Theresa Beenken always had a passion for the written word. She loved the way books inspired people and created bonds, so much that as a child, she started her own little library in the basement of her parent’s home, and lent out cherished books to family and friends. Her direction to entrepreneurship was no surprise to her, as her current industry reflects a love of communications from an early age.
Beenken states, “I know everybody’s journey is a little bit different. For me, I came into it because I found what I love to do quite early on, in terms of communication and sharing ideas.
“I studied public relations and communications and then I had found an opportunity with a public relations firm many years ago.” Beenken’s poise and confidence were traits she displayed in getting her dream job. “The position was filled by the time I applied, but I still showed up at their door step with my résumé in hand and said ‘I believe this is right where I need to be, and I want to work here. So, next time you have an opening, I’ll be right here.’ And they interviewed me and ended up hiring me on the spot.”
Aside from mastering the art making a powerful first impression, Beenken’s learned a great deal about communicating a message and reaching an audience. “Another side of that company was the speakers’ bureau, and I ended up doing a project [with them.] I realized bringing people’s ideas to life was even more intriguing to me. That was 24 years ago. I since worked my way up to the company and then I partnered and bought my company 3 years ago.”
Making that transition from an employee to an entrepreneur wasn’t as challenging as I thought it might be, but certainly it’s a different mindset when you own the company, versus being an entrepreneur and feel like you’re doing this as an entrepreneur.”
“The first owner of the company, Perry Goldsmith, always encouraged the entrepreneurial mindset. I constantly feel challenged within the organization and come up with new ideas of things that we could be doing or ways that we could run the business differently. We would encourage anything that the team members wanted to do. I saw that some of my ideas had merit and it was helping to build the company. It was a logical progression to say I’ve done what I love early on, I’ve been doing it for so long, now I really want to own it and build up this legacy.
Beenken speaks of what makes Public Relations entrepreneurship tick – codifying core values.
“I always felt that as an organization, we made decisions based on what we felt like we were doing the right thing but wanted to take that even further. To really dig deep into who I was, what I’m all about, and by extension, what our organization could be about with the input of our team. And so I took the lead from some great entrepreneurs, people like Dave Williams was the CEO of South Lake Hospital, – a really strong advocate for thinking about your core values and outlining them. And so, that was one of the first things that we did was look at how we want to express ourselves, how we want to work, how we want to celebrate.”
Celebrating” is a term seldom used in conjunction with “core values”- when asked how someone would celebrate a value, the response was inspiring:
“One of our core values is ‘pursue possibility.’ It’s about having a mindset of we can do. We try not to have an instinctive reaction of, ‘no we don’t do it that way,’ or ‘that’s difficult,’ or ‘sorry, that’s not our guideline or policy.’
We highly encourage our team to think first about what’s possible, how to make it possible.
“When we see a team member really pushing that envelope, and making something happen where they would have previously thought would have been a challenge…we’ll point that out: We’ll celebrate it as a group and really encourage the rest of the team to see how that has impact.
“We think of things like, service in general, or going the extra mile, but for us, it’s more about leaving our clients with the sense of feeling inspired from having worked with us. When they get off the phone and they feel good about working us, they feel confident and so do we: That’s what we celebrate.”
Like any company, it’s not all celebrations and success. Beenken has learned from her mistakes, and her hardships has served to make her stronger. She shares a hard-learned lesson with EI:
“For years, we had a great long-standing client, we did cross-Canada engagements [for the client,] usually with a high-profile speaker. One year, they came to us and had told us which speaker they wanted that year, it was a high-profile personality from the United States and we were happy to make that connection and secure that booking for them.
“After the tour started, part-way through, they called us, really upset and disappointed. The speaker was not delivering what they had asked for, it wasn’t the style that they had expected and usually not very easy to work with on and off the platform and really, that was our fault. We did not do our due diligence to learn a lot more about this speaker and really know what the personality was like, what the style was like, what their expectations would be and made sure that we passed that on to the clients that they knew what they were getting. We only heard them saying, this is what we want, can you book it for us? And we said yes we can.
“That was a really hard lesson to learn because they refused to do business with us for years after that. We kept trying, and we apologized and it was a really painful that lead us that kind of business because of something that we should have known better.
Beenken relearned what she already knew: Treat each client as an individual and recognize what their needs are. She and her staff knew an apology wasn’t enough. They always bring a checklist of questions, to be sure Speakers Bureau will have a gauge as to what a potential speaker is like.
“We go out and attend more of those events in person as well to ensure that the personal connection, when they’re around to help out and we see it for ourselves. We tried to turn it into a lesson learned in a way that changed our business. But it was really painful for a long time.”
Beenken shares a Public Relations trick for working with difficult personalities:
“Listening is an underrated skill. When someone who is coming across as being difficult to work with, really take in this time to understand from their perspective what they’re going through. You know something is going on in their life behind the scenes that may be impacting how they’re expressing themselves. You see the world through a different lens and need to stop and appreciate where someone else is coming from.”
Beenken states, “for me, one of the best steps when you’re dealing with a difficult personality, is to really stop and listen to not only what they’re saying, but what they’re not saying as well.”
Sometimes there’s messages between the lines that they’re just maybe not articulating.
Beenken gives an example as how to reach out to a potential client without coming off as intrusive: She would send a book, and thoughtfully worded note, “We came across a good book by a speaker that we thought you would enjoy…we were thinking about you and believe that you or the organization would appreciate this kind of thing.”
Good communication between coworkers and clients isn’t just a catchphrase for her. Talking and listening to other entrepreneurs has helped shape Beenken’s experience as the CEO of Speakers Bureau. She is adamant about sharing ideas between professional associations, to continue to be “a part of what’s going on,” and giving back to one’s industry overall as well. “I’ve been an active member of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus, and have been on the board of committees,” Beenken adds that a successful entrepreneur must be willing to share ideas even amongst competitors.
“Being a member of EO, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization I found really helpful and along the lines of focusing on listening. We focus on sharing experiences and sharing; ‘here’s what I learned, here’s what I tried.’ It’s not an approach of advice-giving, it’s an approach of really listening to someone else’s challenge and then sharing your experience and hoping that they can take that something of value to them. And it can be challenging to do because as entrepreneurs, we want to fix things, we want to move on, we want to give advice, but to really stop and listen to someone else and then have to share your experience in a way that can be helpful, that’s really helped and honed that skill.
Beenken’s advice to new entrepreneurs is to persist, learn from the challenge and show your value to the client.
“Really take a hard look at how you’re doing your business. Work with your clients in a way that they want, by asking the right questions.. Often, we would try to show our value without asking for their business: Try to continue the relationship part without expectations.”