Lee Caraher is the founder/CEO of Double Forte, a national PR firm. Known for her practical solutions to big problems, she authored two books on creating positive, high producing teams.
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Focus@Will – Lee’s small business resource
Leadership and the Art of Conversation – Lee’s Top Business Book
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3 Value Bombs
1) Good public relations takes time — it’s not done overnight.
2) Listen to what people around you are saying.
3) Know and take care of yourself.
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[00:58] – Lee grew up in Boston and Providence
[01:16] – She’s been in communications and PR her whole life
[01:57] – Lee and her husband, Pete, have 2 awesome children
[04:32] – Her area of expertise is in the ability to see a vision where a person or thing can make a huge difference
[05:27] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: Good PR and influencer relations take time, consistent work, and constantly finding a story that fits your own
[07:41] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: When Lee started her company in 2002, they only hired people with 10 years of experience. After the downturn in 2010, they reimagined the business and looked forward. At that time, Lee realized if they didn’t have younger people in the business, they wouldn’t have an opportunity. She started hiring younger people — a total of 6 millennials over 8 weeks. And in 3 months they were all gone
[09:48] – Lee finally found a way to get younger people into her business and keep them there
[10:29] – Her two books are all about the experience of failing with hiring millennials
[10:47] – Learn to listen
[11:52] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I am super fired up about the ability of our younger generations to see the positive”
[15:00] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “I was much more conservative in starting my own company”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Know yourself best — know what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what gets you excited, and what makes you bored, and then create the team around you that compliments that”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “The habit of appreciation”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Focus@Will
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Leadership and the Art of Conversation – “He (the author) was just amazing at breaking down how to transform your conversations”
[19:30] – Nothing is more important than knowing yourself
Lee: I am SO ready.
Interviewer: Yes! Lee is the founder and CEO of Double Forte, a national PR firm. Known for her practical solutions to big problems, she’s authored two books on creating positive high-producing teams. Lee, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Lee: Sure. I grew up in Boston and Providence, which I know you love.
Lee: I went to college in Minnesota where I got an awesome degree in Medieval History, which is very, very useful. Now my home is in San Francisco with some stops in Boston and Los Angeles along the way. I’ve been in the same career my whole adult life, so communications, public relations, my whole adult life, which probably sounds really boring. But I think it’s actually been pretty interesting for me because I’ve worked for super interesting companies and thousands of people and helped really solve big problems and get big things done in the markets that I’ve worked in. I started a company before this one, for a big media company, and where I learned a lot about the difference between leading a company and leading a team.
Then I started this company in 2002. At home, I’m the chief bacon officer. My awesome husband, Pete, is the chief home officer and he makes everything happen at home. We have two awesome kids who inspire me every day. I’m on the board of a couple of awesome organizations that make a big difference for people, which really matters to me. I just started horseback riding again after a very long time off the horse.
Lee: Which has been awesome because, you know, there’s nothing else you can think about when you’re on a horse except staying on. Not having that space to think about everything else except just that quiet space with the horse is probably the biggest gift I’ve given to myself this year.
Interviewer: Well, I love everything. I think the thing that I love most is Medieval History. I mean, I kind of think about that right now and as kind of a side note, I’ve never actually talked about this publicly but you might get a little bit of a kick out of this because of your Medieval History background. I’ve actually purchased two domains. One is called Castle Trotting and one is called Castle Scout. I’m considering at some point in the future – who knows – but I’m going to actually go and create audio walking tours of the best castles in Europe.
Lee: When you get there, let me know because I have my own list.
Interviewer: Well, think about it though – would that be something that you think would actually be interesting to people?
Lee: Yes, absolutely.
Interviewer: Like, you stand outside of the moat and I would say, okay, press play and I’m now going to guide you through this castle with all of the history and experience.
Lee: Yes, absolutely. Oh, my gosh, Part B. I was just in Europe this past summer (Scotland, England, and Norway) and there are not enough great audio stories that tell the story about what happens in the walls. You see these great walls and it’s nice and pretty and you pay your 20 Pounds or your 24,000 Krone, or whatever, but I think that would be awesome.
Interviewer: Yeah, I was just in London and we went to Windsor Castle and they have this incredible walking audio tour at Windsor Castle and as I was doing it I was, like, if I didn’t have this audio walking tour I’d literally spend about ten minutes in this castle. I like the castle. It was great but I would just be over it. Like, I love history and I love castles but there’s only so much I can do but it’s the stories.
Lee: And it’s only those big castles that have the audio tours.
Interviewer: It’s only the big ones.
Lee: But there are so many important castles. Oh, my gosh, we could talk about that forever.
Interviewer: Well, Lee, I’m going to shift the conversation and maybe put this current one on hold for a couple of years but, you know, again, it’s something that I’m thinking about because I love that kind of stuff. But I want to talk today about what YOU consider your area of expertise right now. What is that?
Lee: I have an ability to see – I see a vision for almost everybody or any person or any product that comes to me where that thing, that person, those people, can make a huge big difference. I’m able to sort of chart a big, hairy ass vision for them and then also figure out what’s the messages so that people can motivate your people, your customers, your partners, to make that vision a reality. That just sort of comes to me. I don’t have to work too hard for it. From a leadership point of view, I think this is what makes me a good one, you know, carrying a big vision and showing people how they can be responsible, not just for participating in it but for actually making it happen.
Interviewer: So, Lee, what’s something that we don’t know about what you have become great at, about your vision, about your area of expertise that as entrepreneurs we probably should?
Lee: I think public relations and communications is really misunderstood. Every day I find people that are like, oh, you just make a phone call and things happen. In fact, when I started the company I didn’t even call Double Forte a PR firm because I really don’t like PR people or what people think about PR people. That changed when social media became – we started the company before Twitter, Facebook, anything and when social media came on the scene we changed it so we were a PR firm because social media is really well-suited to PR people who are used to negotiating and not just forcing something.
You know, people think they know good PR when they see it but how it happens, you know, no one really understands all those pieces and how you make something good happen in that realm. What I can tell you is good PR, good influenced relations, you know, they take time and consistent work and constantly finding a good story to fit someone else’s theme and not your own and using truth today and not hype. I’m really actually excited about how much transparency there is in the market today because the truth will set you free and will give you sustainable success, you know.
There’s no such thing as overnight success. There just isn’t, you know. Oh, this person just showed up on the page of the Wall Street Journal. Yeah, that didn’t just happen. You know, a lot of things happened before that, right. I think the other piece is that people get really – you know, they tie themselves in knots about what to say and instead the simpler the better, right? Don’t be boring. Just don’t be boring.
No one reads, no one listens to, no one’s watch is boring and everybody has something interesting to say. Sometimes they’re just scared to say it. If you can do those two things then, you know, you really have an opportunity to make some traction in the world.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, it’s pretty simple. Don’t be boring. Just don’t be boring. So, Lee, obviously, some of your greatest life moments have been wandering around in medieval castles and having a great time doing that but you’ve had some tough moments. I want to talk about one of your toughest entrepreneurial moments. Actually, not even one of the toughest but the worst entrepreneurial moment you’ve experienced to date. Take us to that moment. Tell us that story.
Lee: So, I think that every entrepreneur I know has a cashflow crisis story, right? I’ve had a couple but every entrepreneur I know makes it through it, so I guess mine could be a little different perhaps. One that was really a body blow to me that really just knocked me to my core was when I started the company in 2002 we only hired people with ten years of experience. So, that meant they were also 32 years old. Long story but I won’t bore you with that. But then in 2010 after the downturn we reimagined the business and it started looking forward and realized that if we didn’t have younger people in our business we weren’t going to have an opportunity for the business.
So, we started hiring young people. I had done this before. My last two companies had over 700 people each and most of them were under 30. I didn’t think anything of it and started hiring what I now know is called the millennials, which I did not know at the time. We hired six millennials within eight weeks of each other and within three months they were all gone. I had never in my career had 100 percent failure with people. I had 100 percent failure with products, with ideas, with money, but I had never had 100 percent failure with people. I was tempted – everyone else told me, oh, you just made some bad hires. I’m like I can’t make six bad hires at the same time. I have never done that, so it would have to be us.
Like, one person could be THEIR problem but six people within eight weeks had to be OUR problem. But when I started looking at it everything was so negative. I mean, there is SO much negative things about working with millennials and they’re terrible and I was just like how can you wake up in the morning and be negative about people you work with? So, I sort of ignored it all and people thought I was crazy but I started interviewing people (millennials, managers, and all these people) just to see what was going on because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. From there we were able to create a cult – it took a long time. A lot of trial and error and a lot of, you know, working things out and finding the right people, but found a way to get young people into our business and keep them here over the long haul, which I think for me is the most ratifying thing, actually, because if you don’t have a millennial in your business, you don’t have a future in your business. It’s pretty straightforward and from that, actually, I started doing – I mean, it was truly mind blowing. I mean, I was in tears.
People didn’t know what to do with me but from the learning I got from that is, one, it became one of the things I do for clients became this millennial thing; and then someone asks, “Lee, why don’t you just write a book about this?” So, I did. Then my two books are really out of that experience of having failed epically and then figured it out.
Interviewer: Break it down for us, Lee. What is the one lesson of ALL of those great lessons and all those heartbreaks and all those struggles you went through but the one lesson you want us to walk away with.
Lee: I want you to walk away with the lesson of listening, right. The lesson of listening because we think we know and we don’t and when we hit a roadblock it’s really easy to just say, oh, that was just a mistake. I’ll just keep doing what I was doing. But if you can listen to what people are telling you, what your customers are telling you, you can become SO valuable and so relevant and I think we’re all struggling. You know, we’ll all be struggling with relevance. Relevance is changing so fast. You know, what was relevant three years ago is not relevant today, which it’s never been so fast. I can tell you that as a medieval historian it’s never been that fast and listening is going to be the key to sustainability.
Interviewer: Lee, quick question – today, here we are, you have a lot of things that are happening that are right. I mean, you learned those lessons. You applied them to your business. You have a lot of things that are going really well. What is the one thing though amongst everything that has you most fired up now?
Lee: You know, I am super fired up about the ability of our younger generations to see the positive and if we can get them into places where they are excited and they are motivated and they are helped to help achieve their goals, I think we’re in a good place and that gives me hope for not just the business for our communities and for our culture for sure.
Interviewer: Did you hear that, Fire Nation? The future is not a devastating place but is a place there is hope and all we need is people like yourself, people that are listening right now to just do things and it will have ripple effects. It will inspire others that are going to make people want to make and create great things. If you think that Lee has been dropping value bombs thus far, you are correct, Fire Nation. We have more coming up in the Lightning Round when we get back from thanking our sponsors. Lee, are you ready to rock the Lightning Rounds?
Lee: I am ready!
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Lee: You know, I don’t think I planned to be an entrepreneur at all. I was much more conservative in starting my own company. In 2002, I had left my last company after 9/11 and was going to take a year off and I was looking for a job like I’d had before in a big company where I worked for Sig of America, the video game company. But my mom got diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and it was very clear very quickly that I was going to spend time in Wisconsin with my mother who was given only three months to live.
So, I pulled myself out of those two jobs that I was up for because I would either get fired or have to quit to be able to be with her and that moment of time where I was like I need to create a life and an income (because, again, I’m the chief banking officer) that allows me to live the life that I want and provide for my family was the thing that spurred me to be an entrepreneur. But, at the same time, I was unwilling to do what I knew how to do, like to just create another cookie cutter PR firm. So, I sat down and I just wrote this list of non-negotiables. I WILL NOT work with people I don’t like. I NEED to work anywhere I can, you know, and I only want to work with things that are interesting to me. I don’t want to work with boring, as I said before, right.
That’s how we created the company, which was around just be the perfect fit, only work for people who are good people, don’t take bad money, and 15 years later the company has changed so many times because the market has changed so many times. But those non-negotiables are still in place, so I think necessity created by need to be an entrepreneur and then my ability to keep moving through ALL this change that’s happening in communications in the last decade has kept me interested in being an entrepreneur.
Interviewer: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Lee: Know yourself best, know what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what gets you excited, and what makes you bored, and create the team around you that complements that.
Interviewer: What is a personal habit, Lee, and that contributes to your success?
Lee: This habit I have created for myself just in the last four or five years is a habit of appreciation. I was working with an executive coach and Laurie told me, you know, teams that feel appreciated outperform those that don’t. I was like, what? Yeah, when you say thank you, people like it. I said, well, of course, I say thank you all the time. She was like, no, you don’t. You never say thank you. I realized I wasn’t saying thank you. I’m a nice person. I was implying thank you and it really comes out – my father is a retired cardiac surgeon and, in our house, please and thank you was implied because, you know Lee. If I ask please and thank you in the operating rooms, someone could die.
So, I was grown up with not saying please and thank you in a work setting. When I started saying please and thank you everything changed. Everything changed. We stopped wasting time. We stopped getting a lot of grumbling, morale improved and, frankly, profit improved. So, that habit of appreciation and making sure the people around you know that I’m thankful that they choose to work for me has become a daily habit that makes a huge difference in our business.
Interviewer: Recommend one internet resource.
Interviewer: I’m listening to that literally right now. I love that.
Lee: Are you really? I LOVE Focus@will.
Interviewer: I actually interviewed the founder whose name is Will. He is a great dude and I can’t remember off the top of my head the episode number but it was a really fun chat and he is a studly entrepreneur, so check it out, Fire Nation. Lee, one book and share why.
Lee: Leadership in the Art of Conversation by Kim Krisco. If you are not productive in conversation with the people who choose to follow you, you are really pushing a big stone up the hill. It’s never going to get easier and I think that what Kim has done in this book – he is just amazing at breaking down how to transform your conversations to being positive and productive. It’s actually out of print but you can get a used copy on Amazon and I buy them like 20 at a time so that I have them for my staff.
Interviewer: Lee, let’s end today on fire with a parting piece of guidance from you, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Lee: I think as an entrepreneur, as a leader, nothing is more important than knowing yourself and taking care of yourself. You have to put on the oxygen mask first if you want to be a great leader and a great entrepreneur for the long haul. Nothing is more important. How to connect with me? You can find my books on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble independents, Millennials & Management, and The Boomerang Principle. Then if you want to connect with me the best place is my website, which is www.leecaraher.com (L-E-E C-A-R-A-H-E-R dot com) where I blog and I have my books and my agency (Double Forte) is there and you can follow me on Twitter at @leecaraher.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with L.C. and J.L.D. today so keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com. Just type Lee in the search bar and her Show Notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best Show Notes in the biz. Timestamps, links, galore and, Lee, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
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