Digital marketing agency 97th Floor has been building campaigns for its clients — which range from B2B tech companies to e-commerce DTC clients and beyond — for 15 years.
Some of its largest customers have included Adobe, Capital One, Salesforce and ESPN.
97th Floor, as its name suggests, is all about elevation. Elevating the brands it works with, its own employees and the surrounding community.
This is the challenge Paxton Gray took on when he stepped up as CEO at the beginning of this year, which has been nothing short of a monumental one for the company.
It was not, however, one 97th Floor was unprepared for.
Speaking to Publicize, Gray explained that the company has had a buffer system in place for the past five years, designated for unexpected events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
This revenue sharing model invests some of the company’s profits into a financial safety net, which meant that 97th Floor was able to award all of its full and part-time employees with a $250 bonus at the start of lockdown, to go towards making themselves comfortable working from home.
97th Floor has followed a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) strategy since 2015, which means its employees are judged on whether they accomplish their job and not how much time they spend on it.
Fortunately, this work model — which means that employees have always been able to work wherever and whenever they want — also meant the team was well-equipped for a transition to remote working when their office shut down in March.
“The pandemic has actually amplified the strengths of ROWE for us,” said Gray, who pointed out that the only thing some of his employees tend to miss is the interaction between co-workers on a casual basis.
To make up for these, 97th Floor encourages initiatives such as ‘donut time:’ a free Slack app that randomly pairs co-workers and encourages them to have a 15-minute call over a coffee and perhaps a sweet treat.
Not only did the company’s ROWE work model help prepare it to ride out the pandemic with only a 5% dip in revenue, it also allows 97th Floor to be inclusive, Gray claims.
The open work from home policy — which only requires employees to come into the Utah or San Francisco offices for in-person client meetings — allows stay-at-home parents to adopt flexible work patterns after welcoming newborns or while raising young children.
It also allows the company to make geographically diverse hires beyond the realm of cities, added Gray. 97th Floor makes hires that live up to 100 miles away from their offices, meaning they avoid location bias and attract employees from rural backgrounds as well as urban ones.
In terms of ethnic diversity, however, Gray points out that just 2% percent of the company’s employees in the Utah office are Black, in line with the city’s racial demographics, which are less than 2% African American. Approximately 30-40% of leadership positions are occupied by women, he added, explaining that there is certainly room for improvement.
The company is now focusing on how to increase the number of applicants from more diverse locations, which it is approaching via education. 97th Floor is currently producing marketing coursework which it is delivering for free to schools in local low-income areas to attract young people to work in the field of marketing.
“Hopefully this will build our brand as a potential employer for a lot of people that we’re currently not getting in front of,” said Gray.
97th Floor also makes a point of constantly educating its own employees on diversity through its internal bookclub, which has been running for the past five years.
At the moment, the team is reading James Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time’ which contains two essays discussing the role of race and religion in American history.
Just as elevation is important for 97th Floor and its clients, it is equally important, Gray says, to lift up the surrounding community.
“What’s the point of having a company if it doesn’t do good in the world?” he asked, emphasizing the importance of leadership, legacy, community and charity for 97th Floor.
In line with this guidepost, Gray said, the company pledges to donate 1% of its overall revenue to “movements that matter.”
“By doing this, it allows us to exert a little bit of force on the market,” he added. “If you want to hire people, you have to provide this kind of experience, because we’re going to steal your employees if you don’t.”
Having publicly declared his support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a full page spread in the local newspaper alongside other local companies, Gray highlighted the company’s recent donations to charities such as the Equal Justice Initiative and the Marshall Project, which both focus on criminal justice issues in the US.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 97th Floor has also been providing meals for frontline healthcare workers in Utah via local restaurants, using money already allocated for employees’ meals during the monthly company meetings, which are now online.
Now that the office has opened up again for workers to come in, things are slowly getting back to normal, Gray said.
Bearing in mind, however, “what normal is is dictated by each individual employee,” he explained, pointing out that he doesn’t expect the office to be back to its former capacity until next year.
The Loudspeaker is your definitive guide on how to scale your startup. Brought to you by Publicize, this podcast explores the ins and outs of growing your brand and taking your product to market.
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Ronjini is also the host of The PR Playbook Podcast, a podcast focused on helping listeners elevate their brand using modern public relations strategy and tactics including paid/earned media, digital marketing, social media, and other forms of marketing. In this episode, the host of The Loudspeaker, Sam Brake Guia, and Ronjini discuss why the rule “the sooner the better” doesn’t always apply to PR, examples of businesses that have entered PR too soon, and signs that a business is ready for PR.
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