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PODCAST EPISODE 49: LAURA LUCKMAN KELBER | CMO, DOUBLE GOOD




A successful new business often seems like it’s an overnight success, but what we don’t hear about is the hard work, sacrifices made, and long journey to reach that success. Laura Luckman Kelber, Chief Marketing Officer at Double Good, a virtual fundraising organization that sells premium popcorn to fund teams and non-profits, says it’s the non-sexy stuff that builds a great team and business. The pillars of success in any business are communication, striving consistently towards common goals, and continually making sure the team is rowing towards the same destination.


Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:

1. One on ones with your team members should be sacred and done consistently.


2. Learning how to say no is the best talent anyone in their career could ever have.

It’s important to be consistent with your brand and continually re-evaluate it to make sure you aren’t losing focus.


3. Laura is a marketing wiz who has worked with several organizations to build their brand and accelerate their growth. I know you’ll find inspiration and wisdom from her insight!


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TRANSCRIPT


Laura: Saying no is the best talent anyone in their career could ever have. And it will feel like you're falling off a cliff sometimes. It will be the reason your business grows because you will have focus.


Aaron: How do we create a new world to work, one where companies succeed because of their leadership, not despite it? I'm Aaron Levy, the founder of Raise the Bar, and over the last decade, I've been immersing myself in this question. In this podcast, Raising The Bar on Leadership, we talk to people leaders, founders, and culture experts about how they've created a people first culture in the workplace, the challenges and hurdles, the wins, and the failures.


Join me in this movement towards creating the new world of work we want to see.


Today we're lucky to have Laura Luckman Kelber on the podcast.


Laura is a strategic catalyst, a revenue accelerator, and productivity orchestrator. More specifically, Laura is a marketing wiz who is currently working as the Chief Marketing Officer for Double Good, a virtual fundraising organization, selling premium popcorn to fund teams and non-profits. In this episode, Laura talks about the non-sexy stuff that builds successful teams from stamina to deliberate practice and saying “no” as the core tenets of what builds successful leadership and successful companies.


It is an interesting, thoughtful, focused podcast, and I hope you enjoy it.


Laura, it's awesome to have you on. Thank you for taking some time out of your busy day and busy week to jump on this podcast and share your story.


And I guess the first place I'd love to start is how did you get here? And, I don't just mean physically in this space, but, to this part of your journey where you're leading marketing for Double Good. What's your story?


Laura: First of all, thank you for having me. I love doing these things.

I think they're super fun. Gosh, I do not have a linear journey, and I find that most people appreciate that because I think it's more common than not. I initially wanted to be an attorney and a Senator. I quit law school way back when and ended up getting my MBA because I thought I needed to, because I had a political science undergrad major.


And I didn't even really know what that meant. I sort of had a feeling I liked marketing. And that started the journey. I thought I had, I needed some, and I still feel this actually, and I also get told by CFOs that I have more financial acumen than most CMOs, and I think that's because I got my MBA at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana, which is a finance and accounting heavy school.


And I always was fascinated by the language of balance sheets and income statements, and the language of business. But I never really felt like I was good at it. And I preferred sort of the writing and the conceptual side of marketing. And I started my journey in marketing at Discover, and decided that I preferred working with more creative people and ended up at DDB Chicago, which was the best career experience in my life.


The most concentrated group of creative, kind, smart, strategic people I have ever worked with in my entire career. And it really gave me the education I needed to do all the things I do today. And this was in 2000. I mean, this was a long time ago. and I still use these things. So I would say I was raised at DDB, and then I fell in love with advertising and strategy and research and it satisfied my curiosity and my bookishness, I guess.


And I eventually ended up on the client side. A client of mine at Flexera hired me to build them a brand and, I just thanked Jim Ryan the CEO last week cuz it was Thanksgiving. And I'm really thankful that he gave me that opportunity. You know, I was one of six people running, came into a billion dollar global software company and we sold it for 3.85 billion.


And the very first thing I did there was reposition them and brand them so that people understood who they were and what they stood for. And it really added value for the organization. And the organization saw it, you know, here was this tech private equity backed tech company that really saw through this process the value of a brand, which is unheard of sometimes.


That was a great ride. And I ended up at Double Good because they reached out to me. I thought they were interesting. They are all about helping America's youth and creating a really big impact to help America's youth do what they love and they wanna build a brand. They have big dreams here, and I wanted to be a part of that.

But along the way, like there was a time where I was out of work for a year, and I thought I would never get back to where I am today. I worked in very small places, which really helped me, but also were very frustrating, and I've worked in very big places that were also good for me, but frustrating.


So I guess that's like a synopsis version of how I got here.


Aaron: Yeah, it's, I love the path. I wanted to be a senator, a politician and a lawyer. And, what a fortuitous path that you are to here. And as you talk about kind of brand building, and we're on this leadership podcast and we, you and I have had conversations about the importance of leadership and the importance of culture.

And I'm just curious. What's the intersection between company culture and brand? How are they related? How are they connected, if at all?


Laura: They're completely connected. You can tell, well, customers can tell, if you have just the facade and not everything underpinning it, and you can't have all the things you need for a brand, right?


Product, place, price promotion. So you're basically your entire business. You can't have that aligned around a brand strategy if you don't have employees working towards the same goals, with the same values. Your, your brand strategy and your brand is a reflection of that. So you, you can't separate those two things and, and I think it's really obvious to your customers. If you see it, I'm always impressed.


McDonald's was a client of mine, State Farm is a client of mine, and when you look at their marketing and their communication, they really are reflections of their culture and what they value. You know, State Farm is really grounded in these, these salt of the earth, sort of Midwestern, you know, they were part of a farmer co-op right in the Midwest, and you see that through their agents and how they treat the people they insure and their communications.


And then you think of McDonald's and their discipline around consistency and you see that in everything they do in their marketing, and that's through their culture too. So, you know, those are just two big brands that people can sort of see and feel. And they were my clients, so I, I experienced their internal workings as well.

And, and they're consistent.


Aaron: And I can actually add to that McDonald's is a client of ours too, in, in a past life. And that is quality service value. Cleanliness is like, core tenets of theirs, and it's how they build consistency. And it's, you know, you can't pass anybody that works at McDonald's that doesn't know that acronym, very, very well.


And it's ingrained into who they are. What I’m curious about is as an executive, as a senior leader at these companies, what role do you play, in building and supporting that culture as you're building that brand? Like how does that interplay happen? How do you create a brand when you're joining a company that already has a culture?


Laura: First of all, when you're joining a company, I would always suggest to someone that as they're interviewing, they need to understand the culture they're joining in. Does that fit their values? Because if it doesn't, you don't want that job.

No matter if it's cool like Google or Nike or whatever, you don't feel like that fits your values, then you shouldn't join that company cuz you're just gonna be miserable no matter what the outside world sort of tells you about that brand. So, you know, when I'm looking to join a company and at this stage in my career, it's really a huge part of my life.


And, at this point, identity it as an executive. Really from before I join, I evaluate is this, are these values that I can represent that I can enforce? And, that's the only way that you can truly do it. Honestly, and if you don't do it honestly, it's, again, it's gonna show people, your people are gonna see it.


You can't have these values on a wall. And then, our value is collaboration. And then you have everybody just sitting at their desk, working by themselves. Right? Like that. What? That doesn't even make any sense. So the other piece of your question that you asked about, how do you then enforce them?


It really is in every interaction, every decision you need to really think about, are you tolerating good behavior and aligned values? With all of these things, are you doing them yourselves? Are your people doing them? Are your colleagues doing them? Are you calling people out when you need to?


And it's a little uncomfortable probably if you see misaligned values, and I think you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I know that's sort of cliche, but to create alignment, in a growing, particularly a fast growing organization with a lot of change. You need to be that person who does what they said and says what they mean and does what they mean.


And it's not just about something on a wall, right.


Aaron: And that's so much easier said, you know, than, than done. How do you, and I mean, I don't know if, whether you think about it Double good or at Flexera where you're new to the team, how do you do what you say when what you say is something that involves either a hard conversation or something that somebody else doesn't want to hear, or something that's gonna cause more work for other people.


Laura: It's so funny. I think that's a fair point. And I've been in those situations cuz I'm generally hired to be a change agent. So I’m that squeaky wheel, for good or for worse. But I learned lessons, back to, I wanted to be a senator when I grew up. My dad was a judge in Cook County and I grew up, you know, Mayor Daley, the second Mayor Daley, worked for my dad.


Like my dad worked at the CTA. I learned sort of the Chicago way and not in the negative sense. You know, my dad taught me, if you make promises, you gotta make good on your promises and you, and you've gotta start to, pay into your relationships to build that trust actively. So when I came into new organizations in Flexera.


You know, I said I was gonna get a bunch of things done. Here's how I was gonna do them. And I did them. And even if it was like late hours or, uncomfortable conversations, if I said I was gonna do something, I committed to it and I did it. And so you're sort of paying into that relationship and that trust.


And it's not just about the work and being on time and good with your commitments with your colleagues, but it is also taking that extra effort, that extra time to get to know your colleagues, work; their pain points. Have a listening ear. I write thank you notes by hand. I'm sort of old school.


Someone who works for me calls me the card lady. You know, I really try, I spend a lot of time and, and I think women in particular don't do enough of this. I spend a lot of time with people listening to people, maybe in meetings that I don't necessarily need to be in, but I'm learning or I'm, I'm adding or I'm helping facilitate.


And it might be not really in my job description, but I'm helping move the company forward in some way. I'm always doing that, so I think it's about offering value in those relationships and then you start to build that trust, they start to see they can rely on you. And I think the other piece of it is I, I'm forgetting her name Brené Brown, right?


The vulnerability lady. You know, I tend to have a lot of people opening up to me, and I think it's because I am slightly goofy for an executive. And, I'm not always a hundred percent. I am pretty polished, I am pretty quick. I, I sometimes get told that I'm intimidating because I'm smart, which I think is funny.


But I'm also a little goofy and I, I share stories that maybe don't show me in the best light to try and help people understand no one's always polished, right? No one has a script writer writing their dialogue, so they always have that perfect comeback on a TV show. You know, people are human.


I even had someone yesterday on my team who I adore. He is building and running our customer operations, and he said something to me about how I was so zen. After an interaction that was really frustrating, and I said to him, I've lost my zen. And he said, Laura, that says, you're human. I trust you more.


Aaron: I love that you say that like little things and, and what I'm hearing you talk about is just the building of trust comes from doing what you say you're gonna do, which is like in my, the way we define trust is, you trust someone who does what they say they're gonna do.


That's trust. But also in the listening, in adding value outside of your own realm where it just behooves you in that moment. And then the other thing that you said, the other element you said is, being vulnerable and there's, there's science and studies behind it. Elliot Aronson's work, called the Pratfall Effect, which says if you show that you're fallible, that you can make mistakes, you're actually like, your story is a perfect example, that people actually trust you and like you more.


Laura: But I always wanted to be that person who had…like the perfect women. It's like they always had their lipstick right, and their hair was right. They're just not me.


Aaron: I love it. So you, you've had, you know, quite a bit of experience in the startup world, and you said you're, you've often come on as a change agent. What are, what are a couple of the key lessons that you've learned about what it takes to change and lead a team forward?


Laura: Oh, God. Stamina. I think.


Aaron: Stamina. What does that mean?


Laura: Okay. As I've gotten more experienced, I've gotten more patient. Now my current CEO is beyond patient for a CEO. I've never met someone like him in my life. And he's always asking me for more patience. But I think it's about understanding.


Oh gosh. I always forget who created the change curve, right? People go through a lot of emotions over a long period of time when you're implementing change. And I think when I was younger I didn't really understand the fundamental fear of change. Like, will, I still have my job, almost fear. And, cuz I'm a glass, three quarters full optimist, which can be a problem sometimes.


But I never, I never really thought that people would be afraid for their jobs until, you know, later in my career I started to see and understand these things and be, more kind, about the change and what that impact of that change will have on others and being straightforward about it.


Not necessarily being nice. I know there's a lot of conversation around being kind versus being nice. I don't know that I'm necessarily a nice person, but I do care about people and, being straightforward and kind with them about the impact of the change. And then I think the amount of communication you have to do consistently is more than you could even imagine. So I think that's the stamina part too, is just the repetitiveness of that communication throughout an organization.


And depending on the size of the organization you need it. I, I, there's probably, someone's probably figured out an equation, but I would say 10, a hundred times more, right? I worked for a 10 person company. I took them to a 20 person company. That was big change for them. Right? That was 50% growth. Actually, financially it went from 1.5 million to 5 million. So that was a huge change for them. But it was faster and easier because they were small.


And then at Flexera, we transformed their business. I rebuilt, I repositioned and relaunched the brand in four months. When I talk to other marketing people, they're like, what? But what I did as part of that process was I had many, many cross-functional workshops. I did a roadshow internally.


I mean, we had 1800 people. My CEO gave me a platform to communicate all those things. And here at Double Good, we're a little over 200 people and there is a lot of change happening. And we're doing our best to make those communications happen in a kind way. And I think part of the challenge with Double Good is that it has grown so quickly in such a short period of time, and I know a lot of people want that, but I'm telling you, it could implode your company.


Now, Double Good is amazingly keeping up and growing and, and a lot of that has to do with the founder and his approach, which I give him kudos and props for, but, it's not for the faint of heart, right? Like, because what was that book? Someone moved my cheese, right? We're moving everybody's cheese.


Aaron: Who Moved my cheese. Yeah.


Laura: Right. So we're like moving everybody's cheese every day, almost.


Aaron: So in that situation, what are the avenues? Cuz if, if I'm a people leader listening or I'm an executive listening and I'm saying, hey, we're about to institute some change, or we institute change and yeah, it's hard. Okay. Communicate a lot. But what are the ways you've found successful to deliver that communication?


Laura: Yeah, I think there are multiple ways. One is listening from the ground up. First, a lot of listening first, and then there are more formal forms of communication, whether it's all company meetings where the CEO is speaking.


You know, if your CEO has a lot of gravitas with your organization, I would say have your CEO speak about this early and often with multiple groups with consistent messaging, with the same points. I would also have your, it depends on how large the company is, right? Like depends on your layers. But I would also have then your next layer of managers, right?


Most companies that are pretty big have sort of a leadership cohort and they probably have meetings with them. I would, I would talk to them multiple times with the same message. I would have them armed with the right messaging and, and have them feel prepared, to have these conversations within their teams and their leadership teams need to be then comfortable and confident with having those conversations.


And then one-on-ones, I, it surprises me that there are companies that do not have regular, like people don't have regular one-on-one meetings weekly with their directs. I, I mean, maybe that's not the case post covid, but if you put that in a practice during Covid, I would tell you one-on-ones are the most valuable weekly meetings you could have for communication in your calendar.


Like don't move them. They are sacred. You have them weekly with your directs. And I know that takes a lot of time, and I know for certain people who are not people, people don't wanna do that. So you have it on your calendar, maybe you only have 15 minutes worth of content, well then talk to that person for 15 minutes.

But it's on your calendar and you have it consistently.


Aaron: What I'm hearing is like at every single level, not just saying the message, and I think that's where most people get confused.


Whenever there's a new idea, a concept or change. It's, well, I told them why aren't they doing it, but what you're saying is, don't just go to your leadership team and tell them once, repeat it over and over and over again. Make sure they get it so much so, so that they can be equipped to talk about it with their teams so that those people can talk about it at one-on-ones.


It's like going almost like surgical at each level and making sure not just that people hear it and understand it, but truly get it so they can communicate it.


Laura: Right. And, and then there's a, another also not sexy part of that is, you have your business strategy, you have your brand strategy. Every decision that each team makes, you gotta reflect back on, especially as you grow, right?


To stay the company aligned is go back to that strategy and say, wait a minute, we're off strategy. We gotta come back. Right? And so using that tool over and over again. Which is not exactly a shiny object, right? We have a lot of shiny object syndrome in the United States. .


Aaron: Yeah. I mean, it's easy to say, but Laura, we're trying this strategy and this strategy and this one's a test like, and we're, it's like, no, this actually doesn't fit into the picture of what we're doing. We have to say no to it,


Laura: Right


Aaron: Then if it might be sexy or it might bring short-term gains, whatever it is, it actually will, what you're saying, I almost see it as like, kind of like breaking the momentum movement that's going forward and, and going off in a tangent.


Laura: Right. And you said something that I wanna build on because saying “no” is the best talent anyone in their career could ever have. And it will feel like you're falling off a cliff sometimes. Particularly if you're setting boundaries for yourself. It will be your secret weapon, and it will be the reason your career grows. It will be the reason your business grows , because you will have focus.


Aaron: I'm writing that down.


Saying no is your secret weapon. Yeah. We do, we do a training on, maximizing your time. And one of the things we talk about in that session is you're either saying no by accident or you're saying no by choice. Right. Be intentional about what you say no to as opposed to saying yes to everything and by default saying no to other things.


Laura: Exactly.


Aaron: I, I just, I'm still stuck on this word of stamina that you used and, we talk about consistency is so, so important. And, I think, I feel like stamina really talks about consistency, but puts it into perspective that it is, like it's an endurance activity, communicating change. It requires stamina and endurance and you know, like I think about as a runner, you have to take step after step after step.


Laura: Right, right. And, you know, I'm a former dancer. And, and for you to dance flawlessly on stage, it's again, stamina detail. It's not, it's boring. You know, you see these perfect ballerinas on stage, you have no idea how many times they practiced.

Right. But our media sort of portrays even the business media, right? Portrays these sort of quote, unquote overnight successes or these very young phenoms in the tech space. I just, you know, I don't think that that's an accurate portrayal of someone who wants to have a rewarding career in business, and have a successful business and a successful career.


I, I think it's inaccurate.


Aaron: It's so inaccurate. Even if you dive just a little bit deeper into any of those, right. You could look at Double Good and be like, Double Good just came onto the scene and blew up at how many years was double good working to, to hit that point. And I, I've interviewed dozens upon dozens of founders of successful companies, and either their past companies set them up so that this company could be super successful, or you never heard of them for 12 years, but they were, they had 20 to 30 people and then all of a sudden they've gone to a thousand people or 300 people in 18 months.


Well, that's because all the work that they were doing for that, you know, 10 years beforehand, got them to that point, and you just never hear about it. You only hear about this sexy new startup on the scene.


Laura: Completely. And Tim, you know, started this 25 year, next year's our 25th anniversary. And when we exploded, he spent six years sort of with the skunkworks to build our application.


So even the quote unquote overnight success during Covid because of our virtual app, was six years in the making.


Aaron: Yeah. It. I just, I love the tenets that you're, highlighting here of practice of the word temperance is coming to mind. It's like saying “no” and, and being deliberate and, and the stamina that it, that it comes and all of this stuff is so unsexy, but this is what, this is what builds great leadership and, and ultimately builds great companies.


And so, it's so cool to hear that lesson and from somebody who's been at a company that went from 1 billion to three plus billion, right? Like, yeah, it's not the flashy, bold things alone. It might be those, but it's the consistency, the stamina, the endurance. So this is just so fun. Yeah.


Laura: Yeah. It's the not sexy stuff that the media doesn't talk about.


Aaron: I am so grateful that you came on and shared the non-sexy stories with the audience. ‘Cause I think that's what's really important to hear. And, you know, on a day-to-day basis, we're going about doing our work and we have to remember not to try and bring in a bunch of new concepts.


But how do we remain consistent and consistent with ourselves being consistent with our teams.


Laura: Exactly.


Thank you so much for asking me. I feel so flattered.


Aaron: Raising The Bar on Leadership is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people. You can get in touch with us at raisebar.co. Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.





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