Jeff Katz with Definition 6Culture Champion
Chief Executive of Definition 6
As CEO, Jeff guides our business strategy and leads the team in quickly capitalizing on opportunities in the ever-evolving world of marketing and technology. He has played an integral role in DEFINITION 6’s strategic growth and success since joining the team just three years after the company’s founding. As COO, he oversaw the expansion of the agency’s global footprint and led several acquisitions that resulted in some of our best and longest-standing clients.
Definition 6 creates, curates, and distributes digital, social, and video content for everymedium. Whether it’s digital or broadcast, social or mobile, TV or radio, we have the ability todeliver the right message to the right person at the right time. In the company’s 16-year history,Definition 6 has created over $15 billion in revenue for its customers, including The Coca-ColaCompany, HBO, Siemens, La Quinta Inns & Suites, GM, Nickelodeon, USA Networks, and CoxEnterprises. To learn more about our award-winning work, visit definition6.com
From the Podcast Booth:
Series Quick Links
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.
Josh Sweeney: Hello, my name’s Josh Sweeney, and welcome to the Epic Company Culture podcast. Before I get started, I would like to think Prototype Prime for this amazing podcast space. This is part of our Culture Champion series. I’m joined here by Jeff Katz of Definition 6. Jeff, thanks for joining us.
Introducing Jeff Katz
Jeff Katz: It’s great to be here, Josh. Thanks for having me.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, thank you. So to kick us off, tell us a little bit about yourself and Definition 6.
Jeff Katz: Yeah. So I feel like Atlanta is now my home. I’ve been here for 20 years. I just love the city and then I get, another opportunity, part of our company is also headquartered in New York and so I kinda get the best of both worlds. I go back and back and forth between the two great cities all the time.
Definition 6, we have clients all over the country, a couple of international clients and partners. So I love to travel, love to spend time with our people, grow companies, businesses and that’s what we’re about at Definition 6.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I liked that you picked another spot on the east coast instead of having to go all the way back out west for everything. But how’s that work for you?
Being on the East Coast
Jeff Katz: It definitely happened purposefully. There was a moment and we knew, there was a moment where we were going to do an acquisition to be a larger agency. A national agency, you either have to be in New York or LA and thinking about it and made the conscious decision to grow our business continued on the east coast.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I’m sure that’s a lot better on the travel for everybody.
Jeff Katz: It definitely is. When you have a flight every hour on the hour to LaGuardia, it makes it pretty easy.
Josh Sweeney: What is it, two hours, two and a half hours to get up there?
Jeff Katz: Yeah, exactly. Quick.
Josh Sweeney: Awesome. So I like to start off with some experiences from before Definition 6, before your current company. So from a culture perspective, company culture perspective, what was an amazing culture that you worked for beforehand and kind of how that played into building Definition 6?
Most Amazing Culture
Jeff Katz: Sure. I like to take experiences from everywhere I am. And so I think about it as I’ve been with some pretty different, even though my career at Definition 6 has been really long and that feels like a five different, six different companies, prior to Definition 6, I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. I grew up in a family business and in that business I learned at the dinner table. I learned at the office working with my dad and I learned about really how to treat people, how to be focused and make really tough decisions when you’re running a family business.
So from that environment I’ve also worked in a startup environment. IN that I’ve learned chaos and transparency is probably my biggest takeaways from that business. And what I mean by that is, I mean, living in the chaos, there’s good and bad chaos. And learning how to manage that.
And then the transparency side, coming from a family business that’s typically pretty close, close to the vest, in a startup, I learned how to be transparent. We shared everything. We had to coach young people early on, if we win a big piece of business or we think we’re going to take this company public, don’t go buy a car. And if you hear we lost a client or something, don’t go look for a job. And there I really learned how to be transparent.
Long Range Planning
And then, the third one was a large publicly traded company. And there I learned how to do, that can do long range planning, that you can put programs in place. You can really develop people, develop clients over a longer period of time because you have the resources to do that. So those are my positive takeaways. [crosstalk 00:04:08] experience.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, so you had the first one, which is kind of close to your vest, the family experience. I’m guessing given the time that you may have grown up in it’s like if you’re not paying the bill, don’t look at the bill [crosstalk 00:04:20] from your parents. I don’t know if you experienced that but very close to the vest financially?
And then you have the startup, which the whole aspect around training around transparency. I mean, I think that’s something people forget. A lot of people want transparency, but yeah, if you’re about to win a big deal, you can’t buy a new car until the money’s in your pocket. And because you lose a deal, you don’t want people running off and being worried about getting new jobs. So the training aspect of that’s definitely crucial.
So while you were speaking, you mentioned Definition 6 was almost like five different companies. I’m assuming that’s through acquisitions and growth and just other pivotal changes. How has the culture changed from, what has it been 18 years or something along those?
Definition 6 Culture Changes
Jeff Katz: Exactly.
Josh Sweeney: Okay. So how has it changed from 18 years ago through those pivots? What would you say the culture was then and what did you really become now?
Jeff Katz: Yeah, and actually we celebrated our 20th anniversary a year ago. So we’re going into 22.
Josh Sweeney: Nice.
Jeff Katz: Yeah. And so the culture, I would say the biggest thing and when I’m proud most of about our culture today is this change that I’ll share with you. Is that the culture, we used to feel it was management’s job to build the culture and to manufacture the culture. And now it is 100% our people and our client’s culture. And I love it. I mean I just, I just, where our people are taking the company and where they want to go, obviously my job is to make sure we stay focused and keeping the guard rails and everything like that.
But really that’s the biggest change and there are things that we did many years ago that I’m really happy that are still there. I’m sad that some things have left, but it’s not my culture. It’s the company’s culture.
Josh Sweeney: What are some of those examples of things that you’re happy that persisted?
Jeff Katz: So one is, and this one I kind of have control because I take my two dogs to work pretty regularly. But we have a very strong dog culture and that extended to our New York office. It’s very hard to find a landlord that’s open to that and hopefully our landlord isn’t listening to this podcast right now. We just decided not to talk about. And there are a couple of dogs. It’s extended into our New York office.
The Dog Lead
But it’s really fun and it adds a lot to the culture and actually the professionalism around people and things like … One of my favorite things about dogs in the office that people don’t think about is dogs have no idea what teams work together, what projects people are on. And when your dog leads you to another part of the office that you may not be working with that person, you build a relationship with them. So it’s like an instant collaboration and getting people to know each other and work together where they may not be on the same projects. So that’s, that’s one.
They’re just, social gatherings and things. We’ve, our team, it’s one thing to break bread together. It’s another to cook for each other. And so we’ve had this potluck dinner before Thanksgiving every year that we do. And I mean, I’ve been doing it for years and it’s great and it just grows and grows and grows. And people, I mean, they just love to come up with their creations and cook with each other. Last Friday the president of our organization did a Flap Jack Friday [crosstalk 00:08:05]. So, doing things like that.
We look at, there are different tiers. I mean, there are different pillars that our teams focus on. And from a philanthropic side, I mean, where we’re at the food bank and then we’re doing something for dogs and kids and STEM education and it’s all organic. These groups of individuals come together and this is what we want to support. And everybody knows that one, we’re a business so we can’t just support everything. And we have over 100 employees. So we’re going to have to make decisions of what we support and when we support it and things like that. Those are the areas that I’m very proud of. Make sense?
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. I’m going to go back to the breaking bread. I mean, we’ve talked about it multiple times on this show how it’s not just about the event. It’s about getting people together and finding ways to build those bonds. And I just want to share with our fellow culture is out there that there’s breaking bread together and going to a restaurant. But you went one step further where you’re cooking for each other. And for those who like to cook, I like to cook, that’s almost like a gift when I make something that I really enjoy and hope others enjoy and they like it. I mean, that’s a gift in a whole new way. And you get to break bread together. So that’s a really unique example that I haven’t heard before.
Jeff Katz: We broke a record this year. We’ve had so much growth this year I had to deep fry six turkeys to feed everybody.
Josh Sweeney: That’s a lot of turkey. And I’m assuming you’re not freezing it like the rest of us at the end of the day. You eat in some other fashion.
So talking about breaking records. I believe you’ve broken a record for awards. You got a few awards this year, right?
Jeff Katz: We did. This was a big award season for us. We had 20, I think 24 awards and that’s spanned from our client industry awards to our industry awards, Emmys, Cannes Lions, CLEOs, Telly Awards and were finalists in the National Home Builders Association. I love all our industry awards. But my favorite are when our clients are winning awards for the work that we’ve done in their industry. So you take home building. We’re being recognized by the home building industry, not the advertising industry. I love all awards, but those are really special.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely cross function and help somebody else out to get their words. And just to kinda recap on that, I mean 24 awards out and how many employees do you have total about them?
Jeff Katz: We’ll call it 120, 130.
Josh Sweeney: Okay, so I mean, 24 awards for 130 person company, that’s a high ratio. I know a lot bigger companies with a lot less awards so that’s got to be energizing to you.
Emmy Awards Build Culture
Jeff Katz: And they’re competitive. The run of Emmy awards that we’ve had is just unbelievable. And that’s what makes, I mean it really builds the culture. We have analysts and artists and voiceover people and filming people and social media writers and I mean just software developers. All of these different people come together and collaborate to just a build an unbelievable experiences for our clients. That’s what they’re there for. I mean, that’s what culture has to be around, is around the work.
Josh Sweeney: And do you find, talking about about the work, is that award culture kind of embedded into the organization where they can really showcase that work? So they get to showcase the work they get to see the achievement and it’s some public recognition all in one?
Jeff Katz: Yeah, without a doubt. But one thing about our culture is we’re not, we don’t go after work to win awards. We do great work that gets recognized. And there’s a very big difference. And so our clients, if we’re doing the best work we can do for our clients and if our marketing group or everything gets recognized and we win awards, that’s great. So I think we did some good work this year.
Josh Sweeney: Do great work, win awards.
Jeff Katz: Right, got it.
Josh Sweeney: And they will fall in and you will have a 24 to 120 ratio, whatever that breaks down to.
Jeff Katz: Yeah, it’s pretty strong. Another kind of ratio that happened this year, well I’ll get to, I like numbers. We had 14 people that were promoted this year, so almost 15% of the company had experienced promotions, which is very exciting. The other is we paid out more in referral bonuses that we ever have this year.
Josh Sweeney: That’s a great record to set. So you’re finding the referral platform into your organization, is that a good, it sounds like it’s a solid driver of revenue for you.
Jeff Katz: Yeah, so it’s two things. So I was referring to employee attribution of attracting talent. But the same thing goes, is that our biggest pipeline for new clients actually is employee referrals as well. And we talk about that. We’ve talked about that for years, is that, would you recommend us to your family? Would you be happy if your family’s business was working with Definition 6? And obviously, I mean that’s pretty important, right?
Josh Sweeney: Satisfaction scores.
Jeff Katz: Yeah, exactly. But the referral bonus that I was talking about was actually referring your friends to come work for us.
Signs of Enjoyment
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, which really tells the tale on whether they’re enjoying their role. So on that, do you have a certain philosophy that you use? I know I’ve spoken to people who they give $250 referrals and then we have other people here in Atlanta who’ve talked about they’re more than willing to give a $10,000 referral bonus because they use recruiters and it’ll cost them even way more. So what’s your referral program look like? What your ideology on that?
Jeff Katz: Yeah. So we’re not in the five figures, but we’re much higher than the $200. We’re in the thousands up. And it depends on what type of position and things like that. For us, we do it if people are stick around for 90 days then that’s when we pay that out.
Pay a Recruiter VS Pay Referrals
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I think that’s a great experience share for our fellow culturists out there because if you’re already going to pay a recruiter large sums of money, why not pay a larger amount to your employees in order to recruit, right? In order to be your recruiter and your voice.
So with that, I’m going to switch gears just a little bit and go back before Definition 6. I don’t want you to name any names because I don’t want to put you on the spot, but what was the worst culture experience or most challenging culture experience you had that really stayed in your mind?
Worst Culture Experience
Jeff Katz: At a high level, it’s when culture does not, it’s not consistent within the company and with clients. That’s really difficult on your people and the growth for your organization and it really drives me nuts if you have an internal culture and then you put on a different mask when you’re working with clients. And that’s goes back to the transparency we spoke about it a little bit. So that’s one.
Toxic Reason #1 – CYA
The other, and these are kind of related, but I’ve been in some pretty toxic environments for two reasons. One, it was a kind of CYA, which is terrible. And the other is that where people were unwilling to get to move on from the bad apples, keep those in the basket and then it ruins the bunch, right?
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So letting go, places where they don’t let go of toxic employees fast enough. And then a CYA organization stood out to you. And then the first one was [crosstalk 00:16:14].
Toxic Reason #2 – Practice what you Preach
Jeff Katz: Inconsistent cultures between what you do outside your walls and inside your walls.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, so you’re perceived one way externally, but then you turn around and do something completely opposite internally.
Jeff Katz: Yeah. If you preach respect, then when you’re in front of the client, I shouldn’t walk over somebody because and show how smart I am in a pitch room. That’s not respectful. And so you should have a very consistent culture everywhere that you are with your company.
Definition 6 Culture – Favorites
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, most definitely. So in your organization we talked about doing great work in order to get awards. We talked about having dogs in the office and how that actually enables some cross collaboration around departments. What are some other things that you like to call out that you just really enjoy about the culture at Definition 6?
The Culture Club
Jeff Katz: So the social things that we can we do together, it’s great and it’s fun. The fact that everybody knows that it is a business. Culture is part of what drives the business. And so it’s not just okay, we have a thing, our HR group and a group of employees, they formed this thing called Culture Club. And they define the pillars that we’re going to be and it’s going to be social good, social for fun, social for learning and social to get to know each other, those are the areas really.
In in each one of them, there’s just numerous examples that I could share that we do. Whether it’s going to a ball game, whether it’s, even there was a happy hour that we did and somebody printed up these buttons and they were like, one of them said get shit done and another one was support your team. And you had to pick which ones and talk about. And it wasn’t, we just laid a bunch of buttons with words on the table.
Josh Sweeney: There you have it.
Jeff Katz: Those are some examples.
People Led Culture
Josh Sweeney: And so your people lead culture that you mentioned earlier is heavily driven, I’m guessing, by that culture crew from at least maybe a directionality perspective. Obviously everybody’s culture and ethos comes into it as an organization. Is there somebody that leads that crew and kind of takes the initiative of making sure that they meet on a regular basis? Who leads that in the organization?
Jeff Katz: So our HR director does that and has partners both with marketing and other parts of the business. It’s not top down culture. So they facilitate to get people in the room and we have a passionate, enthusiastic group of people across our offices that are ready to go. I mean, I think at one point we had to turn people down from being part of the Culture Club because it was like [crosstalk 00:19:23] we’re going to have a 20 person Culture Club. It might as well be the culture event.
And I think it’s less about that. It’s, I think you need to be purposeful about things that you’re going to do so you don’t do too many and don’t do too few. And those types of things, and to build that framework. And that’s what the group is for. They call go out and get ideas. We do a fair amount of surveys with the company. Our communication with the company is very, we do quarterly meetings where we do important updates. But the most important thing we do in those quarterly meetings is share work and share accomplishments of our people and our clients.
Culture is NOT HR
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, one of the things that we’ve shared in the past is to us culture is not HR. It’s this mix of HR meets marketing. And then you also add in things like the Culture Club, which is almost the culture department. We always talk about in the future we see culture titles being a role in organizations, culture departments becoming a department much like engineering or development has become a department over the last 15 years. It will be this new thing. And the early parts of what we’re seeing is the Culture Club and it’s somebody from every department really coming together to represent the business as a whole without leaving anybody out.
Culture Club Series
So I guess that’s a quick plug for us. We’re going to do a Culture Club series coming up. So we’re looking to interview people that are, that can share the best and worst of their Culture Club. How did they form it, what do they do? And we’re looking forward to getting that kicked off because we’re hearing it more and more and we’re working with more and more Culture Clubs on those ideas.
Grounded and Authentic
Jeff Katz: Yeah, I think it’s great. As long as it’s grounded in business and that it’s authentic. And so my only fear in that area is that if you have a chief culture person or something like that, that they’re dictating, it’s top down culture. So as long as that isn’t the result of it, then I think giving your organization a framework and making sure you’re tracking against business goals, diversity goals, interaction.
The Definition 6 Experience
Something that I really like to see is we’ve put a couple different companies together. And we have many different, as I mentioned before, we have many different disciplines that we do in the organization. And I want all of our people and all of our clients to experience as much of Definition 6 as they can.
And so for me, a judge of that is when I’m on a call or in a meeting, how diverse is the room and how surprised am I by the people that are collaborating in that room or on that video call?
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. A lot of different ideas coming in and making sure that you’re coming up with the best solution, the best product based on all of those ideas and that diverse set.
Jeff Katz: Exactly.
2019 Culture Initiative
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Love it. So with, I guess, my last question for you is moving, we’re in the beginning of the new year. What are you most looking forward to enhancing from a culture perspective?
Jeff Katz: I’ve probably already talked about it too much, so I’ve showed my hand. It’s around, we do a pretty good job of sharing work with each other, but it’s really taking that next step. And that’s our passion. That’s what we do. So the more, the faster that people can understand what is coming up, whether it’s going to be on a social channel or whether it’s something that we can’t share publicly that we’re doing for a client or it’s going to be on broadcast TV, for people to be able to experience what we’re doing and the results as fast as possible so that they can be exposed to things that they can offer up to our clients and experience they can do. If they want to have a change in career, all of those different opportunities. The the best way to do that is by sharing your work product.
Josh Sweeney: Got it.
Jeff Katz: And so we’re looking for ways that we can do that.
Josh Sweeney: So just a better way to facilitate what’s getting done, who it’s getting done for, highlight that work, highlight the opportunities from it, disseminate all that information out so that everybody really knows what’s going on in the organization.
Jeff Katz: Exactly.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Fantastic.
Jeff Katz: Because none of our work is done by one individual.
Josh Sweeney: All team?
Jeff Katz: Yeah, it’s a team of diverse individuals coming together to create great work and great results for our clients.
Challenge with Merging Cultures
Josh Sweeney: Okay. I had one more question actually pop it in my head that I’d love to hear and it’s going to help for our fellow culturists out there that are acquiring teams and building teams. When you said you had multiple companies that were acquired and things like that come in, what was the most challenging aspect of those cultures coming together that you really had to think through and work through? Like what was something that you didn’t think was going to come up, it became a conflict or a challenge and you had to work through that?
Retaining Knowledge and Balance
Jeff Katz: Yeah. So you always have the challenge of retaining the knowledge and the leadership in those businesses, is such a high value, but it has to be balanced that they’re bought into the vision of the new entity. And some people are really good about that and some people it’s actually, it’s not even their fault. It’s the people that are following them are so used to doing it one way and expect, Josh, you expect me to do X, Y, Z. I not only have to change the way I’m focused, I need to make sure that you understand that there’s a new direction in where we’re going. And when that doesn’t happen that’s really difficult. So looking for those areas and those opportunities to do that is definitely one area.
Making sure that you come together on your hiring approach and mindset. So this group may have hired this way and look for this type of talent and this. Let’s come up with some core things that we care about and values that we care about to make sure the entity is going to be in that area. Because everybody’s going to be a little bit different.
And some other areas are, I mean, I could talk about this forever.
Josh Sweeney: Lots of challenges.
Jeff Katz: I don’t know about challenges but opportunities with it is, I mean, I’ve learned a lot which means I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
Challenge : Alignment
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So what I heard from that was on the challenge side is all of them really sounded like an alignment, right? They’ve already set out their path for the year. You’ve sent out your path and now you’re coming together. Or they’ve set out their hiring process. You have a hiring process, that has to come together. But on the flip side, like you said, it’s an opportunity at the end of the day. Because they may have done something a little bit better. Your process may have done something a little bit better. And the merger of the two should be a significant opportunity to hire better or have new directions and goals that are going to get you further along.
Transparency and Communication
Jeff Katz: And it goes back to the transparency and communicating where we’re headed, right? Because it goes back to well, we think we’re going in that direction. We think we’re going in that direction. If there’s true transparency of what we’re trying to do and that’s over communicated day in and day out, then we should be able to get people aligned where we’re going.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, that everybody knows where you’re going.
Change the Physical Space
Jeff Katz: And then the other is just, is physical, physical space. The fastest that you can change the environment. So everybody’s in a new and different place that’s focused, sitting next to people that they didn’t use to sit with, the fastest that you can. Doesn’t mean you have to move. I moved both locations of our company over the last four or five years, but the faster that you can just change that environment around, I think can have unbelievably positive impact on the organization.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah. And is that change, is the goal really to bring those two people or those two sets of people into a working group so that they’re sitting side by side to build those relationships more quickly and that’s really the goal of the change? Or what are some of the other goals of that rapid change?
The Phases – Grouping People Together
Jeff Katz: Well, you can accomplish a lot of things. One is that you hear different things, right? And so one, you can bulk people together because they’re like minded doing like things and there are just more of them that you brought in from different companies, right? Or you can have, and we’ve done both, or you can have your full team of different skill sets and individuals. So where we have an account director and a creative director and a software developer and an analyst all sitting together in a pod, I mean that’s a pretty diverse group of individuals. That’s one approach. And it kind of goes in phases. Or you can have your analytics group and your creative team and your software development team all and sitting in separate areas, like minds get to know each other and get the benefit from that.
Have a Strategy
So for me, it really doesn’t matter which way as long as you have a strategy and it doesn’t happen to you.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, and it seems like there would need to be a balance between the two because there’s a lot of organizations that say, okay, all the developers are here because they want this environment. But then at another point when they’re doing something on a customer project, you got to build a kind of an ad hoc pod and make sure they’re working together.
Jeff Katz: Classic for room.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, warrior room. But for a year because they’re working on a large project. So it’s a balance between both sides and I’m sure a lot of decisions to be made in how the office is structured for that.
Jeff Katz: Flexible as you can make it these days.
Josh Sweeney: Yeah, move everything around, make it movable.
Jeff Katz: Absolutely.
Josh Sweeney: Well thank you so much for being on the show. We appreciate it.
Jeff Katz: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Josh Sweeney: Thank you for joining us on the Epic Company Culture podcast. This has been a Culture Champions episode with Jeff Katz of Definition 6. Please check us out on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. If you watch video, we have our YouTube channel. Feel free to put any information or questions in the comments and we’ll get right back to you. Thanks for joining us.
Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoy this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit epicculture.co. If you have questions or topics you’d like us to address or expand on, tweet us at epicculture1 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Podcast Highlights and Resources
- I learned at the office working with my dad and I learned about really how to treat people, how to be focused and make really tough decisions when you’re running a family business.
- Living in the chaos, there’s good and bad chaos.
- We had to coach young people early on, if we win a big piece of business or we think we’re going to take this company public, don’t go buy a car. And if you hear we lost a client or something, don’t go look for a job. And there I really learned how to be transparent.
- We used to feel it was management’s job to build the culture and to manufacture the culture, and now it is 100% our people and our client’s culture.
- Dogs have no idea what teams work together, what projects people are on. And when your dog leads you to another part of the office that you may not be working with that person, you build a relationship with them.
- We had 20, I think 24 awards and that’s spanned from our client industry awards to our industry awards, Emmys, Cannes Lions, CLEOs, Telly AWArds and were finalists in the National Home Builders Association.
- I was referring to employee attribution of attracting talent. But the same thing goes, is that our biggest pipeline for new clients actually is employee referrals as well.
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