Dr. Joanna Massey is a self-care expert and a doctor of psychology who has spent 30 years as a communications executive handling crisis communications, brand reputation, and corporate culture at publicly held, Fortune 500 companies.
Q: What's your background, and what are you working on?
I am a C-level communications executive and Board Director with more than 25 years of experience in the media industry at companies, such as Condé Nast, Lionsgate, CBS, Viacom, Discovery and Hasbro. I have managed crisis communications, brand reputation, culture transformation, financial reporting and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Currently, I am President & CEO of J.D. Massey Associates, Inc. (JDMA), which provides marketing communications services and executive training. I have a Ph.D. in psychology, so I use neuroscience to help management teams understand how their constituents respond to stress, change and conflict, and then I provide communications tactics to help them influence internal and external stakeholders. I am a corporate speaker and trainer, as well as the author of two books, Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace and Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Others When the Stakes Are High.
I am also an independent director on the Board of Directors for KULR Technology Group (OTCQB:KULR), which develops, manufactures, and licenses next-generation carbon fiber thermal-management technologies for batteries and electronic systems. The company’s technology was on the Mars Perseverance Rover. I also serve on two Advisory Boards—one for 8B Education Investments, a for-profit business providing innovative student-financing products for African students studying abroad at world-class universities, and the other for The Resolution Project, a nonprofit organization providing seed funding, mentorship and access to global advisory resources for undergraduate students who are developing entrepreneurial ventures that promote social good.
In addition, I am an adjunct professor at Columbia University, where I teach a masters-level course in corporate communications. I love academia. I have four graduate degrees—a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology (Antioch, Los Angeles), a Ph.D. in Psychology (Sofia University, Palo Alto), an MBA (University of Southern California) and a Graduate Certificate in Corporate Finance (Harvard).
Q: What motivated you to get started with JDMA?
I wish I could say that it was a big desire to be an entrepreneur, but the truth is that I am a Corporate Girl. I come from working in-house at publicly held media companies and I love that world. I also take a lot of risks in my career, because I get bored and want to spread my wings. As a result, I have worked in emerging areas of media and have found myself getting downsized out of my jobs as these large companies merge with each other in an effort to consolidate operations and improve margins. During the last downsizing—my fifth in 12 years—I decided that life would be better if I held the keys to the car. That’s when I decided to go to work as a consultant. But, I come from big media, so I couldn’t imagine being a one-man band. That’s why I created a virtual agency, where I bring in clients and then cater the team to meet their needs using a web of freelance partners with the needed skillsets and experience.
Q: How have you attracted clients and grown JDMA?
Slowly—more slowly than I would have liked. A friend told me that it’s a process and her consulting firm didn’t start getting traction until after 18 months. Mine was the same, which is surprising, because my 18-month window included COVID. Surprisingly, the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn helped my business. Small to mid-size publicly held companies often have a Chief Marketing Officer and a mid-level communications person, which means they are lacking the strategic expertise of a seasoned communications executive. That’s where I step in. I am the senior advisor to support the CMO, provide insights into best practices, and I help fill in the team to up level the company’s corporate communications and publicity efforts across all of its divisions.
Q: What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
(1) Go with my gut and (2) pray.
That was a bit of a joke, but it also has an element of truth. My business is primarily word of mouth. Clients refer me to other clients. I am also very active and get referrals from several networking organizations that I belong to with other C-suite female executives—Chief, the International Women’s Forum and WomenExecs on Boards.
Because JDMA is a virtual firm and, thanks to COVID, we don’t carry any overhead. The company’s operations and financial commitments are minimal. That enables us to price our services based on what the freelance partners and I need to earn, as opposed to what JDMA needs to support its infrastructure.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
My raison d’être is simple but not easy: I want people to understand how human beings react to stress, change and conflict and then provide them with communications tools, so that we can all be more effective in working with each other, whether it is in our professional lives or our personal lives. Blaming and shaming don’t work. Just look at Twitter.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
There are so many that I don’t know where to start, but I will pick three.
1. Being a woman in business and trying to act like one of the guys, so they would be comfortable enough with me to let me into the C-suite.
2. Embracing my super power, which is the fact that I am a woman and bringing that diverse perspective to the C-Suite and the Board Room. I was climbing up the corporate ladder in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the men didn’t want women in the C-suite and the few women who made it there had to do so by elbowing each other out of the way. Then 2017 happened and I now have the benefit of living through a period in the United States where diverse voices, especially women’s voices, are being heard and believed. We need to capitalize on this moment. It’s a miracle.
3. Being bold in business instead of conforming to what is expected. We are fortunate to live in an era where we have been told, “If you see something, say something” and it isn’t enough not to be racist, you have to be anti-racist. Being bold means when you have an opinion, express it and don’t be ashamed of who you are and how you are. (I am still working on this one.)
Q: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I am the Queen of Pivoting. It is a moniker that is on my social media bios and I am writing a book on it. I also give a talk to various special interest groups called “The Queen of Pivoting: Secrets to Making a Successful Career Change.” I had an influential boss, Dawn Ostroff, whom I have worked for at three different companies. She told me early in my career to jump on the change train at the front and not to wait at the station seeing how far the train goes, because by the time you jump on for the ride, you’ll be at the back of the change and it could be too late. Thanks to two decades of learning from Dawn, I am a change agent. I love change and I jump in when I see it.
Q: What's your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
- Be optimistic, while paying attention to warning signs.
- Trust your gut, while checking it with experienced advisors.
- Have grit but fail fast.
- Embrace change to pivot gracefully.