Kevin Price, Host of the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Shaun Walker.
About the interviewee
Born and raised in New Orleans, Shaun Walker was a senior in college when Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Crescent City. Many experts claimed young people were fleeing the city in droves and would never return. After graduating, he set off to New Orleans determined to prove the critics wrong and become part of a defining generation of young professionals that would rebuild the city back and better than ever. At 30-years-old, he is now the creative director and founding partner of the marketing and public relations firm HEROfarm. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in advertising and minored in history.
Shaun honed his skills at a top national ad agency on projects for McDonald’s, Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures. After that he worked for two years at a New Orleans agency, creating award- winning material for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Louisiana Superdome and others. As a copywriter, Shaun was influential in the creation of the New Orleans Hornets critically important “Fan Up” campaign in 2007, their first season back in the citypost-Katrina. He co-founded HEROfarm in 2009 with Reid Stone. He was named to YFS Magazine’s Top 20 Young Entrepreneurs of 2011; 40-under-40 2012 honorees by Gambit Weekly; was interviewed by both Fast Company on “Ways To Become An Authoritative Leader, Even If You’re Under 30 and by Forbes on “The Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility.”
Tell me about your firm (number of employees, location, type of companies you work with, etc.).
A little bit Superman, a little bit Sir Richard Branson—Our team is offbeat. HEROfarm is a New Orleans born marketing and pr agency with a social mission that consists of seven eclecticdo-gooders who have an odd sense of humor, a creative spark and an unquenchable ambition to change the world. Like our city, we do things differently. Our philosophy is “Do great work for good people.” A cornerstone of HEROfarm is to do at least one campaign per year pro bono for a non-profit (It always turns out to be way more than one), as well as work with clients who have admirable missions of their own or provide some true value/benefit to their users. This approach makes our work more meaningful and enjoyable, eliminating the age old “Is it 5 o’clock yet?” syndrome known by so many workers across the nation.
Tell us about what this means to you, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”?
People like to know that you’re about more than just the bottom line, so you must strive to create a better public perception. In advertising, we’re already battling a negative stigma before we even meet a client and we’ve never been highly regarded, ranking right along with car salesmen, lawyers and the guy who ran over your dog when you were little while also telling you there is no Santa Claus. Having to deal with such a perception puts us behind the eight ball from the get-go before we even meet a potential client. Aside from wanting to meaningful work, we take the approach of attaching a social mission to everything we do. As branding experts, we are well aware that perception is everything. The idea is to create news out of nothing and this can be done by combining forces with charities/entities that better the community and getting your employees involved will help convert your business from just another workplace to something people become truly invested in and want to see succeed.
Our vision is to change that perception into something positive. For the longest time advertising has been about building brands up and creating a feel good perception for them—But along the way it was forgotten about the ad industry itself. Ad execs helped brands like Coke and Apple turn into amazing, barrier breaking companies that are recognized the world over, often glowing with feel good personalities. Yet, the ad industry fell by the wayside for the good of the clients, focusing everything on them. While noble, it hinders our line of work. In response, HEROfarm strives to help both clients and agencies alike create better public perception at the same time by doing relevant and beneficial things for the customers.
Working just for the sake of completing a task may finish the job, but does it provide any added value other than checking it off your to-do list? If not, what’s the point? There will always be more work that needs to be done, and once it’s done there’s another assignment ready to take its place. Why not make it meaningful? Why not stand out? If you’re not trying to change the world for the better or having some kind of positive impact on it, all you’re doing is taking up space.
Connecting your work with a worthwhile endeavor makes it meaningful not only to those who work on it, but it also becomes more appealing to those who view or experience it. As the creator, you become invested in its outcome as a part of you truly lives on in the work.
An old saying goes, “In seeking happiness for others, you find it for yourself.” We truly believe that, which is why our experience over the years has geared up toward making it our mission to give back— And potential clients see that. They know we are about more than the bottom line and trust us more with their hard earned money. When following our philosophy of “Do great work for good people,” we’ve discovered that everything else seems to fall into place.
What mistake do businesses make when it comes to practicing this concept?
Finding time to accomplish everything on our lists is also a challenge. Although most entrepreneurs thrive under pressure, our heads and stomachs would thank us for some more time off. As entrepreneurs, it also comes down to pushing each other. The business doesn’t run unless we do, so it is up to us to make sure things get done no matter how tired or overworked we may feel. This can lead to some difficulties, especially when a social mission is at the core of what you do.
Budgeting time can be difficult. There is no shortage of people looking for pro bono work or assistance free of charge. While the majority of them will be great causes that we’d love to devote all our energy to, we have to make sure we are earning enough to keep the doors open, the lights on and bills paid. Learning to say no or figuring out alternative ways you could help those in need is one of the toughest aspects of business.
What is your firm doing to demonstrate your beliefs in this principle?
Aside from donating at least one campaign pro bono to a charity or non-profit each year, we also give our time to numerous organizations and groups that better the community.
•20 Businesses in 20 Days – A currently going on initiative we launched to help empower as many as 20 businesses in New Orleans by providing free marketing assistance – http://TwentyinTwenty.YouCanBook.Me
•American Cancer Society of New Orleans Marketing Board
•March of Dimes of Southeast Louisiana Marketing Board
•Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana Marketing Board
•Boy Scouts of America of Southeast Louisiana Marketing Board
•Tulane University’s Public Board of Advisors – Media Arts/Journalism Department For Continuing Studies
•Work with the New Orleans Mission and the homeless
•Food Allergy Research & Education, New Orleans event communications committee
•”Brand This” online marketing show where we give free advice and consult business owners on marketing and branding
•Loyola University New Orleans – Mass Communication student assistance group
However, our crowning achievement was in October 2011 when we helped our pro bono client the New Orleans Mission launch the “Make a Move” event at the Morial Convention Center. The event was the largest public assistance event in the history of the city and aimed to help over 1,200 struggling and homeless individuals by providing the resources they needed to jump-starttheir lives. That day we saw kindness and compassion surround us. We were overwhelmed by the amount of people willing to help others, which totaled close to 500 volunteers. We couldn’t have been prouder of how everyone banded together to help the people in our community who needed a hand. As we walked around, we saw so many people, smiling and crying tears of thankfulness that it hit us to the very core. It was so very special and is something we will never forget. That event and other similar situations we encounter truly make us feel something wonderful that no amount of money, power or fame could ever give us.