Founder and CEO Beth Keeton is a people-minded public relations professional with 10+ years of experience in public relations. She has worked with clients from many different industries, but focuses on fresh food, health & wellness brands, and supporting non-profit and small business owners.
Her agency, Elephant House PR, has a passion for advocating for brands that provide for a healthier community through products, services, and philanthropy.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Beth Keeton: My name is Beth Keeton and I started my PR agency, Elephant House PR, in 2021 after 10+ years in agency and in-house public relations roles. Elephant House PR was created as a unique agency experience because I kept hearing my clients say things like “working with you is so different than other PR agencies – you really care about our brand like it’s your own.”
That experience is something I wanted to create on a larger scale for brands looking to work with experts in PR, but who felt like an extension of their own internal teams. We produce the best outputs, but we also work with brands we have a vested interest in and therefore go above and beyond to serve them.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Beth Keeton: I believe that the businesses that will grow and thrive in this new climate will be the ones who start leaning into personal connection – internally with their teams and in service of their vendors/clients/consumers. People are burnt out by disengaged overly transactional relationships, especially after being isolated and remote in 2020-2021.
Having conversations about the culture you’re trying to create internally and whether that includes work remote days, mental health support, etc. will draw the right people to your organization. I also think brands are going to have to be more transparent and accountable than ever.
People are more aware of what brands stand for, how they are giving back, what their internal processes look like, and more. Gone are the days where companies can hide behind their product and expect loyal shoppers.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Beth Keeton: Two key areas I think are most important to focus on are hiring/retention and company values. Companies are bleeding talent because of the Great Resignation and now “quiet quitting,” and I believe that a lot of that is due to moving forward like nothing has changed within the last couple of years.
Part of the hiring and retaining process must include more vulnerable conversations around compensation (given inflation), mental health (which people are deeply aware of now), benefits like maternity/paternity, flexibility with remote and in-person work schedules, and work culture. Especially as a new generation enters the work force, these questions are being asked more often. Second, I think that company values are playing a significant role in the success of business in 2022.
The brands and businesses that are able to articulate what they stand for and how they are giving back are the ones building trust with consumers. Companies that can’t articulate their values are being put on the spot, especially via social media, to answer tough questions from investors, consumers, and partners.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Beth Keeton: Since we support brands primarily in the fresh food and foodservice space, we’ve seen significant change since 2020. People were cooking at home more than ever in 2020 because there weren’t as many options to get food from restaurants.
This benefited the fresh produce industry significantly, but what we saw happen was that ecommerce platforms and home delivery services skyrocketed too. So farmers and fresh produce brands that were used to selling straight to the grocery stores were now having to learn how to best provide food for meal kits, online platforms, and sometimes even their own delivery services. I think this change has brought unique benefits and challenges.
Most significantly, I think it’s helped fill a gap by bringing fresh food options to the online retail space, which is important to shoppers. But, most challenging has been finding ways to safely transport and deliver fresh food that remains high quality like you would find on the store shelf. I believe technological advances will grow significantly in this area over the next five years to accommodate this ongoing expectation for food delivery.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Beth Keeton: I would tell myself in 2020 to not let a remote work environment, especially in comms/PR, lead to an “always on call” mindset. Because everyone was working during their own hours in those first few months, it felt like I had to be available all the time. I would remind myself if I could go back to 2020 that boundaries in work, especially as a leader, set the tone for the entire team and those you work with as a client/vendor.
It’s okay to set office hours and communicate response times to set clear expectations that not everything is urgent. In fact, most people greatly appreciate that and give themselves permission to set boundaries when they see it modeled in a healthy way.
In 2022/2023 I’m practicing exactly that – setting healthy boundaries based on the season I’m in as a CEO. Some seasons I need to be more available for work based on what’s happening, but it’s not 24/7. On the weekdays, I make it a point to schedule time for meals, movement, and time away from my desk because it means I’m showing up better when I am online. And on the weekends, I’m intentional to put my phone up, make time for family and friends, and create space away from work so that on Monday I’m ready to jump back in with energy.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Beth Keeton: I anticipate these trends will continue, but be more streamlined. In 2020, we were all trying to figure out which tools were best for our teams and how to set appropriate expectations for online interactions.
Now, I believe we have come to expect a significant amount of interaction will still be hosted online, but companies are finding ways to make their communications streamlined through services like Teams, Google, Slack, and other softwares that allow for DMs, video, file sharing, etc.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Beth Keeton: On a normal day, I spend about 6 hours in front of a screen, often broken up into 90 minute increments to give my brain a break and move my body in between. Thankfully my dog keeps me up and moving!
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Beth Keeton: We are a small, but mighty team at Elephant House PR and storytelling is an incredibly beneficial way to illustrate concepts, training, and to communicate the “why” behind everything we do. An example of when I believe storytelling is most beneficial is when it can be used as a tool for someone to connect the dots themselves.
For example, if someone on my team doesn’t understand why we choose to communicate a certain way with clients (e.g. saying “my pleasure” or “happy to” instead of “no problem”), asking them to share a time where they felt like they experienced exceptional service somewhere or with someone can create a starting point for the conversation.
Instead of simply saying “we don’t say that” and creating frustration, I’ve learned that if someone can articulate how something made them feel and you’re able to say “that feeling is why we choose to communicate this way…we want people to feel that level of care and second-mile service you just shared,” it clicks because that person understands the experience first-hand that you’re trying to communicate.
Another example is if someone is training and doesn’t understand a concept, storytelling can be valuable to paint a picture of the process they are learning. For example, when we teach our team to create reports, it’s not just about the steps to get certain numbers on a page.
It’s about what our clients are wondering about the exciting work we did that month and how best to articulate that work back to them. When they can start to visualize receiving their own report and asking questions like our clients would it empowers them to create excellent work instead of simply checking boxes.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Beth Keeton: I think one of the biggest obstacles, especially for small business owners like me, is the ability to scale and create margins for growth with the team right now. Especially as an agency where our contracts are often annual, many were created before inflation kicked in, so there is not much room to offer raises and higher benefits packages. Where we are trying to mitigate in this area is to bring other benefits like flexibility and training.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Beth Keeton: I’m very interested in learning more about Web 2.0, especially since we work with so many content creators and influencers. I’m curious what it will mean for several of my clients that have their own content and webpages that might benefit from the shift. It’s all still very fuzzy for me, but I’m excited to continuing to learn from experts in this area.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Beth Keeton: As someone who was part of the Great Resignation and is now a business owner with a team looking to me to create a better culture than they might have had before, I think there is a lot that needs to happen. Given the data, it’s important that leaders are humble and willing to receive feedback.
One of the most challenging environments to work in is with a boss or manager who is unwilling to hear your thoughts or dismisses them when you’re vulnerable enough to share them. Brene Brown articulates beautifully how important vulnerability is in creating meaningful connections and I think we need much more of that in the workplace.
Some might disagree and say work is work and personal is personal, but now that so many people have had to adapt to a blended work/personal life because of remote environments, it can’t be that black and white anymore.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Beth Keeton: I would activate a finance superpower – maybe “Excel wizardry” is what it would be called. I am naturally gifted at creativity and communication, but finance and accounting for the business takes a lot out of me. I would gladly activate a superpower that automatically knows, understands, and calculates all business finances and lays it out beautifully for tax time. Until then, I’ll be paying my accountant!
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Beth Keeton: Success for me looks like growth in every aspect, personally and professionally. When I look back on this year I want to see that we were able to grow ourselves – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and in our skillset.
I also want to see growth in the business – more clients who wanted to partner or larger scopes of work and our team has grown (size and skills).
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Beth Keeton for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Beth Keeton or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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