Jeff Grisamore, President & CEO of EGR Inc./BlackLab Media, a New York-based company that was among the first to brand itself an engagement agency in the early 2000s, reflects on the return on his near 20-year investment in the Enterprise Engagement movement and why he believes it has the potential to disrupt not only the traditional incentive, recognition, and loyalty business, but also the marketing, advertising and consulting businesses.
By Bruce Bolger
EGR International was one of the original sponsors of the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at the Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University in 2001, which early on helped discover and develop research proving the connection between having highly engaged employees, engaged customers, and sustainable financial results. EGR was also a founding sponsor of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance at TheEEA.org
in 2008 that created the name and framework that became known as Enterprise Engagement, and his company has retained that status for 11 years. Grisamore says that the transition to becoming an Enterprise Engagement agency was difficult and took time but believes that placing more value on their clients’ needs and their investments in their employees, customers and channel partners is why “our company has had an incredible decade-long run” and why he believes his company is better prepared than most for the current disruption brought about by the Enterprise Engagement movement.
“Simply put, the work of the Forum for People Performance Management and our investment in the Enterprise Engagement Alliance transformed our business, and now I believe it has the potential to transform not only the traditional incentive and recognition business, but the ad agency and marketing agency business as well,” Grisamore explains. “We are pleased to see other industry leaders beginning to understand this methodology and practice by positioning themselves as engagement agencies and even adopting the use of the term Enterprise Engagement, but I am skeptical that it’s anything more than a buzzword right now. It’s easy to call yourself an engagement agency but much more difficult to walk the talk.”
It’s About Much More Than Changing the Web Site
Grisamore believes that to become a full-service engagement agency requires more than changing the words on a web site. “Now, leading with thinking about the entire company in order to positively impact its sales efforts is just a part of a bigger client engagement strategy and requires enormous effort by everyone in a company’s business. We still have clients who use our services for rewards and recognition or meetings, but now, only as part of larger engagement strategies. Almost every one of our clients uses us to address a strategic, global, fundamental issue, and we almost always report up to the chief marketing officer.” He says that revenues from rewards, recognition, and meetings are now a smaller focus for his company and that a majority of its clients’ success is generated from developing custom engagement solutions from a whole-view approach that incorporates a combination of advisory services, creative design and media services through the company’s Black Lab media group, as well as the use of new technologies that have become standard across the emerging media industry.
“I will tell you it was not easy at first, and it takes time to make people understand engagement goes further than traditional incentives. Effective engagement strategies cannot be faked by having a good salesperson and an updated web site. Our clients, at least, can smell a fake right away. Creating and implementing robust solutions for clients requires a fundamental structural and psychological change that demands sustained discipline.” As an example of how his business has changed, he cited a five-year assignment for a major global life sciences company that needed to better align the activities of commercial operations, sales, marketing, strategic planning, and analytics across the global organization to improve efficiency and alignment. The solution, says Grisamore, wasn’t a rewards program, but the development of a digital communication platform that he describes as built with an eye toward “mass customization” that delivers a short message to employees every morning across the globe based on their role in the commercial operations structure, reminding them of key objectives for the day and tools available to them if needed. “In this, as in all our engagements, we are measured by return on investment. When we can connect a specific employee’s role to the company’s larger purpose, we can drive sales growth and company profits.”
Why the Potential for Disruption
Grisamore believes harnessing an engagement approach has the potential to also disrupt the traditional incentive, recognition, agency, and even management consulting models. “When I first became involved with EGR in the 1990s, I was immediately skeptical of this notion that you could motivate people in a sustainable way with a trip or a color television. Sure, you will see a bump in their behavior short-term, but as soon as you remove the carrot, in most cases the behavior returns to where it was. It resets. The same is true for advertising or promotions. Obviously, they can create a lift, but if there is not something sustainable beneath them, it doesn’t last. What became apparent to us is that these tools only work as part of a bigger process that will achieve the best results if part of a strategic and systematic approach. In the modern economy, in a world full of digital distractions, the key is getting as close to customization as possible to build a relationship with each individual, based on their situations.” In fact, Grisamore says most of his competition is with marketing agencies and rarely with companies in the incentive and recognition industry. He believes there is an entirely new type of agency emerging that is still under the radar and for which there is no accepted name yet other than what he has called EGR for a decade: a full-service engagement agency with a completely agnostic approach and the ability to create and implement a company’s strategic plan throughout their entire enterprise. “We need to be providers of ideas, tools and resources that are intuitive, agile and customized for any particular client.”
So, what did Grisamore think when he heard the new Business Roundtable
charter that essentially mirrors the Enterprise Engagement framework. “Frankly, my first thought was: we were right, and then I realized just how disruptive the concept was back in the early 2000s. But of course, it’s much more significant than that. In my opinion, if people think that this new charter is just a fad and that it will go back to business as usual, they will be sadly mistaken, because it’s being driven not by public relations but simple economics, analytics and a worldwide movement that is far bigger than the Business Roundtable.”
“Think about it, if you run any kind of organization, or whether you’re in the incentive, recognition, loyalty, advertising, promotion, or HR business, what are we all trying to do? We are trying to engage people in our mission, our values, in what we need them to do. It’s a matter of finding the right solution for each organization and individual. The idea of selling almost any type of pre-packaged solution is outdated. This is why I believe the field of engagement will continue to disrupt traditional industries.
The Key Driver—Enterprise Engagement Is More Efficient
To Grisamore, Enterprise Engagement is a more efficient approach that helps organizations develop a completely agnostic strategic and systematic plan based on their specific objectives, not on the tools used to achieve them. “Businesses need to engage people in their preferred ways to better engage them, and they need to select the right strategic and tactical process for each audience and challenge. These are ongoing systems that adapt to meet the circumstances, not so much the old notion of ‘campaigns.’” He adds: “Today, so much is being driven by data and analytics, we’ve had to use it to look for those patterns and trends within different audiences and to hire people with data and even academic backgrounds to help use data to identify better solutions. With ROI driving everything, this is the name of the game. You don’t need to spend as much on advertising, incentives, promotions, recognition, or change management, for that matter, if you apply a strategic and systematic approach that better connects the dots between the community you are trying to engage and all these tactical functions.”
So, what made it so challenging to evolve into a full-service engagement agency? “First, you have to start with your business model. How you make money. If you are making all your money selling a specific solution, such as an incentive or recognition technology, meetings and events, or learning platforms, it’s impossible to be agnostic. Today, we have shifted much of our model to fees for professional services, media and marketing services, project management, technology, or managing outsourced services needed to help a client achieve an objective.”
Another challenge, he said, is changing the mindset of the sales and account management team away from selling products to selling solutions, “And that is a very big challenge. Salespeople are programmed to think of selling things or finding an application for the things they sell. An engagement agency professional walks in with a completely clean sheet of paper. People must be able to listen, ask questions, and have the knowledge and experience to provide helpful insights. That is much easier said than done.” He continues, “This is why we generally hire from the agency world, and we hire consultancy-grounded relationship managers. While the agency world still suffers from the same product-focus, in their case media, at least the culture there is based on a thorough discovery and research process that seeks to understand the landscape and what it will take to change people’s behaviors in a sustainable way.”
The Engagement Agency Model Has Paid Off
Grisamore believes EGR’s early investment in the Engagement Agency model and the company’s agnostic approach to helping organizations engage people across the enterprise has helped drive its consistently rapid growth and that it will continue to help influence and grow some of the new agencies he sees cropping up all around his company’s base in Manhattan “that really are doing incredible work.” What does he think are the elements essential for success as an engagement agency? He provided a checklist.
Agnostic Discovery. “Being an engagement agency requires almost an altruistic commitment to providing what the client actually needs, not what they think they need, even if it’s not the best way for your company to make money. You must come to the table with a completely clean sheet of paper.”
Analytics. “Everything today has to be based on data, because there is so much of it. But you have to understand it and use it wisely, and that’s why you have people with behavioral knowledge as well.”
Creativity. “You have to take data and creatively apply it because in the end we are all human beings and each of us responds differently or needs different tools to effectively engage.” That same need for creativity as in the old days of advertising still exists, he says, “But the breadth of media our creative team must be able to work with cuts cross every possible engagement platform, tactic, and as well as communications media.”
A full-service approach. “You simply cannot look a client in the eye with a straight face and tell them your solution will be agnostic, if you base your recommendations on where you will make the most money. You base your recommendations on where the client will get the greatest return on investment. That means having both a combination of inhouse resources and access to other resources as needed based on what is needed to fulfill the client’s objectives, not on what you wish to sell or what the client thinks they need.”
A flexible approach to technology. “Clients sometimes ask for a demo of our ‘platform.’ We tell them that every organization and situation is different and that we create custom platforms built around their specific needs. We have never branded that platform to be consistent with our focus on the client’s needs, so that there is no perception that we motivated to sell them our technology.”
Return on investment.
“You cannot take on a single project without clear return-on-investment measurements.”
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Achieve ISO 10018 Quality People Management Certification to demonstrate your organization’s strategic commitment to people to your customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors, communities, investors, and regulators.
Learn how to create Sustainability or Integrated Reports for Your Organization or Clients.
Get up-to-speed on ISO human resources standards and guidelines to enhance HR performance.
Live Education: Enterprise Engagement in Action. Take advantage of scheduled monthly live webinar preparation courses for the Certified Engagement Practitioner designation consisting of three one-hour classes and of quarterly Advanced Engagement Practitioner courses consisting of three one-hour webinar classes. The AEP course is for individuals or teams seeking preparation ISO 10018 professional certification status. ICEE periodically runs regional one-day workshops on ISO 10018 Quality People Management principles and certification.
Resources: The Brand Media Coalition, the only guide to the story-telling power of brands and where to source them for business, event, promotional gifting, and rewards and recognition. 2019 Enterprise Engagement Solution Provider Directory. The only directory of engagement solution providers covering all types of agencies and tactics as well as insights on how to select them.
Communities: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Advocate and the Brand Media Coalition free resource centers offering access to the latest research, news, and case studies; discounts, promotions, referrals, and commissions, when appropriate to third-party solution providers from participating coalition solution provider members.
Written specifically to provide CEOs and their leadership teams a concise overview of the framework, economics, and implementation process of a CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to achieving success through people. (123 pages, $15.99)
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The first and most comprehensive book on Enterprise Engagement and the new ISO 9001 and ISO 10018 quality people management standards. Includes 36 chapters detailing how to better integrate and align engagement efforts across the enterprise. (312 pages, $36.)
• 10-minute short course: click here for a 10-minute introduction to Enterprise
• Engagement and ISO standards on Coggno.com.
• 5-minute Audiopedia summary of the Enterprise Engagement field.
• The International Center for Enterprise Engagement at TheICEE.org, offering: ISO 10018 certification for employers, solution providers, and Enterprise Engagement technology platforms; Human Resources and Human Capital audits for organizations seeking to benchmark their practices and related Advisory services for the hospitality field.
• The Engagement Agency at EngagementAgency.net, offering: complete support services for employers, solution providers, and technology firms seeking to profit from formal engagement practices for themselves or their clients, including Brand and Capability audits for solution providers to make sure their products and services are up to date.
• C-Suite Advisory Service—Education of boards, investors, and C-suite executives on the economics, framework, and implementation processes of Enterprise Engagement.
• Speakers Bureau—Select the right speaker on any aspect of engagement for your next event.
• Mergers and Acquisitions. The Engagement Agency’s Mergers and Acquisition group is aware of multiple companies seeking to purchase firms in the engagement field. Contact Michael Mazer in confidence if your company is potentially for sale at 303-320-3777.
Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
• ROI of Engagement Calculator. Use this tool to determine the potential return-on-investment of an engagement strategy.
• EE Benchmark Indicator. Confidentially benchmark your organization’s Enterprise Engagement practices against organizations and best practices.
• Compare Your Company’s Level of Engagement. Quickly compare your organization’s level of engagement to those of others based on the same criteria as the EEA’s Engaged Company Stock Index.
• Gauge Your Personal Level of Engagement. This survey, donated by Horsepower, enables individuals to gauge their own personal levels of engagement.
For more information, contact Bruce Bolger at Bolger@TheEEA.org, 914-591-7600, ext. 230.
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