Stan Levenson Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

A potential client asked Stan Levenson to make his company look so good that it would have a waiting list of people who wanted to work at it. But when Levenson talked to current and former employees, he found the business ran like a sweatshop. The potential client told Levenson that it was only his job to make the man look good, but instead of simply following through on the man’s demands, Levenson told that potential client to clean up the company internally before Levenson could promote it externally. Levenson is CEO of Levenson & Brinker Public Relations, one of three marketing services companies comprising The Levenson Group of Cos., which he co-founded with his wife, Barbara, and it is his dedication to doing things the right way that has helped the couple grow the group to $100 million in billings last year. Smart Business spoke with Levenson about following your instincts and the importance of a positive attitude.

Trust your instincts when hiring. Your instincts are important. When you meet someone, you either are turned off and they don’t have to get into their philosophy — it’s an emotionalism that you feel good about somebody — or you keep them at a distance because you’re not sure of where they’re coming from.

It’s important to listen and hear their attitudes and reflect certain character, personality — not unlike a shrink who does a diagnosis before giving a remedy or a doctor conducting an examination before prescribing a medication.

Focus on benefits, not attributes. When a new employee interviews, rather than telling him how fortunate he’ll be to join us because we’re this, this and this, I’d much rather share with him what some of our folks have accomplished for themselves professionally and personally by being in our family.

The same with products that our clients might have. No longer do we focus on the attributes of the product as it relates to the ingredients. We talk about the benefits that those products and services will instill in the users and consumers.

You see that so often in cosmetics and soap — you don’t care about the ingredients in a bar of soap, but you hear how good it will make you feel and the lovely lifestyle you will have and how confidence-building it will be, so we like to focus on benefits.

Hire prepared people. I love to hear someone with a real positive attitude, enthusiastic and also one that does their homework.

To give you an example, for individuals looking for their first entry-level position, if one comes in and says, ‘I want this job so bad. I’ve heard of you all, and I’m wanting to liberate myself from my folks, have my own apartment, have my own car,’ I understand where they’re coming from because we all relate to that, but that person is one scenario.

Another person comes in and says, ‘Mr. Levenson, you’re the kind of company where I think I can really contribute to your success. I read where you worked on this account and how you did this and how come you didn’t do this when their competitor is doing this? I think I can attract new business and strengthen your services.’

Again, benefits selling. I look for that attitude, enthusiasm and preparation. It’s easy to get enthusiastic and just throw out ideas, but today, you have to be very well-informed.

If someone hasn’t done their homework about who we are and who we serve, then it’s incomplete. Every company has its criteria. Some do testing, and that’s all important, but overall attitude and enthusiasm and a caring attitude is so important.

See other points of view. There is more than one way to view a situation. The more informed you are, the sharper your focus becomes. We all wear different lenses in our glasses, and one person may perceive a situation to be one thing and another person another thing.

It’s not so much trusting your folks, but it’s having the confidence in them that they command. They may make a decision that you don’t agree with, but if you can understand their rationale for making it, you can respect it unless that rationale is flawed.

Create balance. When you’re consumed in your work, you can be more productive and successful with balance than just keep grinding, so you need to call time out and on a daily basis have some interest in being with family and not getting into your work.

It really too depends on your work and the type of work you do. We do a lot of retail work for clients, like Zale Corp., so if we’re out on a weekend going to a movie at the mall, and if we see a jewelry store, we’ll always check it out, even if it’s a weekend and leisure.

Your passion for work can be healthy, but certainly, wherever possible, it should be managed.

Understand your clients. It’s important to understand the needs and interests of your clients and what they want to accomplish.

We do a lot of role playing. We anticipate needs and interests of our clients. We dramatize and demonstrate leadership, so if they say, ‘Here’s what we want you to do,’ we want to go way beyond faithfully executing their requests. We want to say, ‘What about this, or let’s think about this.’

Say thanks. The interest in nurturing your folks and being a coach as well as a cheerleader is something we believe in.

Recognition and incentives are an important element to a successful culture. I also think encouragement and extending appreciation for good work — we always appreciate someone saying, ‘Nice job,’ or sending a note and saying, ‘We’re really proud of you for what you’ve accomplished.’

We like to do that, and it gives us great pride to applaud the success of our people because it’s the company’s success, but it’s also a stimulant for their own growth and fulfillment.

HOW TO REACH: The Levenson Group of Cos., (214) 932-6000 or www.levensonandhill.com