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Meet Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merrie Spaeth.

Merrie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 1987, I moved to Texas after serving as President Ronald Reagan’s Media Director. I started Spaeth Communications, Inc. thinking, “I’ve had such an interesting life, someone will hire me to do something!” And I got lucky. On my first day at my first appointment with what used to be Southwestern Bell, the CEO was telling me about their effort to have their own employees talk to their customers, and he said something that struck me. “We’ve discovered that the customer doesn’t remember what we thought we told them.” It was an epiphany. I realized my attitude had always been, “What do I want to say? What do I think the listener needs to know?” I wasn’t thinking about how people listen. When you ask someone, “How much does the listener remember? A lot or a little?” Everyone knows it’s just a little. I wondered if anyone had studied that, and I shared that insight with our new clients.

We picked up several big clients immediately – the Baylor Health Care System, which tasked us with helping get all of their staff and employees involved, a program that’s become “Employees as Ambassadors,” and the audit practice of the accounting and consulting firm, Arthur Andersen, which charged us with developing my insight into strategic model. We called this the “Influence Model TM,” which charts how an enterprise’s internal and external audiences receive information, but most importantly influences what an audience will hear, believe, remember and pass on. During this time, we also began the development of our now-internationally-influential teaching methodology. To date, we believe we’ve collected the largest library of real examples on video in the world, so our teaching is timely, very visual – and fun!

Since then, we’ve been fortunate to receive work via word-of-mouth, as new and old clients continue to refer us and give us assignments and challenges that have led us to develop our seminars and courses. Through our work, the firm has been fortunate to develop a robust track record of consulting, crisis counseling, corporate culture projects and high-level executive coaching.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
This would be a very long answer if complete. When running a small business, personal matters and family life add additional challenges. Losing my husband in 2004 very suddenly to a heart attack when he was 55 meant shouldering parental responsibilities solo and coping with grief alone.

Like many other firms, the Great Recession in 2009 proved an immense challenge. I cut salaries depending on the level of employee and eliminated my own completely. Not one person protested. We made it through about a six-month period and survived.

Spaeth Communications – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
What sets us apart is pioneering our own definition of communication and our strategic model. Everyone wants good communication, but no one defines what it is – except “more.” Our definition of an effective communication strategy and program is to know your target audiences and understand how to influence what they hear, believe and remember. Then, the next step is to ask, who will the listener talk to, and do I understand and have a program to enlist them? Finally, the concept of alignment between what we call the formal and informal networks creates an environment where communication becomes a strategic business tool. We truly believe communication is a hard skill that can be taught to anyone willing to invest the time. I always say that if my old boss, President Reagan, had time to rehearse, you do, too.

I am most proud of the number of talented people who have come through our doors and continue to be our ambassadors. All of our business is referral, that is, previous clients affirmatively pass on our name and recommend us.

In my quest to influence tomorrow’s executives and leaders as an instructor at the Business Leadership Center at the Cox School of Business at SMU, I have won 51 Teaching Excellence Awards, the highest number in the Center’s faculty. I tell my graduate students, “No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what your specialty or job description or function, you’re in the communications business.”

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Awfully broad question. Success in all roles is to be a good role model and to follow “Golden Rule” behavior and management: “Do unto others how you would have them do unto you.” Success in my personal life is to provide for my family financially, serve as a moral role model and ensure they know I love them unconditionally. In business, success is that our company should thrive, prosper and be recognized for our innovation, responsiveness and integrity.

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