As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Porter, President of CMW Media.
Kyle Porter is an ex-entertainment marketer turned communications entrepreneur who is now the President of CMW Media, a PR and Marketing Firm specializing in emerging markets such as sustainable technologies and cannabis. He is a native Arizonian who got his BA in Marketing from Northern Arizona University. After completing his degree, Porter began his career working with various event and marketing agencies and was able to scale start-up agencies into multi-million dollar organizations. He specializes not only in communications and marketing, but oversees accounting, human resources, and business development.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I began my career wanting to plan large scale events. In fact, my dream was to plan EDC, an electric music festival held in Las Vegas. My first job out of college was at a three-person ice skating event planning agency. Having been a competitive figure skater until college, I knew the sport well and it paired my passions of event planning and the ice. Being in Arizona, there was not much demand for ice events, so I was able to travel a lot and put on amazing events from pop-up rinks at the Olympics, to the Modern Family Christmas cast party (that was one of my favorites). Realizing that the ice event company may not lead me to my ultimate goal, I searched for the right agency. I found an Event and PR agency that was doing EDM shows throughout the state called SLE, or Steve LeVine Entertainment. With a knack for numbers, I was able to convenience them to hire me as an operations assistant, helping with the books, HR and general operations. I quickly grew with that company, to become the Director of Operations at only 25 years old, overseeing a team of about 30 and planning event after event. I was able to secure and produce the largest event the company had ever done, welcoming over 100,000 guests over three days. Well, if anyone has planned an event of that magnitude, let’s just say that the glamour was definitely overshadowed by the grit. I lived on-site for five days straight, worked harder than I’ve ever worked, and had to take a real look at my “dream job” and if it was right for me. As such, I began looking for other opportunities in marketing and PR. I had always had a passion for cannabis, in both medical and recreational aspects, and found my now business partner, who was building an agency around the power of cannabidiol (CBD). The rest is history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Well, besides the story of my misguided vision of the prestige (or lack thereof) of being a festival event planner, I can tell you I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and always will. You’ve got to make them to learn from them. One particular I can think of is running my mouth. I am known as a talker. And I ran my mouth about frustrations with my then CEO to, who else but the Vice President. Let’s just say that didn’t go over well. I was called into the CEO’s office and he point-blank asked me. I was stunned. Even I couldn’t come up with some BS to get me out of this one. So I had to own it. Let’s just say I have been VERY cognizant of who I say what to since.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s a simple, maybe even overplayed one, but its called “The Five Minute Manager”. Easiest read of your life but the takeaway is simple. Everything in the management of teams should take five minutes or less. You cannot dwell on criticism, or overpraise. A good manager should not sugar coat, nor exacerbate an issue. Be direct, to the point, “here’s what you did, here’s why it was wrong, and here’s what I’d like to see in the future”. The book also recommends sandwiching criticism between praise. Anyone who works for me knows that I empower my team and praise success. I pride myself on that trait. And this book helped me to get there.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I always knew I wanted to be in agencies and eventually start my own. But with 1000s of agencies out there, how would you differentiate and more importantly what would be the purpose that drove you. Since I work in cannabis and CBD, many would think that my “purpose” would be to help people, and it is. Cannabis no doubt helps people and I love that. But my purpose in this agency was to be more about being an actual help to small and mid-sized businesses that need my (our) help. I’d worked at or with agencies that just blew smoke at clients, getting them all excited, taking their money and garner little to no result. That sucks, especially for a small business owner who needs exposure to grow their business. We were not going to be that, and burn and turn, take your money and feel good at the end of the day. We were going to be good partners, that did what we said and helped people (businesses) grow. I have always loved business, specifically small business and communications as it relates to them. As this was my passion, creating an agency that did what it said it would do, to the best our ability and grow with organizations became the purpose that drove us to where we are and continues to drive us.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Haha, well I am still defining this. The one principle that I share with ANYONE who asks for that “one piece of advice” is to be confident, in yourself, your abilities, and the rest will fall in line. Now of course don’t confuse confidence with arrogance, but you’ve made it thus far, you must be doing something right. That’s what I tell myself and try to live by. Even in this interview. What I am saying might be silly or not NYT quality, but there are some people out there who will like it. I’ve got to have the confidence just to do it. I can promise you this. I have worked with enough C-Level people to tell you that they are making it up as they go, trusting their gut, and having the confidence to make it sound like it’s right. So if they can do it, why can’t I (you)?
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Oh man, COVID-19…something I don’t think anyone was ready for! Personally, this has been hard on me in that I am a very social person and need that in my life, and of course, we can’t see anyone. Funny enough, I am actually not good at digital communication (ironic that I am the president of a communications firm) so that has presented its own challenges for me in staying in touch with family and friends. Dealing with the pressures of the world in terms of health and wellbeing, while maintaining emotional stability has also been challenging. We all had plenty of anxiety ahead of COVID-19, so compounding that with all of the additional unknowns can make for an even more uncomfortable setting. But I will say that my feelings are on par with most of what the world is going through, and if we can just remain positive and stick with smart adjustments to our lifestyles, then I am confident we can get through it all.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have been hit hard, like many small businesses, in terms of losing revenue and working remotely. I absolutely hate letting anyone down and we were forced to reduce our staff quite a bit. This was an unfortunate and hard thing for us as a company, as we are very loyal and love our team. We tried as hard as possible to encourage them to use any aid available and do not hesitate in asking for anything that we might be able to do to help them pursue other opportunities. Also, I struggle with “work-from-home” because, as I mentioned, I am not great at digital communication. While I am a very motivated person, I can get distracted easily by things that need to be done around the house, etc. We’ve switched to many Zoom calls and rely heavily on Slack. I have asked everyone to overcommunicate and work together now more than ever. For example, we encourage all of our employees to let us know if they are having mental health issues, difficulties with client communication or are struggling to garner results (or just needs to connect with someone).
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
First and foremost, schedule breaks! Breaks from work and being online, breaks from the news and social media, breaks from TV and just sitting around — take breaks. While we are at home with the “loosest” schedule we’ve all probably had in years, that doesn’t mean we have to be online working all day, every day. It gets hard to separate work-life from home-life when they are one and the same. You must be aware of this and try to mitigate it. For instance, I had not taken a “day off” since February. It seemed weird to take a day off when I wasn’t going to travel anywhere or do anything really different. But that said, every day began to feel like a workday and research shows, we need breaks. So take a day off. Again, don’t just lounge around and watch MORE TV. Go on a drive to the mountains or for an extended walk. Start (or finish) a craft project. There are plenty of things to do that are safe and socially distanced that aren’t your regular work.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Well, fortunately for us, I believe a post-COVID-19 world is more digital than ever. Some people (especially older generations) may argue that this is a bad thing and that we are less connected as humans than ever, but this may just be our new normal and something that we have to adapt to. It’s proven even safer in this case and I would recommend that people should work on their digital skills, communications practices, and digital personas. Again, I know that goes in the face of proponents of interpersonal communication, however, this pandemic has forced us to look at a major downside of that, including germs and virus susceptibility. I’ll agree, I hate text messaging and Instagram as much as my 80-year-old grandmother, but it is our reality now and we’re going to need to embrace it — especially professionals. If you are not working on your online professional etiquette and repertoire, you are going to be left out in the future. In terms of opportunity, it may be hard to see right now (believe me, I’m trying) but I lived through the recession as a new graduate/entrepreneur and many people say that out of that came some of the most innovative and successful companies in the world. So if they can do it then, we can do it now.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Well, as I mentioned, I don’t think digital communication is going anywhere. Embrace it, own it, love it! But beyond that, I personally believe that the “office” is a thing of the past. I keep telling people that I believe they will build houses differently, with dedicated office areas, because large corporate offices will be no more. If only four months ago you would have asked me (and my employees did) if I would be willing to take the whole company remote, I would have told you to fly a kite. Now, it’s our forever reality. My team has absolutely crushed it working remotely (with the exception of me sometimes) and it’s proven that we don’t need to spend tons of money on a beautiful downtown office or parking. We can instead give that back to the employees to use in their lives as they see fit. It really is an amazing thing! Not to mention think about what it will do for the environment, eliminating so much commuting. There are so many upsides.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Planning is difficult because we truly don’t know the long-term effects of the economic downturn. I truly hope it will not be long-lasting and that companies will adapt quickly and begin reinvesting in services that we offer. For some reason, PR and marketing are always the first to go even though they are even more important in times of sales downturns. We have become more flexible on our pricing models and hope that companies will see this as us willing to do what it takes to be successful with them. We will continue to work from home, which eliminates some overhead costs and allows us to reinvest in our talent — a huge plus.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Be flexible! One more time, BE FLEXIBLE. This is a new world and if you don’t adapt to it, you will drown yourself trying to keep your head above water. Try something out of your comfort zone and if it works, great! If it doesn’t, try something else. For instance, I hate writing, like really hate writing. But I’ve been told I am not half bad at it, so I will keep writing. If you’re an event planning company, think of new ways to engage people that doesn’t involve standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a park. Consumer demand for entertainment has not changed, just the way they can consume it. When new stresses come, don’t get lost in them. I keep hearing “what more could 2020 throw at us.” To me, that shows that we can desensitize ourselves to new challenges. I can tell you that I am more prepared now to take on whatever challenge life throws at me than I was before COVID-19. If we can get through this, we can get through anything!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson may not apply to everyone so forgive me if it doesn’t. It didn’t come from my favorite professor in college, but from one I respected. He said, “Do good deals, you’ll pull your hair out doing bad deals.” So, what does that mean? Who can really know but I have translated it in a couple of ways:
1) Do good by others. Business is about doing things that mutually benefit both parties. If you try to do deals that are one-sided, where the other doesn’t benefit, it will catch up with you and ultimately, render you unsuccessful.
2) Do bigger deals. While we all need to do what it takes to survive sometimes, the bigger the deal, the more slice of the pie there will be for you. The saying always goes “your first million is your hardest” and I cannot tell you how true that is. It is A LOT easier to get to that million by earning $10K or $50K at a time rather than $100. Try to get as close to big deals as possible.
3) Do smart deals. There is such thing as dumb deals that ultimately lose you money including those that are illegal or without merit. Many deals exist that are too risky for the reward. Avoid dumb deals and look for the smart ones that meet both qualifying attributes above, make sense for where you are at, what you have the capacity to do, and further you along in path towards your goals.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Shameless plug, please follow my company, CMW Media on our Linkedin. I am trying to get more active on my personal LinkedIn (remember, focus on those digital skills) and I write our blog for our company website. I’ve also been featured in a few news articles which I’ve linked out below on their topics.