Today’s show features David Conrod, Senior Partner at Conrod Associates Communications LLC.
“One day, two or three weeks after the accident, I remember being in bed thinking, ‘I’ve got to have my Bible.’ So I called my father and I asked him if he’d please bring my Bible in. I don’t think I’d opened it in years but I flipped it open. It was Psalm 51. The first words that I read on the page were, ‘Wash me and I will be whiter than snow, make me hear joy and gladness; that the bones you have broken may rejoice.'”
Ray: Hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert, your host here at Bottom Line Faith. And if you’re a new listener to the program, and if you’re a current subscriber, and you listen to all the podcasts here at Bottom Line Faith, you know that this is the program where we talk with some of the finest and most influential Christian leaders in business, in the marketplace, in sports and entertainment across the country. And this is, I guess, the word picture we like to use here is that we’re going to lift the hood and we’re going to tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership and how we can influence in the marketplace, how we lead, lessons learned, best practices. I have the incredible privilege of speaking with Mr. David Conrod, who is the senior partner at Conrod Associates Communications, LLC. David, welcome to the show, ad thank you for joining us here at Bottom Line Faith.
David: Yeah, good morning Ray. Thank you very much for having me on here this morning. I look forward to this.
Ray: Well, David, we are on the phone today conducting this interview, and you are in your home area. Tell the folks a little bit about where you live and what, we’ll get into your testimony, your story in just a moment. But tell the folks a little bit about where you live and what you do there in your company.
David: I live in Falls Church, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, DC. Our business is in downtown Washington on Connecticut Avenue. And since 1995, we’ve been a business development and marketing communications group serving government, corporate, and non-profit clients. When I started the business back in 1995, the objective at that point was really to focus on non-profits in large measure, because we had done great work with them over the years. And I had found out that they very often have some of the most tremendous, gifted, talented, devoted people at the helm and working for them. But in many cases, they’re not business developers, and they’re not professional communicators. And so as I say, when we started, I thought it would be just tremendous to take everything I’d learned in Fortune 50 marketing and business development and see if we could help a wide variety of non-profit groups use that information to develop business, to fundraise, to communicate more effectively. And so that was really the seed, and over time, over the next five or six years, we’ve actually branched out to include corporate clients and government clients in many cases, to work in synergy with non-profits, synergistic partnerships for a wide variety of reasons, including funding, but also for communication.
Ray: So the business, 22, 23 years old now, does that sound right?
David: That’s right. That’s right. It’s just remarkable, and it’s gone very quickly. I don’t mind telling you that It’s like getting shot out of a cannon and we’re still on a trajectory.
Ray: Well, it was really, to some degree, an unforeseen start to the company. And I’ll come back to that in just a moment. But tell us more about the kind of your professional background before you started the business.
David: So Ray, I’m from Canada originally. Born in 1959 in Edmonton, Alberta, and had a family, wonderful, Christian family that were my adoptive parents, gave me a just a tremendous start, an opportunity to do a wide variety of things in my life. And we were able to move all the way across the country. So I’ve lived in Vancouver, moving there from Edmonton, and then over to Montreal. And we were there for many years, where I went through high school, and then back into Ontario, which is where I went to college, and eventually jumped off there to go to the United States to go to school.
Ray: And so did you go into college looking to study business? Or was there another path you thought you might go down?
David: No, that was not the case at all. The way this really worked for me, Ray, was I started, when I began college, I made my mind up that I wanted to study English and humanities and, and philosophy, it meant a lot to me to be able to, to read and to spell, and so we took Latin classes and a wide variety of things. And I kind of wonder if my parents thought I was coming off the rails with something other than engineering or medicine or law or what have you. But it worked out very well because it gave me, especially the philosophy piece gave me a tremendous opportunity to learn about all the world’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity, and it was taught by a great group of people who were very balanced in their views.
So for me, and I guess with my personality and my interest in exploring those kinds of things, it was a great background because it gave me a foundation for looking at how others did things, about how other religions worked. And when I finally got around to be more focused on Christian apologetics, I realized how valuable that education was because I could very clearly and very easily describe my faith, my views, what defined my Christian faith from everything else on the planet. And I enjoyed doing it, especially in debate. I’ve always enjoyed being in room with other folks who are not Christians, who are of other faiths, or have no faith, and have always enjoyed that. So that’s really how my education got started. And it was a great launching pad to go into other things, including a more focused approach on business.
Ray: And so that was your study there in Ontario, and then you went on to communications if I’m not mistaken.
David: That’s, that’s correct. That was in Ontario, that was in Northern Ontario. That was the bachelor’s degree in philosophy. And my study from there was in Florida, University of South Florida, in Tampa. And that was in mass communication. And at the time, again, I’ve been doing a lot of writing and a lot of research. And it just seemed like a great fit, was an opportunity to learn about how to write, how to report from a journalistic perspective, which has really served me to this day. And that’s where I really got my legs under me in terms of business was moving through that community down there, doing reporting, and doing a wide variety of research on the politics and the culture of that area as a part of those studies.
Ray: Yeah. And so as I read your background and bio, thank you for sharing that. You were on staff in the newsroom. Yeah, actually, by the way, I wanted to say perhaps your first great business decision was moving to the warmth of Florida. Would you agree with that?
David: Yeah, that was. I don’t mind just telling you. Yeah, that was a huge motivator. That and I had some friends who were a year ahead of me and were down there already, and making it look pretty glamorous, but yet not having to shovel snow for another year in Northern Ontario was very appealing.
Ray: There you go, there you go. And so you find yourself after graduation on staff in the newsroom at the Tampa Tribune. And then tell us what happened at that place that really was foundational to the formation of your career.
David: Ray, and this is not just a turning point, professionally, Ray, but this was really one of the most eye-opening moments in my faith journey. The work that I was doing at the Tribune was really just a low grade, you know, copy editing, I had pretty much the worst possible shift. I think I started at 11pm and worked all night. Eventually, I think I had the morning shift. But it was it was a tremendous exercise in patience and learning. And again, it was everything in the newsroom was done on deadline, which was really, really a tremendous skill set that I use all the way until this day. But one day, the phone rang and it was the PR director from Busch Gardens. And she said to me, I have someone in the newsroom who’s been keeping an eye on you. And if I, I’m paraphrasing, but I think she said, and she tells me that you can take a licking and keep on ticking. And I thought, first of all, I wonder who this is, that’s on the phone.
But she said, you know, I’d like you to come in for a job interview, I’m looking for somebody that’s got some juice and who can kind of take a licking and keep coming back to do the job. And I’d like you to come in and talk to me. So I did. And bottom line is that I was offered a job at Busch Gardens in Tampa, in the PR department. But again, it was pivotal, and it was eye-opening. Because those were really lean days, lean in a lot of different ways. You know, had no money, you know, I was traveling very long distance to get from my home to the Tampa Tribune to do that work. And I had invested probably more time at that point in my life in the faith journey in prayer, you know, in very daily focused prayer, I still remember to this day sitting in the park at the University of Tampa, across from the Tampa Tribune with my carrot sticks and my tuna salad sandwich in my Bible, and just taking great joy in great solace, and being even in having that hour at lunchtime to be able to do that. So the eye-opening part of it was it was just a tremendous business opportunity. I knew it. But I also felt like it was an answer to a long stretch of prayer. And I grabbed it, and I took hold of it and spent the next 10 years really doing everything I could to squeeze a tremendous education onto that have that opportunity.
Ray: David, we’re in a great point now in this conversation, and then your journey because you are in this amazing opportunity, doing some very, very high-level, very important marketing and branding and strategic planning work, and then something changed. You felt like there was a new path or a new journey. Would you tell us about that and what led to the start and formation of your own company? Let me just back up a little bit.
David: In the scheme of the story. Before I left Ontario to come to the United States to go to school, I decided I was going to make one final summer push to earn money to kind of supplement what I was going to be taking to the US for my education. So I decided to work for the railroad as a switchman, and the switchman is the guy with the lantern that rides the engine, hops off, and actually physically moves the switch points in the train yard. And I was working not on the rail auto rail line, but in the train yard where you see all those cars parked side by side. And the job essentially is to is to put the cars together to make a train.
And then there the engine will pull the train out of the yard to some distant destination. In any case, in June of 1979, I was very badly injured in an accident in the train yard, spent the next 15 or 16 months or more in the hospital, went through 11 surgeries and eventually lost my right leg below the knee and part of my left foot in that process. And it put me in a position where I, you know, in terms of my faith journey, it really meant that I had to make a lot of decisions about where my life was going to go, who I was going to be the kind of person that I was going to be. And one day, two or three weeks after the accident, I remember being in bed thinking, I’ve got to have my Bible. So I called my father and said, you know, asked him if he could please bring my Bible in. And I don’t think I’d open it, Ray, in years. But I flipped it open, and it was Psalm 51, and the first words that I read on the page were “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Make me here, joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice.”
Ray: Oh my.
David: And I thought to myself, this is exactly where I am right now, that the challenge is not just to get to get well. And the challenge is not just to move forward in a general way. But the challenge is to lean on the Lord and to be happy to find a way in everything in life moving forward, to find that joy and gladness and to, to rejoice in my situation, however imperfect, you know, however unexpected and unusual, I made my mind up that I was going to use it as an opportunity to get to know God. And that was really my commitment to Christ at that moment. And I’ve just kind of been on that journey and that trajectory ever since.
Ray: Well, I appreciate you sharing that, because that obviously has had a huge impact in the formation of your worldview, and your faithfulness, and, and knowing that, you know, in the midst of obviously a very difficult time, understanding God still had a plan. God, in fact, was getting your attention to draw you to his plan. And I would, I would just suspect, then, that, you know, kind of fast forwarding back into the career piece, you ultimately made a decision somehow to start your own business, what happened there, what led to that?
David: I decided after 10 years with Anheuser-Busch, and this is during the work that I had here in Washington, DC largely focused on working to develop strategic partnerships with for the company with non-profits and with others who are similarly interested in species education, conservation, environmental conservation, and so on. I just heard a voice, I just heard a voice one day and, and the message was that I needed to move on. And, you know, my first question, of course, was move on where? And the answer wasn’t forthcoming at that exact moment. But nevertheless, I knew it was God speaking to me, and speaking into my life in an important way.
So I made the decision to leave what was really a tremendously remarkable job in a remarkable company with tremendous opportunities, and to go off, I did not know where, but I knew that the objective was to, to do something on my own, to start something from scratch, and to do it on my own. And I’ll have to tell you, Ray, that that the only thing that I was sure of at the time, having no clients and no business plan, and a wide variety of other things that, that should have been started at that moment, the only thing I was sure of was that this was God saying, you need to lean on me. That, you know, you’ve, you’ve had moments in your life up until now, where the message was very deliberately the need for you to rely on me. And here again, I heard that message, and I heard that voice. And it mattered so much less to me, Ray, where I was going, and so much more that the Lord was telling me once again, this is, this is therapy, this is an opportunity for you to grow, to know me, and to love me more, and to lean on me. And so that is really the kind of the genesis of Conrod Associates.
Ray: That is powerful. And you got a very powerful piece of advice from your father, if I understand it in that, in that season. Tell us about that.
David: Yeah, that was, again, that was very tough. And my immediate reaction, and of course, with all the council I was getting from friends and colleagues and so on, was, you know, have you lost your mind, essentially, is what I was hearing. And all my focus was on trying to figure out reasons to leave the job I had, you know, try to find something I didn’t like about it. And that was just a dismal dark hole to go down because I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like. And so I spun my wheels for quite a while, and eventually called my father. And he never said too many words, Ray, but he said to me, you know, David, you can’t leave the job for negative reasons, you have to move towards something new. You have to park everything about the job, and you need to be looking ahead to something fresh, and that was really the door that I needed to go through, Ray, it was to see, to see the opportunity not as leaving something that moving towards something even if that, you know, the clarity around that move wasn’t all there at the time.
Ray: I love it. I love it. Godly wisdom from your father, right? And just that’s just powerful. And so David, there’s probably someone listening right now who’s wrestling with a big decision, right? You know, whether it’s, maybe they’re like you, they’re in a great position, a great opportunity, and they can’t think of one negative thing. But yet there’s this tugging on their heart. And maybe that’s the Holy Spirit calling them in a different direction. Or maybe there’s someone who’s facing a major decision right now, and they’re not sure how to proceed. What advice, what counsel would you give them? Someone who’s listening to this program right now, what advice or counsel would you give them on how to proceed in a way that would honor the Lord?
David: All I can do is share my experience, Ray. And in the, in the years since, the same theme has recurred. And I’ve had to take the same approach. So I’ll just tell folks who may be listening that the most important thing is to spend the least amount of time spinning and, and going down a wide variety of rabbit holes, trying to find routes that that don’t go directly through God. And this, of course, was my original inclination was to try to do it all myself, was to try to figure it out all myself was to try to take every route conceivable other than going through the Lord. But when I finally simmered down, and I got calm and quiet, and asked for God to come into my life, and to speak into my life, I could hear him.
And so I would tell folks, take the time apart from everything else you’re doing to invite God into your life, to make the time quiet, to ask simple questions and to put on big ears to listen to what he says to you because He will speak into your life. And the next big thing that I had to learn, and I still do every day of my life is to submit. Rather than be inclined to try to do it all myself, is to just lean into the Lord and, and to submit, to lean on him, and to enjoy that the feeling of giving up control, giving up doing it my way, to be able to, to lean on him for direction and calm. And so if you feel the Lord talking to you, in those moments of conscience, it’s very likely the Holy Spirit trying to give you that guidance. And really my last word on the subject is that it works best when you’re when you’re quiet, and you make a deliberate attempt to listen, and when you do it will come through clearly.
Ray: That’s great advice. My goodness, David, we are, I may have to have you back for part two at some point. And so we’re rapidly approaching near the end of our time together. But I would be remiss if we didn’t have at least a little bit of conversation, but you are actually a, really like a thought leader in this area of brand development and brand management. Give us a framework. When we hear the term brand, what is it, and what’s the value to a business leader?
David: I grew up in an atmosphere in business in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where brand was very central to the way business was developed. In a nutshell, we learned, and we still, we still teach folks that brand is experience, it is really the delivery of the experience of your company of your organization. And for that reason, what drives that experience has everything to do with its quality, its durability, its longevity, you know, its relevance, its perception with your customers and with your audience. And so as we looked at brand and as I looked at brand over the year years, I realized that it’s important when you’re developing brand to begin at the very core of the organization. And in many cases, that means sitting with its leadership, going all the way to, you know, past the mission and vision statement, to the core of what they want in terms of truth in business, in terms of the truth of the business, that they’re operating the way that they want to be perceived, the way that they want their business to last and to be perceived overall. And so to this day, that is how we begin the process of brand development with all of our clients, whether they’re corporate, government, or non-profit is we go to that very core.
And we get them talking about who they are, you know, what are those things, those moments of truth, and in some cases, moments of faith that drive them as individuals and how they want that to come through in their business. And of course, when you look at other tremendous Christian businesses across the country, this is this is why they’re so tremendous. They’re able to take those truths, those central truths of faith, and of love, and of caring, and be able to convert those into a wide spectrum of business practice, internal to the business and external to the business, that enables it to deliver that experience, and have it come through with all of their, their customers and their audiences.
Ray: Well, it’s obviously more than a logo, right? I mean, it’s more than just slapping some words and a logo on a website or a brochure, and you firmly believe that quality brand starts with biblical truth. That’s what I just heard.
David: I absolutely believe that. And again, you know, you make a very important point, Ray, brand isn’t just the visuals, it’s not just the tip of the iceberg that sticking out of the water; it’s, it’s everything that’s underneath the surface that’s very seldom seen, the things that really drive how the business is delivered out into the marketplace. You know, so we’re talking about operations and human resource operations, and how the business communicates internally, quality control customer service, and you just really have to look at the, at the chemistry of how the entire business operates, and then take it all the way back and find out how do we then make this Christian truth, this, you know, wondrous faith that we have come through in all those different ways, how can that be converted to practices that our employees feel, that our employees enjoy, that our employees can live, you know, can live their faith through as well. And so, you know, and again, the same set of principles works for all external factors of the, of the brand, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s, you know, investor relations, whatever it might be, the same principle works equally well. So, yes, in a nutshell, your brand is far more than, than the surface piece that has everything to do with developing the experience of the organization
Ray: And it feels to me like that really starts at top-level leadership. So we may have a business owner listening to the program right now, and maybe they’re wrestling with or concerned that the brand experience of their constituents, be it employees, be it vendors, be it customers, the general public isn’t where they would like it be. Sounds to me, if I’m hearing you, they might need to just take a good honest assessment, go to the Lord and ask for truth and wisdom and insight in His Word, and ask, are they, as the leader, reflecting those values and that brand in their personal and business life? Would you agree with that?
David: I would agree. That’s absolutely right on that, you know, and whether, you know, in many cases, our clients have very successful brands, you know, so it’s not about a failing business model, it’s, it’s very, it’s more likely going to be feeling the competition, the pinch of competition, wanting to expand into new markets with new products, you know, feeling some brand erosion around the edges, you know, quite possibly from competition or other market factors. And the upshot is whether you’re building a brand-new brand from the ground up, or whether you’re refreshing your brand, going to that core of truth, that core of faith is going to help you make decisions about how you build and operate your company. And I can’t recommend highly enough the importance of having those discussions within the company, taking the time to sit down, surround yourself with other business leaders and with others in the company, and rather than just start with the mission and vision or the logo as you say, take it all the way back to who you are, and take it all the way back to your faith and begin thinking about how you are or not converting the value the energy and the love of that faith into the business model itself. And, and our experience for the last 23 years or so is that if you take the time to do that, you will see the threads, and you’ll be able to pull them to all the different pieces of the business model and find very practical ways to, to improve the model and, and your business along with it.
Ray: Folks, I’m speaking with David Conrod, the founder and senior partner at Conrod Associates Communications, LLC. Learn more about David and his company at conrodassociates.com, one of America’s thought leaders in this whole area of brand and identity and value to customers and all that’s involved there. As we’ve been learning from him, this is all founded deeply in biblical truths and principles. For those of you who are Christ-followers wanting to learn more about developing your brand in a way that honors the Lord. Last question, I promised you before we went on the air that there would be one question that I would ask, and I ask every guest, and I call it my 4:23 Question. And it’s based out of Proverbs 4:23 that says, “above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” And so David here’s my question, I want you to imagine you’re at the end of your time on Earth. You’ve gathered your family, your friends, and your loved ones, and you have a chance to pass along the most important wisdom, I want you to share with our audience the most important advice that you could pass along, that you would also pass along to your friends and loved ones.
David: That’s actually one of the easier ones, Ray, and it’s often learned the hard way, certainly it has been with me over the years. And that, my advice is to is to pray. Especially as a business owner, and I don’t mind telling you that, at least in my experience, building an operating a business is in many ways an act of faith. It requires a tremendous amount of face to go through all the different stages in business development, through challenges, through crises, through successes and failures, through growth, even especially rapid growth and other things. So I would start by just saying, I do believe that that faith is a part of building and operating a business, and to get there and to get the most out of it, you need to take the time to pray. And what I mean by that is in the midst of everything that’s going on day to day in business, all the other fast-moving tracks and the things that are coming at you and so on, it is very easy not to take the time to pray or to make it a subservient moment in your day rather than core to your day. And I’ll even go farther and say that I think it needs to be part of your business model.
I think that as you’re mapping out, you know, on the whiteboard or however you do it, all the different moving pieces of the business, and your priorities, your strategies and so on, I do believe that the prayer is it needs to be front and center, and that if you do make it that way, if you do develop a program you develop a wide variety of ways to engage yourself but also others in the process of prayer, you’re not only going to run a more successful business and do it more calmly and do it with more patience and love, that you’re going to spread the value of that prayer, and the impact, the positive impact of that prayer and that faith throughout your company, and you know, don’t be afraid to let people see you pray because this is in many cases, this is how we’ve brought folks in our group into the faith, and into even asking questions about faith. So if that makes sense, that would be my biggest piece of advice: pray. Make it central and make it part of your business model.
Ray: It’s incredible; it’s eternal advice, extraordinarily valuable and spot on. Folks, check out our friend David Conrod, founder and senior partner Conrod Associates Communications, LLC, website: conrodassociates.com. David, thank you for joining us today.
David: Thank you, Ray, it was an honor, and God bless everyone at Truth At Work. What a tremendous group and the work that you do.