Making the workplace more diverse.

Anita Laney currently serves as President and CEO of Professional Partnering Solutions, a full-service supplier diversity consulting and technology firm, where she and her team also developed DataLou, a supplier diversity SaaS product and business. VaynerX’s Chief Diversity Officer, Vanessa Vining, previously worked under Anita at a previous position. We were fortunate to hear from Anita at the VaynerX Diversity Summit on November 4. 

Supplier diversity is about supplier development.

Anita LaneyPresident and CEO of Professional Partnering Solutions

Transcription

Julia Balick (00:05):

Gary Vaynerchuk pledged to make three diverse hires to his executive team by June 1st, he hired Vanessa Vining, VaynerX’s global Chief Diversity Officer. Prior to her role as CDO Vanessa worked under Anita Laney who presented at Vayner’s DE&I leadership summit on November 4th.

Mickey Cloud (00:24):

Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

Mickey Cloud (00:43):

Anita Laney- Thank you so much for being our guest on building while flying this week.

Anita Laney (00:48):

Well, thanks so much for having me

Mickey Cloud (00:51):

Here. Anita is a serial entrepreneur and experienced supplier diversity expert in the marketing communications industry, and currently serves as president and CEO of professional partnering solutions, a full service supplier, diversity consulting and technology firm, where she and her team also developed data loom, a supplier diversity, SAS product and business. Um, so to kick off Anita, you know, we’d love to hear, I guess, how you got started out in the supplier diversity industry, kind of what led you into that, into that field?

Anita Laney (01:17):

Absolutely. It was, it was quite by accident. Actually. I had, um, I think I had just closed my first business, which was the first African-American owned full service travel agency in the Raleigh Durham area. And, uh, because of a corporate divorce, we closed the business. So I had a partnership at that time. So needless to say, I’m kind of anti partnerships right now, but now, um, needed a job. So I went to work for the city of Durham as a supplier diversity specialists in construction. And through those efforts learned a lot about construction and, um, all the fundamentals of supplier diversity moved to Austin with my family, um, decided to stay because I had gone on to be a construction project manager actually, but decided to go back to supplier diversity because that’s what I knew the best. And, you know, it’s easier to transition when you’re learning a new city and all that. So, um, worked for utility company. There built their supplier diversity initiative when I was recruited by GSD and M and that’s how I got started in the advertising industry. And, you know, I’ll be forever grateful to Deb Stewart for really investing in me. So the first year it was really about learning the industry. Cause I was actually the first with this title in the advertising industry. So if you can imagine people kept saying to me, so what do do you

Anita Laney (03:04):

Think about it? So then I’m really dating myself. So we’re talking, uh, 18 years ago. So procurement really wasn’t a thing so much as it is today, right? So holding companies had like two to three people that had the title, but people within the agencies didn’t really know anything about procurement as, as such. So if you think about all the terms that we use regarding supplier diversity and even, you know, we weren’t even calling them suppliers at the time. So needless to say it was a lot of education, a lot of awareness, uh, working with companies like at and T and Chrysler to really help drive and develop this, um, when BVDO had the need, I asked, um, both CEOs, if they would work with me as a contractor, they agree and PPS was born. And then I got the call from Saatchi to go to New York, you know, and, and there we were in three, in three states at the time, Texas, Michigan, cause I worked on the Chrysler account and York.

Mickey Cloud (04:12):

Amazing. So I want to ask about that moment where, um, where was it? [inaudible] that came, that came was the second. So you were doing supplier diversity for GDSs GSTM, um, as an employee, but then did, did you go to them, did they come to you? How did kind of, was it, when did you realize maybe that what you were doing internally would have, would be valuable for other agencies kind of as consultancy?

Anita Laney (04:38):

I think I realized it pretty much right away because I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I make a horrible employee. Um, so it was probably about six months in and I was actually working with an executive coach at the time and I’ll go ahead and, and just, you know, I’ll, I’ll be completely transparent here. I really hated it. I hated the industry. I didn’t like being when you’re the first and the only one. And at the time, you know, this was before diversity became trendy. Right. Okay. So if you can imagine, and I remember standing on the patio at the company talking to my coach because I had the coach from the job I hit come from where I was manager saying, I gotta get out of here. I can’t do. So she said, hang in there, hang in there. And she said, I promise you if you stay, because she used to be an assistant to Ann Richards then became, um, she had her own marketing firm. So she knew the industry. So she said, hang in there. And I assure you you’ll be able to write your own ticket. And she was right. She was right. And so, um, I was actually referred to BDO because of by Chrysler because of the work that I had done at GSD and M for their clients subs on speaking circuit, they knew about, you know, and working with all the councils. And so I was introduced to the senior executives over there and, um, yeah, that’s how it happened. Awesome.

Mickey Cloud (06:20):

So

Anita Laney (06:20):

It was scary by the way, it was scary. It was scary when you failed in business and you don’t open right back up, you know? So this was 10 years after my first company had passed. So I become accustomed to getting a paycheck. Right. And it was like, am I going to make it this time? You know? And yeah. So,

Mickey Cloud (06:41):

Well, I’d love to, so as you know, obviously PBS kind of took off from there and started scaling. And from what I understand, can I just started working with a lot of the, you know, the holding companies in the advertising, marketing industry, a lot of independent companies as well. So I’m curious, you’ve gotten a pretty good, uh, view at the challenges that companies in this industry of all sizes kind of face. And so, you know, what are some of those kind of typical issues or challenges that you see when you walk in and do your first kind of assessment that kind of needs to be addressed?

Anita Laney (07:13):

Uh, it’s interesting because the challenges that we saw then are not, well, some of them are the same today, but it’s a bit different because of the movement of last year, you know what we’ve see. So then it was really about awareness. It was, it was really about people, really not understanding because when you think of it from a marketing perspective, you’re looking at the market, right. You’re not thinking about who owns the company. Right. So that entire concept, and I remember it taking like some of my media, what I call converts, but they’re actually champions, right. It took them six months to even figure out what I was talking about. That that was the funniest thing. I was like working for six months before I knew that people really didn’t understand the concept. Right. That was the challenge then and awareness. And then,

Mickey Cloud (08:09):

And when you’re talking about, sorry, sorry to interrupt. But when you talk about that, um, I would assume that when you say they don’t even know who owns the company, like they’re, they’re evaluating a supplier, an agency, a partner for the work that’s being done, but not looking at who’s doing, who’s doing the work. Cause that was that kind of the issue.

Anita Laney (08:26):

That’s it? That’s, that is the issue. And it’s, well, it’s several things. So depending on the division. So when you look at advertising, which as a supplier diversity, professional, you know, people are always saying, uh, we’re different, we’re different. And we’re trained to say, no, this isn’t different, but this was an industry that was, that has some unique attribute, shall we say? Right. So if you’re talking about production, you know, it’s about the director. So it’s not really about the ownership of the production company, right. When you’re talking about media, it’s really about the audience, the target market, right? It’s not so much about who owns the outlet. So those were the nuances and the differences and the things that we had to start investigating and uncovering, and then, and, and, and everyone thinks their issue even today is, uh, finding the suppliers. Right. And I was like to say, we’ve never been lost, right. So

Anita Laney (09:30):

We’ve always been here, guys. We’ve always been here. So it’s, it’s really about, I think, uh, oftentimes the culture shift because the pressures, I mean, people are under tremendous pressure within an agency. Sometimes you have three weeks, right. From concept to get something on air or whatever, and you know, the time maybe even narrower it now. And, and so in understanding that, but I, you know, this is, this is really about people and people try and address this from a reporting perspective or a search perspective. But supplier diversity is about supplier development and I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and business development. And unless you are committed to growing me as one of your partners, if I do a great job, if I meet the qualifications, right, you’re really not in the business of supplier diversity, you know? So, so many people want you. So it was so interesting because in media, and when you look at the average age of people that work in agencies, right, we’re talking about a concept that dates back to civil rights era, right.

Anita Laney (10:46):

And was implemented back in the sixties. Well, if you think about someone in their twenties, they’re going to school with people of color, you know, they, up until before, you know, before last year, people thought the playing field was level. So it was just it, they saw it as entitlement rather than, you know, really about economic empowerment and being able to have the same opportunities. So it’s, it’s, it’s vastly different today, but again, the industry is still taking this. We need to find them and put them on a list approach. And I figure after a couple years ago, I, through that, we’ll get to the real work, which is about development and expansion and growing suppliers of size.

Mickey Cloud (11:31):

Yeah. So it’s more about having, it’s less about having the Rolodex and, and more about like actually investing in time into that Rolodex to, to make sure that like your partners are growing, growing with you.

Anita Laney (11:43):

Absolutely. So, so, so think about it Mickey, like, and I, and I think back now, and I just really admire the entrepreneurs of today. When I, this company, for me, it was about longevity, my goal wasn’t about being this huge business, or even making a ton of money. I had a financial goal only because I knew in order to attain your goals, you know, it should be, you know, all of that. Right. So I had that, but it was really about wanting to say 15 years later, 25 years later, that I’m still in business. And so, you know, it’s really about are you growing those companies of size that will more than likely today be sold, right. Depending on what you do or acquire, but it it’s really about that.

Mickey Cloud (12:38):

So longevity was one of your goals, but I’m sure scaling the company also, you know, you mentioned like all of a sudden, we’re got three engagements, we’re in three states. Um, and I imagine these client engagements, you’ve got with clients when they bring you on board there, you know, this is change management that you’re implementing into their company. So they are, this is a lengthy process. And, and so can you only have certain number of clients at the time, I guess, what are some of the challenges you kind of faced in scaling PBS as a, as a consultancy?

Anita Laney (13:05):

I think that’s a great question. So much like agencies, but with far fewer resources, you know, we’ve hired people and we had an embedded model. So our staff actually worked inside the agency on site. So we actually learned and became part of, uh, the company that, or the agency that we were supporting. So having to do that, it’s pretty costly. Right. So when you’re, um, expenses, when your payroll, you know, is about 60% of your expenses, and when companies started or agency started scaling back and advertisers weren’t covering the services as much and saw it as part of overhead, that became a challenge for us. Right? And so that’s where data loo you know, that’s how data Lou was formed because I was working with a lot of, um, the competitors that exist on the market now. But I, and I was working as their SME in this area, implementing their tools inside my clients.

Anita Laney (14:13):

But I decided to go ahead and do my own, cause I had been doing this since my days LCRA. So it’s like, I understood oddly enough, database structures and management, I have an accounting background. And so I understand, we understand the financial data, the aide is up front figured why not do this? And you might be interested in learning. So my ex-husband was like retiring from IBM at the time. Right? So I’m like, why don’t you come work for me, run by tech division because I trust you. Right. And he decided to do it. We’re friendly, exited. I’ve had that

Mickey Cloud (14:51):

Job before I’ve worked for you before I get it

Anita Laney (14:56):

As a husband, but now, So, um, and you know, years later, and, and so we launched our tool about four years ago and that’s helped us scale, right? So we don’t need as many people and we’re, we’ve transitioned to, because we’ve had to change as the industries changed. So we went from the embedded model to now more of a consulting services model, and we’re starting to put our services under our tech division. And so we want to lead with technology and then provide supportive services to the agencies and companies we support.

Mickey Cloud (15:37):

So it sounds like in managing data and coming up with data Lewis as the, the SAS business, that database that is that you, it sounds like you had experienced kind of like you said, managing those, but what are maybe some new skills that you had that you’ve had to develop in scaling data? There’s a SAS business, which is a different models and an onsite consultant, or even a, maybe a traditional consulting model

Anita Laney (16:03):

Totally different. And, and, you know, and I I’d say to you and to your listeners to take this on really, really study and learn that business. So if you think about it, I was needy and the SME and the, the one leading the consulting team. So I’m trying to launch this without knowing a lot about the business, but having to learn on the fringes and, and spare time and, and, and trusting my advisors and, you know, I didn’t seek investors. So it’s, self-funded so data loop, isn’t the first tech platform we launched. We actually launched manna. We received, um, I think it was like $350,000 from a major advertiser. And it was to help publishers become digitized. And I, I think they now wish they got on board back then do, you know, given ad tech and it, and everything that’s happened now and with programmatic buying and so forth.

Anita Laney (17:12):

But, um, and we actually developed it. We had a team of just a young developers. Mark led the team. We worked on site. That was cool. I ran out of money. I didn’t really know about going and finding. And, you know, and if you think about, when I got started in business, my thing is you have an investor you’re kind of working for the investor, you know, and, and, and, you know, my partnership experience. So like, but, you know, and then, you know, and we have relationships with banks, but that the tech business is really takes a lot of capital, right. Because you have to be able to stay until things take off. So when we launched data loo we did it differently. And so because PPS had the clients, we started putting PPS clients on the platform and taking part of the PPS revenue and applying it to data loop.

Anita Laney (18:11):

And I actually hired a consultant who was trying to encourage me to seek capital, um, to seek funding and, uh, work with a VC. And I didn’t, I didn’t move on it at the time. Cause I felt like I didn’t know enough, you know, so now I know so much more about it, better understand it better because I’m more into it. Right. I’m working more on the data, loose side, far different models, far different games. So, and the biggest one, um, is really the revenue. So per client, right. And that was the toughest challenge. So my COO and I were always battling about this because I’m like, if it takes me the same time to acquire, uh, 18,000 as it does 180,000, I’m going to put my time in the a hundred, 8,000, not the, but not thinking, long-term not thinking scale and not thinking about what your, so I had to learn all of that and know, I’ll be honest and say, I’m, I’ve just learned it within the last couple of years. Right. So now it’s about, um, you know, really pulling the trigger on that and doing a lot of the things that I could have done it early on, but I really don’t regret per se because I probably wouldn’t still have the company now had I taken the money early on and don’t know that we would have scaled because this has just caught on. Right.

Mickey Cloud (19:45):

I was talking with an entrepreneur yesterday, just about that, about like, there are certain things too, if they’re part they’re part of the core business and, you know, so building the tech or managing that, that, you know, you don’t really want to outsource it. You want to be able to take all those learnings for yourself as the entrepreneur and whether it’s outsourcing, whether it’s bringing in outside funding, that’s going to influence you or things like that. It’s like, you’ve almost, you’ve got to go through that yourself in order to, in order to like, have the knowledge, have the learnings have and be able to kind of, and then, so it’s about, I guess, holding on until, until you start to find until you feel really confident in what you’re doing, and then you found that kind of product market fit and you’re starting to scale.

Anita Laney (20:24):

Absolutely. And one of the other lessons that I didn’t mentioned, which probably was a huge lesson, was the importance of having our own in-house developers. So, you know, people will often say, and we did outsource initially. And, you know, we were just kind of, we were smart enough to backup our code and we knew, and we own that when things went south, um, we had what we needed to keep going until we developed our own team. So there are a lot of things and you can lose your shirt in this business. Um, if, if you’re, if you’re not really watching things very closely, and if you don’t have the expertise around you, if you don’t have it yourself,

Mickey Cloud (21:10):

And I met imagined with data with the tech solution, you’re building, um, like you’ve built it obviously with the first cases of, like you said, PPS clients. So in the media marketing advertising industry, but have you been approached by companies outside this industry who are interested in the data loop technology, or just interested in your skills and experience?

Anita Laney (21:29):

We have, we haven’t been, we’ve consulted for companies outside of the industry and the reason why we niche ourselves and we kind of stay in that stream. I feel like we haven’t really captured as much of the market as we want to before. And there are others that were already doing this in other markets. So I figured why try and compete with them when this was really a space that no one was in. So now that the others are now in this space, we will expand as well. And we have been, and we’ve been responding to RFPs and, and yeah, we’re, we’re pretty excited about what the future holds.

Mickey Cloud (22:12):

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Um, well I guess to wrap up kind of the last question, what we, um, you know, we, we call this podcast building while flying and, and, and you know, when you’re building, while flying, it’s important, you gotta stay calm under pressure, right. That’s what pilots are renowned for. So when your back’s against the wall and you’re faced with a tough decision for your business, what’s that internal is kind of pilot’s checklist, uh, for you that helps you kind of get, make a decision.

Anita Laney (22:36):

And for me, and I’ll talk about my process for getting to the decision. And it’s, I one, I have someone that I confide in and then I talk to, because I need to know if this is a matter of perception or if it’s reality. So that’s kind of my first check, you know, I have, I just wigging out, you know, is this real, or is this something I should be concerned about, I guess I should say. So that’s the first point. And then it’s an internal and quiet process for me. So I back away from everything, everyone, and I don’t come out until I have an answer, but I’m one of those entrepreneurs. Like, I don’t I’ll think about it, I’ll pray about it. I, um, I’m a very spiritual person. And so, um, and it comes, you know, days, and then I’ve learned over the years, not to act upon something until I’m, um, I’m pretty certain.

Anita Laney (23:33):

And I always say, see, I can live with my mistakes. And so I get all of these, you know, you get advice from everyone, right. And what I’ve found is I can’t live with, I have a hard living with the fact that I acted on as someone else’s there are mistakes. So yeah, that’s, that’s kind of a process and I’ve learned. Um, and when I, if I’m under that type of pressure of going through that, you know, it’s important for me to not because of the size that we are to not engage staff as much, especially my junior staff, because they don’t want them to feel that pressure. Right. And so, yeah, so it’s, it’s, and, and 15 years later, you know, I can say I’m quite a different person today than I was probably five years ago. Definitely 10 years ago.

Mickey Cloud (24:27):

Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, thanks so much for joining us this morning on building while flying. This has been great.

Anita Laney (24:32):

Absolutely. Thanks for having me

Mickey Cloud (24:36):

Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that stuck out,

Mickey Cloud (24:45):

Yes, we liken this to the post game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here at the Sasha group. Here is the Sasha sidebar.

Katie Hankinson (25:01):

Hey, Mickey, I just heard your chat with Anita. Um, I remember her from when she came in to Vayner Media a few years back, and it was awesome to hear about the work she was doing. Then it sounds like she’s scaling even more. And what a great mission, like, you know, ultimately that sits underneath this company, that’s built around supplier diversity.

Mickey Cloud (25:21):

Yeah. She’s a, um, she was obviously a great, uh, James Orsini introduction.

Katie Hankinson (25:26):

Totally. So I, I love the, I mean, essentially if I’m understanding it right. And, um, from what I remember back then, you know, really this whole thing is about the fact that even though we’re in this moment where everyone’s become much more aware about diversity, equity and inclusion within the workplace, and there’s loads of efforts happening and people hiring chief diversity officers, um, and all that great stuff, there are places which may still be blind spots. And one which I confess would not be like right up at the top of the things I be thinking about when I was looking at like how I can infuse diversity into an organization is suppliers. And I think it’s, she made such a good point about, you know, it’s not just about who you’re hiring within your company, but it’s also about the companies that you’re hiring, like who is the director of your TV spot, who is the person who was the owner of that in a print house. So

Mickey Cloud (26:27):

I love it. She had a couple of great lines, you know, like people often approach her about finding suppliers like we never been lost. And so it says obviously much more. She’s like, it’s not about the, the having a list of, of suppliers. She goes, she comes to supplier. Diversity is about supplier development. And it’s like, if, if you’re, uh, you know, if you’re really committed to this space, it’s about growing those suppliers along with you, that if you’re going to continue to grow, you’re going to give, you’re going to help them grow as well, by sending more business their way by helping them, you know, um, scale their, what they’re working on as well, introducing them to other people that you, that are kind of in your same category. So, um, that to me is what I had never heard. It positioned that way before about supplier diversity is supplier development. Um, and that’s where I think that there’s such a far reaching kind of opportunities off of that mindset.

Katie Hankinson (27:23):

It’s funny, it’s, it’s also kind of the difference between thinking about your suppliers and vendor versus a partner it’s kind of in that same vein. Um, and now of course with the SAS product, there is an opportunity to extend and scale what previously, uh, need to happen doing more as a kind of embedded turn the tanker from within kind of individual role, um, which takes me to what should, you know, even small businesses or startups or challenger brands be thinking about in terms of how to embed diversity, right? Presumably this kind of a tool is available for the smaller end of the spectrum to you. Yeah.

Mickey Cloud (27:59):

That’s exactly who it’s built for. It’s built for it. You know, obviously if she, the business, her business started PBS started, you know, working with the Saatchi’s of the world and the BDOs and things like that as clients who are that part of the big holding companies and backed, and, and she had kind of, and even probably 15, 20 years ago, though, it was, it was a much, probably more difficult conversation to, uh, but now that, you know, 25 years later, there’s, there’s more of a moment there’s more openness to it. And so how do you have an offering that is for kind of any size media marketing agency, you know, that that is going to want to take this seriously and, and, and make decisions based off of it. So I love the SAS business. That’s a product that’s kind of under underneath it. And she kind of mentioned that too. She’s kind of transitioning PBS from an embedded model to kind of a consulting services model with technology kind of at its core and the SAS product kind of being underneath that. So I love that kind of, even her repositioning of, of how she’s thinking about her company.

Katie Hankinson (28:55):

That’s awesome. Well, I guess a question which I’d be really curious to hear the answer from is who, who has really thought about supply diversity and like, how are you in acting DNI efforts when you think about procurement and your actual supplier set, thanks for joining us for building wealth flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Mickey Cloud (29:28):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying, across brands, businesses, marketing, and more original music by Fulton Street Music group.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

What is supplier diversity?

Anita Laney currently serves as President and CEO of Professional Partnering Solutions, a full-service supplier diversity consulting and technology firm, where she and her team also developed DataLou, a supplier diversity SaaS product and business. VaynerX’s Chief Diversity Officer, Vanessa Vining, previously worked under Anita at a previous position. We were fortunate to hear from Anita at the VaynerX Diversity Summit on November 4. 

This value-packed episode begins with Anita’s career journey: from full-service travel agency, to supplier diversity in construction and utilities, to her first forays into advertising, to launching Professional Partnering Solutions and founding DataLou. She’s honest about the challenges of transitioning to a new industry, learning how to teach others about her roles and supplier diversity, and scaling a fast-growing company. Lastly, she looks toward the future and offers advice for solving supplier diversity for the next generations.

Other in-flight topics:

  • What is supplier diversity?
  • Career changes in a new industry
  • Challenges of scaling a fast-growing company
  • Keeping up with industry changes and trends
  • Anita’s “in-flight checklist”
  • …and more

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