile. In contrast, if management doesn’t acknowledge the talents and efforts of their employees — or worse, takes credit for it — people will have little motivation to put forth that extra effort.
This approach will increase profitability because confident, motivated employees are more efficient. Additionally, happy and engaged employees stay with a company. High turnover means extra training and learning curves, which are incredibly unproductive compared to maintaining experienced workers.
A toxic workforce can make a person unhealthy. Studies show workers who feel unappreciated are at a greater risk of heart disease. Job stress is also tied to obesity and, in extreme cases, depression. As managers and owners, we owe it to our employees to create environments that limit these health-related issues. At 3E PR, we establish a team culture, so if an employee feels overwhelmed by workload or deadlines, he or she knows co-workers and managers are more than happy to jump in and help. That togetherness creates a healthier environment, as well as a better overall product and satisfied clients.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
Balance — We blend work and personal lives. We learn who our employees are, support their charitable causes and outside-work interests, and provide free time to nurture their personal selves.
Collaboration — Everyone is encouraged to offer ideas and opinions. We bring the entire team together for strategy sessions and give each person a role in presentations and client meetings.
Independence — While we have an open-door policy to help employees, our goal is to promote independence that gives people freedom to showcase their talents, grow and ultimately succeed.
Opportunity — Hand-in-hand with independence, we create opportunities for employees to grow, thrive and focus on areas of interest to them.
Old-fashioned Face Time — We actually meet face-to-face! No emails or texts to someone 50 feet away. We get together and talk it out. Sometimes it’s impromptu and other times it’s planned lunches or similar sit-downs. This builds trust and leaves little room for misinterpretation, which can happen with texts, emails, and other technology.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Creating a culture where collaboration and “team” are more important than individual success is a key culture change. Competitiveness (aka back-stabbing) and individualism that breeds contempt between employees is replaced by appreciation and mutual respect. It will also make the workplace more efficient, creating greater productivity so people achieve that life-work balance while maintaining success for the company and employees.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I create an environment where employees receive clear direction and resources to succeed while giving them the freedom to show their skills and excel. That is complemented by a policy of transparency, so every person understands his and her role and what is expected.
One recent example was when we initiated an influencer program for a consumer electronics client. I provided the objectives, target audiences and timeline but made it clear the account executive “owned” the project. She secured more than a dozen opportunities in less than a month, in part because she was emboldened by the faith placed in her.
Another example is when I met with a supervisor to establish guidelines for developing new business materials. I outlined the goals and parameters and she developed a portfolio of proposal templates and pricing structures. I reviewed and offered guidance, but she took the ball and ran with it. The materials are now standard for the entire company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mentor is my former partner, David Scelba. He hired me to start the public relations division for what at the time was strictly an ad agency. I was only three years out of college, but he entrusted me with responsibility and opportunity. One moment forever etched in my memory is about 6–8 months after being hired I was invited into a brainstorming session with senior-level executives. During the meeting, I floated an idea that Dave believed was spot on and he presented it to the client. It is one reason I believe that any person of any experience should be heard and can develop the most effective campaigns.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My business partner, Megan Redzia, and I share a belief to pay it forward. We are dedicated to donating resources for worthy causes locally and regionally on an on-going basis. 3E PR just completed supporting the Jersey Cares annual coat drive, where we promoted the cause and served as a collection site for coats that were distributed to homeless throughout New Jersey. Each October, we support our local American Cancer Society’s breast cancer awareness initiatives and raise money for research to find a cure. We also are a sponsor of an annual fundraiser for Eva’s Village, one of New Jersey’s largest anti-poverty non-profit organizations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s better to try and fail then fail to try.”
I must say this line at least five times a week, probably because it has two distinct meanings to me. One, you will never know what is possible unless you give it a shot. No one achieved greatness by playing it safe. Two, it is the basis of decision-making. Make a decision and go with it. If it works, you have success. If it doesn’t, understand why and use that knowledge the next time. Indecision accomplishes nothing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Walk a Mile Initiative. When I was in grammar school, I won a plaque of a Native American prayer that read, “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” That philosophy has always stayed with me. One phase of the initiative can serve as a mentoring program to help young professionals. Another aspect would be to create an appreciation for what others go through in their day-to-day lives to help us understand each other better — both professionally and as a society.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!