The first two quarters of 2023 have been challenging for many in PR agency leadership, and that includes Praytell founder and CEO Andy Pray. In this episode of Taking the Lead, Pray shares how his innate optimism, and the leadership tenets he learned from his father, a pastor, helped him power through.
Here are excerpts from the full video interview:
When you look at the three key leadership tenets that have driven your career, your “North Star,” what were those three things?
We were chatting earlier, Ken, and you mentioned my dad being a pastor. The good news is, there's no sermon incoming. While I'm not religious, I've imbibed the values of community, importance, and servant leadership from him. He's taught me to get my hands dirty and embrace imperfections, evident from the three times he gifted me "The Blessings of Imperfection." I've grasped the significance of active involvement rather than mere criticism. Balancing involvement can be tricky, as I want to contribute without overstepping. True leadership entails understanding, sensing, and actively participating in community dynamics.
Your title in your LinkedIn Profile is Founder, CEO, Optimist. Why did you pick that, and how does being an optimist inform your leadership?
Well, optimism is easier than pessimism. I know that my mood affects those around me. Feeling locked in stress or tension is palpable. It took time to realize that intensity doesn't require yelling. I'm a natural optimist, preferring the sunny side. Optimism is contagious and better for our agency's atmosphere. Most worries don't materialize. I focus on good intentions, people, and positivity. Optimism isn't a choice; it's in my nature. It's a powerful trait, even in cloudy times.
We often ask our Taking the Lead interviewees what agencies must do to achieve DE&I goals. I noticed that you’re one of the few firms to share your numbers in this regard. So two questions: Where do you still need to improve; and how can agency leaders get comfortable sharing, especially if they’re still far from goal?
Improvement is needed in representation at all levels, tied to our capacity for investments. However, this prioritization demands true courage, which we've lacked. Our internal enhancements span training, understanding, and fostering a culture of belonging. Although it's an extensive list, I avoid clichés and stress its significance. Our list is long, underpinning an exciting journey with remarkable leadership. Progress is responsible and tangible.
Transparency is inherent to us, even though I'm known for oversharing — a mixed blessing. In today's information age, we seek savvy, aware candidates valuing openness. Lack of transparency hinders growth, and a roadmap matters more than current numbers. Candidates from these communities can contribute to our journey and growth, even if numbers aren't optimal. This worst-case scenario is a pretty good one; the high floor makes the choice clear.
If you want to be part of this, consider making a pros and cons column as if you were in fifth grade. Transparency and accountability are expected today, starting with admitting where you stand. Refreshingly, this removes the elephant in the room. It's about truth, not martyrdom. Our story includes dips, like the drop in key areas. I'm not chasing martyrdom; it's just honesty. PR agencies should follow their own counsel, promoting transparency and honesty.
I took a quick list at the benefits you provide on your website. I imagine that’s partly why Praytell has won “Best Places To Work”. I’m guessing that they’re far from cheap. How do you find the balance between those kinds of benefits, and making your desired profit?
Growing up with chronic pain, undergoing surgeries, and dealing with foot issues, I've witnessed my family's medical challenges. From a one-person agency to now eight people, I've never been prouder of our small Brooklyn DUMBO agency. Providing health insurance marked a significant milestone and our dedication to people over profits. Despite financial sacrifices, it's a North Star that guides us. Recently, we identified areas where we weren't leading, prompting positive change. Our mission, championed by Naria Frazier, is to lead even if it affects profits. I don't envision valuing a 21.6% profit in 20 years; the legacy I care about is different.
The decision is clear, driven by a desire for better mental well-being and reduced stress for our team. While not easy, this evolving landscape encourages valuable growth. As we expand into unexpected places, the foundation remains strong, rooted in selflessness and the hope for improved experiences.
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders and executives to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications agencies achieve their business development, profitability, and client service goals, via consulting and training. You can find him at www.jacobscomm.com, [email protected] @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.