Blogs & Interviews

How to build Trust in your PR Agency

How to build Trust in your PR Agency
Photo featuring mountaineers helping each other to reach the summit
How to build Trust in your Team
Interview between Rostislav Stary, partner at Eurocom Worldwide’s Czech member agency Konektor, and Daniel de la Cruz, founder of Polymensa, about the importance of trust in PR teams.

Rostislav: I listened to Daniel de la Cruz of Polymensa at the Eurocom Worldwide Annual Conference discussing the common mistakes organizations make when hiring employees and shaping company culture. I asked him if we could delve into this topic together, and, to my delight, he agreed. Before I could pose a question, he dove straight into the importance of trust in relationships.

Photo of Rostislav Stary, Partner at Konektor in Czech Republic

Daniel: Do you recall the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross" by any chance? The author of the story, David Mamet, provides a lesson on dramatic writing in a Masterclass. While listening to him, he shared an intriguing insight. He mentioned that the concept of character doesn't truly exist. It's like when you meet someone for the first time, and they claim a certain way of being, but you can only discern their character after spending enough time with them to witness their actual behaviors behind their words.

Agencies also often proclaim certain values, but their actions may not align. It's about consistently demonstrating that what you say is aligned with your actions. This consistency needs to be proven every day. Large organizations find this challenging as it extends beyond the role of the founder to encompass having excellent managers who understand the company's mission and live it every day.

"There's a correlation between the level of trust and the necessity to communicate."

I believe there's a correlation between the level of trust and the necessity to communicate. If there's a high level of trust, you don't have to communicate as much. It's similar to having a close friend whom you know inside out; you don't have to say many things. You can just convey one thing, and they'll understand, "Okay, I got you, I trust you." Conversely, if there's a lack of trust, just saying something won’t inspire confidence that it will be done. Therefore, to build trust, there's a need for more communication.

Rostislav: I noticed the Polymensa´s virtual onboarding study you conducted some years ago. Based on your experience, what are today’s main challenges for HR and internal communications concerning trust and employee retention?

Daniel: The most challenging aspect is the hybrid setup we're dealing with now. Many people still fail to grasp that, due to not sharing the same physical space, communication needs to be more intentional. You must be deliberate about what you're saying, why you're saying it, and how it's communicated. It goes beyond what was necessary when everyone worked in the same environment. For instance, during a 3 or 4-hour dinner with someone, you naturally delve into personal topics that reveal information not disclosed in a 30-minute virtual meeting discussing a specific technical matter.

"The most challenging aspect is the hybrid setup we're dealing with now."

Understanding the human behind the technical aspects is crucial. While I don't advocate for people becoming best friends at work, there should be sufficient understanding of each other's backgrounds to comprehend their behaviors. Currently, the significant challenge for most organizations is the dispersion of people.

Rostislav: This is pivotal for agencies, as our sector is known for vibrant energy and spontaneity. Do you genuinely believe that an agency could operate on a fully remote basis?

Photo of Daniel de la Cruz at Polymensa
Daniel de la Cruz, Polymensa

Daniel: I do. There's a distinction between being remote with a team of 10 and a company of perhaps 200. Successful agencies are consistently intentional about specific rituals. Whether it is a quarterly get-together, the entire company assembling at a designated location, or weekly traditions, they are deliberate about fostering connections. This could include obvious town hall meetings with specific angles or the creation of online social groups for various interests. These initiatives make employees feel a sense of belonging to the organization, part of a group sharing similar interests. Without such intentionality, it's easy to forget someone who's not physically present. The people in our closest contact dominate our current thoughts. Those with whom we spent significant time several years ago, however, might not be at the forefront of our minds now, especially if they've moved away or taken on different roles. Therefore, it's easy to neglect building relationships unless there's intentional effort.

"While flexibility is crucial, I lean towards either a fully in-office or a fully remote setup."

In my opinion, either a fully remote setup or a completely office-based one is preferable. The hybrid approach introduces complexity, and I remain uncertain about the level of complication it brings, considering people coming in at different times and engaging in different activities. While flexibility is crucial, I lean towards either a fully in-office or a fully remote setup.

Rostislav: That's interesting because I believe most employees prefer the hybrid model —coming to the office a couple of days a week and working the rest from home. Employers seem to be the ones pushing for daily office attendance...

Daniel: This is a challenge, especially in the agency world, where the dynamics are largely employee-driven. Unless there's a significant downturn, such as a financial crisis experienced in the past, the power will remain with the employees in the near future. Skilled employees in particular have gained the “flexibility pass”. It is tricky for employers to make demands as they are striving to attract the best talent, who generally prefer flexibility. The reality is that it will be an employee-driven market for a considerable time. Employers must adapt. Ultimately, this ties back to trust; you must be honest with people about what's feasible and sustainable.

"You must be honest with people about what's feasible and sustainable."

I recall a story from sometime ago — two friends of mine managed an agency with around 300 employees, always putting employees first. They introduced an extensive maternity and paternity package, approximately 12 months for both with full pay, which, while commendable, proved financially unsustainable. Six months later, they had to retract it because it was significantly impacting the business financially. The fallout was substantial, as going back on your promises is a real trust-breaker. It's crucial to be upfront with people and clearly state, "We can do this, but we can't do that; it's just not feasible. "There's a risk that people might leave as a result, but running a sustainable business is more important. Unfortunately, employees might not always see or understand the consequences, such as everyone losing their job if unsustainable decisions are taken.

Rostislav: Do you have any tips on how to communicate negative changes to employees?

Daniel: Something I've learned recently while working with owners is how you communicate such changes is crucial. Rather than stating, "Okay, we're all going back to the office," it's more effective to start with the idea: "We're considering the possibility of returning to the office because of this specific reason." This opens a dialogue, providing an opportunity to address people's concerns and fears. It allows them to express their feelings of hurt and worry. From there, you can base your approach on this feedback. Identify individuals likely to resist the change and engage with them to understand their concerns. If they prove resistant, the next step may be moving them out of the business.

Rostislav: I know you emphasize the importance of the onboarding process and believe it is crucial for building trust with new employees. What are your recommendations for quickly turning new employees into brand advocates?

Daniel: My top advice is: if you've defined your organization's values, demonstrate them continuously, especially in the first six months. Communicate and exhibit your values nonstop. This way, new employees recognize that what the business sold to them during the interview process is indeed true. For instance, if a stated value is to ensure that all employees receive extensive training, and the new employee undergoes significant training in the first six months, they'll likely share their positive experience with family and friends, creating brand advocates.

Rostislav: Okay, that was the first tip. Do you have another?

Daniel: Another practical tip is to ensure that people know which team they're joining. Provide an organizational chart, including a bit of personal information and pictures of team members, during the pre-boarding phase, right after they've signed the contract. Even if they're still serving notice at their current job, starting to familiarize them with their future team helps them feel comfortable when they officially join. The quicker they feel a sense of belonging, the better. If this process takes too long, they may question their decision to join your company and could leave, resulting in the loss of a valuable employee.

Rostislav: Great! Could you also share a third tip?

Daniel: The third tip that comes to my mind, and something I've been implementing with agencies, is conducting a network analysis. Many large organizations do this, identifying the most trusted individuals and using them for various purposes. For example, if they want to implement a change in the business, they leverage these trusted individuals to advocate for the change. Applying this within your agency is beneficial. Consider utilizing these trusted individuals during onboarding to connect new employees with others in the business. Perhaps even pair up new hires with these trusted individuals, to foster smoother integration.

Rostislav: Thank you for this insightful interview!


About Daniel de la Cruz:
Daniel de la Cruz is the founder of Polymensa, which trains senior managers at agencies to the level where they can successfully run the agency alongside or without the owners. Over the past 9 years, he has met with over 3,000 agencies. Along this journey, he also established The Agency Collective, a peer support community for agency founders, and has assisted hundreds of agencies in managing their operations. As part of his broader life mission, Daniel is dedicated to helping young people transition away from a life of crime through the charity Gloves Not Gunz.