Season 2, Episode 3: Integrated Strategy That Inspires
On this episode of Outsmart, your hosts Rex and Nicole chat with SVP of Integrated Strategy at TEAM LEWIS, Rebekah Crispin, who specializes in connecting the dots across complex organizations.
In the episode we explore:
- Balancing micro and macro views to achieve business goals
- The importance of building mutual trust across teams from day one
- Understanding and aligning organizational and individual stakeholder perspectives and motivations
Rebekah: Our clients pay us to think. They want our perspective. They want the history that we have from all the different clients we work with, or maybe we’ve worked with their organization for a long time. I’ve always worked with complex organizations with a lot of different people and a lot of different motivations. So, as I work with our client leaders across the agency, in our conversations, we’re really picking out what are all the different factors of things that are happening and making sure that we are considering the macro trends that are happening. So, it’s really important that as client leaders and strategists were looking at all of the data points available to us and answering the question, the task at hand, but providing that additional layer of strategy and how it all connects together to move the business.
Rex: Welcome back to another episode of the Outsmart Podcast with TEAM LEWIS. We are your hosts, Rex Petrill and Nicole Allen, and today we have the great pleasure of talking to our dear friend and colleague, Rebekah Crispin. Rebekah, welcome to Outsmart.
Rebekah: Wow, this is a big day. I’ve been listening for so long. I’m so excited to be here. I get to work alongside you guys every day.
Rex: Long time listener, first time caller.
Rebekah: Oh yeah.
Rex: Rebekah is our Senior Vice President of Integrated Strategy. We are thrilled to talk to you today, Rebekah, a little bit about what the heck is integrated strategy and how are we going to use integration for our clients. But before we get into that conversation, we’d love to learn a little bit more about you. So, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you got here.
Rebekah: Yes, thank you so much for having me. As you said, my name is Rebecca Crispin, and I have the honor of being the SVP of Integrated Strategy here at TEAM LEWIS and working with our phenomenal digital team and all of our client leaders across the organization. And a little bit about me, I started my career on the consumer side, actually in the restaurants at McDonald’s, as so many people do in their career. Worked my way up there while I was going to school and stepped into agency life for McDonald’s and worked my way through big name brands on the consumer side and then with a move to California, stepped into the glorious world of B2B Tech and it’s been a great ride. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of amazing clients and generally throughout my career, I’ve focused on the integrated perspective. But, you know, we’re going to talk more about that today.
Nicole: So, Rebekah, your background is so interesting to me because, well, for many reasons, but one of the ones that we want to talk about here today was you have a lot of experience working across a multitude of stakeholders, right? And understanding how business strategy drips down across franchises and how all those different stakeholders really need to work together. And I think that one of the things that you bring to the table is so unique, is that ability to really zoom out and understand the bigger picture and understand those bigger business goals, but the implications they have for folks on the ground. So, I’m just curious, what’s your approach to doing that? To coming in and kind of having that, like, bird’s eye view and being able to see the big picture, but then being able to also kind of get in there with the folks who are in it day-to-day and help them drive, put forth campaigns that are meaningful to their audiences.
Rebekah: That’s a great question. And I think a lot of times when I start working with a new client or even with a new team, the biggest thing is conversations. When you’ve been doing this for a while, it’s easy to make assumptions. Okay, I’ve seen a client like this before, I’ve seen a business like this before, I’ve seen a person like this. But it’s so important that we slow down enough to really understand all the different data points. Having a conversation with our clients about their business as a whole because it’s not just about their marketing efforts. Sure, you can do that. But then you may do some really great things that look really awesome but don’t actually move their business forward. And as an agency partner, we really aim to embed ourselves in our client’s business. For me, anytime I’m pitching something to a client with a team or working with our client leaders within the agency, we want to make recommendations that we feel good about, that this is a place where you should spend your money. Everyone’s budgets are limited, right? Especially right now in the current economic environment. So, it’s really important that we don’t spend just to spend, but we make recommendations that we know, align with our business goals. And then at the end of the day, we can rest easy knowing we’ve made a difference with them. And I think our clients trust us more then because they see that we’re stewarding their budget as if it was our own. We’re not there for a sale or shakedown or anything. I think agencies over the years have gotten kind of a bad rep for that because it’s the way maybe things were a long, long time ago, but it’s definitely not who I am or who we are as a team or how we approach things.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Kind of piggybacking on that when you’re having those conversations. Obviously, there’s macro big business picture, and then we work in a lot of capacities, and I know that you have kind of your whole career where you’re working with more specialized stakeholders across business units or across franchises, where their goals and their audiences are completely different. And maybe they don’t see that macro, or their budgets are just different, and the alignment is not quite there, and there’s a lot of silos. So how do you kind of approach trying to support maybe a day-to-day stakeholders’ goals that are a little bit more niche and specific, but then helping them ladder back up to that bigger picture so they do get the budget buy-in or they’re not just spending for spend steak and there’s an actual hard ROI there.
Rebekah: Yeah. So, I think what it really comes down to it, that is understanding each person’s stake in the game, if you will. Everyone’s accountable for something. Even all three of us get to work together a lot. We each have our core agreements and things we’re responsible things were answered for. So, it’s really important with our clients that wherever they are in the organization, we don’t lose the forest for the trees. I don’t know if that’s the right use of that phrase, but that we take time to understand what is that individual accountable for and what is that connection? So sometimes there’s an education piece. That person is so focused on what they are tasked with day to day. And that’s not a bad thing, right? It’s good they’re getting their job done. They’re getting the things that they’re accountable for completed, but helping see, how does that all connect? Because there may be a client who they are responsible for this particular budget to do this particular thing, but they don’t know that their colleague on the other side of the organization is doing something very similar and that if they were to join those budgets together, they would accomplish something so much more impactful for the business. But I think it all really comes down to understanding each person’s motivation, what they’re accountable for, and how it moves the business overall. Because we’re not really productive if we go into every client and they’re saying, okay, I need this paid campaign. And we say, okay, but what about the big brands? Because they may or may not care about that, but it’s more of a yes and situation of not losing sight. What is the question being asked of me? What is the client looking for us to achieve for them or partner with them on? And making sure we always answer that question, but add that additional context, because something I say a lot is our clients pay us to think. They want our perspective. They want the history that we have from all the different clients we work with, or maybe we’ve worked with their organization for a long time, or the zoom out. As you mentioned, I work with a lot of really complex clients. I kind of say that’s my specialty. From my background, I’ve always worked with complex organizations with a lot of different people and a lot of different motivations. So, as I work with our client leaders across the agency, in our conversations, we’re really picking out what are all the different factors of things that are happening and making sure that we are considering the macro trends that are happening. This weekend I was reading about different clients and industries that we work in and seeing how they’re impacted by the political environment, by the economy and things like that. So, it’s really important that as client leaders and strategists, we’re looking at all of the data points available to us and answering the question, the task at hand, but providing an additional layer of strategy and how it all connects together to move the business.
Rex: It’s a two-way street of context, right? We’re going to be so much better at our jobs, like you said, having those conversations up front to understand, OK, this is your day-to-day goals, but why are you doing that and what is the bigger picture? And then same thing from our side as an agency and our responsibility to do that thinking and to provide the layers of saying, okay, this is your goal, you need to drive leads, for instance, what are the different taxes that we’re going to bear? But then ultimately why leads? And then you dive into like, well, okay, maybe it’s not actually a lead generation problem. Maybe it’s more of like, everybody’s interested in us, but then we can’t convert anyone to an opportunity or a sale or whatever it is. So, then it gives us the opportunity to provide those different levers that can be pulled. And I think to your point, just having that deeper understanding and having the relationship that you build both with the client but then also with our internal teams that everybody’s coming together and asking those questions and being like, this is not just a paid problem, or this is not just a creative issue, like how do we solve this using all these different tactics? And maybe there’s another agency in play that’s like, great guys, this is not a TEAM LEWIS, something that you should be doing with us right now because maybe you have another agency that does that streamline of work and it’s a web problem or it’s a PR problem for a digital client or whatever it is, it’s us coming to the table with the solution. Even if it’s not us getting paid to solve the problem. I think it’s everybody’s going to come out better at the end if we’re all working together.
Rebekah: Exactly. It’s not a land grab, right? We’re all working towards the same goal with our clients. And I think the frequent agency cop out I’ve seen over the years is, well, they didn’t tell us or even as we raise up leaders in our organization, that’s something we’re always talking about, okay, the client you’re working with didn’t share their goals or they don’t know what their goals are, or they’re struggling to establish them. That’s why we’re there. So, when we think about integrated strategy, I think at times we think of it as integrated in terms of here are these eight channels that we are going to distribute things from, but the way I look at it, integrated strategy is about understanding the full picture of sitting at a table with ten people and understanding all the different angles that they’re coming from. And I’ve seen this time and time again, whether it’s consumer clients or B2B. I distinctly remember a time I was sitting in a conference room for one of the big three automakers, and everyone in the room turned towards me and was looking for my recommendation on something. And I knew my words have power in that moment and I had to very quickly, and really, I was doing it before the question was ever asked, was consider how are all these people and what they’re working on, what they’re focusing on, how do they all fit together for our common goal? And it takes a lot of engagement. It takes preparation for those meetings and conversations, and it takes a commitment. It takes a commitment that I know when I show up to work that my aim is to protect our client’s business. My aim is to protect our team and move things forward. In order to move things forward, we have to be engaged. We have to be paying attention to what’s happening. And that’s something I really loved about my time at TEAM LEWIS is Chris, our CEO, does a great job of considering everything that’s happening across the financial, the business, economic landscape, political landscape. And he’s always bringing up things. I remember one time he said, Rebekah, we have to look at the climate, not the weather. And that has stuck with me, that it’s not just, okay, this is what’s important to my client for the next two weeks. You can’t miss those things. Those things are incredibly important. But what’s happening a year down the road? How do we see around corners for them? And that’s what makes, I think, an agency partner really, really strong, is that they have that full mindset. And I think for me, that started way back when I was embedded in those businesses, and I could see what it was like to be a medium business owner or a large business owner and see the impact of all those decisions. Every decision we make as an agency partner has an impact. So, I want to make sure that we’re doing that as if that business was our own. And sometimes that means hard decisions. Sometimes that means that we’re not going to pitch something to the client that sure, they might say yes to, maybe we’d make a buck at it, but it’s not good for their business. And those kind of choices are what makes long, strong relationships with our clients.
Nicole: I’m curious, treating the business as though it were our own, and you talk about having to make hard decisions, right? We’ve talked a lot, just not on a podcast about having the courage
Rebekah: In real life!
Nicole: IRL, yeah. About having the courage to talk through bad ideas with clients and get them from what they want to what they actually need, and really the importance of showing up and being an active partner in those conversations. Can you share a little bit about your thought process there and kind of how you go about navigating those difficult conversations? Because they’re ones that especially now, they’re coming up a lot more than they have in the past. Right. And we’re really having to be active participants and steer clients in the right direction.
Rebekah: Yeah, well, I think it’s hearing them out and hearing their motivation or rack set it just the other day, or maybe even today, about what is the goal. So, you come to me and you’re asking for SEO support, or maybe you’re asking for PR support, but what is it that you’re trying to solve, and you mention the relationship piece of it. We have to have those relationships where there’s trust built there. And sometimes that trust is built right at the pitch stage when you’re first meeting a client, first getting to know them. And they say, okay, Nicole, I need this. And you say, okay, that’s something we could do and we’re happy to do that for you, but let’s talk a little bit about everything that you’re facing. So, we make sure we’re making the best possible recommendations. I think it’s sharing your motivation, or dare I say, your heart behind the question that they understand you’re not pushing back. That’s something I talk with the team a lot about. Forget that phrase. It’s not about pushing back. It’s about pushing through and understanding and pressing into what the need is at hand. And sometimes those conversations do not go smoothly and being comfortable with the uncomfortable, because those are the things, I’ve seen it time and time again with clients or team members. I think all three of us have probably had conversations like this at some point where we were on different ends of the spectrum. But I think being willing to show up and have that conversation and understand what’s behind it and come to a solution. And also, I never forget that the clients are the client. And there have absolutely been clients I’ve stood in front of and said, I don’t think we should do this, but I recognize that we are here to serve you and work with you, so I’m willing to do that, and let’s see how it goes. I can’t say I’ve never been wrong. There have been times that maybe I’ve pressed on something. I haven’t thought it’s the right thing, and it did work out. More often than not, though, I have a lot of confidence in those recommendations, and I’ve seen my theories prove out time and time again. But again, that’s how trust is built. We’re not yes people. And I think that’s another thing that’s really important in client service or agency life, it’s easy for people to raise up with this mentality of the client is always right. Whatever they say goes. And it’s not that the client is wrong or it’s not that we’re not there to listen to them, but again, they pay us to think. So, what is it based on our expertise, based on everything that we’ve seen, based on the data, to take time to really understand the data and insights that are available to us, what is it that we recommend? And we shouldn’t be coming to clients with just a mere opinion. There should be a why behind it. And I think that’s what makes those conversations really productive, because we’re not just shooting from the hip, we’re coming with a really educated recommendation. And then if for some reason they still want to pursue it, then we’ll go for that. And sometimes it’s just in the spirit of testing and learning too, because if you want to be the first to do something, there isn’t always a data point to point back to. Sometimes you just have to take a risk. And I’ve definitely seen those risks pay off, whether they’re recommended by us or by a client. We’ve definitely seen that play out over the years.
Rex: I think one of the things that I’ve always — something that you, Rebekah and Nicole, you guys have always preached, and it’s something that you brought up here is — both understanding the motivations of the client, both from a business, but then also from a person aspect. Because everybody, like you said, everybody in that boardroom who turns to look to you, you’re thinking in that moment about maybe their business needs. But it’s also really important to understand them as human beings and what they’re trying to do in their career. Both from a client but then also from our team perspective. So that we’re aligning everybody to the right roles, the right responsibilities to the right tasks to clients. Like a beta opportunity may be perfect for one client, whereas another is just like, that is not the lane that I want to swim in at my current job. Or it’s those nuances that you pick up in building the relationships over time that can be so valuable.
Rebekah: That’s a great call and I think it helps us with our positioning too, or knowing what recommendations to bring forward or not, or knowing when, okay, this is the right thing for their business and we really believe in this recommendation, but we know based on that client’s lens, this is the information they’re going to need to get to yes on it. And I think we always have those two clients. We have the client, the business, the organization that we’re serving, and the individual that we’re working with. And we can’t lose sight of either one. It’s a really good call out.
Nicole: Something you’ve talked about twice now in this conversation is that clients pay us to think. And that’s really stuck with me. Calendars get full of meetings and then at the end of the day you look back and you’re like, what the ****, did I do anything that’s going to be productive or fruitful? And you can’t possibly deliver any sort of strategic, critical, integrated thinking without setting aside that time for deep thinking and doing that work. And like, yes, read the news and look at the climate, not the weather, and take that time to zoom out. Whether you have to block it on your calendar, as I’m now finding myself needing to do or doing it early mornings or in the evenings with a glass of wine or whatever. But it’s just so critical that we all take the time to pause and do that deep thinking work.
Rebekah: So, what you’re saying is that’s why you can’t meet later?
Rebekah: No, it’s so true and it’s so hard to protect it and make sure that we’re focusing on those things that are important and not just on the urgent. And I think that’s another thing that we all get sucked into is, okay, this is the ask right now, I have to run after that or whatever kind of balls are coming our way throughout the day. But yeah, I mean, that time where we’re focused thinking is what makes us really good for our clients and for ourselves, right, and our experience of work. I really enjoy my work a lot more when I get to understand things. I was just talking to my husband about that the other day, of the different aspects of technology that I really enjoy learning more about. I remember my first, I would say client, where I went really, really deep on B2B technology was a digital identity access management client. And what I found so fascinating though, is that technology kind of runs under the surface of everything we’re doing. And no matter what the client is that you’re working with, I think finding what interests you about what they’re doing is what’s going to fuel you continuing to learn. It’s not solely on our clients to feed us information about what they do. There’s absolutely very important information that can only come from the client, about their organization, their goals, their mission statement, all of those things. But there’s so much that we can learn in just taking interest in what it is that our clients do and constantly learning about it. And then as we make our recommendations too, that’s another way that we are immersing ourselves in their team because we’re actually taking an interest in what it is that they’re doing.
Rex: One thing, like the passion and the energy that you bring is so apparent in this conversation and just like the excitement that is clearly in you to deliver excellent work for clients. And I kind of want to think about that as you’re just talking about the enjoyment that you take into learning, diving deep into certain things and hooking on to something that is going to keep you motivated and keep you progressing forward? What is kind of the thing that you in your day to day, your week to week, or what makes you get up in the morning and love to come to work? What is the thing about marketing that you really enjoy? I know you’ve touched on pieces of it, but I just want to ask you a fun question.
Rebekah: See, you said marketing and I was going to say it’s you, Rex.
Nicole: I was going to say, are you just giving her opportunity to praise you, Rex.
Rebekah: Rex is great to work with new listeners.
Rex: I’m never available for one-on-one meetings.
Rebekah: That is absolutely accurate. Thanks for that. Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think for me, what drives me is I know I’m where I’m meant to be. And we are all in our spot, whatever that is, whether it’s with a team, with a client or whatever, for a reason, be it the universe we’re strategically placed in our spot. So, I think for me, when I get into my day, I know I am in the spot with this team, with this agency, with these clients, for a reason. I may not exactly know what that is, but I love getting to explore that every day in my conversations. I want to get into all these tactical things that I do throughout the day. But I think that at the core of it, that’s my motivation, is that I know I’m where I’m meant to be at this moment in time. And I love getting to work with our teams here at TEAM LEWIS and I love getting to know our clients and their teams and getting to learn about all these different aspects. So, agency life, I think, gets a bad rep sometimes about how crazy it can be. But I think the thing that has kept me here all my career, outside of some initial starts in client’s side, I love the variety and just the sheer number of people that we get to interact with. I love getting to a client’s annual conference or sales kick off and getting to be immersed in that and see all these different worlds. I know a lot of different things, but a lot of different industries and you just don’t get that same experience being client side. But I love getting to know all of our different clients. So, I think that that’s a really fun aspect of it. But I think probably the summary answer to that question is the people and all the impacts we get to have on the people around us and the impacts they get to have on us. I mean, the two of you have changed me for the better, so I really enjoyed that part too.
Rex: Full circle. Nicole. I did it.
Rebekah: You did it. And Rex is really special.
Nicole: Well, now that we’ve praised Rex two times, I think we’re going to close out this episode of Outsmart. Rebekah, this has been such a wonderful conversation. One of the favorites that I’ve had personally. Thank you so much for joining us, and I’m very excited to see you live in San Diego. When this episode goes live, we will listen to it together and crack a bottle.
Rebekah: Release party.
Nicole: I love it, a release party.
Rebekah: Thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.