Ultraviolet Keynote Sessions: Desirée Rogers

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This is a podcast episode titled, Ultraviolet Keynote Sessions: Desirée Rogers. The summary for this episode is: <p><em>This is the second episode of the Ultraviolet Keynote Series where we share the recordings of our keynote sessions from our Ultraviolet conference this year. </em>In this keynote<em> </em>Lev's<em> </em>Rachel Gilliam talks to Desirée Rogers. Desirée is the first black CEO and Co-Owner of Black Opal Beauty, former CEO of Johnson Publishing Company (creator of Ebony and Jet), and co-owner of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and BLK/OPL. She was also appointed by President Obama as White House Social Secretary, re-positioning the White House as the “People’s House” and implementing innovative events. Rogers offers insights on everything from how to make marketing work in a digital and global age, to how to talk about race and foster a positive, inclusive work environment.</p>
💥 How Desiree Approaches Change Within an Organization
01:41 MIN
💪 "I don't believe in the word setbacks"
00:52 MIN
💡 How to Put Mistakes in Perspective
02:10 MIN
✨ Important Qualities of Marketing Leaders
02:19 MIN
🏛 The Inspriation Behind the Obamas' People's House
02:52 MIN
🎯 How to Stay Focused on the Big Picture for Customers
01:45 MIN
🤝 Inclusion and Diversity: What Companies Should Be Asking Themselves
01:56 MIN
🎇 Becoming a Better Visonary for your Company
02:00 MIN

Announcer: Welcome to the In The Clouds Podcast. In The Clouds is a marketing cloud podcast powered by Lev, the most influential marketing focused Salesforce consultancy in the world. Lev is customer experience obsessed, and podcast hosts, Bobby Tichy and Cole Fisher have partnered with some of the world's most well- known brands help them master meaningful one- on- one connections with their customers. In this podcast, they'll combine strategy and deep technical expertise to share best practices, how tos, and real life use cases and solutions for the world's top brands using Salesforce products today.

Bobby Tichy: Welcome to In The Clouds Podcast, this is Bobby Tichy along with Cole Fisher, and today we're continuing in our series on recapping some of the keynote speakers from Ultraviolet, Lev's first user conference back in April of 2021. Today, we have our conversation with Desiree Rogers, along with Rachel, who is an account director on the Lev team, and talking through just Desiree's experiences, what she's found and her success, as well as what it really means to, not only make marketing work in a digital and global age, but how to foster a positive, inclusive work environment. There are a number of different topics and pieces that Rachel and Desiree touched on.

Cole Fisher: Yeah, and Desiree has got a really cool background of just kind of everything from a multifaceted marketing, former CEO publishing company, being on the Obama campaign as a social secretary. So, she really has a lot of cool stories of where she's been and a really interesting take on things like culture.

Bobby Tichy: For sure. I hope you guys enjoy this conversation with Desiree Rogers and Rachel Gilliam.

Rachel Gilliam: Hi everyone. I am so excited for our next keynote session with Desiree Rogers. Welcome Desiree. How are you?

Desiree Rogers: I'm great. How are you guys? How's the day been?

Rachel Gilliam: The day has been amazing. Oh my goodness. I have fortunately been a part of the steering committee for Ultraviolet, so it's been really cool to see more of the behind the scenes, and even still, it has blown away all of my expectations, so very, very insightful.

Desiree Rogers: Wonderful. Well, let's see If we can make it even better.

Rachel Gilliam: Yes, let's do it. I'll quickly introduce myself and then I would love to pass it over to you because I know I've got a lot of good questions to dive into today. So, I'm Richard William. I'm an account director at Lev. I've been with the company for a little bit over a year now, which is crazy. Professionally, I'm super passionate about helping my clients to level up in their Salesforce ecosystems and getting the most out of their Salesforce investment, but also their investment with Lev. Personally, I am the founder of Unapologetic Womanhood, which is an organization that is really dedicated to helping to elevate the voices of black women in entrepreneurship and wellness spaces. So, on all levels, I'm very excited for this conversation with you today because I know that we share a lot of the same passions.

Desiree Rogers: Yes we do. Yes.

Rachel Gilliam: I'm going to quickly read your bio, which I know will not do justice, and then I'm going to pass it over to you so you can go through your story as well. But Desiree Rogers, you are an influential results- oriented business leader. As the first black CEO and co- owner of Black Opal Beauty, and a former CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, Rogers is known for her uncanny business acumen and innovative approach to marketing and brand development. Beyond her experience in the private sector, Rogers was appointed by President Obama as White House Social Secretary, repositioning the White House as the people's house and implementing innovative events. Even though that is stacked with so many amazing things, I feel like it just scratches the surface of who you are, so I'd love for you to take a few moments to introduce yourself in more detail.

Desiree Rogers: Certainly. First of all, I am just delighted to have this opportunity and I'm hopeful that we can have a really meaningful and juicy discussion, less about me, but maybe more about some lessons that I've learned, and hopefully I can share some good information with you guys. I know that most of the audiences are marketeers, and so I'm excited about that. But just to me, in a nutshell, I've spent quite a bit of my career jumping industries, which plenty of people have asked, how could you be involved with the lottery, the White House? I worked at Allstate, I worked at 1AT& T. I ran a utility here, and so my work has really been across multiple industries, and so I'm not afraid of any industry, I'm proud to say. If you think, if I take a step back, I have worked in corporate, I've worked for a governor. I've worked for a mayor running tourism here in Chicago, and then I've also worked for a president. I've seen a lot in the time that I have spent in my career across a lot of different both governmental agencies, but also corporate. But most of my work is really centered on the consumer. The one clear line across all of my work has really been this dedication to increasing the experience, making the experience the best experience it can be, having products really over- perform and excite consumers. That's really what I've been focused on, and in particular, more mature businesses. When you think about the lottery, it's been around a long time, how does that get repositioned? You think about a gas utility, people love to hate the gas utility because they don't want their prices to go up, but how could we make that organization serve the citizens of Chicago and the north shore a bit better? Then you think about the White House. Well, certainly the presidency has been around for a long time. How does an experience at the White House become a different kind of experience and really excite those visitors beyond meeting the president and first lady? And you probably say, well, there's nothing beyond that, but you know what? There really is if you're a true marketeer. I've looked at historical businesses, places, etc, and tried to make them fresh and new, and that's really what I think I bring to the table, is this customer centric at every level, no detail too small to look at from the customer size.

Rachel Gilliam: As an account director, that is music to my ears, because I am always focused on the customer and trying to push my clients to the same. Now, actually a really good segue into my first question that I have for you is, how do you start to approach coming into a new business with the intention of shaking things up or making companies think more about the customer versus their own business objectives while keeping an eye on the business overall?

Desiree Rogers: Well, I think one very wise person said to me once, never talk about shaking anything up. That's the first thing. You got to be a little bit stealth in how you think about things, and you don't want to scare people. I think, early in my career, maybe I would scare people and say, we're going to change everything. Everything looks like it needs to be changed, especially when I would go in and I might see so many opportunities for improvement or so many opportunities to really create a closer relationship with the consumer. Now, here I am a little bit more mature. The first thing I think that's really important is to study, study, and study. What does that mean? It means, who is the culture and who is expert in that culture in what they do? Who's really respected, as I go into a new business, who's really respected there and successful? Respected by their peers. It doesn't really matter what level that person is at. Many times they start you in some kind of transition. You've got to meet with this department, this department, this department head, but sometimes it's important to get a little bit lower in those organizations to see what is really going on and who might have different ideas. The other thing I think that is important is really what I call the gray hairs, of which I have not one today, but I do have a few gray hairs, is this whole idea of not just throwing out all the past. It's important to gain lessons from the past and it's important to have people around that have seen that business go through many cycles, and that you mix that up with maybe some people that haven't been there as long that can add new ideas, but you have to have mutual respect for both sides, particularly in really large organizations. I found that, at my time at the insurance company, Allstate. Sometimes it's in places that you never think to look, so don't be afraid to investigate or ask questions in a different department than maybe you might normally be sent to, for example, operations. Operations has a lot of intel about the interaction of a company with their consumers, and there are certain little small things that you might not think about and operations may not be thinking about it the same way you're thinking about it because they're trying to get a product out or really are focused on their timelines and what they're trying to do and not really understanding how some of that might impact the customer. The next thing is really, listen, listen, listen. What does that mean? You're looking for that opportunity really to get ahead of the competition, and you want to become... how do you become best in class? How might that be different than how others are doing that work? So, I tend to study, study, study, then listen, listen, listen, and then ask lots of informed questions in any new position. I'm in, and a couple of examples, when I was at the lottery, which was just a really interesting position, but no one understood why I wanted to go to all the retailers, why I wanted to go to the 7- Eleven store or the various places we were selling lottery tickets. Well, a big idea came out of that, in that we switched how we were distributing instant tickets to the lottery retailers. They really had an idea about what instant tickets might sell best in their neighborhoods, and it might be different from the store across town. So, we did tell them, we create a telemarketing and let them pick the tickets that they wanted to have at their stores, as opposed to us just sending in the same tickets to everybody, and it gave them a sense of feeling a part of the process, but it also helped us to understand what their customers were doing, and we were able to generate sales from, move sales from 300 million to 600 million. So it does pay to really listen to that people that are on the ground and on the floor. I've got lots of examples of that. I won't go through them all, but I think those are some of the key things. Then you're able to build a good strategy, create the partnerships that you need and work on that internal team that you need to drive the business further and to really create some real growth.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah. So, biggest takeaways there are definitely doing your homework and studying and leaning in, and not trying to always be the loudest voice in the room, but probably just the most open ear to hear what really needs to happen.

Desiree Rogers: Right. Then take some time to make some decisions and testings okay. You're going to make some mistakes. Sometimes we get so much information, we don't know which way to go. We can't make a decision. We get frozen. So, you have to be careful of that. You have to realize that there may be some instances where it's not perfect the first time, but you can refine and adjust and keep going.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah, absolutely. Well, obviously you're incredibly accomplished, but accomplishment doesn't come without hardships or setbacks, especially for women of color or more specifically a black woman in high profile leadership position. So, I'm curious, what has your experience been like going from college graduate to this path to CEO of several companies?

Desiree Rogers: Sure. Well, I don't believe in the word setbacks, and I know that might sound like, ah, how could she say that? But I do believe that there are instances where things didn't go my way and that perhaps I could have done a little bit better in those particular instances. But my mother says, as long as you live, there'll be opportunities for change, where things don't quite go your way, and so you've got to be nimble and you've gotta be able to put that in the proper perspective. Always learning, always taking those lessons with you, but never operating in a way that you're not going to stumble. You're so careful, then really like, what are you doing? So, you've got to be prepared that sometimes things are just not going to go your way. I refuse to use that F- word too, so here are, which is failure, a couple of things. I can remember pretty early on in my career when I was at the gas utility that I was really trying to... I wasn't president of the company yet. I was working my way up, and I was really trying, as someone coming from marketing and coming from corporate communications, I was really trying to develop a relationship with the operations side of the house, because of course, they're delivering the service, and there was a huge meeting with a labor union. It was snowing outside, and it was snowing outside, and it was snowing outside, and they just kept... There was really nothing else to talk about, but they kept extending the meeting. They just kept extending it. After about three hours, I realized they were doing this because I was very far from where I lived in the city, and they were doing that really to test me, to see if I was going to stop the meeting so that I could get home. I didn't. It took me five and a half hours to get home. But I thought of that as just, gosh, is that the kind of trust we have? How are we going to build trust here? How am I going to build a situation that ultimately, I want to run the operations area as the president, and so I really need these guys on my side. Even though it was really a scary evening for me, it showed them that I wasn't going to be broken. It showed them that I wasn't like this week management person that was going to be like, oh my God, what am I going to do? I'm going to be stuck out here. It sounds like the most ridiculous simplest thing, but I'm telling you, I got a lot of respect after that meeting, in that I just went on and just sucked it up and figured I'd get home some way, somehow. Probably the most public, and again, lesson I'll call it, for me, it was the White House, and the breach of secret service into that White House. Many people know me through that. Some don't, but you can Google it and you'll see, but I left shortly after there was a breach into the White House by a couple coming into the state dinner. I took that really hard, because as a person that always wants to win and I consider myself a perfectionist, and certainly on something like this, dotting all the Is, crossing all the Ts, security is at the top of your list. Again, these people got in, and I kicked myself because I looked at the couple and I'm like, who are they? I don't remember them on the list. But there were so many changes at the last minute, I didn't want to embarrass a guest, so I didn't push it, and we have lots of protocols of people, all of us could have caught this, but for me, the lesson was, is that, even if you're right sometimes, even if you think you've made the right decision, sometimes your right is still wrong. You can't take this personally. You can just figure out when you're working in government. The leader is always going to be right, whether that is a governor or mayor or a president, you're there to serve. So, you just have to understand that and be okay with that. My biggest takeaway from all of that is, it took me a long time to come to this conclusion that, even though, maybe it wasn't something that I did, you've got to be a grown woman enough, whatever you want to call it, to accept what comes with these positions and be able to put them in their proper perspective and move on.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah. I have a followup question to that. I know we have an audience full of marketers who are probably also perfectionists, so how do you take these, we won't call them setbacks, but lessons, and when you're feeling like you just want to beat yourself up for something, or what could have been seen as a mistake, and how do you start to channel that into a lesson and start to apply that to future endeavors as well?

Desiree Rogers: I think one of the first things for me is, is don't let people tell you what the lesson is, or tell you, you should have learned a lesson from that. You have to learn and put it in your own perspective, and we all learn differently. It really resonates when you can internalize it and you can see, okay, this is what I was supposed to take away from this, this is what I was supposed to learn from that. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by a mistake and a moment where you learned something. I just feel like it's important to put that in the proper perspective, and so that's one thing. The second thing is to really understand what did you really learn? Sometimes it takes people that know you well to walk you through that and talk you through that. Sometimes it takes you years to really understand like, what was I really supposed to get out of that? I do believe that everything you experienced in life is for a reason, and that it is going... You may not see it today, but at some point in time, you're going to reach into, I call it my little tool chest, you're going to reach into your little tool chest and you're going to remember something, and you're going to say, ah, I'm not going to do that again. I think the real response here is A, B, C, and D based on the experience that I've had with something the other thing is not to get angry with yourself. It's so easy to be upset with yourself and angry. Sometimes you do have to apologize, and that's completely natural, but then at a certain point, you have to put it away so that you can move forward and get on with it, and that's really what we're all here is we're all human beings. Everyone's going to make a mistake. I like to think of people I really admire making mistakes. That somehow just makes me feel better. Not wishing will poorly, but just, all of us are going to make mistakes. So, you just really have to put it in its proper perspective and move on because the last thing you want to be is paralyzed or have that mistake hold you from your true greatness. We all have a true greatness. It's like a puzzle. You have to find it. Sometimes we get the wrong pieces in the wrong place, but ultimately, if you're brave enough to remove those pieces and start again, you're going to be just fine.

Rachel Gilliam: I love that. Now, you had a lot of firsts in your careers, so I know we've talked about some lessons, but I'm also curious, what are some of your accomplishments that you're most proud of?

Desiree Rogers: I think that the work I'm doing today, I'm most proud of, and I'm in the middle of it. Why do I say that? I really think that there is a gap in terms of the expenditure that women of color, and if people don't know, I own two cosmetics companies, running one called Black Opal, which is sold at Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid, Ulta, and Target. com. Then we're launching a second one in September. Both of these cosmetics companies have been around for a very long time servicing women of color, so let me just say that. The work that I feel that I'm doing is beyond makeup. We all know that there are gaps in the marketplace, if you are a woman of color, where it's still hard to find makeup that is suited to the needs, your needs, or what you need, whether it's a color or a skin treatment or something like that, and so I'm really confident that my business partner and I are going to be able to be best in class in providing, not only that makeup, but the type of experience that women of color are looking for, but more importantly than that, is really this whole idea of support and beauty is from within, and you can do whatever you want with your makeup and skincare regimen. On top of that, we really feel like it's important that we create partnerships with people and women of color. Many of, and most of the suppliers that we're using and our partners, are women that are running their own businesses, are minorities that are running their own businesses from legal to product development, to public relations. As we scale, they'll be able to scale. So, I am hopeful that we will be able to create some powerhouse companies inside of an industry where many times we've been closed out of that industry on sitting on the other side of the business side of the table, even though we spend an enormous amount of money in that industry. I'm also confident that I may be able to create a few millionaires on the way. So, we're very excited about the people that we've hired to work with us on the business, and also super excited about the partners that we've been able to bring into the business as we build these companies.

Rachel Gilliam: That's amazing, especially thinking about just the history that you've had in different organizations to know that the things that you're most proud of are still happening today. That's inspiring for me to know that some of the best days are definitely still ahead.

Desiree Rogers: Yeah, if you want them to be ahead.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah.

Desiree Rogers: You use all that knowledge that you gain, and then you, like I said, put it in your tool chest. You never know when it may be handy. Keep that toolbox open and keep stuffing things in there because you're going to need them at some point in time.

Rachel Gilliam: So, you're often brought into businesses to offer a fresh perspective. As a business leader, knowing that we've got an audience full of marketers, when you're coming into an organization, what do you look to marketing leaders or your marketing organization to bring to the table when you're thinking about revitalizing a business?

Desiree Rogers: Well, first of all, if anyone's out there, we're hiring in the marketing area. That's the first thing I'll say. But here's, to be completely, to focus and answer the question, leadership, and you say, oh, okay, all right, curiosity, which sometimes is hard to find. People get are getting less and less curious as they worry and fear about the future. Curiosity is really important to me. Excitement, I want my marketeers to be excited, to be exciting. I want to be enthusiastic about working with them and hearing their ideas and seeing what they're bringing to the table. Consumer focus, for sure. Boundless energy, for sure. And only informed fear. Informed fear. Marketeer is the one bringing the ideas and bringing the future, and have you thought about this, and have you looked at this? This is what consumers are saying, this is what your competition is doing. How do we fit in there? Outspoken. We don't need a quiet marketeer. We need someone that is going to speak up. Also, obviously, intelligent. They have to know their business. I would say a couple of things, be informed. There's so much information out there. How are you gathering that information and making it work for you and your team. Sharing is important. You don't know the next idea is going to come from. There's so many tools out there like Slack and others that it's important that everyone kind of see what's happening, because you just don't know what that's going to trigger in someone in your organization. You've got to be quick, which is another reason why, like all the information sharing tools, because everyone kind of sees it at the same time. It's not, first, it goes to this level, then it has to go to this level, then it gets to... Well, how much time has gone by while you're working through all of that? It's internal work, so who cares, to some extent, if it's not perfect, it's not ready to... It's a work in progress, is the way I like to think about things. Then, have you taken a look at your mission statement and your brand statement lately? People are like, oh, what is that? It's so important. Does it still make sense? Do you understand it? Can you get behind it? Can your team get behind it? Most importantly, does it resonate with your consumers? Who are your partners that are helping to bring this to life? Have you put some timelines in place to make certain that you're measuring. Then, how are you measuring that progress? What does success mean to you and your team, and how is that different from the competitors? My brother often says to me, Desiree, that's a great idea, but can you sell it? Does anybody want it? Are you getting across to those consumers? Are you taking market share? Are you true to your brand mission? Everyone's a smart consumer nowadays. Everyone's doing their research on products and services, and so you've just got to understand and look at it from the eyes of the consumer. I do things like Google and look up women of color makeup, makeup for black women, makeup for ethnic women, what's coming up? What are they seeing if they're a consumer? How can I be at the top of that list? What are people saying about ethnic makeup today? So, you can't be in your little bubble because nobody's in a bubble, everyone's Googling everything, or looking it up, or on Facebook, or ask them the question. So, you got to keep your mindset open, be really clear about what you bring to the table, what you bring to that consumer, how you're different from that competitor, and make it easy for them to access and make sure it's certain, the price is right.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah, absolutely, and I love what you mentioned too about curiosity and keeping your mind open. That's something that Michael, our CEO, always challenges us with. When I was even interviewing for Lev, I was told that Lev really only hires very curious people, and so to ask questions and to bring a fresh perspective to things, and not just think that this is the way it's always done so that's the way it's always going to be. crosstalk change things and think outside of our bubble, like you said.

Desiree Rogers: Yeah. No, I think that's so important, because everyday people are doing that. Pandemic has made all of us think in a whole nother way about how maybe we thought we would shop, how we would live, how we would entertain ourselves, what our homes meant to us, what homeschooling meant to us, what the experience with us in our inaudible meant. So, we've all had a little bit of practice now, forced practice, on what happens when your world gets turned upside down and you have to reevaluate and rethink about how you're living every day. Now's the time to get in there with those new ideas.

Rachel Gilliam: Yes. I mean, I even think about tonight, we're hosting the virtual concert and everyone, or people should have their little happy hour kit that came in the mail with them, and so you have to be able to pivot and to swivel and to not be so stuck in your ways with things crosstalk.

Desiree Rogers: Exactly.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah. What would you recommend the leaders and marketers tuning in today to help them kind of bring this sort of fresh perspective to the work that they're already doing every day?

Desiree Rogers: Sure. Well, let's go back to Black Opal, because I feel like it's easier if I take an example, as opposed to giving these generalities of something, that it might be easier if we talk Black Opal, the makeup company. When my partner Cheryl Mayberry McKissack and I bought the company, we felt that we had these amazing quality products that had been developed. The real potential was an expansion of those products to, based on what customers were asking for, cleaner products you know, maybe some different ingredients in those products, and maybe some products that we didn't currently have in the lineup was going to be important. Increased distribution was going to also be important because people were having trouble finding where we were sold. Then most importantly, we knew that we had to market the changes we were making and also market the product. The first thing we did is we did a study to identify what resonated with our existing customers and what resonated with potential customers. So, was it what we thought or was it something different? Some of the things that we thought could be important was our price. Did it matter that it was now a minority and women owned business? Did it matter that all of our products were cruelty free. We found that that was on the lower end of the spectrum, believe it or not, still there, but price was really important. So, we began to think about, how do we talk about price, and so now all of our messaging has BD under$ 20 in the paid ads, our search, our social, our email. We also tested multiple messages. It's important that you say the same way in a bunch of different ways, and we found that people resonated more with Black Opal spelled out then the BLK OPL logo that we were using. That's sometimes a big no- no. You got to use the logo. Well, if people don't understand it, you're just throwing money away. We had six or seven messages that we tested in the social marketplace and came up with and found out, well, these are the ones that resonated, so then, after our six week tests, we were able to go back in and put the real money behind those messages that really resonated with our customers. On our digital site, which is currently under renovation, we've done extensive research on the industry. What are others doing? What did their sites, not only just look like physically, but what is the navigation of the consumer on those sites? Are they're doing things that we should really be looking at to make that navigation easier? So, we created a couple of things quick shop from a category page, more descriptive info on a category page, stickiness at the top navigation bar. So, users can go back and forth between their shopping cart and browsing. Nobody likes to lose everything that was in their shopping cart while they're browsing. There are probably about 20 new changes that we're making to our website that we're going to launch. It's in progress now. So, you'd see some of the pages, but not all of them, because we didn't want to wait, but we'll continue to feed in the new material into that website. But most importantly, we found a big gap in the AR experience, the artificial reality experience for women of color across beauty brands. We said that we were determined to be best in class in that space. So, we're currently working on that. The biggest thing with lots of women, but I think in particular, women of color, is finding that perfect foundation match. So, we're going to have three different ways that you can match your foundation. So, we're not going to leave anything to chance. No one has all three different ways, particularly geared towards women of color. If one of those three ways doesn't work, we're going to have someone on the line with you that is experienced in makeup for women of color to walk you through this. We really are really going to focus on what we were told was one of the number one issues was finding my foundation, and then also having a skincare products that were focused on women of color and dealt with the issues that I have, such as larger pores, or oiliness, or fading of dark spots, etc. We've hired an African- American dermatologist to work on all those products as well. I know I've gone through a lot, but you can apply that to anything in summary. It really is, again, going back to listening to those consumers, taking a look at who you say you are and making certain that every step of the way you are marching to that beat, looking at your competitors and looking to see, first of all, are there ways that they're doing things better that you could duplicate, and then how can you do it even better? What can you add on that would really make you even better than what they're experiencing out there? The process never ends. We recently did a pop- up in Chicago, a pop- up store, and I worked at the store both days, and I was just delighted to just see how people were handling the product, how people were talking about the product, good and bad. It's always important to, if you can, try to experience what consumers are saying about your product and services. When I was at the gas company, I used to sit for hours in customer service tied in with the customer service person listening to the various calls on service, and just how we were handling consumers as they were purchasing gas services, but also during emergencies and how we were handling that, and was able to learn a lot about how we could interface a little bit better with our consumers.

Rachel Gilliam: That's incredible. Let's say that I lead a company and I know that I have a lot of things I need to change, right? There's a lot of gaps, some limitations. How do I start to prioritize all of that? Because you listed a lot, and I feel like if somebody has a smaller team or doesn't know where to start, it's easier to just keep doing things the same way. What are those kind of critical next steps? Or how do I start to put this into action?

Desiree Rogers: Sure. I think the first question is, what is your goal? Are you trying to grow? Are you trying to have existing customers buy more, or you want existing customers to learn about new services that you have? Are you trying to generate additional sales? That's the starting point, really. Because you can come up with all these ideas, but if they are not matched up to what it is you're trying to do as a company, then it's kind of a waste of time. The first thing is getting buy- in. If it's only you, just get buy in, in your own head as to, what have you been brought in to do? And then getting an affirmation of that. It's like, I've been brought in to, let's say, grow the business, grow this line of business. Okay, I have three ideas on how I might be able to grow this business. Let's prioritize them. And because you can't do everything at once, sometimes we go to the easiest thing. Well, what's going to give the most payoff? Is a way to think about it as well. If it's super easy and you can get it done quickly, that's okay. But you need to look at it and prioritize it based on what that payoff is going to be. Sometimes we have to have patients. I mean, that is a big thing that kills me, because I always want things done yesterday. I'm like, why can't that be faster? Why aren't the developers working overnight? Why can't we get... Well, what does it cost? You got to bounce, think about all of those things. The hardest thing really, if you're a doer, is to get that game plan, because during the time that you're getting the game plan, you really don't feel like you're moving, but the game plan is going to serve you well, it's going to ensure that you're successful in terms of doing the work that you need to do. For me, the hardest part is the game plan. Not trying to do too much. Do it in stages. Take one piece, two pieces, three pieces, or sometimes I like to get all the potential options of what I could do, but then prioritize them and take them one at a time. That can be particularly important when you're working with a team, because people do like to see some success. They do like to feel like they're not just spinning their wheels and just meeting over bunches of papers and nothing is transpiring, but it's amazing what happens with a team when you see some success. Very recently, we had a situation where one of our retailers invited us to increase the number of stores that we had. When I took this internally, a number of the people that had to do it said, well, we can't do it that quickly. There's just no way. I said, we can't do it perfectly that quickly, but we can do it, and I will deal with the fallout myself. So, we did do the project, lots of pain, lots of things that didn't go perfectly, but we won a thousand new stores after that, and I owe that all to them because they took a chance really on me internally, that I would be able to handle the fallout, and that I wouldn't be coming back and placing blame and saying, how come we didn't do this? What happened over here? And we just moved on, and they were inspired that they took the chance, did the work, wasn't pretty, but that we got a thousand new locations out of that retailer, simply because we got it partially done in the timeframe that they had asked for. Under normal circumstances, we would have just said, we can't do it. Remember, I don't believe in can't either.

Rachel Gilliam: We need to like send out a follow- up crosstalk.

Desiree Rogers: There's always a way. You just have one thing. There's always a way. Most of the time, if you're honest about it, even though it's an ugly answer, people will meet you part of the way. So, that piece you thought was going to be a deal breaker, they'll say, okay, we can push that off a little. We'll take this piece first. There's always a way usually to work it out. It's when you like hide the answers because you're so afraid to say like, ugh, I can only deliver 50% of this, that's when you get in trouble. People don't like surprises.

Rachel Gilliam: Absolutely. Yeah, our director of strategic services, Jenna Kienle always says like, you don't have to boil the ocean. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Let's just take bite sized pieces and let's see what we can get done.

Desiree Rogers: Exactly. Yeah.

Rachel Gilliam: Switching gears a little bit, you did some incredible work within the Obama administration as White House social secretary. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the People's House campaign and how the opportunity came about and the work you did there?

Desiree Rogers: Sure. The people's house comes from Andrew Jackson's presidency, actually. He was the first to call the White House, the people's house. He had this big party where people brought their animals and crosstalk. They did all this stuff and they kind of tore up the White House, but people felt like, wow, we have this option? It's our house. I read about that and I was like, ah, we can't do that, but based on the goals of the Obamas, when they took office, they really wanted people to feel like it was their house. They wanted everyone in this nation to have hope, everyone to feel like they were and are a part of American history and Americans, and salute that. And that we're all prized people. There's no one group better than the next group. That's how we came up with the fact that we should in fact have what we're calling the people's house. So, all of our work was really on celebration of the American people, whether that be all of our types of music, that be acting, that be poetry reading, poetry slams, we really curated this really fun combination of entertainment and of experiences across a wide spectrum. We'd have historians come in to have lunch with the president and talk about all of the presidencies that they knew about and how that might be different than what he was thinking or he was doing. Because he needed to have some fun for him too or we would have school children come in from all across the country that were studying jazz and have them play with Wynton Marsalis or other great jazz greats. Then at the end of the night, have a concert with these jazz greats, or during the day, they spent time in the different rooms in the White House teaching jazz students the jazz themselves, and ultimately, they would pick a young student to play that evening with them, or the Hispanic and Latin community. They had never performed as a group altogether, with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, we mixed everyone together. So, we had Latins coming from California, from New York, from Florida, and Texas, all playing together, whether it was George Lopez or Jennifer Lopez, no relation, or Marc Anthony, or Tina, who played the drums for Prince and her father, just all of those different Latin nationalities, all mixed together, saluting the first Latin Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor. It was a magical evening. Everything was like really strategic and really thought out about how we could create these amazing salutes to the American people.

Rachel Gilliam: Yes. I know at Lev we have some Hamilton mega fans, and one event that you didn't mention was the one that you organized for Lin- Manuel Miranda previewed, what would eventually grow into his musical Hamilton? What was that one like?

Desiree Rogers: That was a magical evening because it was a poetry slam. So, we had, at the time, I believe it was Mr. Simmons had like a poetry slam TV show on at the time, and one of the finalists, the two finalists, which had not been announced... The two finalists had been announced on the show. One was from Hawaii. So, we definitely have to have the one from Hawaii since president was from Hawaii. So, we had these young people doing these poetry slams. We had James Earl Jones reciting Hamlet, and then we also had Hamilton. We all knew at that time... I can't say that we knew that it was ... Because we didn't know everything. We just knew the one song that he did, but we felt like something was being created in front of our very eyes. In fact, some of the people in the audience gravitate it to him, and this is how the whole thing started with Hamilton. That was the other part of what we wanted to do, is we wanted to not only have renowned artists there, but also new artists so that people could see their work and perhaps help them with getting that work off the ground. So, that has to be our biggest accomplishment in that arena is Hamilton. We thought first that night, and we knew that this was going to be magic.

Rachel Gilliam: That's amazing.

Desiree Rogers: We didn't know that much magic, but we were hearing something that was like very, very exciting and intriguing, and we're so happy for him.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah, that is crosstalk.

Desiree Rogers: And his dad. We knew his dad was actually instrumental in us getting him into the White House, because we knew the dad from Chicago.

Rachel Gilliam: Okay, amazing. As an account director, a big part of my role is really helping my clients to see past this specific project or this specific implementation and get our heads above water to think big picture. You said something in a previous conversation that really resonated with me, and I was hoping that you could expand on it here. You mentioned that marketers need to have space to get out of the weeds and spend more time thinking strategically in order to stay relevant and to communicate with customers in a way that resonates. Do you have anything else that you want to add to that? Because I feel like a lot of our customers and attendees would really appreciate that.

Desiree Rogers: I think, it's easy to get just swamped by all the data. It's easy to get swamped, the loudest customer, the loudest complaint that you have. Sometimes we have to just kind of take a step back and really put all of that in perspective and think more globally about what it is we're doing, what is that product or service, what is it really delivering to the end user? I keep going back to the end- user, but I think that the end user is so important. When I think about clients, I think all clients want to win and all clients want to be competitive. So, you have to stay true to the brand, but show them new ways to think about that brand and new ways to really reach out to that customer. I always try to think about, if I'm talking to a client, what role are they playing? What are they interested in? How are they being judged? What does success mean to them? And how can I be a part of that success? How can I help to answer some of the things that they're struggling with? I may not be able to help with all of them, but I guarantee you might be able to help with one or two of them, and that just takes that off of their plate and makes it a lot easier for them to do the work that they're doing, because sometimes we go in and we have our own ideas about something and we're not listening. We're not really focused on who it is we're talking to or what might be important to them. That's why I think it's always important to take a little bit of a breather and take that step back. Get all your information, ask all your questions, but then think about it. I often find time to think about things in the shower or places where you give your mind a break. Give it a rest. Just give it a rest. Don't try so hard, and then these brilliant things will come to mind, and you're like, ah, I can put that with this and this with that, and that is going to be an amazing thing. Ideas, relief, having given a client relief in terms of helping them solve the issues that they're solving for. Sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes you may only have a partial answer, but that's, I would say, something that I've found to be really successful, is when I put myself in that person's shoes. Sometimes, when you do that, you will understand why they're saying what they're saying. They may not even understand why they're saying what they're saying, but you will, maybe standing outside of the role that they're playing, and might be able to help them focus through what an answer might be. If I'm always focused on products arriving on time, I might not see the real reason why they're not arriving on time. I may not have thought of that because I'm just so focused on getting them out the warehouse. Well, how did they come in the warehouse? Were they on time? I mean, I'm getting way in the weeds, but you know what I mean. You know what I mean.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah, and I love that it comes back to your previous answer too, of studying and listening, stepping crosstalk.

Desiree Rogers: Yeah. No, it's important. I mean, when people say, why are you wasting your time on that? I don't believe any time that I'm putting towards something is wasting time. I go to all the retailer websites and look to see how our product is listed. Guess what? I found a lot of things that weren't right. It's not because I'm being a crazy person, but that's what the consumer is seeing. So, even though maybe our internal team meant it to look another way, well, it's not that way. Did anyone double check? I double- check all the time. I buy stuff from other places all the time on their websites to see how easy it was. Good. What was the box that came in? Is this box the box that we've said this should be in with this kind of note and this kind of information for the consumer? Is it? Yes or no. If it's not, I take a picture and I send it back to my warehouse, and I say, hey guys... Or just different things, new products. Are they all up on the website? You just have to be diligent, but I always start backwards. I start from the customer and then go back. What are they seeing? How easy was it for them? I try to play customer all the time. I like playing customer. I like going into stores and buying my product, pretending I know nothing about it to see what people say, ask questions. That's one of my favorite things to do that I haven't been able to do so much during COVID, is go out and be a customer in the stores, and ask about the, how does this work? What do you know about it? Is this a good company? I'm a little bit of a Maverick in that way, but customer, customer, customer I think is key.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah, absolutely. Switching gears just a little bit more, we hear, especially right now, a lot of words like diversification and representation and inclusion. One of my chief concerns is that they're turning more into buzzwords and really words that inspire action. I know it can be challenging with this important work to really know where to start, but what advice or even tough love of words of wisdom would you share with companies that don't know where to start when it comes to really making a difference with inclusion and diversity in an organization?

Desiree Rogers: Well, I don't know if it's tough love, but I think the first thing, and this might sound tough and a little bit tough is, do you want to do it or not? As a company, as a person, whatever, do you want to... When I say do it, do you want to be inclusive and diverse or not? That's the first question that you have to ask yourself, not because it's in Vogue or it's the right thing to do, although if you don't think those things you maybe need to catch up on your reading and maybe have someone kind of help you to understand why being a diverse company and making certain that everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas from a place of who they are, not just what they've learned in school, etc, is important. That's the first question I would ask. If you're not quite sure, then you need to do the work to get sure. If you're sure, but just don't know what to do, which I hear often is you also have to do some research. I would start at the top. What does your board look like? The board is really the lead group that helps the CEO run the company. Not really run the company day to day, but helps that CEO, he or her, to think about the strategy of the firm and how the firm is going to run overall. How do we ensure that there's opportunity within the firm for all groups of people? How do we take a look at what we've got today and where do we want to be? One of the things that I think is really important is that, just as there are metrics for sales and growth, there should be metrics for diversity, and that that should be measured, and that, that should be a part of the senior team's paycheck. When that becomes part of the paycheck and one of the things that people are rated on, they learn really quickly what needs to get done. How do you interface to ensure that you are with the right groups, are asking the right questions to get the employees and the talent that you need? So many times I hear people say, I don't know where to get the talent. The talent doesn't exist. There's no one out there. Not true. There's lots of talent, both women and minorities that are out there that are raring to go, raring to be a part of your team, so how are you looking? How are you making certain that they have those opportunities? Then most importantly, once they get there, how are you ensuring that they're supported and that they feel like they are part of the team, and that they're not there just for window dressing? That's why I say at the very top, you've got to ask that question and be prepared. It's not always easy. It's not going to just be the same old, same old, and got to really take it on as, it's the right thing to do, it's what we want to do. It's part of our company, it's part of our culture, and we really are serious about the work that needs to get done.

Rachel Gilliam: What have you seen work for companies? Do you have specific examples of when you want to become more intentional with the hiring or promoting work practices?

Desiree Rogers: One of the things I mentioned is this whole idea of measurement. Many times you'll see, oh, we've got all of this minorities, but it's all grouped in with women. Divide it out. Let's see the women that you have, let's see the minorities that you have, let's see the types of minorities that you have, and then what levels are they at in the company? If you've got gaps and pockets, then how are you working on that? Many times you'll see women and minorities, you may see a few here and there, but aggregated towards the lower levels of the company. Who's being recruited into the company. How are you thinking about recruitment in that next grouping of talent, and how are you working internally at your company to get that next level of the minorities moved up in the business? Who are you using to manage any capital that the company might have? How are using outside vendors, women and minority vendors? Are you measuring that? Are you only doing it in jurisdictions where it is required by a government accounts that you might have? Or are you truly working to enhance your partners and ensure that you've got a wide variety of minorities and women working with you in the business that you're doing. Then I think also most importantly, is going back to how senior management is paid, that really works. Money seems to catch people's attention.

Rachel Gilliam: Yes, absolutely. I also think it's important with the hiring process, ye, but facilitating the right, or creating the right environment once people are in. You can hire as many diverse people as you want to, but once they're in, if they don't feel safe, then you're probably back at square one.

Desiree Rogers: Exactly. It's again, that's part of the measurement, right? What's happening once people get in? Are they moving up? Are they stagnant? Or are they just staying in that same position, and are they leaving? There's a lot of opportunity for talent. What's your turnover? Is it the same as other groups in your firm? It is different. Women are different, men are different, minorities are different, and so just remaining open and constant in terms of ensuring that you're creating an environment and you're creating a culture where people feel like they can participate in and do their best work. That's all anyone's asking for, is the opportunity to do their best work.

Rachel Gilliam: Yeah. I love that. I know we touched on so much today and I feel like I could keep this conversation going forever, but I want to thank you for sharing such incredible insight for everyone that's been tuning in. I do have one last question, and it's more of a takeaway for everyone taking notes, but you're really known for being a bold visionary, so I'm curious how can all be better visionaries for our brands and companies no matter what level we're at.

Desiree Rogers: I think we go back to where we started in being curious. Just asking questions. It takes time, it takes expertise, it takes not throwing away what we talked about earlier. Those times where things don't go your way, you've gotten something from that. You've gotten something for your tool chest from that. So, I would say is that don't let people just pigeonhole you into one way of thinking. Be broad in your relationships. Sometimes people become so expert and so narrow that, that's all they know. Talk to other people. Associate with people that maybe are in a whole different industry than you're in. You never know. And ask the questions that you would ask in your industry of them. You never know what little nugget you might get, what kind of information, something that they're doing differently that you can apply. I've always just been looking around. I mean, I did a lottery at the White House for the Easter Egg roll. Well, that's clearly stolen from my lottery background. Don't be afraid to string things together that have been successful in other industries into a new industry. Don't be afraid of that, and don't be afraid to call whoever you think you might want to talk to. It's so easy to interface with people now. Ask them for a Zoom call. Introduce yourself. Don't be afraid of that. The worst that can happen is what? They say, no. I can't do it. So what? Go to the next person and ask them. Part of it is our own curiosity and search for knowledge. Then just thinking about just getting good at a couple of things. Saying, I'm really good at this, and just not missing an opportunity to bring that information that you're really good at forward. That's what I would say.

Rachel Gilliam: Love it. I think we could end the conference right there. No, I'm just kidding. There's so much other great sessions to look forward to. I know we have our concert tonight, so don't forget about that at 7: 00 PM Eastern. And Desiree, thank you so much again for this incredible conversation. I know everyone took a lot away from it.

Desiree Rogers: Thank you, and good luck. Be curious, take a chance, that one line in the old Coming to America, honey, take a chance. Take a chance. It'll be great. I can tell. Just keep learning, keep sharing. crosstalk questions.

Rachel Gilliam: Thank you again. I really appreciate it.

Desiree Rogers: Bye-bye everybody.

Rachel Gilliam: Bye.

Desiree Rogers: Enjoy the rest of your day and conference.


This is the second episode of the Ultraviolet Keynote Series where we share the recordings of our keynote sessions from our Ultraviolet conference this year. In this keynote Lev's Rachel Gilliam talks to Desirée Rogers. Desirée is the first black CEO and Co-Owner of Black Opal Beauty, former CEO of Johnson Publishing Company (creator of Ebony and Jet), and co-owner of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and BLK/OPL. She was also appointed by President Obama as White House Social Secretary, re-positioning the White House as the “People’s House” and implementing innovative events. Desirée offers insights on everything from how to make marketing work in a digital and global age, to how to talk about race and foster a positive, inclusive work environment.