Give and take Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Give and what shall you receive? Ask Renee White Fraser and the answer would undoubtedly be success.

As founder, president and CEO of Fraser Communications, the advertising psychologist has sparked colossal growth — from 2003 revenue of $5.7 million to 2007 revenue of $42 million — at her advertising, market research and media-planning agency by turning her attention outward.

“Fraser Communications has really taken off in the last three years because I’ve started to focus on community involvement and socially responsible work,” she says.

In the process, Fraser has gotten buy-in from her 30 employees by leading the charge on projects, such as a walk for the homeless and a holiday party spent serving food at a homeless shelter.

Smart Business spoke with Fraser about how getting involved in the community can bolster both your employees and your company.

Q. Where should executives look to get involved in the community?

A good place to start is the United Way in your community. They’re a good guide, and very often, they’re building relationships between businesses and the public sector, so they have opportunities for businesses to step right into where you can be effective.

It’s one thing to go to the local school and meet with the principal and try to establish a program, but that takes a lot of effort and a learning curve. I think it’s better to always learn on somebody else’s time.

Q. How do you get employees to buy in to community outreach programs?

You have to share this spirit and the enthusiasm with your employees. You have to roll up your sleeves and be part of it. It certainly can’t just be a speech you give once a year, and you’re not out there with them.

I’ve also incentivized them. I know it’s a half-day on Saturday, so I give them a half-day off work at some other time to compensate them for their time.

It’s hard the first time, but the second and third and fourth, people truly get into it.

This year, part of our holiday party is going to be serving food at a homeless shelter around Thanksgiving. I know it will be awkward for people driving there and getting there, but once we’re there, I know they’re going to feel like, ‘My gosh. It’s intriguing to look into the eyes of these people and to know that I was making a meal and to see how kind these people are.’

When you don’t get to touch the lives of homeless people, this will be a good way for the employees to get a feel of what it’s like to help others.

Q. What is the benefit when employees get involved?

As a psychologist, I believe that when people share things on a very deep, emotional level, it builds bonds.

For teamwork, it’s an excellent thing. It makes people see people in other departments in a new light, and they share in their humanity.

That actually has positive manifestations in the work-place; it helps to retain employees. When you’re engaged in community activities like this, it’s a recruitment tool, but it’s also a retention tool.

We have a very low turnover rate compared to our industry. Our turnover rate is just below 10 percent. A lot of our employees have been with us six to eight years, and that’s unusual in the advertising business.

Q. What should CEOs know before getting involved in community activities?

You need to address your own priorities and assess whether or not that’s in sync with the priorities of your employees.

Another campaign that we’re working on is a campaign called ‘Stay negative.’ It’s a campaign to get people tested routinely for AIDS.

We participated with our client in a gay pride parade, and we made that nonmanda-tory. A lot of our employees decided to get involved, and it was an exciting opportunity for them. You just want to make sure you find programs that are aligned with the values of your employees.

The second thing a CEO should consider is impact: Is this going to be an effective program?

There’s nothing wrong with asking the nonprofit or the organization you’re joined with, ‘Tell me how you’re going to demonstrate results.’ Ask for something in return. Recognition is something they’re often willing to give, which is valuable. ‘Demonstrate to us that this is really going to have an impact’ — that’s even more important.

Q. How has this involvement benefited your company?

It benefits us by increasing the visibility of the company. It also puts us at the table with large corporations. They begin to see us as a serious player, a strategic player and a smart player, and it does give us an entry to talk with them.

HOW TO REACH: Fraser Communications, (310) 319-3737 or www.frasercommunications.com