Chuck Gose: You are the CEO of 12 Stars Media, which is a video production company you’ve built from the ground up. I remember when it was just yourself and Zach Downs. What did you do at the early stages of 12 Stars that made the company what it is today?
Rocky Walls: That’s right! One thing that sounds really obvious, but as we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary I’ve realized over the years it’s maybe not as obvious to everyone, is that we focus tremendous efforts, often exclusively, on making sure that the people who pay for our services are exceedingly satisfied. It’s not enough for us to provide a good end result, that should be a given. It has to be a really good experience in getting that result, too.
CG: And what type of result are we talking about here?
RW: I think Internal video helps pave the way for something more important, something that matters. It has to connect people in a way that helps the organization, the people in it, the people they serve, etc. reach a new potential. The result isn’t the video -- it’s where the video takes them in the end.
CG: I believe we first met in 2009 or 2010, the exact date escapes me. But in “social media” years, that’s practically an eternity. What has changed most about you in that time?
RW: The first thing that came to mind was that I’ve learned to let go of trying to “do it all” and instead I’m focusing more on doing what matters most. That applies to business, family, hobbies - all across the board.
CG: And this seems to really reflect from one of your favorite books you’ve read in the last year.
RW: Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Right - I’d say that the book helped me put my words to a lot of the things I was trying to work through and explain to the people I care about, the people I work with, etc.
CG: What do you think communicators would get from reading that book?
RW: I think a huge problem in any communication is that we’re not concise enough, we don’t prioritize, and perhaps related, we don’t stop and listen. I think if communicators could carefully focus their efforts on just the communication, that's going to make the biggest differences, the results would speak for themselves.
CG: You maintain a pretty active social media profile and are “known” for your food pictures on Instagram. What makes an Instagram-worthy food picture?
RW: “Known” is news to me but, I’ll roll with it! First of all, I think what makes it work is that I don’t just post food and say, “this is what I ate.” I post a lot of other things that help people get to know me (family, travel, work, etc.) and then when I post food I try to tell a little story with it.
CG: Who inspires you?
RW: Chuck Gose. But seriously, my wife, my kids, my cofounder, my team at 12 Stars Media, Dwayne Johnson (not really, but if there was one celebrity I’d like to have coffee with it would be Jerry Seinfeld -- if there was a second one, it would be Dwayne Johnson).
CG: Earlier you talked about creating an experience that produces results and impacts your customer’s employee experience. Describe the employee experience you’ve created at 12 Stars Media in three words.
RW: Messy floors, acceptable.
12 Stars Media Full House
Because there wasn't a video for our weekly internal video contest to share this week, we thought we'd just re-share one of our favorites for our #TBT post. Once again, enjoy this fun parody!
Posted by 12 Stars Media on Thursday, April 6, 2017
CG: I assume what you’re saying is get the work done but have some fun doing it and clean up later?
"The Nerf darts, in a way, just represent something that’s harder to explain in a short amount of time."
RW: Uhhh… that’s exactly what I meant. ;) I suppose what I was thinking about is the physical work environment. And, yes, you’re right that we are focused on getting work done well, and not so much about when, where, and how it gets done. Although, there are rules. But there are also Nerf darts on our floors 24x7x365.
CG: Letting employees express themselves is a big part of culture. And so is having fun. What are some ways 12 Stars Media has fun or celebrates in the office?
RW: Glad we’re diving deeper because it’s not all about toys. I don’t want this to come across cliche. The Nerf darts, in a way, just represent something that’s harder to explain in a short amount of time. Some of the other things we do include monthly professional development with every Team Member. We also began and maintain an entire program around experience (that doesn’t just focus on employee or customer, but is actually holistic) called the “Red Carpet Experience.” For employees this gets activated through regular recognition, both from leadership and peers, events like our annual “Day of Wander,” and feedback sessions that result in learning and executing on what our Team Members value most -- which is why we are going to Europe in May 2017 to begin filming a documentary.
"Hygge is a Danish word that doesn’t translate directly to any English word [. . .] it's an experience of coziness, comfort, taking pleasure in simple things and feeling safe."
CG: And that’s a nice connection to my next question. You seem to hang your hat on eclectic words that have really deep meanings. Sometime ago it was “entelechy.” And now it’s “hygge.” Explain what this is and why it resonates with you.
RW: Hygge is a Danish word that doesn’t translate directly to any English word, but most folks are comfortable describing it as an experience of coziness, comfort, taking pleasure in simple things and feeling safe. A friend of mine who lives in Denmark helped me define it by its opposites - chaos, confusion, craziness. I think what we love about it so much is that many of us, Americans sure, but many people around the world, are feeling like some of our safety, comfort, etc. is uncertain. We’re excited by the idea of a culture, a country whose people are consistently ranked the “happiest in the world,” having a word for an experience that we feel we may be lacking. We’re not sure what answers we’ll find, if any, but we’re excited to explore the concept and see what we can do to apply it ourselves.
CG: As a leader, how do you create an environment that’s comfortable enough to nurture your team’s creativity?
"The challenge for us, as leaders, is to help our team balance their humility with the confidence they need to do that great work."
RW: We just had a professional development meeting with a young Team Member (our youngest actually) who had a goal for this six-month period to re-edit a video that someone else previously edited. He was super nervous about sharing it with us, but he did an amazing job. When we asked what he liked most about tackling that goal, he said that he felt freedom to do what he wanted because he knew the project was actually already done and that the Producer would never see his version. The challenge for us, as leaders, is to help our team balance their humility with the confidence they need to do that great work.
CG: Something else I like that you do is the themed video contests that employees participate in. Have you seen some of the work from this bleed over into work you do for customers?
RW: Definitely. That was largely the motivation behind it. To be fair, our “Five-second Films” program was all Zach’s (my cofounder’s) idea. He wanted to find ways to encourage our Team Members to explore new styles, techniques, storytelling, etc. that we weren’t always given the opportunity to use in work that we’re paid to produce. Sometimes it helps for our Team Members to see them come to life first, to know that they really can do it and that it looks awesome. Then, they feel bold enough to recommend it to a Producer as a creative angle for their videos.
CG: You also speak at and chair several events. You get to see and participate in more than most communicators. What would you change about current corporate communication events to make them better or more beneficial to communicators?
RW: When I talk to communicators, and as one myself in many ways, the most valuable aspects of attending events like these include: getting new ideas from peers and networking. If I could change current corporate communication events, then, I would facilitate even more of the types of things that foster these. For example, maybe we could cut out just one presentation and have a really good facilitator guide small group discussions that last longer than fifteen minutes. Sometimes it seems like just when attendees start to warm up, we move onto the next item on the agenda.
CG: You’re leading one of the pre-conference workshops at PRSA Connect this year in Denver. What excites you about this?
RW: Maybe I’m biased, but I love the workshop I’m giving in Denver. ;) It excites me because it’s got a lot of time built in for what we were just talking about - get up, try some stuff, talk to peers, try again, listen to me share a new technique, try that, etc. It’s a blast.
CG: Let’s wrap this up with a very simple question. Which emoji would you use to describe the world of internal communications?