23rd Anniversary Q&A with Matt Jackson
Q: Lambert & Co. is celebrating 23 years of business. How has Lambert evolved over the years?
Several different ways — certainly scale. Lambert was a small shop when we started, but the vision was always to be a national player. Our goal was never to be the biggest in Grand Rapids—it was to be the biggest in the Midwest. In our 23 years, we experienced change through acquisitions, organic growth, talent, expanding beyond west Michigan, and enhancing our bench.
I’ve been a part of the leadership team for the past five years, and I believe our leadership team is the strongest it’s ever been in terms of having a unified vision and trust of each other. In every sense of the word, our agency is evolving. Our core values and beliefs are the same, and now we’re able to fully execute.
The things that haven’t changed are—our desire to win, passion for learning, and being the best at getting better. What has evolved is our team and our ability to execute. Our talent is much more diverse and more skilled, quite frankly. We’ve been able to bring in some specialties that we didn’t have before. The evolution has been remarkable.
Q: How has the PR industry evolved and how is Lambert keeping up?
When I started, we were very much a PR shop. I had come from the advertising side of the industry. While I didn’t speak the PR language, the convergence of public relations, paid media, social media, and owned media propelled the industry. Overall, through acquisition and talent development, we saw the opportunity to grow our team to meet the needs of the changing market. The game has changed dramatically, and now we are more content creators than solely media pitchers. There is still great value in earned media, but in today’s climate, the ratio is now six PR practitioners to one reporter. You can imagine reporters can’t cover every story they’re pitched. Lambert is in a stronger position to offer our clients several different ways to get to their intended goals. Evolution has been essential, and we certainly keep up, but there is always more room to grow and learn.
Q: How has Lambert impacted your journey as a marketing and PR practitioner?
As a marketer, it has been tremendous because the opportunity at Lambert to learn different areas of the agency is remarkable. If you’re interested in learning different business aspects, you have knowledgeable people willing to teach you. The cool thing is — you’re exposed to experts in different areas that are adjacent to public relations and marketing. Understanding the varying aspects of the business allows you to expand your knowledge and sit with leaders outside of your lane. Everyone at our agency has access to learning from each other. The idea that we’re constantly learning and becoming the best at getting better still exists today. We’re better equipped than ever to learn from each other because we have a killer team.
Q: What is Lambert’s greatest asset?
It’s the team that we’ve assembled. We get tons of referrals and people who have left and returned. We believe, fundamentally, that we are consistently working on culture and always trying to become better. We strive to do the right thing and try to make this a great work environment. We haven’t figured it all out, but we have something pretty special, and without question, it is our people.
Q: You started at Lambert as an associate, and now you are on the executive leadership team. Can you describe your journey to Managing Director?
Its’ been quite the journey. When I started, I had six years of agency experience. I went from associate to senior associate, to director, to senior director, to partner. I am the only person on the leadership team who has progressed through the agency. I believe in my heart that the opportunity is available to anyone who wants to do it. I have felt and seen that Lambert has always provided opportunities to learn, grow, and prove ourselves.
I started on a 90-day contract because Jeff Lambert was so hesitant about hiring me since I wasn’t familiar with the PR industry. I just wanted to make the team, then I wanted to be a starter, then make the pro bowl. I was allowed to grow into this role. I certainly had struggles, but it’s been a fun journey, and I’ve been fortunate to meet great people along the way.
Q: In 23 years of operation, Lambert has seen a recession, national disasters, and now a global health pandemic. How has Lambert been able to withstand the shifts and remain a leading PR firm?
I can take zero credit for that. I’m proud of my partners on the leadership team. They instinctively know what to do. I’m proud of the fact that, at the start of the pandemic, we only had to furlough a hand full of people for one week before bringing them back to the team. It’s resiliency and having smart people who are willing to ask for help. We have a great network of advisors who step up and provide counsel and advice.
If you know Jeff Lambert, he’s not what you will call a risk-averse person. Jeff isn’t afraid to take a chance, and there have been times in our history when we’ve suspended reality and taken chances. A great example of this was in 2008 when everything was falling apart, and what did we do? We decided to move our office out of Troy, MI, to downtown Detroit. We felt like we needed to be in the city. When we made that decision, we weren’t exactly flush with cash, and we were taking a real chance to do it. What’s also inherent is the willingness to take calculated risks. It’s a little bit of luck, but mostly it’s in our DNA. I give credit to Jeff, to take some risks and not be afraid to take those chances.
Q: You lead our amazing consumer team. How have you adjusted your leadership style throughout the years?
I’m constantly learning on that front, too. I benefit from having an executive coach who has helped me through some of that. The hardest part of managing people is giving people the kind of feedback they can make actionable to grow. As human beings, we tend to avoid conflict. The good stuff is in feedback that allows you to grow, and it’s certainly an area of maturation for myself and others in the firm.
You know, it’s kind of silly. I’m always about empowering people. Anybody that wants to take a chance, I encourage you to take a chance, do it, fail fast, and learn from it. But ultimately, that’s probably where my greatest growth has been — in trying to allow people to develop through their own experience by giving them feedback.
Q: You’ve been at Lambert for 17 years. What’s been your favorite memory thus far?
For me, it was when I met my wife. Chea used to work at Lambert as a director in healthcare and worked with Don Hunt. She is still in PR and a partner at her agency. That’s by far my favorite memory.
In addition, we have had some epic holiday and summer parties. I have amazing memories of laughter and great times. I can’t pick one memory because there are so many.
Q: What do you see in Lambert’s future?
Wow, well, it’s interesting. You know we set our sights on being a top-5 player in every practice area in which we operate, and we’re going to smash through that.
We’ve always had ideas. TiiCKER and Camber Engage were ideas we always had but never acted on. Now, because of a change in our culture to honor commitments, we have brought these ideas to life and they are thriving. They are proof points of the amazing amount of growth that we could experience, well beyond what we envisioned when we sat down three years ago. We’re going to have ideas that don’t necessarily fit in a public relations and marketing lane that will come to life and contribute to our growth. So, I don’t know how big we’re going to be, but I think our growth is just starting — which is crazy to think about. I think the next 10 years will be the most remarkable period of growth for our agency. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Q: Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
I believe the opportunity for career growth, like what I have experienced, is available to anybody. Frankly, I think we’ve got a collection of the very best talent. I probably drank the Kool-Aid a little bit, but I truly believe in it, and I think we continue to become better. We’re not perfect, and there’s room for growth, but we’ve got the right people to do that.