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Leading During an Economic Downturn

Posted April 20, 2023
Leading During an Economic Downturn

Terry Isner, Founder & CEO of Jaffe, a full-service PR, Marketing and Branding Agency for the Legal Industry, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Terry shares his insights on the Oh God! Moment, what areas we can adjust that weren’t available before the change and the positive changes that indicate we’re progressing beyond where it was in the 1990s.

Jaffe has been operational for over forty years. It was also one of the first agencies to go virtual. So when COVID-19 struck and everybody was at home, Terry and his team were hard at work each day. He believes that their efforts do a great deal for the legal community by bringing them up to speed with the needs of the marketing community, particularly since lawyers work so much with everyone else in the world.

The Oh God! Moment - what we’re looking at in the market and what it means - those who embrace and adjust are going to win.

Marketers have a very broad job description these days. Every day, we are seeing one or two more companies that aren’t achieving what they thought they would and they’re falling short of goals. At the start of this chat, Terry discussed the Oh God! Moment that has occurred and his particularly positive spin on the response to it.

“You have to adapt and change and that is exactly where we are. Here’s the problem: everybody’s afraid to adapt to change. The business world has this legacy approach from the 1980s and 1990s where the boardroom is where all decisions are made. And in that boardroom, it’s revenue and profit usually at the equity level or the chairman or profit level at the board. Then along came this pandemic and everyone had this Oh God! Moment. We would go through whether it is a recession, lockdown, having to trim our staff or whatever those things are that we have to adapt to. It was so much harder for everybody to adapt to them because we were so stuck in the mindset of this 1980s – 1990s business set and generationally.

“But guess what? If you really sat back and looked at it from a glass half-full view and you take the Oh God! Moment and then start to adapt, you’ll see that this is probably for the best and it is a band aid we could have ripped off since it opened our minds to so much. Not only did the idea of the pandemic wake others because of the lockdown; how do I reduce cost? How does this affect my client? And we had this social unrest happening and we were more conscious of it since we were looking to be fed stuff and we were not working and we were trapped at home and we started to get more involved in that. So again, glass half-full. The world’s starting to change. Now we are adapting to our doors having to open up to social issues.

“Our doors have to open up to the idea of just how we can be more efficient. Our doors have to open up to walking the walk and talking the talk to our clients. I just find so many positives that came out of that oh God! Moment. I think that’s what we have to shift the discussion to because the political and financial landscapes are continuing to look bleak. That is what the news does. That is what we go through. But if we have adapted to some of these changes, we have righted the culture in some ways and we’re recognizing that people over profits is exactly where we need to be. Then I think you can start weathering some of these issues.”

The strategy - what are the areas we can adjust now that weren’t available to us in the past? What does this mean for our strategy as a business? What does it mean for people who work at businesses?

Let’s talk about embracing the change and what that looks like in an organization that’s hit a rough patch. The glass-half-full view to me on that and I’ve always said, a hard quarter, maybe not too many hard quarters, but at least one hard quarter makes people uncomfortable enough to reevaluate and consider change. I think one of the most toxic things I hear is, but we’ve always done it that way. Terry talked about other ways that marketers can start looking at this as a positive opportunity for growth.

“It’s funny because the marketer has a seat at the table right now. And the reason we have that seat at the table is in the way in which we attract and retain. I think that’s important since it is empathy and empathy was a softer, weaker type of humanity-based business tactic. But it was soft, and in most cases, never welcomed in boardrooms. Then also the business culture got a seat at the table and that came out of the idea of revisiting who we are based on the pandemic alone shifted our thinking about kindness and people reaching out to one another. It is a more people-centric world and less of a business-centric world.

“Therefore, when you see the opportunities to right those things and fix those things and you have these discussions, you now put value and weight on other things. So you start thinking of recruiting and the idea that when you’re recruiting, in many cases, you are bringing business with you since the business maybe doesn’t really belong to the brand itself, but it might belong to the service providers in it. 

“For us in the legal community, it breaks down from the law firm to the lawyer and the lawyers where power is because it is the relationship. If one lawyer leaves one law firm and goes to another, most likely, the relationship goes with them. That’s a new way to think of business growth, which means now I have to tell a more personal story. Why are we relevant as a business? How have we adapted to change?  And how have we created a culture that attracts like-minded folks or even retains like-minded folks? So you think about what happened during the pandemic, and I hate to keep on using this, but we have to because that is what makes the shift.

“And we still haven’t experienced most of what the shift is because in many cases, we are still fighting it. When you think of that, you are putting the idea of power in how I represent myself publicly. How do we rep ourselves within the confines of our brick-and-mortar outlets and or what that looks like in an extended work environment? And you start to weigh some of those things that we said valued or devalued what a good year, a good month, or a good quarter might look like. Therefore you have to change that and ask yourself, do I have greater brand recognition? Maybe I don’t have the revenue right now, but I’ve greater brand recognition, which will increase opportunities for me to grow the firm where I need to grow it. Or the pandemic created a situation where I can reduce costs by letting deadwood go. But then, I could replace it in another way. Deadwood is a horrible term, but the idea of a non-producer and the need of the value in it. So again, all these unified in a way in which our thinking was able to change.

“The problem is our thinking didn’t change, then we’re no longer relevant to our clientele base, our consumer base, and the businesses we’re working with since they’ve had to adapt. From our earlier example, if a service provider doesn’t adapt with them, they’re setting these rules and statements that say, if you don’t meet these qualifications or certain categories, we are no longer wanting to partner with you. Therefore, it is kind of this idea of looking ahead and saying, hey, where have the changes happened in the industries in which I want to be effective and relevant and how do I adapt to those? Again, the idea of adapting is the biggest fear factor right now.

“We as marketers have a job. Now, what’s happened when you think about culture and other things and you can’t be alone in that? Going back to the idea of the seat and the table, it’s our job to now understand and articulate culture. That is marketing’s job. HR, marketing, and management, their job is to maintain the culture because culture is behavior. So set the behavior expectations and change the behavior. However, marketing has to paint the story and tell the story of a culture that’s attractive either to a client, consumer base or a growth base, a talent base. Now the role is to better understand culture and better articulate that to the right audiences for goals that they want to reach. Then you think back to the empathy seat at the table and you think about how we’ve to go about articulating the culture and showing by example.

“I think that’s the other big thing. There are a lot of people who talk about these changes. It’s really adapting and seeing these changes in place. Now the marketer as opposed to shoving everybody in a sales funnel wants to create these threads of relationship building since you might not receive a penny from a great relationship. But it’s such a loyal fan, what they will drive will be so much more to that value in maintaining that relationship and is probably more important than cramming things in a sales funnel and hoping something will drop out of that and be a source of new revenue for you. So it is the mentality shifting to how you are calculating things and you’re looking and putting value.

“Do I have greater value because my firm or my business is really relevant and appreciated in today’s time and where we are? The longevity of my business and its ability to adapt and be relevant today is exactly the story I want to tell. It kind of goes back to marketing’s job to participate in the right channels, and the right messages, drive the right traffic to the rest of the stories that are being told, and then be able to create a connection that leads to either relationships, revenue growth, or talent acquisition. Something along that line.

“It’s funny because we’re talking about it from a business perspective, but now to go to the talent perspective; the people. How many times have they gone and said, okay the business that I work for wasn’t there for me, wasn’t there for anybody?  I am seeing that and I’m putting in all this effort all the time. Guess what? This culture wasn’t right for me. And that is a lot of what it is to empower people to say, you might be able to do amazing things, but you’re in a culture that doesn’t care nor are they open to the idea of that change. You are just spinning. You are putting yourselves in so many places that are so stressful to your body and mind and growth in what you can contribute and it affects us in so many ways.

“Toxic cultures and the idea of disrespect, lack of growth and not being listened to. Wake up because the generations that are taking over demand these kinds of things.  So the idea of communication and understanding and sharing, learning, and building together is critical. I think it’s interesting that if we equate it to the real estate industry, there’s a buyer’s and seller’s market. We are in a talent market at the moment. 

“And quickly shifting this to another thing that came out of the big changes is the use of technology. Many companies that were not fully invested in technology had to be and they had to learn other ways in which they could operate or cast a broader net for talent. But you have to also evolve along with all of us and utilize technology, utilize these other marketing channels more. In the legal community, social media is still fairly new, and podcasts are super-new. And I love  it since it continues to be this opportunity to have a blank canvas because I’m bringing them into something that I am already watching and finding the best ways for it to work within other industries.

“Therefore, it is a great opportunity for us. For me, it allows me to be ahead of the industry since I can think of it from the client’s perspective who is already utilizing some of these tools. Again, the glass half-full. You can be so much more efficient now if you look at what the pandemic offered us the use of technology. More of these discussions happen in a digital format and have greater reach due to webinars, Zoom, and other things. Yet, we all are having fatigue related to them. But soon they’re going to pan out and settle down in a way in which we can now see them as a potential way we can use to reach greater audiences, especially in that say of exposure and conventions where they can have a two-tier opportunity to capture what they need to in-person. But expand that thought leadership outward to even greater audiences.

“So again, glass half-full. There are so many other opportunities for businesses to be more efficient. However, when you talk about those layoffs and the talent having power, I am seeing marketing departments leave. I’m talking about an entire team leaving. Now that says a lot to really appreciate the worker, right?”

What are some of the positive changes we’re seeing that indicate that the shift is beginning to happen or is progressing beyond where it was in the 1990s?

Terry described the positive changes that now indicate the shift is progressing beyond where it was in the 1990s.

“Again, I go back to what I was just saying and it is that if you are a business owner and you look at these things through a glass-half-full lens, I might have had to reduce the number of bodies that I have, but I still am a really important resource, a viable resource and a highly respected resource to my audience and clients. So how do I operate now in a different way at a different cost factor? How do I replace the bodies, the talents, and the minds that I lost and not fall back into the same knee-jerk reaction of needing to replace them physically in-house with a body? Therefore, how can I cast a broader net? Utilize an at-home work environment with my brick-and-mortar environment. This is an important one for you to assess and analyze. 

“The other is determining that maybe, I didn’t need that many bodies and this was positive for my business. I am sorry that I’ve had to reduce folks, but I have also learned that I can be so much more efficient if I adapt to digital or consulting relationships. So we have been thinned and we now come in and plug in because we’re basically an extension of the marketing initiative. But only when you need it to be so that we’re seeing levels of folks thinking of how they can replace those that they had to let go in a more efficient and effective way and that’s positive for them.

“Now switch it to talent. From the talent perspective, if the culture wasn’t working for you, why should you be held back? Why shouldn’t your idea be appreciated? And your innovations and your collaborative thinking, why can’t they all be appreciated? That’s a cultural thing. That is the management you are working with. And we cannot always change everybody into being compassionate and inclusive. So if you find you weren’t appreciated during the pandemic, you’re not appreciated in the fact that you have taken on more work because they’ve had to lay off people around you. It’s time for you to recognize your self-worth, your ability to grow and does that culture fit you.

“Therefore, we have given ourselves this sense that unlike when I was growing up, you went in. You stayed in the business, you stayed there. They measured you on how long you were at the business before you went to that business and all those other set ideas on what business is supposed to look like and how you operate in business. 

“Well, they’ve changed. So you can change along with them. Why would I want to hire someone who doesn’t fit my culture and they aren’t succeeding? Or why would I not want somebody to come to my firm and bring their whole self because my culture doesn’t allow that? So I’m now paying someone 100% for 50% back. What if I changed the culture? What if I changed the way that I think? What if I welcome the whole self and you were so competent in going to work every day that now I got 100% of you? So all of these are positives that I think we’ve got to change in our mindset to be more relevant and profitable in today’s business market.”

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