Lessons learned from being raised in a family business
I rented my first room at age six. I recited our room options (single, double, suite, efficiency), negotiated a price and had the customer fill out a registration card. The only part that stumped me was calculating the tax (ironic, as I later graduated with an accounting degree), which sent me frantically running to my parents for help, beaming with pride over my first big sale.
With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, I can’t help but be nostalgic about my childhood. I was raised in the hotel business down at the Jersey Shore. Now that I am working in financial PR, there are several lessons I learned from my dad (and mom too!) that translate from business to business, even though they seem starkly different on the surface.
1. No job is too small. My dad was originally trained as a PhD in surface colloid chemistry. To this day, I don’t know what that means. My point is that he is incredibly smart. Now, as the proprietor of the business, not only does he deal with the accountants, bankers and lawyers — he’s also the motel’s best janitor. On any given day during the summer, you can find him sweeping the grounds, cleaning the pool, or taking out the trash. When customers see him doing these things, they always look puzzled. “Don’t you have a guy for that?” they’ll mutter. Sure he does. But he believes in walking the talk.
I was also raised to get my hands dirty. Literally. I cleaned bathrooms, folded towels, and emptied the pool filters. You name it, I did it.
My dad has trained me to believe that any job, no matter how small, should be done with dignity. In financial PR, even the smallest job, like booking a room for a conference or putting together a weekly media recap, should be done well and with pride. If a job needs to get done, do it. In the end, it all comes together.
2. Treat your customers like family. In the hotel business, your customers are not your problem. They are not a nuisance or a pain. They are the reason you have your job and as such, they should be treated like gold.
They are also human, and they want to feel welcome and appreciated. Be nice and smile. It’s not unusual to see my mom running to give customers a hug when they walk in the door. Over the years, these people have become our family. Many of them were even at my wedding!
Same goes for financial PR. It’s easy to get lost in the daily rut, but this is a client-facing business. Our clients have goals and ambitions, and we should make it our utmost priority to respect their strategy and help them succeed.
Also, be sure to ask your clients about their family, weekend plans and the like. It forges a more memorable relationship and goes a long way.
3. Respect your colleagues like you do your clients. My parents treat the pool boy with just as much respect as their lawyers, if not more. No man is an island, and every employee is a piece of the puzzle.
No matter the point in our careers, we should all make it a priority to treat everyone from the building staff, to the intern, to the president with the same amount of respect. We’re all in this together and teamwork does, in fact, make the dream work.
4. Give exceptional service. A few months after Hurricane Sandy in 2013, my parents were hit by one of their worst snowstorms on record. Unlike with the hurricane though, the state wasn’t evacuated. This time, they had a full house. It was a blustery day in February and the whole hotel was packed for a nearby dog show. When the storm hit, the power blew out. Aside from the dim lighting provided by the generator, customers had barely any light or heat. Even worse, the roads were packed with snow, so they had no food.
In response, my dad stayed up through the night and made every single room paper lanterns for light. My mom, who had the only working stove thanks to the generator, cooked rice pilaf for the entire motel. (Side note: My mom is an excellent Greek cook!)
A situation that would have normally resulted in a fury of angry customers and nasty reviews, ended up as a whole hotel full of repeat customers. This is not the kind of service you get at a big-box hotel chain, but it is what you get with a family business.
In financial PR, exceptional service is our best differentiator. Competition is fierce and technology evolves by the millisecond; good service is the one thing that can’t be bought or replicated.
Recently, my colleague spent 20 minutes on the phone counseling a client as to whether he should attend a national financial conference. This wasn’t part of our contract, but it showed the client that we are just as invested in his business as he is, and we want him to get the coverage and exposure he deserves. Most of all, it shows that we care.
Gregory FCA is one of the top financial PR firms in the country, but much like a family business, it had humble beginnings. In fact, the company was started in a basement. (Take that, Silicon Valley!)
As a firm, we all work hard to stay true to our core values. We strive to give good service, go the extra mile, and treat others with respect. But at the end of the day, we build relationships, which is what it’s all about.
Oh, and we never forget our roots. Thanks, mom and dad!