Hiring a Remote Team & Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond


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Key Insights on Managing a Company During a Pandemic

Making the leap to COVID safe business practices has proven difficult for many businesses.  Especially when trying to hire new employees or interns when the face to face interactions of the past - including in person interviews, have been put on hold. Companies are functioning so differently today than they were at this time last year, and have created unique approaches and solutions to the remote office environment.

Recently, our agency founder Stacy Jones sat down with our head of operations and HR, Ian Drummond, to discuss Hollywood Branded's own approach. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses  hiring a remote team and creating a positive company culture with Ian Drummond, COO of Hollywood Branded.

Ian Drummond Hollywood Branded Marketing Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

A Little More About Our Guest

Ian is the COO of Hollywood Branded where we specialize in creating pop-culture partnerships for brands through product placement, influencer marketing, and celebrity endorsement. 

After a 26-year career as an administrator and educator for high school and middle school, Ian officially changed career paths and he joined Hollywood Branded back in 2019 when our agency went viral around the globe, thanks to some phenomenal PR coverage that just kept spreading. He came on board to oversee our agency's growth and expansion, where he's put his incredible management skills to use in helping keep the team organized, hiring new team members, and also making sure everyone's rowing in the same direction to hit target goals.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: When you came on board, we did not have an official strategy in hiring. It was that we posted out a job application, we would get hundreds of resumes in, someone would take a stab, then choosing who we'd actually bring on. It wasn't really a formal process. You have completely reinvented the wheel, all for the better. Can you share a little bit about what that looks like for us and what you like about it?

Answer: The internship program is my favorite part of my administrative duties, of course, because admin duties are admin duties and they're things that I have done for many years in my career. This leap to a different field was a little daunting, but the internship program lets me keep the focus on education. That's so important, and is the most important thing with our internship program.

We want to make sure that the interns that we're bringing in are also focused on education. We can make it the right experience for them because they really want to be a Hollywood Branded intern, not just any intern for this semester, they really, really want to be a Hollywood Branded intern. That's what we're looking for when we dive into this hiring process, and there's many steps that go into it.

Question: We're looking for people who want to come on board and really embed themselves in our agency, learn about what we do, contribute and grow, and really play an active role. From day one when they first submit their resume to us, we try to make that happen. Ian, can you share a little bit about what we do and how it works?

Answer: The beginning of the process is the same as anybody advertising an internship, however, what we like to do is in our listing we want to make sure that we're fun and the way we present the listing shows potential interns that we're a fun pop-culture marketing agency.

We kind of have a little bit of leeway with how we advertise, it's not so stiff. We get a lot of applicants for every semester that we advertise. Then, it gets more interesting as you work your way through the different parts of the process. They apply through a link in the listing, and they end up on a board and we do some paper screening, but for the most part if you're interested, you're going to have a good chance at going to round two.

Hiring a Remote Team and Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond

Round two is where it starts to get more interesting, and many of our applicants will screen themselves out.

It's very tough to make a decision, and paper-screening for a regular position, you're going to look at different experiences. When you're looking at internships and the students that are coming to you, really, they're all going to pretty much have the same resume.

They've had a handful of internships, they have done not a whole lot that's outside of what you would do going to college and getting internships and maybe working. So they need to set themselves apart, and we do that through step two.

The applicants that we don't lose are the right types of applicants to interview. For the next step in the process, because we're a pop-culture agency, we want to stay current and we want interns who are current, we ask them to submit a TikTok video.

A Minute or less: those are the parameters that you're given on TikTok. You can't string together a bunch of videos to include everything you want to include. You get a minute, that's it. Sell yourself in a minute and sell the reason why you're applying to Hollywood Branded within that same minute. That's all you get. And we've got some pretty creative applications through that process.

We'll take a not-so-awesome TikTok if it's somebody pushing themselves outside their comfort zone, because we respect that and we want interns who are willing to put themselves out there. It's all part of the learning process. If you're not willing to do that, you're not the right fit for Hollywood Branded as an intern.

We'll go through all the videos and laugh and applaud and whatever. Some of them, like I said, are very creative, very clever, and some aren't so much but the content is awesome, by and large.

Hiring a Remote Team and Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond

Then, the next step for those that were brave enough to submit this and post it and leave it up until the next round, they get invited to a panel interview. What that is, is not that they're interviewing with a panel of us, but they're interviewing with a panel of other intern applicants. They're going to get measured next to each other. It's usually four to five interns in each group interview.

We're looking for more than one and I make that very clear at the beginning, so that they understand that we're looking at not just their answers but their interactions with each other. That's very important because you're building a team. It's a 12-week team that you're building but you're still building a team.

They need to be able to interact with each other because they're going to be working on projects together. It's really interesting the way that you can see those who can and those who cannot work in a group setting.

You don't get to be a star until you've had a lot of experience in this field. They're all students and they all get to learn. Even if we absolutely loved your TikTok video, that may give you some extra points; but when you come into that interview, we're going to look to see how you interact.

There's a question within that interview where they're actually put on a group marketing campaign. They get 10 minutes to come up with a pop-culture marketing plan for a brand and throw together whatever they can do.

Really, that question is the biggest question in the entire interview, because we can tell so much about how they listen, how they interact, and the ideas that they come up with. Creative ideas are great, but if you're coming up with creative ideas in a silo and a vacuum and you're not listening to what other people say, it's not really the type of team member we're looking for.

We want to hear that someone hears someone's idea, and they catapult off of that and they say, "Oh, yeah. Then we can do this with that. And then how about this?" Those that you hear that are just flinging ideas out there, even if they're great ideas, if they're not building off of each other, they're not a fit. They're not someone we're going to want.

Hiring a Remote Team and Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond

Question: Where does it sometimes go sideways?

Answer: Where does it go sideways? Within the interview I would say that... Well, I think it's just that this panel interview takes people out of their comfort zone even further, right? Where it can go sideways is they just don't know how to interact. It's plain and simple. That's it.

They either want to be the first person to answer every time or they wait until everybody else answers because they're not comfortable and they want to hear what everyone else has to say, both of those are bad decisions, right? You don't always be first, you don't always be last. You want to just read the room and be cordial and be a team member.

I've really seen some interns absolutely blow it, especially, as I said, in the group question, where they just want to get their answers out because they know their answers are so creative and so great. Maybe they are, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you hear each other. I've seen it going all sorts of directions. Now, I tell them whatever budget, it's an unlimited budget, so the ideas they come up with are pretty astronomical. It's fun to listen and really neat to hear really just how they bounce ideas off each other. You get to see really so many different characteristics of them as young people.

There are definitely people who will stand out. That's your obvious picks. But generally, there's more positions available than just those that are exceptional and stand out right away. Having a recording, going back to the various questions, especially the group question in recording, reviewing it with yourself, and look at how they interact and what they have to say.

Sometimes it's a tough call and we're looking at the interview and maybe we still haven't made the call and we may have to go back over their TikTok video because we want to see what is something that can set somebody apart if they're one of the last interns selected. Of course, they never know they're one of the last interns selected.

They get a conditional offer. Basically, the conditional offer is that we need to know that you can write, because we're going to be asking you to participate, like the rest of our staff, in our blog writing.

They receive a template as to what a Hollywood Branded blog looks like, and they're asked to submit a writing sample in that format. They're directed to our website so they can see some Hollywood Branded writing samples.

Hiring a Remote Team and Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond

We want to know a couple of things here, one is: can they write in this pop-culture voice? Can they write well? And we also want to know if they can follow through with the task assigned, right? Given that their internship is based on this. If they do not do their blog, then they do not get the position. They don't get the formal offer unless the blog writing sample is submitted.

All the steps are about follow through, wanting something, showing that you want something, showing that you're determined and committed to proving yourself.

Question: Changing topics a little bit, can you share a little on how our agency has approached dealing with COVID, remote employees, building a culture, and keeping people who are very far away, in some cases in other states or countries, still actually aligned? We have employees all over the world. How do we actually do it?

Answer: That's a good question. We didn't know what we were going to do, nor did most people know. I think there are still plenty of businesses that are trying to figure it out.

Honestly, we floundered for the first few weeks as to we didn't know what people were doing. We didn't know what the interns necessarily were doing that we had on board at the time. We had to really just dial in and create check-ins and utilize our tools.

One of the first things that we did that was advantageous was going back to something that we used to do in the office and doing it remotely and doing our morning coup. A morning coup is where we all come together - first the team, and once we talk about what our day looks like, then we bring in the interns. The interns are going to talk about what they're doing for their day.

We're tracking this information and we're giving them the tools to stay organized, be able to know what they were doing, and remember what they were doing when all this is done. We utilize Monday, which is a great software program, for those of you who don't know it, if you don't have a project management software program and you're thinking about one.

We love Monday. I know there's others, and people love their others, but Monday really works well for this.

Then what we'll do when our team meets first thing in the morning, we'll talk about what they're doing and where they could potentially utilize interns. They'll put it up on the Monday board that the interns are going to be looking at when they log in at 9:00 in the morning, West Coast time.

When they come in, if their slate is not full, which generally it is not, then they can look at the different projects or we can tag them, assign some projects that they can move over into their to-dos for the day. They can have structure to their day based on what we can assign them to do and what they can learn from doing that particular day.

It's a great way to have everybody at the same place to start the day. Depending on who's the project lead for whatever project they're working on or assisting with, there's different ways that the different project leads will communicate. They might Slack throughout the day. They might send them a message through Monday. They might say, "Meet me in my Zoom room for 10 minutes and let's go over and let me walk you through it."

There are different ways, but the tools are all there. We have all the tools to create a virtual office that allows us to stay on top of things without actually being there. 

Hiring a Remote Team and Creating Positive Company Culture With Ian Drummond

Question: It's something that started off in-office and it grew. It's even better, I would say, now that it's a remote situation. Ian, what is it that we do that gets so much talk?

Answer: Right. It's called Sing For Thanks and it's part of our thank-you program, which we'll talk about a little bit later. At the end of our coup meeting in the morning and everybody has their plans and they either know exactly what they're doing or they have set a time to chat with whoever the point on the project is. Then, we close out the meeting with what we call Sing For Thanks, as I said.

Basically, there will be three partial songs, in the form of song lyrics, that have been put up by the people who sang the prior day. What I mean by sang the prior day is you look at the song lyrics, and if you know one, two, or all three of the songs, you're going to identify yourself as knowing a song.

You're not supposed to say what it is and you shouldn't ever say what it is, because that's not the way it's going to work. You'll identify and three people, hopefully, will sing three different songs that morning to set us off on the right track. Some of our staff and interns have the most magnificent voices, and some do not.

We don't care. It really is just about being part of the culture, having fun, being willing to put yourself out there, and it's a neat way to set off on your day.

Check Out The Podcast!

Ian has A LOT of great information from his experience in management and building company culture! Check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from his advice and expertise!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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