003 | Staying Human in an Age of Chaos with Rishad Tobaccowala | Studio CMO

Podcast by | April 1, 2020 Interviews, Marketing Strategy


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The Episode in 60 Seconds

Rishad Tobaccowala has invested a lifetime in understanding human connection and leading a team to influence and persuade others through Publicis Groupe, one of the largest advertising and communications companies in the world.

In his new book, Restoring the Soul of Business, he outlines how companies can learn to live in the balance between spreadsheets and stories.

He has also spent time considering the implications of a worldwide pandemic on business and leadership.

This interview delves into:

  • understanding your audience in a new light
  • the five characteristics of a successful human leader
  • the six words to remove from your communication
  • how to maximize your distributed workforce

Our Guest

Rishad Tobaccowala is the Senior Advisor to Publicis Groupe, an advertising and communications firm with 80,000 employees worldwide. Over his 37-year career, Tobaccowala has worked across almost every area of marketing, including brand advertising, media, database, and direct and interactive marketing. As a pioneer in digital marketing, Tobaccowala was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top business leaders for his pioneering innovation and TIME magazine dubbed him one of five Marketing Innovators. He is in the Ad Age Interactive Hall of Fame and has received a lifetime achievement silver medal award from the Chicago Ad Federation.

Rishad is also chairman of The Tobaccowala Foundation, which helps over 10,000 people gain better access to health and education in India.

He regularly presents keynotes at industry conferences and speaks at global organizations such as Kellogg’s, IBM, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

He is the author of Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in an Age of Data.

Show Notes

With all this data swirling around us, have we lost the human?

Companies can be boiled down to two major components: a math component or data-driven component (the spreadsheet) and the story side of business.

John Farkas on the soul of business.

Always lead with empathy and understanding, and avoid technology bias when interacting with your audience.

Technology is extremely important as an enabler, but not as a discussion point — even if you are selling technology. – Rishad Tobaccowala

56% of people who work in business in America are not engaged at work. They just show up.

The Six Factors of Retaining Employees

  1. Money
  2. Fame
  3. Power for the senior executives, autonomy for growing employees
  4. Growth
  5. Purpose and Values
  6. Connections

What is the best word to use for your prospective customers? Customer? Consumer? Prospects? Targets? Audience? Gods?

Think about this: technology has enabled us to have god-like powers.

Your number one salesforce is not happy customers, it’s your employees. Happy employees, happy company.

Focus on human connection and your company’s purpose and values. Your employees must understand how they fit besides getting a paycheck.

The Six Words You Can’t Say in Your Presentations

It’s important to understand that your technology can’t be the banner you fly out in front of a sales conversation. 

  • Personalization
  • Data Lake
  • Database
  • Disruption
  • Platform
  • Optimization


Your customers need you to S.A.V.E. them.

Show me a solution

Make it accessible

Give me value

Give me a great experience

How to lead a distributed workforce

You have to be a leader of your team and a leader of yourself.

In light of the current public health crisis…

The importance of good leadership today is more important than ever before, because people are uncertain, unsure, and anxious. – Rishad Tobaccowala

The Five Criteria of Successful Human Leaders

Meetings are not conversations. They are gatherings around a modern fireplace—the spreadsheet on a screen. A true meeting is when we look into each other’s eyes and talk. Genuinely talk.  – Rishad Tobaccowala

What Automattic does with their distributed workforce. [listen at 22:00]

The stronger the offline bond, the more online relationships can work. – Rishad Tobaccowala

Three Things to Consider for Your B2B Tech Company in a Time of Chaos

  • What is your product/pricing mix?
  • What is your messaging? How should you change it?
  • During times like this, your audience will see the true caliber of your company. What is it?

understanding the turd on the table

We are in the midst of corporate, national, and personal crap. [listen more at 29:19]

How do you put Humpty Dumpty back together again? [listen at 32:45]

Golden Spiral articles on trust

Golden Spiral articles on empathy


A special message from John Farkas

Unrelated to this episode, John Farkas wanted to share this message with you:


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Mark Whitlock   Chances are you’re listening to this podcast on a device, probably your phone. And right now we’re recording this during the great quarantine of 2020. You’re spending a lot of time with your screen. Well, think about these thoughts about data. The current output of data is 2.5 quintrillion bytes a day, and organizations are expected to spend $203 billion on data analytics this year, which is up from 130 billion just four years ago. So where is the soul in all of this? Where is the people in all that we’re doing and does this data and our relationships have any correlation? That’s what we’re going to be talking about today on studio CMO. Welcome to Studio CMO. I’m Mark Whitlock alongside our host John Farkas.

John Farkas   Hello everybody.

Mark Whitlock   Our co-host, Angus Nelson.

Angus Nelson   Hello, hello.

Mark Whitlock   And we’re connected via Chicago to our guest today, Angus.

Angus Nelson   Yes. And he is the Senior Advisor to the Publicis Groupe, an advertising communications firm with 80,000 employees worldwide. He’s hailed by Time Magazine as one of the top five marketing innovators and recognized by Business Week as one of the top business leaders. He regularly presents keynotes at industry conferences and speaks at global organizations such as Kellogg’s, IBM, Amazon, Google and Facebook. And his first book has just been released. It’s called Restoring the Soul of Business. Welcome to the show. Rishad Tobaccowala.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Thank you. And it’s a pleasure to be here.

Mark Whitlock   So he talks to Kellogg’s, he also talks to us.

Angus Nelson   He does.

Mark Whitlock   Still don’t forget that.

John Farkas   Comes down. Comes down to earth.

Mark Whitlock   I was thinking comes up to us. But that’s okay.

John Farkas   Well, Rishad, I got to say when I first saw the title of this book and dove into it, it was really a breath of fresh air and I would love for you to just kind of unpack because you have a big word. I mean your last name is the biggest word on the front of the cover of the book, but as far as the meaning of the word, the word soul is a big word. I mean that is not a light concept. It has a lot of connotation. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Unpack the idea of soul as it pertains to business in our era today. How would you bring that into the conversation?

Rishad Tobaccowala   Well how we bring it into the conversation is that a company has lots of components, but to simplify it, most companies have two components. They have a math component or a data driven component of the business, which I call the spreadsheet, which is extremely important. So that is both, it’s financials, it’s P&L, it’s headcount. It’s also the assets that they have with regards to number of customers, data that they have on the customers, et cetera, locations, offices.

John Farkas   It’s the stuff that keeps them in business.

Rishad Tobaccowala   That’s the spreadsheet. It’s key, and what makes a business a business is a spreadsheet to a great extent. And that stuff has been growing increasingly important, primarily because of the number you just put out. Data has been exploding. The most valuable companies tend to be data driven. And especially now in the age of mobile phones and social, there’s incredible amounts of data being created, and so companies are focusing a lot on the spreadsheet.

The other side of a business is also very real but less celebrated these days, which is the story side of the business. And the story side of the business is the talent, the culture, the purpose and values, et cetera of the business. And my belief is the soul of a company is when you combine the story and the spreadsheet. That if you only focus on the story, you end up with a company like WeWork. If you focus on the spreadsheet you end up with a company like Wells Fargo where it was just about opening accounts as cheaply and fast as you can, even if it’s fake accounts. And then the company goes down in flames. And by combining them is where the future is. And why this was restoring the solar business is I was recognizing that over the last five, seven years, 56% of people who work in business in America are not engaged at work. They just show up.

Mark Whitlock   Wow.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Right? And one of the reasons is they were basically saying everything is data driven. Eventually I’d be replaced by a spreadsheet. I have to read a number, pass a number, collate a number. What about me? What about my story? Where do I fit in? What about the purpose and values of this company that I’m at? Am I proud to say that I work at this company? And as a result, I began to think that as I was serving my clients and my own company, I should remind people that we had tilted too much towards this left brain and we needed both. It’s not you need only one, but you need both. And the successful businesses combine them and depending on the environment, they combine them in different ways. So for instance, we’re living in the time of the great quarantine, we have this scary virus out there. At this particular stage, businesses have to basically think about the story much more than they have to think about the spreadsheet.

If they make only spreadsheet decisions, yes they will cut costs, eliminate people, do all kinds of things, but it will in a few months turn out to be a disaster because they’ll have lost a lot of talent or the talent that remains will remember how they were treated. Their customers would remember how they were treated and the general environment will basically say when the chips were down, this company basically cashed their chips. And guess what? In the future there won’t be any chips for them.

Angus Nelson   Interesting. A small percentage of people relatively speaking, are showing up because they are wanting to be there. There’s a lot of people that are just kind of phoning it in. What are some of those factors that create that environment? Dive into that next level. What are some of the things that help people want to be a part of an organization? Want to be vested and participate and care.

Rishad Tobaccowala   So there are six factors that people want. One is people want money, right? Which is I want to get paid, so I’m not going to hang around in a company unless I get paid. And ideally I want to get paid fairly. And in the ideal world, I want to get paid even more than fairly. But I need to get paid, right? Which is number one. So money is one key thing. The other, if you’re very senior, it’s fame. If you are low down the wrong, it’s recognition. Just recognized that I’m doing a good job. And the third is people basically want power when they are senior or autonomy when you’re younger, right? Which is, give me some degree of autonomy, give me a little bit of money and give me recognition. And those are extremely important because for most people, they’ve dialed up into money, fame, and power, but not everybody can get money, fame, and power because those are human dates, money, fame and power.

But even those who have that, we found that that’s not enough to get people engaged. Those are not enough. To a certain extent, of those three, the one that is most important is actually autonomy, right? Which has given me some degree of freedom. But what the three factors that really get people engaged after they have a little bit of this, which is if you don’t pay somebody, they’re not going to be engaged, under any circumstance. If you ask them to come to work and say, we’re going to pay you nothing, they’re going to say, go to hell, okay. Unless it’s a pro bono kind of project. So the three that do make a very big difference is the following, which is, one is growth, which is can I as an individual grow? Do I have opportunities to grow? Can I grow my skills? Very, very critical.

The second one is purpose and values, which is what is the purpose and values of my company? How do I fit in with the purpose and values of this company? Do I feel proud working for what we’re basically doing? And the third one is connections, which is human connections, which means now I’m particularly going to understand how much we either miss them or don’t have them. Which is, how do I feel about my coworkers, my bosses and the people below me? Right? So when you basically consider those, that’s what keeps people, and we have not focused enough on how we grow our people. We have not focused enough on the human connection and we’ve definitely not focused on the purpose and values and how they fit besides getting a paycheck. And if that comes in then people get engaged.

Mark Whitlock   Those are very important factors to consider for a team. So marketing leaders building his or her team and looking at helping them with growth and autonomy and the opportunity to be paid and some of those other factors. But let’s turn that diamond just a couple of degrees and talk about what it’s like for a marketing organization to think about those core needs and their audience.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Yes.

John Farkas   How could a business connect to their audience and hit all of those same factors?

Rishad Tobaccowala   I basically believe that today’s audience, and in the old days we used to call them customer, consumer, and target audience, right? And I decided to try not to use those words. Even those words are fine. Okay. I use the word basically people.

Mark Whitlock   That’s a good word.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Right? Which is what do these people want? Sometimes if I were to get particularly poetic, I basically say humans. But I actually at the extreme say gods. So I believe that every company, especially technology companies, are marketing to the gods. And when you consider someone as a consumer or a customer, you have two problems. The first is you look at someone through the lens of your brand or your service. And no one in their right mind defines themselves by your brand or a service. Almost nobody wants to have a relationship with your brand or your service. Only a brand manager wants to have a relationship with his own brand or service. And so this whole idea of I don’t have time to have relationships, I don’t want to have a relationship with Tylenol, go away. Just solve my headache. So one is, that’s the reason I don’t look at it as from consumer, customer, et cetera. But the reason I think about God-like power is technology companies have enabled all of us to have God-like power.

Right now, for instance, you and I, we’re in two different cities looking at each other, having a conference which will be taped, which will then be consumed by your God-like audience in anytime they want, in any format they want. Some will listen, some will watch, some will do whatever they want. If I had described the capabilities that we are now talking about today, or just talked about the capabilities of what a Google search engine, an Apple iPhone enables, you would basically say, anybody who has this has godlike power, right?

The reality of it is most of us at home today, if we had to be at home in this unfortunate virus, hopefully that will go away, if it unfortunately had showed up 15, 20 years ago, right? Just think about the fact, no apps, no Skype, no mobile phones, no Zoom, no search, no video, no streaming. People would basically be writing. And so to a great extent, we basically have the world at our fingertips, and yes, we cannot go outside and other things, but it’s pretty remarkable.

So that’s what I would basically say. Number one, two things think that they have godlike power. Now these gods want to grow, and so in effect, how is your company’s service going to help them grow either as individuals or help their family grow? How do you help their portfolios grow? The other one is they really want to know why should they be doing business with your company? Because in the end, if your only reason that someone does business with your company is because you are a lower price, you’re going to last for about 15 minutes and then someone will come in with a lower price, right?

So what is the purpose and values? That’s very important. And third is the connections that they have to the people in your company. Whether it is to your sales force, whether it is to your employees, whatever else. So I’ve always basically said one thing that most business people, especially marketers should do is guess who is your number one sales force marketers? Your number one sales force, right? Even more than your customers, because obviously a happy customer is good because you get word of mouth.

Your number one sales force is your employees, period. Over and out. Happy employees, happy company. Southwest was as United. Costco versus the old Walmart, right? So simple. We are forgetting that. How do we look after ourselves? How we help our clients look after themselves and their customers is the key.

John Farkas   So Rishad, as you look at how business to business technology marketers bring the conversation about their solution to the market, in a lot of these cases we’re dealing with deep machine learning. We’re dealing with a lot of very sophisticated solutions that are-

Angus Nelson   Spreadsheets.

John Farkas   Yeah, hyper-spreadsheets that are bringing amazing capabilities to some of these organizations and their ability to see things differently or do things differently. How would you tell them they need to address their market? This is something we talk about a lot with our clients. Just understanding that your technology can’t be the banner you fly out in front of this conversation. How would you address that?

Rishad Tobaccowala   So I would say it the following way: I believe that technology is extremely important as an enabler, but not as a discussion point, even if you are selling technology. That what people want to basically say is, tell me how this helps me solve a problem. So what I tell people is, answer the following questions and don’t talk to me about your technology and don’t use the following words.

So let me tell you the words I would not use. And by the way, once I say this, you’ll probably kick me off your show because almost everybody among your audience uses it.

John Farkas   I doubt it. This is why this show exists.

Rishad Tobaccowala   I’ll be very careful with your user. Personalization, data lake, data base, disruption, optimization, platform. Because if you take away those words from most people’s decks, there’s no other words.

Mark Whitlock   You’re so right.

John Farkas  Just run that list one more time for us.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Database, data lake, disruption, platform, personalization, optimization. You remove some of those basic words and if you remove the word, there is no really deck, there is no conversation, you’re just gibberishing away. And I will stop because here comes a gibberishing, it’s not a conversation, I call them the gibberishings.

Angus Nelson   Gibberishings.

Rishad Tobaccowala   You sit there and you’re listening to the gibberishings and then they’re gibberishing

Angus Nelson   Hashtag.

John Farkas   Yes, there’s our hashtag for the episode.

Rishad Tobaccowala   …and everybody goes away. So instead what I would basically say is speak in English or whatever the language in your country is. And you basically say something like this, here is how, the word I use is save, S.A.V.E., here is how what I am trying to get you to buy or to choose, solves your problem or solves a problem for you, which is important.

Number two, accessibility. Here is why my product or solution or service is easy to access and makes it easy for your customers to access you as a company.

V, here is why I am delivering a value to you, not necessarily a lower price. I am delivering a value to you and let me also tell you about the values of your company that I understand are important to you and let me tell you about the values of my company.

And finally E, experience. This is why your customer’s experience will be better. Client, if you buy this and your … and I’m also giving you a great experience as you interact with my particular company. Speak that in English you will sell like crazy. It’s gibberishness.

Angus Nelson   Was that an acronym you were saying? It’s so great.

Rishad Tobaccowala   S.A.V.E. Show me a solution, make it accessible, give me value and give me a great experience S.A.V.E. So I’m going to talk about people, how leaders can lead, then I will talk a bit about how individuals can manage cultures and distributed workforces, which is what we are. So there are a couple of chapters, three chapters in my book, which I will combine. And as I say in my introduction, my book was written to basically be a modern book, which means you can read any chapter in any order because I found most nonfiction books you could read one chapter and you are done.

And I select three chapters that what is called have more meetings. One is called managing the darker side of brighter screens and one to your point, is leading with soul. And I think those three are very important today. So let me first start with leading with soul because eventually this starts with individuals, because increasingly many of us are sitting at home by ourselves and then we’re connected.

So we have to be a leader, not only of our teams, we have to be a leader of ourselves. And to me this is the time where you dial up the following five criteria. And these are the five criteria that I’ve discovered across the world of successful leaders. So a successful leader has these five. Number one is they’re capable. So like never before you show that you know what you’re doing. Capability matters.

The second is integrity. Like never before people have to trust you because in effect now you’re not even there and you have to trust other people. You’re not there to monitor them as much, right? And they just have to sort of trust you. So, that’s integrity. The third one basically is empathy. You’ve got to basically understand like never before that whoever you are working with has at least three new challenges that they did not have before.

One is the challenge of anxiety about the future. That’s number one. Number two, the challenge of staying at home and potentially depending on their age, looking after someone older or more likely looking after children who are home from school. So there’s a lot of issue there, right? And third in many cases that’s at least half the workforce are women, and unfortunately women still do most of the housework even if they work, right? They have amazing issues facing them there. And also for men, by the way.

So one is, you have to have empathy that this is no longer a worker because here is someone anxious about the future, having to homeschool their kids while basically trying to figure out how to make sure there’s enough toilet paper. And so those are the … that’s empathy. The next one besides capability, integrity and empathy is inspiration. This is where, like never before I may say a certain man called Barack Obama.

Because in addition to him being capable, right, he could basically inspire and we’ve got to look beyond the facts right now because the next six to eight weeks are going to be not nice in any circumstance, anytime, anywhere. For the next four or five weeks, we are going to basically have 10,000, 100,000, one million, five million Americans affected by this. And we’re going to basically have increasing death rates, 500, 5000 maybe 50000, hopefully not. Someone who basically can inspire us to keep operating under that circumstance. And then the final one is vulnerability, which is for you to be able to say, “I’m scared and anxious too and I’m worried too,” because you can’t be pollyannish. You’ve got to basically say, “Hey look, I made a mistake” or “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I’m trying to figure it out,” because actually if you’re a person of integrity with inspiration, vulnerability actually helps. It says, “Okay, this person isn’t on speed talking to us. They’re talking about us in the real world,” which is important.

The second one is recognize this. There are many meetings that you now have. What I’ve discovered is that we try to avoid meetings because we thought meetings were conversations. Meetings are not conversations. Meetings are when we cluster around the modern fireplace of America or the world, which is a spreadsheet on a screen and we look at it. That’s what we do. That is a meeting and then all of us have smaller screens that look away to or look into. That’s not a meeting.

A meeting is when we look into each other’s eyes, right, and talk. And you could still do that like never before on the screens, but recognize from time to time, let’s not talk about work and let’s not talk about the P&L, how are you feeling? Right, what the hell is going on? We’ve got to remember that we have to have conversations now like never before and some of those conversations have to be human and push meetings.

A lot of what I learned there now, the companies that do the best distributed workforces in the world, one of them is Automattic, which is a company that is more 1,400-1,500 employees, WordPress and now Tumbler is owned by them and you see a company where everybody’s distributed, but here are two or three things that they do, which are absolutely amazing.

One is if some people are together and someone is dialing in, like let’s say three people in the city are together for some reason and somebody is dialing in, everybody has to basically dial in or be on the screen so everyone’s equal, right? So in this particular conversation, for instance, instead of the three of you all being together there, each of the three of you all would basically be looking at a computer and I’d see four of us. Okay. If this was a not what they’re doing right now. This is obviously for Apple what we’re doing right now. But that’s sort of one.

A second one is that anything that you would do in the physical world, you still do. So, if someone has a birthday, the company sends them a cake to their home. Okay. And they basically have that. And they also, what they do is they give everybody and I don’t know whether it’s $250 a month or $250 a year, I remember the number 250, to go and basically become a member of their local WeWork or whatever it was, so that they can be near people. It may not be that they’re business people, but they can be near people right or buy coffee and hang around but be near people.

And the last one is amazing, which obviously today you can’t do as much, but in the future would we do more of this, which is two to four times a year. The teams get together at a location of their choice, which they basically charge the company, so they can get to know each other in person, right? They may decide let’s go to Hawaii and they figured out what the pricing is. They just have to justify it and then they share with other people how a team of four went to Hawaii, but they chose the right pricing and the right time and they have meetings there or it may not be Hawaii it might be national to go see Nashville.

Mark Whitlock   Yeah, come on over here.

Angus Nelson   You can visit but don’t stay.

Rishad Tobaccowala   They may have gone to Chicago to understand why people like us live here in the cold but whatever it is, it’s things like that.

And so those are some of the things that in this age of screens, make sure that you recognize the stronger the offline bond, the more the online stuff can work. Your environment is only online. It’s very, very hard. The good news is for almost everybody who has unfortunately suffered through this time, we used to be in our offices with people. Okay and now we’re sort of home. And so those things have good meetings and those are some of the things that would basically sort of encourage people, and I do believe that at the end of this teams will come out stronger if they have some of these beliefs.

Angus Nelson   So here we are in a midst of so much unknown, so much uncertainty and a lot of people, just as a human quotient, kind of pulled back whenever there’s unknowns. And we’ve seen throughout history, there’s a lot of companies that do that as well. And yet the companies that have leaned in, marketed and positioned and take advantage of the opportunity came up much stronger on the backend of recessions or trials and tribulations like we’re experiencing right now.

John Farkas   What would you say to encourage brands and marketers right now in how to communicate their solutions in the midst of this situation?

Rishad Tobaccowala   I would suggest that everybody should revisit three key things. Number one is what is their product and pricing mix? Which is what products are they emphasizing and how are they thinking about pricing or eliminating pricing or deferring pricing, et cetera. Okay. Because people will, if you basically say, we won’t charge you for the next three months and it will be deferred or this month is free or things like that because we know that everybody is having major cash flow issues because people are not bringing in money, right?

So as a company you basically say, “Hey, we’re just going to defer.” If you can in some way and bigger companies can potentially do this, obviously smaller companies can’t. And then what products are you emphasizing? Which is number one.

Second is what’s your messaging? So for instance, if I were a car company instead of selling messaging cars or even messaging 0% financing, right? You should instead message basically how you are helping your own community or how you’re basically trying to make sure that all these furloughed workers as you’ve closed your factory, what you’re going to basically do. Those are the things I’d basically talk about, right? So, Budweiser should talk about the fact that they’re actually creating disinfectant sprays now. Those kinds of things. So what’s your message also changes to a great extent.

And then the other one is to sort of recognize that this is when like never before people are going to see the caliber of the marketing leadership and the caliber of the company. Which is we all speak very bravely when things are good and we’ve had three beers, okay, now when it looks like the world is coming to an end and you have no beer. What the hell are you going to do?

And at this particular stage this is sort of a fulcrum moment. It’s a foundational moment, a fundamental moment, a furnace moment. And this is where brands win or die for the long run.

John Farkas   So that fulcrum and making sure that you capitalize on it, if you are leading a meeting of a team right now saying, what are we going to do? If you were in a room with a group of marketing leaders, technology company, everybody’s kind of pulling up and saying, “Whoa, we can’t make any decisions right now, that might happen, a bottom line effect. We’ve got to just pause and take inventory.” That’s what their customers are saying. You’re around a table with a group of marketing leaders, what are you advising them? Just on a macro level, because obviously I’m not giving you the benefit of knowing the specifics here.

Rishad Tobaccowala   On a macro level, the first thing I’d do is I bring my own team together, right? Our team together means together online now. Okay. And I would pull out a chapter that is very different, where I twist the chapter a little bit different. It’s called a turd on the table.

John Farkas   The turd on the table?

Rishad Tobaccowala   The turd on the table — and the turd on the table is actually, usually I wrote it for how do you judge truth to power. Which is many of us have time to gather around the table, there’s a warm brown thing and we all think it’s a brownie, but it’s a piece of shit and no one’s saying it’s a piece of shit.

Okay, so the whole idea is, the first is we should basically say, “We are in the midst of both corporate, country and personal shit. This thing sucks.” Okay. Here are all the things that we have to basically be worried about. We have cashflow problems, our customers are screwed, we have huge issues sometimes at home, it sucks. So what is, call it out.

Okay, that’s what I call, let’s discuss the turd on the table because everybody knows it’s a piece of shit, so don’t call it a brownie. If you don’t do that, then all the rest of your conversation is “what the hell is this lady or man talking about?” So, that’s number one.

Number two is you basically then say, okay now, just for a second after that, let us all assume that all of us are going to be anxious and bothered and worried. Let’s try to recognize that we are the builder, all of us are the builder and we have to move forward despite all of this anxiety. This anxiety is not going to go away. We have to do it despite that.

So this way you get your troops, right, you’ve told them the truth, you yourself show vulnerability and say, “We got to move forward.” Now, with that being said, you’re now turned to the optimistic side, which I do believe in, because I believe that people follow optimism that eventually clients will follow optimistic companies and optimistic salespeople, et cetera, and then you say, “Okay, let us assume that this thing is somewhere between China and Italy.” Which basically means we should have this under control in three to four months. The reality of it is. And therefore we will probably have a terrible spring and a not so good beginning of summer, but in the middle of summer this thing will stop turning and we will basically find ourselves in 16 weeks away into something different. I would also remind people that 16 weeks ago there were basically New Year’s Eve, or 12 weeks ago, right?

So we have a New Year’s Eve, it seems like just yesterday where we have to go through that and we’ll be fine on the other side. Okay. Which gives you sort of phasic.

Now to do that, one of the things we do right by our customers and by telling them, here’s what we do right by them is the way the customers will do right by you and remind the customers that, hey listen, their clients are going to be looking at their behavior, are they running for the hills? Are they providing services? And then revisit what I just said, which is with that being said, how are you going to change a product pricing mix? How are we going to change our messaging mix, right, et cetera.

John Farkas   So once you confront that reality and have a really strong viewpoint and an understanding of what the climate is, you talked about that final stage in kind of figuring out the next steps. You talked about that final stage in figuring out what the turn looks like and how you’re going to address it. How do you lead that conversation? You’ve looked at the turn on the table. We understand what’s going on. We’ve acknowledged our reality, and we have a really clear … Go farther into what does it mean to put the Humpty Dumpty back together again there.

Rishad Tobaccowala   I think to put the Humpty Dumpty back together, the first is, for every single person who’s listening to this, in addition to speaking to obviously your employees, reach out to all your customers, clients, people, God’s humans, and who you are selling to or solving problems for and make sure that you set it up that, A, you are available, but also say, “Hey, we’re going to have a weekly call that you can dial into. Okay, we’re going to have a weekly call for our clients, that you’re going to dial into because we expect this is going to take some weeks. We’re going to have a weekly call. Please dial in.”

That’s number one. Number two is ask them if there’s ways that your company can help them personally, if there’s something that you can do for them personally because that is a reminder because part of the Humpty Dumpty coming back together is there are two components of it. Emotionally, it’s possible that a lot of us will come back stronger. The client relationship will be stronger. The team relationships will be stronger. However, to be honest, I think the physical part of it will be different. Humpty Dumpty, when it comes back, it may not be an egg. It may be a duck.

Like I do not believe that, at the end of 12 weeks of this dramatic shift in the world and the United States economy, that coming out on the other side, things are going to be the same. There’ll be different. The things that will be hopefully stronger will be emotional and personal relationships if you stood up. On the other hand, there’s very likely that some businesses will be out of business unfortunately. Like I do not anticipate that … I expect that at least 20% of the restaurants in America won’t come back out of this.

I anticipate that one or two marginal airlines won’t come out of this. I believe certain businesses will not come out of this. I believe, to a certain extent, the ad agency business, which I happen to be in, will come out of this, but it will be smaller. It’ll be more distributed. It’ll use more freelancers. And so, what basically happens is that’s the other thing which is, okay … Now remember, when we’re trying to put the Humpty Dumpty together, A, recognize we actually may not have all the pieces, so we’re putting together something different, but then let’s imagine that the something different might actually end up to be a better thing because as someone basically said, “A crisis is something too good to waste, and I don’t want this crisis on any circumstance, but we got it.” Okay, so what do we do with it?

How do you reimagine your relationships? How do you reimagine your products? This is some of the other things that we may have to think about. And it’s hard because part of it is optimistic, but the other is in factually, the reality is not everything’s coming back unfortunately. One of the things I was talking yesterday, and I believe for instance, many magazines are going to go out of business forever. They were already on a decline. This is killing them.

Many newspapers are going to go out of business forever. So, in fact, in my building, which is a condominium here in Chicago, no one is allowed up. If there’s food delivery, it has to be left downstairs. If you’ve been getting a newspaper, you have to go downstairs to get it. Nobody is allowed up unless you’re personal in the building. No one’s allowed up.

And this is, I told somebody yesterday, today I read that today is the last issue of Playboy ever. They are out of business as a print magazine starting today. And because they said, “We can’t cope.” Those are some of the realities we also have to recognize that both good and bad businesses and some amazingly good businesses, like the restaurant business, you have someone who runs restaurants who’s basically been given a shock, and how do they come back from it? Unless you’re very well capitalized.

John Farkas   Yeah. I want to go back to that list of what it means to be essentially a strong leader. You were talking about capability, integrity, empathy, inspiration, vulnerability, and when I think about those as core tenants of an organization, I think about what it means to have a soul as an organization. Obviously, there has to be something that brings you. You have to have some capability, but then it’s what does it mean to have integrity in this? What does it mean to understand your customers and bring an understanding that is a true empathetic conversation and then to inspire and lead with an inspirational sense into the conversation and couch that all in the vulnerability that, ‘You know what, I don’t have everything. I don’t have everything together.’.

Angus Nelson   That is just … It’s such an integral, foundational understanding of how we bring things forward, and challenging times like this and how we are engaging, that’s such a great foundation for moving forward. And I think that that, as we look at the elements of soul, of what really are some of the core underpinnings, I thought that was a great underscore that you brought.

Rishad Tobaccowala   Thank you. Thank you. And it’s also the importance of being human, which is what I’ve talked about, so it’s almost staying human in an age of chaos.

Angus Nelson   And I want to read a portion of your book here, a couple of sentences and give you the last word to end us up. It says, “In our enthusiasm to embrace these technologies, we also need to take a step back and think about how they will affect the human elements of our business. Then we need to implement programs and policies designed to preserve the human, the creativity, risk-taking, relationship, building empathy, and so on, that defines us at our best. If we can do that, the future is ours, and we have no limits on what we can accomplish.” Rishad, what would you say in your parting words?

Rishad Tobaccowala   That’s truer today than ever before, and I wish it wasn’t as true as it is today.

Mark Whitlock   Very true. Well, thank you, dear listener, for joining us via a device and a screen and becoming a part of this conversation. We hope that you felt like you were a part of the conversation and seated around this table and not at a distance, and we hope that that’s true for your relationships, not only with your own marketing teams but with your customers as you move forward.

When you come to studiocmo.com, and you click on the Rishad Tobaccowala interview, you’ll find our show notes, and if you weren’t able to take notes, you missed out. So, come to the show notes, and you’ll find the list, the acronyms. Save the list of five key components of being a leader and other aspects. We’re going to link out to get a copy of Rishad’s book. Then I’ll edit this out if this doesn’t become true, but I’ve asked your publisher … We’ll link out to be able to buy a copy of Rishad’s book.

And we’ve talked about two big issues that are words you’ll hear repeated many times on this podcast, trust and empathy, and we have links to articles about trust and empathy from the Golden Spiral Catalog that we want you to be a part of. So, thank you for being a part of this and feedback to us, what jumped out at you today during this interview?

What about today encouraged you? If you go to studiocmo.com, click on the Rishad Tobaccowala interview, and click on the comment button, you’ll be able to leave us a voicemail message. We’ll listen to that. Trust us. Each one of us will hear your messages, and we will hear from you. We want that to be a part of of what we’re doing today. So, as we say goodbye, let’s remind you of the tenets that matter the most here at Studio CMO.

Angus Nelson   Always remember, understand your buyer’s problems.

Mark Whitlock   And lead with an empathetic understanding.

John Farkas   And make your buyer the hero. We’ll see you next time on Studio CMO.

Angus Nelson   #gibberishing

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