Reflections on Leadership and Growth During COVID-19
Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy Founder Larry Ceisler looks back on two years of uncertainty and how he's guiding the firm through a pandemic.
We’ve all been through a lot over the past two years. And we’ve all learned a lot. And now as — hopefully — we are returning to some degree of normalcy, it seems a good time to reflect on our experiences at Ceisler Media since COVID hit in March 2020.
From the beginning, we decided we were not going to lay anyone off, nor cut salaries or benefits. I’m proud that we succeeded in those goals. And all the while we remained busy, which meant adding positions. Our firm has had a steady, upward trajectory with growth — in revenue, clients and number of employees.
As the founder of this company, I have always been responsible for the people working here and their families. You see how fragile things are.
This firm made it through the Great Recession of 2008–09. We were able to gain new clients and grow during that time. We still have many of those clients.
That’s partly because of the nature of the work we’ve always done. Our brand of PR or advocacy is not a vanity project. It’s integral to the companies and organizations we work with in terms of public policy, appropriations, taxes, and things of that nature.
What I took out of that Great Recession was this: You learn lessons but you always gain confidence.
So now comes the pandemic, and as a challenge, it dwarfed that tough economic downturn. During the first year, it was very difficult — our revenues were down considerably. Many of our clients were letting go of consultants or couldn’t pay at the levels of our contracts. But we made a decision to stick with them. We reduced some of our retainers and continued to work with others even if we weren’t getting paid, with the hope they’d come back and thrive. In the long run, that worked for all of us.
Also, the nature of our work changed. It became very high level. Everything was COVID focused, so we had to reconfigure many things about the firm in terms of our expertise, the services we offered and the teams we put together.
One thing we did for several clients was to monitor how corporations and organizations in other cities were managing COVID — giving them guidance on what might help them. That became part of our business, and by doing that we were able to learn ourselves. We always learn from our clients — sometimes I think we should be paying them because of how much we learn from them.
At the end of 2019 and into early 2020, we made offers to four new staffers. The pandemic hit right before we could onboard them. They became part of our team without ever coming into the office.
Another challenge was, how could we maintain an office culture when people aren't seeing one another? I felt it was important for morale to stay connected and to get people out of their homes and apartments. So we held a couple of outdoor events, including one at the Fitler Club, so that people got to be together and talk face-to-face — many for the first time.
Like every other company, we had all these challenges. But with good leadership in the firm — and I'm talking about others besides me — and with a staff that demonstrated a good attitude about doing whatever was needed, we have survived it.
We required vaccinations for our staff. Right now, we're telling our people we'd like them to come in three days a week, but we're not forcing it, and almost 100 percent are back on a regular basis. People want to get out and come to work.
I think everyone's vision of work has changed. Our people like the hybrid model and the flexibility that comes with it.
From a business standpoint, we're back to where we were. We have more employees now than when the pandemic hit. So, all in all, I think we managed it pretty well.
Larry Ceisler is the Founder of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy