On Top of PR with Jason Mudd

The impact of leadership communication on mental wellbeing and organizational performance with Vance Meyer

July 20, 2021 Jason Mudd, Axia Public Relations Episode 57
On Top of PR with Jason Mudd
The impact of leadership communication on mental wellbeing and organizational performance with Vance Meyer
Show Notes Transcript

Vance Meyer used to be a corporate communication executive. He is now promoting and advocating for mental wellness and acquiring skills to be of service to others in the future.

Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. What marketing communication leaders need to think about in terms of guiding their team on how to communicate, externally and internally
  2. The strategy and tactics that corporate marketing professionals can begin to take, whether that’s communication tactics or as a trusted advisor to leaders
  3. The importance of self-care and self-acceptance not just for the sake of your health, but for your effectiveness as a communicator
  4. How coming out of COVID can help individuals be more considerate of others and make an impact, not only today but for future generations
  5. Crisis management from someone with extensive experience in employee communication, media relations, executive communication, social media, crisis management, and corporate branding 


  • “All the strategic work that we do to prepare for a crisis, unfortunately, goes out of the window during the crisis.” – @middle1dweller
  •  “Sometimes, leaders get so ambitious about focusing on growth and expansion to the point of sacrificing their integrity.” – @jasonmudd9
  •  “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t capable of handling the stress that comes along with PR jobs without treating myself better and having more self-care.” – @middle1dweller
  • “Take care of yourself. Take time to revive yourself because it’s not just important for your health, but for your effectiveness as a communicator.” – @middle1dweller
  • “Sometimes, people find themselves working for a company that’s in a bad spot and they end up inheriting the problem.” – @jasonmudd9
  • “Everybody has mental wellness needs.” – @middle1dweller

About Vance Meyer

Vance Meyer was a former corporate communication executive who is now promoting and advocating for mental wellness and acquiring skills to be of service to others in the future.

These efforts are inspired by 30 years of personal and family experience with chronic depression and anxiety, as well as recent significant progress in managing his symptoms through lifestyle change. Vance has extensive experience in employee communication, media relations, executive communication, social media, crisis management, and corporate branding.

If you enjoyed this episode, would you please share it with others and leave us a review?

Vance Meyer’s contact info and resources:

Sponsored by:

  • On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
  • On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.
  • Burrelles has a special offer for On Top of PR fans. Check it out at burrelles.com/ontopofpr.
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- Welcome to "On Top of PR" today's episode, I have my friend and colleague Vance Meyer. Vance and I met several years ago. He is a very smart corporate communicator. And now he has gotten into an area of mental wellness and helping corporations understand how to better communicate, being mindful of their employees and helping coach leaders and leadership teams on how to be a more thoughtful communicator and improving the overall mental wellness of the organization's employees, which is often very good, or always very good for the organization, it's profit margin, employee retention and employee satisfaction. This is a great episode. I'm glad you're here you'll be glad you're here too.

- [announcer] Welcome to "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd presented by Review Maxer.

- Hello and welcome to"On Top of PR" I'm your host Jason Mudd, today I'm joined by my friend Vance Meyer. And we're talking about how leaders communicate and how this co-relates with mental wellness and mental illness and how it affects the organization performance. This is an awesome topic, Vance is a terrific guy. Vance, welcome to the show, we're so glad to have you here.

- Hey Jason, nice to see you. I think we're supposed to be in person now, though, right?

- Yeah, exactly. It's starting to get to be time where we can do more stuff in person. Certainly recording a podcast can be complicated without the right setup for two people, but I'm glad you're here and I'm glad to be here. I think we've got a great topic for our audience today. I wanna say thanks for taking the time to set this up with us, and I wanna welcome you to the show with your bio here. Vance has more than 30 years of experience as a Communications Executive, including a significant background in strategic communications, employee communications, media relations, executive communications, crisis management, and corporate branding. Vance, you have outstanding credentials and experience. Why don't you give us a 10, 20 second summary of kind of your career and some of the great companies you've worked with.

- Oh great, yeah I started out, as I mentioned a few minutes ago to you in radio, in my hometown. And I knew that was not gonna pay the bills for me. So I went into PR, which I had actually intended to do anyway and spent most of my career in big, heavy industrial businesses where I felt really comfortable frankly. My father was a factory worker and being a guy in the front office of a manufacturing company was a really cool thing for him and for me. And I worked for General Electric for most of that time for about 13 years, and then started winding my way through several other companies. I wound up at Enron Corporation for a brief period just before the collapse of Enron, where I was part of the a four-person corporate communication team that had to deal with that whole mess. And then I moved on to some other companies, including most recently before I left CSX Corporation in Jacksonville.

- Well, that's great Vance. Why don't we, I know we've got a topic to talk about, but man, maybe you could just share a little bit about your experience with Enron and looking back, maybe what were some of the lessons learned specifically, of course for public relations and crisis communications, and even more specifically Vance is, you know, sometimes people find themselves working for a company that has done something wrong or is in a bad spot and perhaps unbeknownst to the PR representative, but ultimately they end up inheriting the problem. So share some thoughts with our audience on that. I think that's gonna be very relevant.

- Yeah, well I've also dealt with crisis in a more physical sense in manufacturing companies with environmental crises and in the case of the railroad train accidents. So I have some crisis experience that's more broad than Enron. But Enron specifically, you're right speaks to what happens in particularly in a white collar kind of industry where people are doing bad things and you wind up in a bad situation. And what I've tried to hold onto since that time, Jason has been what I do as a communication leader before that occurs. And that is to make sure that nobody, even if they have no ill intent, that no one kinda drinks the Kool-Aid, right? That we don't get so carried away with our story, that we kinda stop checking ourselves we kinda stop looking around. I think for the Communication Executive in today's world, that's a big deal. You know, you gotta get outside of the four walls of your boardroom, outside of the four walls of your building and just make sure that what you're involved in not only is good, but smells good and looks good. And that you're not letting people kinda get carried away with a story to the extent that people either may distrust you, or you may wind up, it may wind up leading to you crossing over the line. The other thing I think is when you're in the middle of a crisis, and this is something I carried back into the railroad when I was there. I think that... And I think that anybody who's been through a big crisis, might echo this. But all of the strategic work that we do to prepare for a crisis, unfortunately kinda goes out the window in the crisis. And I think that's because at least leading up to Enron, so much of the crisis protocols were kinda logistically based. Who's gonna do what, when, where, what's the lead sentence in the press release gonna be, or the boiler plate or whatever. And kinda procedurally, what are we gonna go through? And I think the bigger thing for a crisis, particularly one involving wrongdoing is principles. Crisis principles, what are we going to look like and be like in a crisis, right? We wanna get everybody in the organization comfortable with, if we have a crisis here, we're an organization that is committed to transparency. And no matter what happens, no matter who's involved, we're not gonna be hiding behind the lawyers. We're gonna be all about transparency, to the extent that we can have it. Honesty and also all about fixing the problem, all about looking forward. All of our statements have to be partially or wholly focused on the future.

- Vance, that's a great answer. And I completely agree, you know, the more gray hairs I get, the more I appreciate integrity and honesty in all of my relationships. Including of course, the companies that I'm buying from, the clients that I'm doing business with.

- Absolutely.

- And the like and especially with my teammates and the vendors that we work with and you know, just anybody and, you know. Again, the older I get just the more integrity and reputation becomes so apparent that how important it is. And when it comes to a corporation's reputation, you know, sometimes leaders and individuals, they get so ambitious about focusing on growth and expansion that they sacrifice their integrity. And ultimately it almost always ends up catching up with you.

- Yeah, I think Jason, one other thing I would add is that in the throats of the crisis, sometimes you wind up with resources that you did not pick and that you did not plan on, and they either come from the lawyers, or they come from somebody else. And as soon as you, the faster you get comfortable with those folks, the more useful they will become to you and the more useful you will be to the corporation, because they really do bring a specialty that we kinda don't live with in a corporation every day. And they're terrific people, including the folks that helped us at Enron are so good for instance to this day.

- Yeah, that's great. Well, I love that, you know, you can speak to your Enron experience with how do you say lessons learned and look at it as an incredible experience, you know? Despite the fact that from the outside looking in, I imagine it was painful and certainly not something that most people, I mean, you could even say, it's just something you don't put on the resume, but I think for what you do and what you did there now, if you were obviously the CFO or working in finance, you might do something completely different, but in your case, I mean-

- Or just go to jail in this case.

- But that's a situation where a company wants someone who has that level of experience, right? And, you know, hopefully, so that you've experienced their absolute worst case scenario, so the crises they throw your way are gonna seem like softball questions.

- Exactly, yeah.

- So let's get into the topic that we're here to discuss today, because I'm really intrigued by it. And I appreciate you suggesting it as we were connecting about possible topics to share with our audience, which you know, just for the sake of setting the table, we find most of our audiences are Public Relations or Marketing Executive working in-house at a brand or a corporation typically mid-market or enterprise level company, maybe as big as, you know, GECSX or Enron, et cetera. And I think this topic is not only very timely, but it's something that people don't often talk about. There may be a perception of it being taboo, but I think we should just come out with it and really talk proactively. And that's what you're here to do today. So I think this is very intriguing, and as the audience is listening in and tuning in and hearing what you have to say, I wanna encourage them to be thinking of a colleague, friend or connection that they could share this episode with to be an encouragement to them. And maybe even share it with their internal team to start having some productive conversation. So, you know, we're gonna talk about how leaders communicate and then how this is related to mental wellness, mental illness and how it affects the organization's overall performance. That's a lot to take on in the short time we have together.

- It is.

- Why don't you start us off and kinda talk a little bit more about this topic and your experience with it and what we're hoping to accomplish during our time together?

- Sure Jason, I think in the spirit of coming out with it and breaking through stigma and transparency and all those things that we talk about with mental illness, I'll tell you that the 30 years that I was in corporate communications, I was clinically depressed for the entire period. And it got kinda worse and worse as I added more and more responsibility and got more and more successful in my career. So I turned out I was pretty good at what I did. I advanced through several companies and up the ladder, but I didn't realize that I was chemically, not really all that capable of handling some of the stresses that go along with big PR jobs without treating myself better, without having more self wellness, self care and all those things. I kinda just plunged myself into my job and that's all I did, and it didn't work out. And it finally to a point where I retired earlier than I had expected. And now moving on to the stuff we're talking about today.

- Awesome, well, first of all, thank you for your honesty and transparency. I think that's gonna help our audience connect with you and understand your story and your background, and probably raise their hand and say, "gosh, I've been there before" So as we're about to go deeper into this, why don't we take a quick break and come right back on the other side, focused exclusively on this. I think it's gonna be very exciting.

- [announcer] You listening to "On Top of PR" with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the Managing Partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.

- Welcome back to "On Top of PR" with Vance Meyer today, talking about mental wellness and how leadership and communications can impact that, we're just really getting into it. So I'm excited to have Vance come back here with us. I just wanna take a quick moment to say thank you to Review Maxer for presenting this podcast for us. And Vance, let's dive in. I mean, this topic is gonna hit home with a lot of our audience and I don't wanna waste any more time. So let's get into kind of how, what do corporate communications, marketing communications kinda leaders need to be thinking about, especially when it comes to helping and guiding their leadership team on how they're communicating throughout the enterprise. And I'm curious to also dive in to the external communication side, not just the internal communication side. So share something about that with us Vance.

- Yeah, I think if I can extend the story we talked about before the break, it may be important to set up the conversation. But Jason when I left Corporate America, my goal actually, I worked at a great foundation for some period of time, The Nemours Foundation, which has pediatric hospitals and clinics. But I dove right in to sort of helping folks that I knew that were struggling and not as a therapist, 'cause I'm not qualified, but as a friend who had been there. when I left, I had, believe it or not a number of folks in all disciplines of the company closed the door with me and said man, that was bold. What you did, you got the help, I'm kinda struggling, where'd you go, how'd you do it? And I thought, holy cow, I've been thinking, I was living alone with this all these years. And so I started helping folks. People who had been led out of their jobs and just kinda trying to make friends and walk alongside them. And as I did that I just learned more and more. And then I met this lady named Diane Liewehr, who is a former New York Banking Marketing person, great woman. And we wound up having a conversation at Panera one day. And I said, Diane, if... she's very into a mental wellness, mental illness, she has some family background and she's been in a caretaker role. And I said, Diane, if you were a CEO of a company, what would you do to help improve the mental wellness of your company? And we started talking and about an hour, we came up with this big, long sheet of things that we would do if we were CEO. And I went back home and I kinda typed into Google, and I thought, well, who else is thinking about this? And it turned out a fair number of people were especially the World Health Organization and their list after spending more than a year on this topic was pretty much exactly the list that we came up with at Panera. That does not make us brilliant in any way, it makes us experienced.

- [Jason] That's what I was gonna say, yeah experienced.

- Diane on the family side and me on the actual mental illness side, and we came up with this list and the interesting thing and this goes more to your question, Jason, is that it had very little do with the programs we normally think about for mental wellness. Be they gyms or places to relax, or, you know, all these environmental considerations or even employee assistance programs where you call... All those things are important. But we started talking about sort of the nitty gritty stress stuff that takes place in companies and realized in a very short period of time, that most of those things that if we could fix them are not only good for the people with mental illness, they're good for the corporation. And so-

- [Jason] And everybody, right?

- And everybody, exactly. So if you think about it, so one out of five people walking around in America, the government tells us has mental illness, right? So if you go to any football stadium in America on average, that would mean that you're talking about 14,000 people in the crowd who suffer from mental illness and probably about 4,000 of those suffer from severe mental illness, if you complete that. So just take those numbers into your corporation. If you have 30,000 people like I did, that's a heck of a lot of people running around. But even with that, the interesting thing is that one out of five people has mental illness. But five out of five people have the same mental wellness needs, right? Physical, social, all those things we typically think about, even gets into financial, intellectual, spiritual. I think you've probably heard these before. So we started saying, well, if everybody walks into the door with those needs and we've learned in COVID that even the most healthy mentally well people have an ability to slide. Everybody seems to be a little more, "New York Times" calls it languishing, the people with mental illness, by the way, have, many of them have skills to deal with that? Whereas the people who are not mentally ill are going, "oh my gosh, what's going on?" You know, I'm freaking out. But so everybody walks into the door with these same needs. But they've line up if you, if you spend time and Diane and I basically have spent a couple of hours a week together on this topic. And we just keep digging and digging and digging. And if you think about it, every mental wellness need that every person in a corporation has lines up perfectly with the organizational needs or even, you know, the financial needs of the company. So for example, we want our employees to be more productive. Being productive is hugely important to mental health for a lot of people. We want people to be focused on a mission. Well, part of being mentally well is getting rid of distractions. Many of which are laid at our feet in the corporations where we go with just a lot of political crap and other things that go on, we all know what that is. And so, you know, it goes on and on like that, where the essence of mental wellness and the essence of organizational wellness is very, very intertwined. And a lot of the mistakes we make are communication related and a lot of number things that we all know better. We just kinda keep doing all the time. And so I view this period where everybody is looking at mental wellness, Jason, or mental illness, however the company chooses it is not as this heavy post COVID, "oh my God, everybody's freaking out. And now they're gonna have some, some number gonna work from home, or what are we gonna do?" I see it as a big opportunity to just get a lot of stuff right that we didn't have right before COVID, right?

- Yeah absolutely, I love that, I love that. So let's get kind of into the strategy and tactics that a corporate communications, corporate marketing professional can begin to take, whether that is communication tactics or as a trusted advisor to leadership Vance.

- Sure, and Diane and I are working on that every day. We're trying to figure out what we're gonna do with our knowledge other than doing podcasts and Ted talks or whatever it is we might wind up doing. But the first thing is I would, if I were in my old job, knowing what I know now, I think that one of the things I would obviously do is take care of myself better. And I want everybody to hear that. take care of yourself. You know, take time for your family, take time to revive yourself because it's not just important to your mental health, it's important to your effectiveness as a communicator. But I think the other thing I would do is kinda scan my company and take a deep breath. Say, what are people really involved in? What are the activities that people are doing inside of their companies right now? And what are the communications surrounding that, what are the messages surrounding that? And the two biggies that we have come with up with are no secret to anybody listening to this podcast, because we kinda came out of college with this passion, but it's clarity and consistency. So I think that it's very important for our mental wellness to you know, we're all just kinda walking human energy. And so when we go into an environment it's really important that we're as clearheaded as we can be so that we can think about the objectives. So one of the things is, I would say is the purpose of the organization itself. I've worked in companies, but a lot of folks have where the CEO wants everybody to hear that our purpose is to be the top yielding stock in the bank industry, right? We wanna be the financial powerhouse of our industry. And to most people, it's hard to really connect your vision in life and your purpose in life to that purpose in life. Unless you just wake up eating, breathing money all day long. So I think the purpose has to really speak to what are the intrinsic values of the organization. What's the intrinsic value that we're passing on to other people, and how can our people really connect to that purpose? Because that's important to their mental wellness and their productivity at work. The second thing I would do then is kinda look at all the big streams of activity. Is your organization involved in a big six Sigma rollout, for example, or is it involved in some new initiative that the executives have put on their plate? Do they really understand the reason why we're doing that initiative other than the fact that maybe the leadership team went to the Hilton for a weekend and came back with this new thing. Or you know, what about our environment? What about our service offering, our competition? where we are now versus the past? One of the real reasons that an average person connect to for this new initiative we're working on, that's kinda the sort of the purpose piece and the clarity piece, but then it's in that work stream, in that process, water all the ways that we can muck people up. If we're not careful, right? What are all the messages we can throw at them that really have nothing to do with that purpose and that mission. And then you begin to chip away at that and you listen it out and you'd go to your leadership team and you'd say, hey do you realize we're just pumping the internet full of all these messages, and we're trying to keep people focused and you begin to kinda rationalize and restructure your messages so that you're very, very clear about only the most important things. And I think that that really helps. The third thing is then is the consistency part. And that takes Jason, I think many forms. One is when we go to "Wall Street" an analyst asked us what our head count projections are for the next five years or the next three years, and we say well, we're gonna be 20% down. Have we told anybody in the company that yet, right? Because guess what, all of the wire services go directly to Google now or whatever it is. And they go directly into people's ears and you all of a sudden have an issue on your hands. So consistency relates to what are the messages across audiences. But the other consistency is the consistency from day to day, right? Are we a flavor of the month kind of group? Or are we talking over and over again about the key themes, and are we doing it across all media? Be it, you know presentations via the internet, however, newsletter, however it is that you communicate with people and make sure that we're consistent, not only at that level but at the supervisor level, so that people really know what they can count on when they come in every day. And Jason, as you might guess, this work goes far beyond just communication items. It goes into other areas of leadership. But I'm talking specifically about those related communication right now.

- Right, Vance, this has been fabulous and very interesting and thought provoking. I feel like what you're challenging or what you're sharing with us can become very challenging for anyone listening to say, how might we respond to what Vance is sharing here and how might we put together a team to make this a bigger initiative and a higher priority within our organization. Especially as it seems like, you know, we're recording this on June 16th, 2021. It seems like I'm hearing more and more about people, especially at larger companies. This week seems to be a milestone in which lots of people are returning back to the office for the first time in you know, over a year. And so now I think would be a great time to start having this conversation. If you're meeting in person, if you're coming back to work in person. And even if you're not, because as we talked about people have a need to socialize and be connected physically to a team and having worked remote for so long, I'm sure that has left some people feeling a little abandoned or whatnot.

- Yeah, and I think also for the people who are going to remain at home and apparently according to what I'm reading and you're reading sounds like a fair number of people are, they also need structure. We need structure in our lives. So you might... I'm not sure that we really kinda know the sweet spot yet between, well you go home and as long as you meet your goals have at it and just, you know, report back to me on what we've done versus the other extreme, which is I'm gonna try to control every minute of your day, which is also not realistic. But I think the employee, if you do it kindly and thoughtfully, I think most employees would really appreciate their boss kinda getting in at some level of detail to say, hey you're gonna work from home now, what's your day gonna kinda look like? When's a good time for me to call versus not call, you know. All those types of things. Work with people because they're struggling as much with how to do this as the company is them doing this I think.

- Yes, so thoughtfulness and mindfulness go a long way, no matter what your relationship is, whatever your role is in the organization. And I think that's so important, man. So I'm gonna throw a couple of things your way. One, I'd love to hear how people might connect with you. If they want to engage in a further conversation with you about this topic, or they just wanna follow you and what you're producing as far as content goes. And then lastly, I wanna just, is there anything else you wanna share with our audience before we wrap up today?

- Sure, yeah, I think so reaching me, I'm at [email protected] Feel free to email me at any time, I'd love to talk to you. I would, if I have reached you on a personal level maybe, and say hey, I'm going through some of the stuff this guy went through, I'd be happy to talk to you about that and my experience. But, but as importantly, I'd be happy to talk to you about what you do. Diane Liewehr, my friend and I are going to do this in some form or fashion, we haven't figured it out yet. So we're not kind of in business or anything like that, but we're really interested in helping people in corporations and organizations and helping organizations.

- That's great Vance. And do me a favor when you have something, whether it's guide or an ebook or email list or whatever, let us know, we'll update the show notes from this episode on our website and link to whatever that resource is, how someone might opt into it, 'cause I think this is a great topic and there'll be a lot of interest from our audience for sure to stay in touch. So if you'll let us know, we'll definitely update it, and then that way everyone can stay in the loop. So, and then lastly, just any closing thoughts, or did you already cover that?

- No, I think the other thing that we talked about mostly the behavioral type things that happen in corporations, but I also think that we need to think more about how this links to diversity and inclusion, because a big component of who I am as a person or a big component I'm sorry of my mental wellness is acceptance of who I am. My acceptance of myself and the organization's acceptance. Their view of how I add value to the organization in a unique way. So I don't see this as, let's jump on to the diversity training and all that. Yeah, that's got its own momentum. But I say that I really think this is an opportunity to look at that in a way that goes beyond just sort of race and gender and what other parameters we're looking at, this really gets down to how do people think, who are they, what's going on in their families that might cause them to have to do work a different way and so on. So I think it's a really important element of this.

- You raised an excellent point and I've never looked at it through those lens, but that's an important lens to consider for sure. We all know that there was a mental wellness issue that or even in some circumstances crisis that we weren't talking about as a society, then COVID hit and we started talking more about it. And I think coming out of it, hopefully, as you mentioned, people will be more mindful and considerate of others during this process and maybe there's, you know, maybe this is the next wave of revolution of some sort in which corporations and activist and individuals can get serious about this topic and really make an impact for not only people today, but for future generations as well. 'Cause I think this is so important. So Vance, thank you for opening your smarts and your heart here today and sharing this with others. And again, great episode, and I look forward to hearing about all the connections that have been made because of you sharing today.

- Thank you, it's been a real pleasure.

- Yeah, thank you Vance. So this has been another episode of "On Top of PR" as I mentioned earlier, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague. I think a lot of people will benefit from hearing Vance's story and his recommendations. I know I did, and I look forward to having an opportunity to implement some of these recommendations within our own organization at Axia. Otherwise, wishing you well, and thank you for watching.

- [announcer] This has been "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd presented by Review Maxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode and check out past shows at ontopofpr.com.