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The Impact of Your Company's Core Values on Your Culture with Jon Franko
Episode 215th November 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:26:08

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm here today with Jon Franco. Jon Franco is the thinker and co-founder of Gorilla 76, an industrial marketing agency in St Louis, Missouri. Jon's day-to-day activities are focused on growing and developing a great team rooted in great relationships and creating an award-winning culture. Jon's mission is to create the best workplace in town. Jon, welcome to the show.

Jon Franko: Thanks for having me. It's nice to be here.

Lisa Ryan: Jon, please share with us a bit about your background and what led you to do what you're doing now with Gorilla.

Jon Franko: I'm a 2005 graduate of the University of Missouri, Columbia journalism school. I went to school and initially thought I wanted to be a long-form news writer. I quickly found out that probably wasn't my thing. I had an aunt in the marketing space that opened my eyes to what an agency looks like and how to use a journalism background in a more business environment, so I became a copywriter.

I worked a couple of years of a small agency, a small good-sized agency here in St Louis. At the same time, I was building Gorilla 76, which I'm a Co-founder of on the side. In 2008, my business partner and I turned in our notice and started Gorilla full-time. We haven't looked back.

In terms of specifically focusing on the manufacturing space, it just happened. We got some early opportunities in the industrial world. We did well with those. It matched our design and creative style. Using word of mouth naturally and different things, you continue to get more opportunities in that space. Finally, in 2011 or 2012, we thought, what if we just hang our hat on this industrial thing altogether. It's a fascinating space - great clients, great people.

 They genuinely look at working with us as partnerships, whereas sometimes, you work with some big household name brands. So I feel like sometimes you're the punching bag when you're the Agency partners. So it's been great, and that's how I've gotten to where I am today.

Lisa Ryan: So when it comes to working with these manufacturers, it's probably one of the reasons. They want a manufacturer. They don't want to spend all of their time marketing, so they leave that to the professionals. What are some ways you have found that having a good copy and a marketing presence has helped these manufacturers? What are small to medium manufacturers? Is it medium to large? Give us a little bit of an idea to recap what you do for them.

Jon Franko: We describe it as in terms of the size, the middle market on the low end might be 15 to 20 million. They're doing a year in business on the high end. They might be 250 to 300, will even extend beyond that. It depends on their internal setup. In terms of what we're doing, it's very much like we know in the manufacturing space. It's typically a very consultative sales process. You're not calling overnight, most of the time.

I'm going to switch and start working with a different manufacturer, different provider. It's much more of an educational process that needs to be baked into the selling process. That's where we help people, and that's where long-form content, not a promotional copy. We're not saying we're the best at doing this, but here's why we do it the way we do it. Here's one way you can do it. Oh, by the way, that's how we do it.

It's creating opportunities. It knows that there's a consultative sales process and helping our clients. They can fill their pipeline with people who are yearning for that, that are doing information searching. They are looking online to try to find answers to questions. So we're helping put our clients in that position where they're answering those questions.

Lisa Ryan: What are some of the best practices you're seeing regarding how manufacturers promote themselves in the marketplace?

Jon Franko: It's a variety of things. Anytime you can have transparency and just brutal honesty. Don't promote, don't sell. You always want to position yourself in the best light, but don't say we're the best, blah blah blah, unparalleled customer service, or whatever. Everybody says that. We see results. We see results in content marketing. We see results in the demand side of the world where we're doing some more paid social. We don't see a huge payoff on organic social. We still do it for a couple of clients, but we don't know a ton there.

It's not about having the flashiest website or anything. I could get this point. A decent website is a barrier to entry, so that needs to be in place. It's about helping. If you can provide content that helps your potential buyer, you can only give that content by understanding your potential buyer. That's a huge part of it. We need to be able to understand our customer's customer.

If you can understand those things and provide valuable content, that will set you up for business success now. Sometimes that's written content; sometimes it's podcast content; sometimes it's video content; sometimes it's old-school print content. It's a set of sale sheets that you need to mail to somebody. There are different applications, but I think that's step one if you're providing helpful content.

Lisa Ryan: How are you diving into that when you're working with your clients? Is it an interview process? You walk through the plants. Do you see what they're doing? You're putting into words things that they can't.

Jon Franko: I think it's all of the above. I'd be lying if I said we are great about walking the floors of our clients. I think that's something we need to do a better job at. For the past few years, we have had the excuse that we're in a pandemic. What we have done is hire journalists like true journalists, not fake journalists. I wasn't an advertising copywriter, but your journalists are good at taking something they know minimal to nothing about. Learning about it in writing - about it at a level that other people can understand. We were always going to have access when we work with a client to the subject matter experts within a company.

We need access to the customers. We need access to the sales team. It's interviewing and early on in our process. We have a knowledge extraction day, where we will go up and set up on-site at a client. We videotape the whole thing and pepper them with questions all day long. We pepper different players that they've identified as stakeholders that you need to talk to. Having access to the right people is incredibly important. Five years ago, we weren't getting that buy-off from companies. Many times, we would work directly with just the marketing manager.

There's nothing wrong with being a marketing manager, but unless that C-suite is bought in, a lot of times, those key stakeholder interviews aren't going to happen. Because it's different if the marketing manager says to an engineer, hey, I need to get some of your time. At the same time, the engineer will push it off, whatever that they have more important things to do. You get the CEO, saying I need you to make time for this interview with our marketing agency. It's going to happen. That was a long way to answer your question, but yes. Then, of course, the interviewing, there's the secondary research, just the online reading, etc. But a lot of our clients were writing about things that haven't been written about that much. We are pioneers in some of these and some of these categories.

Lisa Ryan: Some of the other things you and I discussed before is just the workplace culture you've developed at Gorilla. It's nice with your background in manufacturing and that you're not on the plant floor. You're not a manufacturer. There are still many transferable skills that people listening to this can pay attention to because of the great resignation going on right now.

It's hard enough to find new talent, so to at the speaking event that I was at earlier this week, I talked to one of the participants in my program, and he said you need to cherish the employees you have. That's not usually a word that you hear in the manufacturing or the trades. But taking care of, focusing on, and cherishing the employees - the good employees you have now. Because keeping them is going to be much more important than finding new ones. What are some of the things you're doing with your culture over there because it sounds like it is a pretty cool place to work?

Jon Franko: To give more importance, I recently did the math and the LinkedIn posts on what it looks like for us to hire for any role. In looking at the time for interviewing, the time to write the job description, all those things, onboarding, etc., my math came out about $32,000 per hire. So it's relatively significant to keep these people. Once you get on, it's just essential for creating a cohesive team. You don't want to see turnover constantly.

In terms of what we're doing, ten years ago, it was, hey, we have a beer fridge and a ping pong table, and we wear T-shirts to work, and we listen to music. So it was all that stuff. Don't get me wrong, I think that's still part of being a marketing agency and a good culture, but I have learned that it's all about the core values. If you truly believe in your core values, and they're genuinely core to who you are, and you live by them, the excellent culture will result.

Our core values result in improved relationships, kindness, and inclusion, and I think we do an excellent job of adhering to those. Everything we do, from the interviewing questions we have to our company manifesto about conducting quarterly reviews. If the mail person comes in, and there is a hot day or hey, can I get you a glass of water? That's the type that is core to us. That has been ultimately what has made our culture great now. We are still seeing turnover. I'm losing somebody in a week. It's brutal right now. We're competing for a lot of our talent. We're competing a lot less with other marketing agencies.

When we lose people, many times, it's to a software company. These companies have massive amounts of funding. They can come. They can make ridiculous offers and have benefits. We can't touch it if we lose people. The Agency world can be just a grind in general.

It's not an easy space. It's a lot of hard work. If you have that core culture or those core values in place, then your culture is a byproduct of that. If everything's up to you, you make it a lot harder for people to live. If there's still going to happen, you make it more difficult.

Lisa Ryan: How did you come up with your core values? How did you get them?

Jon Franko: They are all in the core values. I hear them talking about them constantly, which is great. In terms of how we came up with them, we came up with them. The core values were one of those things like I will be the first thing that I used to roll my eyes, I was like, this is stupid. These are just things that people put up in a boardroom, and they have some sort of motivational poster, and no one believes. When we went through the exercise, we were working with a strategic planning partner. So it was less like what you want to be, and it was more uncovering what we were.

We were a results-driven company. When Joe and I started this business, we were two guys obsessed over reading everything we could about marketing. We started this business because we've worked on our portfolios together outside of work. We did like fake cat campaigns together, so that was the improvement piece. We knew that the best clients he had had had come from great relationships that we built worked our whole lives to make whether as family, friends, whatever that then connected as people.

Kindness, nobody wants to work with a jerk. That was a massive part of it as well. Admittedly, this was something that we opened our eyes to. Civil unrest has been going on in the past year and a half, and we started looking around the office. We're like, wow, many of us all look like, and probably need to be more aware of that. Think about how we can start to be more inclusive. Not only different races and religions, and things like that, but now that we're in a remote setting, like if somebody works in California, and somebody works in DC, well, we have to think about what time we're going to have our happy hour. You don't want to make the person in California feel like she needs to have a beer at three o'clock, so I mean, we want to be inclusive of just how we're working.

Our values were core to us. We thought they were aspirational, but when we start digging in, we're like, wow, this is who we are. That was the light bulb that went off. Employees were involved in the strategic planning committee, but the person directing this exercise was like, this is when you've nailed it. They are already part of who you are. So many companies say we want to be this, and we want to do this. That's fine, but if you're going to be aspirational, you better plan how you're going to achieve those core values.

Lisa Ryan: Right. I know. It's funny because when you were going through that whole thing about the turnover and losing it to other more prominent software companies and those types of things. Many manufacturers listening to this podcast can substitute those words with well, we're competing with people who are leaving because they're going to Amazon, which has deep pockets. We're all in the same boat. We're all looking at the same type of issues as far as finding. People keep finding and keeping people. There's always going to be the big monster corporation with deep pockets who'd like to suck everybody into their realm. But it focuses on the core values. I like the fact of it being aspirational or not being aspirational of being where you're at.

I was working with a foundry, and what they did is they used one of those word cloud things. They had all the employees put in the top three words they attributed to their company. As a casting plan, of course, you had words like hot, and hard, and that type of thing but the biggest one for the most part. So when you do a word cloud, the more somebody puts in one word, the larger that word gets in the cloud, and what they were happy to find is that the most prominent word that came up for them is family.

People thought it was like it was a family. That's such a great point because people listening to this figure out how to get started. It's like don't put that those high goals of what you aspire to be, who are you now, and how can you make that just a little bit better going forward.

Jon Franko: I also think, just the key to getting started. I have not mastered this. I'm not even close. I am much better than I used to be, but the whole idea of like you have two ears, and one mouth like listen to your people. There are some tools we have in place. In an office setting, they work great. I think they could work in a manufacturing setting. You need an environment where everybody has email. There's a tool called Office Vibe. I was just on a call with them today. It's weekly employee surveys that are very simple. They're fun to take, and it creates a massive data set. We always have access to measure happiness and different things, so if we see numbers starting to trend a certain way, it's time to listen and find out what's going on. Then address it, and get it fixed before it becomes a problem before it results in a turnover.

That has been probably my most significant area of development. In the past couple of years, I think I've gotten to be a better listener. I have a long way to go, as any of my employees will tell you, but I have learned the importance of that. It's regular feedback. It's weekly. Because it's weekly, it's also short and fun, so people aren't getting burned out in the process.

Lisa Ryan: But you also have that immediate gratification of noticing when something starts to go a little bit awry. You can take steps to fix that. The other thing that we mentioned from our conversation is, you have a buddy system there.

Jon Franko: Whenever somebody first starts to grow up. This was something that came up before the pandemic. I can remember it. It became very relevant during the pandemic when we were all working in separate locations. When somebody new starts at Gorilla, we pair them up with somebody who's been there longer. It's typically somebody not in their department; it's somebody that maybe they wouldn't cross paths with the time. It's nothing more than that person welcomes them with a typically handwritten note at the beginning.

Set some scheduled check-ins, the first several weeks every week. Just to be like, hey, I'm here for you. You can ask there. We believe in subscribing that there are no stupid questions. When you walk into a company, and all you see are a bunch of names in a slack channel or whatever, an email with server whatever, and you're like, all right, I have to ask. I'm just going to ask everybody this question that I might think is dumb or whatever.

Well, it's much easier if you're the person they told me to talk to you for stupid questions. I think this is a silly question. Where do wherein dropbox do I save this type of file.

So that buddy system is I it's turned out to be a positive addition, it's that person is in no means a manager of the new employee. It's more just a spiritual leader if you will, or even appear like, hey, I'm here for you. We'll get coffee. We'll do a weekly zoom call, and I want to be here to check-in. I was going to add like I do those as well, but new employees aren't gonna tell me if something's broken. They're going to be like, yeah, everything's great, I love it. I'm happy, but they will tell another employee if something's broken.

Lisa Ryan: When you're setting them up from day one because I think that's what the problem is. Often, new employees show up, their business cards aren't ready, or their computers are not set up, or there's an inch full of dust on their desk. If they're in the trades, their truck is filthy. It's not set up versus just being prepared to rock out that first day. Let that new person know that we're all expecting you. Have a welcoming committee, and, by the way, here's your buddy. This is your one source for everything. In jobs that we've had in our careers, we all know the very first person that we connect with, the first person we have lunch with, and our best friend for life.

Using that buddy system, forming that connection from the first day sets people up for success.

Jon Franko: I agree. It's something we have revisited our entire onboarding process. The minute that the offer letter is signed, our process kicks off. There are numerous touchpoints before that person even starts different people emailing different things. They begin to meet the entire cast of characters. It's your first day. This is where you'll park. Then someone else will send a note, hey, we always like people to get lunch on us the first day. Here's a gift card for postmates for 20 bucks. Small stuff adds up and makes that initial experience big. The minute they start, it's like driving a car off the lot. The minute you drive that car off the lot, it's getting colder, and things can start falling apart. The minute somebody starts, they can start having a bad experience. The minute they must begin to make sure they start having a good experience.

Lisa Ryan: The other thing to keep in mind is just because they ended up taking the job for your company doesn't mean that other people who also filled out applications or went on other interviews aren't still pursuing them. When you can start T-minus a couple of weeks before they start, have that connection, and build up that excitement that wow-factor, these people are looking forward to starting here. This must be a cool place to work. It just changes the dynamics.

What would you say is your best tip when you think about what you've done for Gorilla to make that culture one of the best places to work in your area as your goal? If somebody listening today wanted to take one step in turning around and improving their culture, what would that look like?

Jon Franko: Make sure you have these core values in place. Even before that, the best thing to start is listening to your people. That's the first step in any of it. It's the same one we were talking about in the first part of this conversation. How do we write good content? Well, it's because we asked good questions, and we listened to the answers. That's the same thing. I don't even know when it comes to this side of creating or when it comes to creating an incredible culture that you have to ask great questions. You just have to listen and pay attention to what's going on.

If you do that, you are headed down the right path. That's not where it stops, but I would say, listening and then rolling it into a tactic. A tool-like office vibe helps me listen. We wouldn't have the culture we have today without that. It's not the happy hours, and it's not the beer fridge, and it's not the ping pong tables. It has a place that people believe is committed to certain ideals and values. That's my opinion, at least.

Lisa Ryan: Jon, it's been such a pleasure getting to know you on our chat today. Please share how you work with your clients. If somebody did want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Jon Franko: The way we work with our clients is we have a pretty set process. There's a discovery portion of what we do. Then, once we're done with that, we develop a written plan and provide that to the clients. They can then hire us to execute that plan then, or they can go somewhere else. We get paid for the discovery portion as well. That first portion is called that phase one implementation. It's what we're working on right now.

It's roughly about nine months of implementation what we want to see our results in those nine months. We know that when clients spend a lot of money, and we are not cheap, they spend a lot of money, they expect to see results. So we have a plan for nine months, and we're going to get you results. If it makes sense, they enroll into an ongoing retainer, and we work indefinitely with them. They can give us 90 days' notice to opt out of the contract. You can opt-out at any time, but most of our clients are reoccurring clients.

In terms of the best way to get ahold of me is Gorilla76.com. That's our website. I'm Jon@Gorilla76.com If you put an H in there, it'll still come to me because I know everybody in the world puts an H in Jon. I'm on LinkedIn - Jon Franco. I try to contribute some content here and there. That's useful, so yeah, I'm on all the channels.

Lisa Ryan: All right. Jon, thank you so much for being here and sharing your insights with us today.

Jon Franko: All right, thank you very much.

Lisa Ryan: I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. We'll see you next time.


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