What lessons has the pandemic taught you about how to communicate most effectively with clients and key contacts in the industry?
When the pandemic first began, our main concern was how swiftly and seamlessly we could move from in-person work to virtual. We also wanted to make sure we could find ways to consistently stay in front of our middle market clients and contacts, since travel was no longer possible.
I decided early on that we needed to create a way to maintain constant contact with our client base. Using a range of tools, including virtual Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails, and monthly updates, we were able to educate clients on what we were seeing in the market as conditions evolved throughout the pandemic. Additionally, I had to pivot from in-person to virtual marketing quickly. The challenge was to come up with creative virtual events that would appeal to our clients and contacts and convince them to join in. Over the last 18 months, I have refined and perfected many virtual venues that have been fun and memorable. The real lesson learned was the importance of continuing to communicate despite the barriers.
Zoom has been an especially valuable tool for us, as it has given us important face time and a new avenue for conducting business. We were able to pitch, execute on, and successfully complete numerous deals throughout 2020-2021 without ever visiting the client’s site.
Coincidentally, prior to the beginning of the pandemic we had already ramped up efforts to expand our digital marketing reach. By May of 2020, working closely with vendors, we already had multiple digital campaigns underway.
How have you maintained employee engagement at Carl Marks Advisors while fully remote?
Despite employees’ physical distance from each other, we placed special emphasis on making sure everyone knew what was going on within the firm and that nobody felt alone. We had six new hires in 2020, some of whom had never stepped foot into our office. Our regular company-wide Tuesday calls, which have been around for as long as I can remember, were helpful in bringing us up to date. I also published an internal newsletter on a weekly basis to keep employees aware of current events.
We also launched several new, virtual employee engagement initiatives, including monthly coffee catch-up zoom calls. The marketing team sent each employee a breakfast treat to enjoy while on the call. During the call, our team broke into groups, with the only assignment being to catch up with one another on a personal level, free of corporate talk. Four babies were born during the pandemic and we have been able to watch them grown over the months.
Another key adjustment we made was switching our internal calls to Zoom videos so that employees were face-to-face. This was an eye-opening experience that allowed us to really see people’s lives, including their homes, children, pets, and even pajamas. It really helped to bring us closer together as an organization.
What has been most rewarding for you in your involvement with the Turnaround Management Association?
The TMA Network of Women (TMA NOW) is one of my favorite groups because it brings together powerful, supportive women across a wide variety of career paths in bankruptcy, including lenders, attorneys, advisors, accountants, and marketing executives. I am currently the TMA New Jersey Chapter Event Chair, which has proven to be quite challenging during the pandemic. In 2020, people were eager to attend virtual events such as wine and whiskey tastings to network and support the TMA community, but by 2021 many people were tired of virtual events, yearning for in-person human connections.
In 2021, I attended more than 20 virtual events to see what people were doing, and who was attending. My key takeaway is that it is hard to network virtually. I am hopeful to begin attending more networking events in person as we approach 2022.
How are you thinking about doing in-person versus virtual events in 2022?
We are planning for hybrid events with the goal of having most events be in-person, but supplementing with virtual gatherings when needed. Over the past two years, we learned very quickly how to adapt and transform in-person events to virtual, and we will continue to remain flexible this year. I am looking forward to hosting our company’s first ever cornhole tournament in person in February and getting creative with other events in the coming year.
You have a son attending Ole Miss. What is it like tailgating and attending big football games there?
Growing up in New Jersey, I had no conception of what the SEC was. But as my son, Taylor, began his college search, he had his heart set on attending a university in the South. When we did our tour of Ole Miss in Oxford he fell in love with the school and knew that was where he wanted to go. Tailgating at The Grove is an experience unlike any other. Tents decorated with flowers and chandeliers, Chick-fil-A catering and pimento cheese dip, people wearing anything from button-up shirts and bow ties to cocktail dresses and cowboy boots, and red solo cups galore. The best part is the Walk of Champions. Before the game fans line up on the brick walkway to cheer on the football team as they walk from the Walk of Champions Arch to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It is a sight not to be missed. After five years and countless tailgates, I am extremely proud of Taylor Krattiger who will be finishing his master’s degree in accounting May 2022. Hotty Toddy!