Kim McKeeman founded McKeeman Communications more than 25 years ago with a single passion: help businesses and non-profits solve problems and succeed. From creating a virtual agency model against the odds in the ’90s, and growing her team members to be true business partners, “there has to be a way” is just the way Kim thinks.
She’s incessantly curious and loves new challenges. Maybe that’s why she works with her leadership team daily to continue to evolve their agency. Yes, daily. “I’m one day smarter than I was yesterday” is her approach to work and life, and she encourages the same with colleagues. Oh, and she’s pretty darn good at PR and communications, including crisis management.
Family life is critically important to Kim, and probably why she’s always referred to “the McKeeman Boys” as her most valued client.
Intro: [00:00:05] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:19] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC’s Open for Business. And today is going to be a fun one. I have with me today Kim McKeeman, and she’s with McKeeman Communications. Welcome.
Kim McKeeman: [00:00:29] Thanks so much. Happy to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Well, Kim, before we get too far into things, tell us about McKeeman Communications. How are you serving folks?
Kim McKeeman: [00:00:37] Yeah. So, we actually are a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency. And so, when I first started out, and it was a guest bedroom of our starter house, we were really focused on just working with the news media for our clients, community outreach. And over the years, what we’re doing now, our marketing’s really evolved with social media, with messaging, with internal and external communications. So, we’ve kind of almost serve as like a business’s marketing quarterback, kind of calling the plays. but making sure that all of their marketing is kind of working hand in hand.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:13] Now, do you find over the years that marketing, advertising, PR, that communications really is the best word to describe all that? There’s a blurring of the lines of where one begins or one ends now.
Kim McKeeman: [00:01:25] Yeah, you are speaking my language. Yes, no doubt. And just having seen it evolve over the years, extremely blurred. I think communications, actually, is probably the best way to describe it because that involves not only what you’re doing in a paid capacity, and that’s really an area we don’t specialize in but, also, the earned, what you do by like us doing interviews like this. And some of the other ways that you really show up for your customers, so much of communications can be tied back to just so many different realms from social media, to internal communications, to external. So, it’s definitely been a wild ride as it evolves, but it’s been fascinating at the same time.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:15] Now, as part of your work, since you mentioned not kind of leaning into the paid part of the work, how do you manage the expectations of your clients when it comes to earned where there’s some things that are just not out of your control no matter how good the story is or how interesting the client is? How do you kind of help them understand that you just got to keep working at this and this is something that is a long-term kind of investment?
Kim McKeeman: [00:02:42] That’s a million-dollar question, right? So, it is. It’s basically really … what we find so much of what we do as educating our clients into what makes a story. And right now is a great example where like, “Oh, I’ve got this really great promotion going on,” and we’ve got to kind of say, “Hey, that’s not where folks’ heads are at.” And I think part of that, to your question, is we start out with a good relationship with our client. And that’s how we kind of vet our best-fit partners is to make sure folks are open to really the expertise that we bring, and open to being educated and learning about really what makes news. And then, by the same token, knowing that there’s breaking news, all bets are off. Those are, to your point, outside of our control.
Kim McKeeman: [00:03:42] So, I will say we’ve had some really good experiences over the years. And not only ensuring that they’re clear about that going in but really delighting them when we’re able to really hit on a story that folks really want to hear more about and getting our clients to really hone their messaging, so they’re good spokespeople.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:07] Now, how is McKeeman Communications counseling your clients regarding the pandemic in terms of … Some people are going underground and waiting this out. Some people are saying ,”We’ve still got to let people know we exist.” Other people are like, “Well, that’s not appropriate to really be salesy nowadays.” Some people are like, “Well, I’m going to just be educational.” But then, you get some people who are feeling overloaded with how much COVID-19 information can a human consume. How are you kind of threading the needle here?
Kim McKeeman: [00:04:39] Yeah. And it’s interesting because one of the things that we’ve always told our team, and we’ve got a great team, is we’re our own client. So, we are living through this as well, along with a lot of our clients. Interestingly enough, we specialize in food, restaurant, beverage, retail. So, kind of a little foreshadow on, yes, we’ve taken our hits too. We’ve been working on parallel paths and saying how they need to show up. And by the same token, we’re taking that same medicine, if you will, and saying, “This is how we need to show up.”
Kim McKeeman: [00:05:18] So, it has evolved where my initial counsel to them was now is not the time to sell. And I started thinking about that a little bit more like, “No, actually, people need some of what our clients have.” And I think the key thing that I think is a key takeaway that our customers have said is like they really appreciate it. We say, “You have a unique gift, skill, or ability, or talent, or asset. And in some cases, that’s food. How do we connect that food with the need at hand?” And I think that’s really the biggest thing. And that’s the thing that kind of gets us really excited is figuring out how to connect somebody’s God-given talent, gift or asset with where the need exists right now. And then, use your marketing and your storytelling to support that and to connect those dots.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:14] Now, how was the remote part? Had you already been working with your team in a remote capacity or was this a new transition for you?
Kim McKeeman: [00:06:22] Yes. So, that’s another interesting thing. I keep telling my team like, “We were built for this.” So, when we started our business, gosh this is our 25th anniversary year, but when we started our business 25 years ago, we started as a remote, part-time, work-from-home agency, which was well against the grain at the time, but I had just a wonderful talent pool that I was able to pull of other and primarily working moms or moms that that wanted to balance it. So, we operated remotely, although we would get together. We were all in the same state. We would get together, but we worked remotely with our clients for a good 12 years.
Kim McKeeman: [00:07:07] So, we had been doing this. And then, to this day, even though we have physical offices, we still have a cadence of working from home two days a week. And it’s kind of just based on what I like to do, and I figure it’s something that we can afford to other people. So, it hasn’t been that challenging for folks. It’s actually been kind of fascinating to watch our clients adapt to it and have them realize, “Gee, I don’t need to have Kim and her team in person for us to really connect, and understand, and get the work done.”
Lee Kantor: [00:07:44] Now, any lessons or tips you can give to the new manager and leader that’s dealing with a remote situation? What are some kind of must dos and some don’t dos?
Kim McKeeman: [00:07:56] Yeah, great question because we have a lot of clients that are in that boat right now. And it’s funny, we developed, even with us already being remote in a heartbeat, we developed a business continuity plan that involved really focusing on your people, your customers, and how you want to show up for your community. So, in terms of people and working remotely, I think everybody and their brother has, at least, one in account now. So, as much as we’ve leaned on in-person and conference calls, I think that’s one of the beautiful things that comes out of this is that turn on that camera and get face-to-face, and let’s kiss the conference call goodbye. Right now is a good time to really flex that muscle and be comfortable with showing up on camera.
Kim McKeeman: [00:08:54] And again, internally for your teams, they don’t care that you haven’t had a shower yet. They don’t care. They want to be reassured by seeing you in person. So, I think that’s definitely thing one. Definitely overcommunicate at this point. People need to be reassured. So, when you’re working from home, and you’re not able to be right next to your normal work mates, being able to open. We’ve been leaning heavily on Slack. That’s another communication channel that is a lot more informal, but it also kind of separates things. As much as you can, overcommunicate without inundating.
Kim McKeeman: [00:09:33] And then, lastly would be just encourage open, honest feedback and conversation. That’s something that we do ongoing anyway, but you’ve got to look for where … your folks may be coming across some pain points either working from home or just dealing with everything that’s going on. We do the same thing with our clients. So, we’re doing a very high touch point with them, and look for those pain points where we can, at least, relate, listen and possibly support.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:04] Now, how do you help your team and your clients avoiding some of this burnout that’s beginning to happen where like this new normal is just becoming the normal and that all the days are coming together, it’s hard. Someone said Monday is Memorial Day, what are you doing? And it’s like, every day is Memorial Day, it feels like. It’s hard to tell the weekend’s different.
Kim McKeeman: [00:10:26] Like Groundhog’s Day.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:26] Right. It’s hard to say the weekend’s different than the weekday. It’s like a big blur. How do you prevent that 24/7 kind of mentality to creep in for some folks?
Kim McKeeman: [00:10:37] And that’s such a great point. And I think, for anybody out there who’s a business owner, we all kind of have that type A personality, and we tend to hire some of those type A personalities where we’ve got to actually say, “Okay, folks, it’s time to turn it off, close the computer and step away.” And it’s interesting because when I first put together our continuity plan, and I have a wonderful VP that I’m able to bounce things off of, I was actually going to say, “Okay, we’re good, man. We’re going to mandate that people take time off and it’s just going to be extra time off.” And I went, “Well, I don’t know that I can really do that. I’m not sure that’s really legal.” But what we have done though is it’s funny, we all keep each other accountable. And if we see somebody who is sending emails into the evening or working too early, we will very nicely call them out on that.
Kim McKeeman: [00:11:29] I will tell you one thing that we did recently because I could tell, it was wearing on me, and I could tell it was wearing on our team, we had our normal Monday morning call with our company ops team, and I said, “I need a vacation.” I think everybody else said the same thing. I said, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do a … Guess what? It’s going to be a gift of grace that we give to our entire team on Friday. We’re gonna call it Happy Friday. And we’re all taking it off.” And I think that just gave everybody kind of like this nice big breath, granted folks still to check their emails. But I think sometimes, you have to set that tone and say, “It’s okay. We all are feeling the burn and churn the world. And it’s okay. And we have to kind of like say, “It’s time to step away and take a break.”
Lee Kantor: [00:12:21] Right. And being the leader, and giving them permission, and then letting them know that you’re doing it, it kind of gives it that okay. Like it really is okay. It’s not like just people saying it’s okay.
Kim McKeeman: [00:12:33] Right. I’m not just talking about this. We’re actually doing it, people.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:37] Right. So, now, tell me about GWBC. How did you find out about them? And why was it important for you to get involved?
Kim McKeeman: [00:12:46] Yeah. So, this is great. Again, having been in business for a while, we did go for our certification, the women-owned business certification. And that was a fabulous process that we went through, having folks come actually to our location, and then just learning about all the benefits. And for any of the business owners out there that feel like they are really just having to learn so much about everything on the fly, it’s really important to use your resources. And that’s what we’ve really seen with – sorry – GWBC. It’s just the proactive information that’s been shared. And whether it’s just networking with some of the other businesses, whether it’s having to to navigate this PPP thing, I have learned more about tax law and finance than I have ever learned. And much of that is due to the information that you all have been providing. So, I just think it, again, have really been of a wealth of information and would encourage folks to seek that out. Even if you are members, and you’re not using the resources, definitely do that. You will cut a lot of time out of your daily schedule. And again, it’s always about maximizing your resources, and this is a really good one.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:19] Now, getting back to McKeeman Communications, what’s your recommendation for your clients now? Is there some people that are kind of just saying, “I just want to survive this” and there’s other people who are saying, “Hey, there’s opportunity here to grow”? Like, how are you kind of helping each of your clients kind of get the most out of the situation?
Kim McKeeman: [00:14:39] Yeah. And that’s great. And of course, I’m going to use that. I think there’s probably 15 dreaded words right now that we just keep hearing over and over and one of those is pivot. And I, at one time, said I don’t want to hear that word again. I said I should embrace it. It’s what we’re doing. And so, basically, it’s been interesting. And I guess I’m in business because I find so much of like what you do in times of uncertainty fascinating. And so, we’re encouraging that just like we are for ourselves. We’re leaning in and doing things a little bit differently, but we’re also being very mindful of if you are an industry that largely has been selling hamburgers and you’re a quick-service restaurant, it’s not time to get into full service. Like some pivots just don’t make sense. But really making sure that any of the changes that they’re doing are fulfilling those needs. It kind of goes back to taking the gifts that you have, the assets, your God-given talents, and making sure they fulfill a need.
Kim McKeeman: [00:15:47] So, we have a restaurant company or a restaurant independently-owned business that’s headquartered in Charlotte, and they’ve got 30 locations. And I love to this. They started doing grocery essentials because, let’s face it, who knows why, but toilet paper is like gold now, and some of the other things that you just can’t find. And they started doing a grocery essentials program. And it really was a godsend for a lot of folks in the greater Charlotte area.
Kim McKeeman: [00:16:19] McKeeman Communications has another client that has been doing water and mold remediation. Don’t be jealous people. I know, it’s a very interesting, different client for us, but water and mold remediation, but they are set up as an essential business because they’re used to treating biohazardous situations. So, now, they’re offering a deep cleaning, sanitizing opportunity that basically was to use the same solutions and chemicals, same EPA-approved processes that was used in treating places that had experienced SARS. So, we’ve seen some really fascinating ones, but I would say the one thing, again, just to kind of go back to that one message, which is make sure whatever they’re doing in marketing fulfills a critical human or essential need right now that people are really hungry for.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:20] And if it aligns with your superpower, all the better.
Kim McKeeman: [00:17:24] Exactly. Exactly. That’s a win all the way around.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:28] So, if somebody wanted to learn more about McKeeman Communications and get on your radar, is there a website?
Kim McKeeman: [00:17:35] Yes, indeed. We are mckemancommunications.com. And the other thing, obviously, you can find us on any of the social channels. @McKeemanComm on Instagram. And interestingly enough, we’re doing … this is obviously one of our changes that we’ve been doing. We started doing an Instagram live after lunch every week, which is brand spanking new for us, and we’ve had to really lean into it, but any of our social channels. You Google McKeeman Communications, we will pop up.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:12] Good stuff. Well, Kim, thank you so much for sharing your story. And that’s McKeeman, M-C-K-E-E-M-A-N Communications dot com.
Kim McKeeman: [00:18:22] Correct, yes. Yeah, thanks so much and appreciate the opportunity to kinda share our experiences, and definitely have loved hearing about the other ones as well that you guys have been sharing.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:33] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina