Posted October 15, 2012, 2012 by Chris
Stephen Michael Brown’s passion for movies focused him on looking at PR through different lenses
As a schoolchild, when Stephen Michael Brown had to bring an item into Show and Tell, he grabbed the printed HBO TV channel guide and regaled his fellow classmates about upcoming movies. After all, that’s what his life’s passion, which led him to writing movie reviews for many years.
Today, as manager of the Atlanta office of Cohn & Wolfe, he inspires his dozen PR professionals to look at client work through a different lens and, when necessary, to bring a theatrically creative idea to the market.
Stephen wrote weekly movie reviews for his hometown Creative Loafing in Greenville, S.C., while he majored in journalism at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. After landing a job at a Greenville ad agency after college, he continued to write the column on the side.
“I grew up with a huge love of movies, theaters and advertising,” he said. “Before I knew the alphabet, I recognized logos. I loved the combination of images and storytelling.”
In 1998, he moved to Atlanta to work with a technology PR firm that was absorbed by Ketchum six months later. “I didn’t know I wanted to specialize in the technology practice, but I ended up loving it.”
After a couple of years at Macquarium, Stephen was recruited to head up media relations at Manning, Selvage and Lee’s Atlanta office, flying to New York to meet with reporters about large Atlanta-based clients such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot and UPS. Then, halfway through is seven-year term at MSL, he helped land the McDonald’s franchisee of Georgia client and managed that for the remainder of his time there. Though he left MSL in early 2011, “I still get occasional crisis calls from McDonald’s franchisees in the middle of the night,” he said, chuckling.
One MSL account, Philips Electronics, combined his love of tech, PR and movies by doing managing a survey with director Martin Scorcese about his favorite use of color in the movies and then pitching Scorcese’s “Top 10” list to writers and movie reviewers.
He moved to Cohn & Wolfe 14 months ago to head up the office after it had rebranded to its original name. Cohn & Wolfe was founded in in Atlanta in 1970, purchased by Young & Rubicam in 1984, became part of of global WPP Group, was rebranded as GCI and then returned to its original name a few years ago. The local office shares office space with a separate GCI Health services firm. Serving clients such as TWELVE Hotels, Novare and 3M, Stephen’s team recently landed as a client the Pete & Gerry’s cage-free heirloom egg company that sells special European style blue eggs with orange yokes.
“Our tagline is ‘Dig Deeper.’ Imagine More,” Stephen said. “ One of the important themes I stress is to be really creative and counterintuitive. We’ve always pitched media, but when an important event or news arises, we need to brainstorm how to find a new angle and then practice how we are going to pitch it, just as actors do in the movies.”
– Chris Schroder, SchroderPR.com
Posted September 17, 2012, 2012 by Chris
Profiling the profiler:
Inside Atlanta PR columnist Chris Schroder is quizzed by last week’s interview subject, Betsey Weltner
Betsey: Chris, thank you for letting me turn the tables on you. Like all of the public relations practitioners featured in your column in the SaportaReport, you have an interesting career story as well as many interests outside of work. I have been wondering which photo you will select to accompany this column.
Chris: Hmmm. Either riding my bike or maybe a photo I just posted on Facebook at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Betsey: Well rock on!
Betsey: I have noticed that not many of our colleagues featured in your column set out at an early age to become PR mavens. Most landed in this profession through serendipity. You got here by way of print journalism, paying your ink-stained dues As a fifth-generation scion from an old Atlanta family of lawyers, what sent you in this direction?
Chris: When I was growing up as, yes, a native Atlantan, we had two newspapers delivered to our house every day. I would get up early in the morning and read the Atlanta Constitution with my dad. In the afternoon I would read the Atlanta Journal with my mom. Most of my family worked in law. I was more interested in story telling.
Betsey: Did the great Jack Spalding, former editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal and long-performing tenor in the Georgia Press Association’s “Cracker Crumble,” influence you during your formative years?
Chris: My cousin Jack Spalding was my role model. I was 13 when I visited him in the old newsroom downtown and decided then I wanted to work in journalism. So I did. In my senior year of high school I was editor of the Westminster Bi-line.
Betsey: Did you break any big stories?
Chris: Sadly not. But we did start a tradition of an April Fools Day Lampoon edition that continues to this day, I believe. There were some big stories going on in the world and here in the South with the Civil Rights movement coming to the forefront, then the governor’s race between Lester Maddox and George Busbee. I was inspired by some great political writers during those days: Howell Raines at the Constitution and David Norden at the Journal. They wrote about that race in a way that was gripping. I went to college at the University of Virginia. There was no journalism program so I majored in English, but was executive editor of the weekly university newspaper for four years. After graduation I worked for another journalism legend, Hodding Carter, at the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Miss.
Betsey: Another one of the greats, as was his father, wasn’t he?
Chris: Hodding Carter, Sr. received the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 in recognition of his editorials calling for equality for African-Americans. He had served in World War II alongside black servicemen, and made an eloquent appeal for equal treatment at home as well as in the battlefield. Pretty courageous stand in the mid-1940s in Mississippi.
Betsey: So you learned the business by toiling as a working journalist as well as working in production, design and advertising at some pretty good Deep South newspapers: Delta Democrat-Times, Augusta Chronicle, Greenville News, Charlotte Observer, then the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as creative director. Then while working at the Fulton County Daily Report, you decided to launch your own publication. The timing was, shall we say, interesting since it was just before the emergence of the Internet. The rest is history.
Chris: Yes my timing was perfect (said ironically). In 1992 I decided to start my own newspaper called “Atlanta 30306.” The concept was to produce a highly localized publication that would cover businesses and people in the Virginia-Highlands area, focusing on positive news—no sex, no crime, no politics. No scandals. In later years I had a business partner, Tom Cousins, and at our peak we were printing three newspapers with a combined circulation of 100,000; 16 employees; and $1.6 million in revenues. But then 9/11 happened. Advertising tanked. And you are right, the Internet changed everything forever. Mr. Cousins bought me out. The three publications were combined into one, Atlanta INtown.
Betsey: I am guessing what happened next. You went to Nepal to meditate and had a vision: “Go into PR.”
Chris: Actually I went to lunch with my cousin, Bo Spalding, a partner in Jackson Spalding. He urged me to consider public relations. Then I spent some time working with you on some of your public affairs issues. You helped me understand the business end.
Betsey: Ah yes, always bring in more money than you spend.
Chris: Something like that. Then I started my own firm, Schroder Public Relations, and this December will celebrate 10 years in business.
Betsey: Someone said that we have seen more radical changes in the newspaper business during the last 20 years than in the previous 200 years. You started your PR firm about the same time technology shook not just the newspaper business but also the practice of public relations. How have you managed to survive?
Chris: We provide communications services to business-to-business clients and have had to evolve along with our clients. There is a big difference between the way newspapers and the PR industry dealt with the technology revolution. PR businesses embraced the use of the Internet and social media. Newspapers were slow to adapt. The Internet wiped out the major revenue stream: classified ads.
Betsey: And now you are once again working in journalism, writing for SaportaReport. But no more paper and ink.
Chris: SaportaReport is a great example of new journalism providing a place for veteran writers. And we are doing it within a new journalism and revenue model that works. Yes, I am back to my first love!
– Betsey Weltner, Weltner Communications
Posted September 10, 2012, 2012 by Chris
Betsey Weltner’s career in public relations has always been where politics and the environment meet
Betsey Weltner’s PR career at the intersection of politics and the environment was foreshadowed by her childhood.
When she was 10, her father, Charles Longstreet Weltner, was elected to Congress from Atlanta and Betsey and her family moved to Washington, D.C. for four years. “I was exposed to politics and the human behaviors that surround it at an early age,” Betsey told us Friday. “I developed an interest in politics and writing and I’ve used those two lifelong interests to make a living.
“The best job I ever had was working at the old Piedmont Park greenhouses during college before they became part of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. I loved working with all the exotic orchids and roses and there was no stress!”
Betsey graduated from Grady High School and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia. After graduation she wrote press releases and newsletters for the City of Atlanta Parks Department. Then it was off to D.C. to work as press secretary and environmental legislative assistant for Congressman Wyche Fowler, who had been elected to her father’s former Fifth District seat.
Two years later, she joined the public affairs issues practice at Hill & Knowlton in D.C. During her 10-year stint at the firm, she was named by The Washingtonian Magazine to “Washington’s Ten Most Eligible Bachelorettes” list. “I still am,” she laughs. “It was a lifetime honorific!”
Her time with Hill & Knowlton was focused on serving energy and transportation clients and included a year in Australia working on environmental issues in an antipodal environment. Ever since, she has continued that line of work, developing a niche in environmental issues management for large companies.
Betsey returned to Atlanta at the invitation of Bob Cohn and Norman Wolfe and worked “two stints” at Cohn & Wolfe. In between, Betsey worked on the Zell Miller campaign and then the new governor asked her to run the constitutional amendment campaign that established the Georgia Lottery for Education.
After a few more years at Cohn & Wolfe, Betsey realized it was time for a change. “I liked them and they liked me, but I told them I wanted to run my own business – to concentrate on more public affairs and political work. It was more difficult to do campaigns in the structure of a large national PR firm. The firm was very helpful and even referred business to me,” Betsey said.
She started Weltner Communications and started working on complicated hazardous waste and Superfund issues including sites in south Georgia and on the coast. “Over the years environmental regulations on a state and federal level have changed to incorporate public participation at every step in the process,” she said. “Whether permitting a new operation or determining a cleanup remedy for a Superfund site, the public has to have a lot more input. It’s a good opportunity for companies to explain what they do and what the science is, and the technology that will be used to most effectively remediate. My firm provides translation from scientific terminology to a dialogue the public can understand. It requires having sufficient technical understanding to explain to different audiences.”
In 2005. she temporarily closed her Atlanta office to work for BP on mining remediation issues in Wyoming and Montana “and learned to ski!”
Two years ago, she left the Rockies to help with a major environmental issue in the Gulf of Mexico that we all may have read about, but that Betsey doesn’t care to specifically name. “It was a great learning experience immersing myself in the chemistry and biology of a marine ecosystem, and working with a very experienced science team.”
She moved back to Atlanta two years ago, though we caught her “in only the third week that I have spent at home this year.” At one time, Weltner Communications had a half dozen team members in her office in Atlanta and, later, Moreland, but her new model allows Betsey the “flexibility to partner with a lot of people who know a lot more than I do about certain aspects of the business.”
Looking back, Betsey says “it’s important to do something you learn from every day and something in which you will be able to maintain a long interest. For me, my work brings to bear politics, communications, science and technology. There is so much to learn from the experts I work with. I love it.”
-Chris Schroder, SchroderPR.com
Posted September 3, 2012, 2012 by Chris
Charlie Hayslett converted a government reporting career into a successful public affairs career
Charlie Hayslett was more than a decade into his career as a newspaper reporter when Bob Cohn of Cohn & Wolfe PR firm called him one afternoon and asked, “Have you had enough of the newspaper business?”
“You happened to have called me on a day when the answer is ‘Yes’,” Charlie told him. That’s how quickly it took for a veteran writer of the AJC’s Washington bureau and state government beat in Atlanta to switch careers.
Charlie, who has run The Hayslett Group for the past 18 years, remembers Bob Cohn “as something close to a genius. If PT Barnum and Bob Cohn had been born in the same year, you never would have heard of PT Barnum.”
Charlie was born in Columbus, Miss., but moved to Atlanta in his senior year of high school and graduated from Briarcliff High School. Then it was off to Athens where, as he puts it, “I managed to cram four years of college into six years.”
While a student at the University, he started working for The Athens Daily News in the production department, delivered a newspaper route and later covered local sports and government. He moved to the Atlanta Journal in January 1973 just as a major ice storm hit town. He covered government and politics in DeKalb and Fulton counties, eventually moving to D.C.
“It was 1976 and Jimmy Carter was preparing to enter the White House,” Charlie said. After two years in D.C., he returned to the Atlanta Journal for another two to cover state government before that call came from Bob. Charlie worked at Cohn & Wolfe for a year before starting a freelance writing firm. Then calls started coming in from candidates running for the 1982 Georgia governor’s race.
“I turned down an overture from Joe Frank Harris and worked instead with Bo Ginn,” Charlie recalled. Though Harris eventually won, Charlie learned a lot.
“You learn a lot in a campaign environment that are hard to pick up in others,” he said.
“It is a great testing ground for improving your own skills in an environment where there is a clear outcome at the end of the campaign. Someone described it as a challenge of selling out a store on a given day. You are stuck with any inventory left afterwards, so it causes you to think more urgently about a communications strategy.
“Even before working in the 1982 governor’s race, I had been a real research junkie, but the campaign and the use of research in that campaign gave me a much better appreciation for the way public opinion and marketing data can be used to understand how messages are received and how to shape them. “
After that campaign, Charlie wrote speeches for BellSouth and devised an internal communications campaigns for the telecom and, later, other firms. “That research approach was very useful to managing broader communications initiatives in a larger organization. Our work was driven almost entirely by a unique employee attitude and survey process,” he said.
After 10 years at BellSouth and a one-year stint at Fleishman Hillard, he opened The Hayslett Group, handling public policy work. His first client was Georgia-Pacific and they’ve recently returned to his portfolio of work. His firm grew to nearly 25 people before the 2000 tech implosion. Hayslett has a half dozen professionals working now on clients such as the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and Gwinnett Medical Center.
“For the past three years, we’ve been working to improve the public health system in the state. Georgia spends only four cents a day per capita on public health and we get what we pay for. It’s embarrassing. Our public health agencies are incredibly strapped and they do great work. Our state is 500 nurses short of what we need. As a comparison, Alabama spends more than four times as much as Georgia.”
Looking back on a career in journalism and PR, Charlie thinks his path was a good one. “If you have an instinct to learn the craft of journalism, figuring out the right questions to ask and what story needs to be told, it’s a useful and marketable skill whether you are working for a newspaper, for a client or in an agency situation.
“In a lot of ways, I’m still doing the same thing I did when I worked as a newspaper writer. I’m still trying to figure out what the story is and the best way to tell it.”
– Chris Schroder, SchroderPR.com
Posted July 24, 2012, 2012 by Chris
J.R. Hipple learned from the “father of PR” and helps counsel today’s CEOs
The last class J.R. Hipple took as a student at Miami of Ohio was public relations. He liked it so much, he decided to prusue a masters in the field. Providence led him to Boston University and to finding a mentor who happened to be the “father of modern PR,” Edward Bernays.
“That’s what changed my life, meeting Edward Bernays when he was 92,” J.R. told us Monday. “He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and, by his account, the first person to really bring psychological research to public relations.
He was associated with BU and was on the board of a non-profit for which J.R. worked while he took his classes at night. “I talked to him every day for five years,” J.R. said. “I adopted him and we became fast friends. He was not searching for mentees, but I latched on to him and spent a lot of time talking with him in his Victorian house in Cambridge.”
After serving as the nonprofit’s PR person for three years and later as executive director for two years, J.R. moved to California to become the second PR person for an ad agency that was eventually bought by Foote, Cone & Belding. There were 12 employees when he joined and nearly a hundred when he left a few years later.
He then moved to Richmond, connected with the Martin brothers who founded the Martin Agency and set up their PR arm, Hawley Martin & Hipple. Their first account was Eskimo Pie. He later joined Earle Palmer Brown, as EVP of its Richmond office and then J.R. and some partners bought that office and created CRT. There were 18 employees when they set up shop and it grew to 70 employees when J.R. left in 2002 to move to Atlanta, starting Hipple & Co. Reputation Management.
Serving clients such as Georgia Power, the University of Virginia and the Richmond International Airport, J.R. is preparing for another new venture with former MSL Group VP Jason Anthoine. The two will officially Anthoine Hipple & Partners Reputation Management in September, though they are already working together on a several clients.
J.R. is past chair of PRSA’s Counselor’s Academy and as chair of the board of the governors of Center for Ethics and Corporation Responsibility at Georgia State – both industry groups for which he was able to use all that knowledge gleaned from Bernays.
“He was adamant about research and analysis at a time when PR people were called flacks,” he said. “He was the first to call himself a ‘counselor on PR.’ That way he felt he was on par with lawyers in his relationship with senior management, and he made more money, too. He elevated PR to be counseling senior management – that’s what I’ve been doing most of my career.
“CEOs are besieged right now … there has never seen so much pressure on the C-suite. I think change is occurring so fast and there is increasing scrutiny of the organizations insomuch that anyone with a computer can be reporting on those corporations. The change is profound. Many CEOs have had very little in training and experience that prepares them for the complex communications and PR requirements of their jobs today.
“They not only have to deal with an uncertain marketplace and economy, they have to be able to provide a vision and direction for managing relations with investors, regulators, employees and community groups.”
What does J.R. see coming around the corner for PR?
“A broader set of skills, far better financial and business knowledge than what the profession oftentimes has had. We really have to have an understanding of the issues facing the business today and tomorrow.”
– Chris Schroder
Posted July 16, 2012, 2012 by Chris
The numbers are looking good for Green Olive Media
For Elizabeth Moore, partner in Green Olive Media with designer/husband Jeff, it all comes down to numbers. Of course, that’s natural for someone who spent the first 10 years of her career in accounting.
Before joining Jeff full time in 2000 and helping to build the PR side in what had primarily been a restaurant-focused branding & communications agency, Elizabeth worked as an accountant in a public accounting firm, then at Equitable Real Estate Investment Management, Turner, and finally The Coca-Cola Company.
“Jeff worked for two years with one employee out of our Candler Park house,” Elizabeth told us Monday as she and Jeff vacationed in Texas. “They were making a lot of friends but not a lot of money. I was doing the books, so I said, ‘Wait a minute, you need to offer clients more than the brand identity – you need to really speak to their customers.’ So I jumped on board and started hiring folks from different disciplines who would collectively make a real difference in our clients’ businesses … graphic designers, PR people, marketing people… We now have 12 full-time employees, seven on the PR side.”
Born to entrepreneurial parents who owned a meat packaging company, Elizabeth moved around a bit during her grade school years, eventually landing in Gwinnett County. Elizabeth went to Brookwood High School and was attending Stetson University in Florida (downstate from her grandfather’s cattle farm) when she was offered an internship working in an accounting firm in Atlanta. She took the job and took advantage of their college funding benefit to finish her accounting degree at Georgia State.
Later, taking advantage of employer sponsored tuition reimbursement programs, Elizabeth earned another degree in English from Georgia State and went on to complete post grad work in marketing and PR. Her longtime mentor proved instrumental in advancing her career in accounting, but the writing was on the wall once she met her husband (at a laundry mat near Emory).
“I got started in the PR business because restaurant people were always showing me the books and asking how they could do it better,” Elizabeth said. “I looked at marketing programs and their ROI and from that I could see, they really needed PR.
“Our early clients were great chefs and food and beverage brands but they needed storytellers to shine a light on their offerings.”
Green Olive Media has been in business since 1998. Most of the early work was in fine-dining (including heavy Atlanta hitters aria, Restaurant Eugene and Canoe). Now, the firm’s client base also includes a host of fast casual restaurants (Taqueria del Sol is opening in five new markets) and Buffalo’s Cafe, where they are running a contest to give away 10 Big Green Eggs as part of their rebranding effort. They are also working on a 10,000sf “food hall” idea for a hospital in St. Louis, basing their restaurant concept and design on what they have found in London and other major cities.
Coming up with a concept for restaurant investors has become a major part of Green Olive’s focus. For example, the company just wrapped the launch of a concept they completed for the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Proof & Provision. They handled the actual concept development, name, identity and website and are responsible for the marketing, social media, and public relations campaign.
“I still do the books,” Elizabeth said. “For me, a lot of what drives my decisions is numbers. For instance, I know exactly the sales figures many clients posted last night. The point is that I like things to be measurable. That’s the biggest struggle in PR. We struggle with getting people to understand how we measure and what the value is in the media we deliver. An impression doesn’t always translate to what it is worth.
“When money is tight, one of the very first things restaurants cut is the marketing budget,” Elizabeth said. “As an accountant, I advise clients they can maybe cut some aspects of their marketing budget, but PR and particularly social media provide such a high return and value for such a small an investment.”
How is it working with her husband, Jeff?
“I don’t know any different,” she said. “We’ve been together nearly 15 years. Having a child and managing career with family is difficult. Any working mother will tell you that. Our seven year old son has practically been raised by chefs all over the country.”
At Green Olive, the numbers are looking good.
– Chris Schroder
Posted July 9, 2012, 2012 by Chris
At William Mills Agency, family isn’t just a buzzword
A lot of PR firms talk about how their teams are one big family. At the William Mills agency, it’s not just talk, it’s reality.
There’s William III, who’s CEO, and Scott, who’s President, Eloise, their mother, who is CFO, not to mention a new generation that is joining the ranks of the 30 full-time employees of the financially focused agency. And they are all still mourning the recent passing of William Mills Jr., who together with Eloise, started the firm in 1977.
How do they keep everything peaceful and professional?
“It isn’t much of a secret,” Scott told us Monday. “We all love each other and we have our own particular perspectives. We’re all very different and and we bring different perspectives. There are times when we have disagreements and the key is to stay cool; to consider everyone’s positions and reflect on what is the best path for the agency. But the bonus is I get to see William and my mom and my nieces a lot more than if we got together otherwise and didn’t work together.”
Scott and William III even met their wives working at the agency!
The non-relatives are treated like family as well. Said William: “I have never in my travels found another agency where everyone is so much like family. We attend everyone’s weddings, celebrate their births … It’s a big part of our lives. The average tenure of other employees with us is really long. People rarely leave as the agency grows. We have a couple of other VPs, who joined us right out of school that have been here 13 years or more. It really is an extended family. “
William III graduated from Florida State with a degree in communications and advertising and joined the family business in 1983. He even interned there in the summer of 1982. “Back then, we could all eat lunch together every day. There were five people then, now we have 30!”
Scott graduated from Georgia State with a degree in commercial music. “I wanted to go into the record industry and ended up working for a radio station for two years. Then I split jobs, and found myself temporarily working at the family agency. I guess I’ve stayed for 24 years now!”
The firm started as a general advertising agency with an emphasis on business to business and then they ended up working with a lot of financial firms. In the 1990s, PR became 100 percent of their service focus. A few years ago, they hired Jerry Goldstein, who helped guide the marketing at MSA (now part of Dun & Bradstreet) to bring back their marketing services arm.
William Mills serves more than 50 companies all over the world in the payments, banking, credit union, automotive, insurance, healthcare and mortgage industries, including Equifax and Jack Henry and Associates.
The firm recently opened a Mumbai, India, office, creating a joint venture with Indisoft to help serve a number of companies, particularly software integrators.
“Our India operation is not a carbon copy of our US firm,” Scott said. “We’ve been advised there are a lot of mid-sized companies in India that would benefit from our PR programs. Many of the large companies have PR, but as a communication practice we have mid-sized that have not worked with PR firm.”
The firm bought its 21,000 sf international headquarters on West Wieuca Road in 1999, designed by Robert Green, an understudy of Frank Lloyd Wright. They gutted all of the top floor and half of the first floor.
Who handled the renovations? William’s wife, Alecia, of course. She designed and oversaw the construction of the interior spaces, employing her master’s graduate degree from Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture. Scott’s wife, Kim, did all the interior design for the office space.
The firm probably didn’t have far to go to get excellent financial advice either!
– Chris Schroder
Mike Neumeier literally walked into the world of PR – almost by accident
Mike Neumeier literally walked through an open door into a PR career. He just as easily could have stepped into advertising.
“I walked into the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida after transferring in my junior year and asked a very scary looking professor, ‘Where is the PR/Advertising department?’ He looked at me like I was stupid, gave me a scowl and said, ‘Which one? They are two different departments?’ There was a sign over a door behind him that said Public Relations, so I quickly said, ‘PR!’ He said, ‘It’s right there’ and turned around and walked away. I walked into the PR department – I’d like to say it was out of my love for writing or something, but it was out of fear I walk into PR – and I never walked out!
After college, Mike worked in the University of Florida Health Science Center and pursued a master’s degree in PR, when a job offer at Mercer University in Macon came through. “I left without finishing my master’s, though I was close. I couldn’t pass it up the job opportunity. Still today my mother and mother-in-law never let me live it down that I didn’t finish my degree.”
After two years as director of news services, handling media relations, alumni communications, writing articles for a university research magazine and handling special events, Mike knew he didn’t want to go the academic route. Despite rubbing shoulders with former U.S. Attorney Griffin Bell and other well-known Mercer alums, Mike found himself spending all his weekends in Atlanta.
“I used my contacts in PRSA (he had been national president of PRSSA in college) and applied to a bunch of jobs, sent out a lot of letters and landed a job at Duffey Communications. Technology was on the upswing, and I became part of a group who understood it and were successful in building a book of business.”
He stayed there for about five years until he was recruited to be a vice president at “an even more creative” agency named Abovo, where he grew the PR department from 10 to 30 people, while the agency grew to 90 people. Then, following the dot-bomb and 9-11, “there came an ugly time when we did the best we could as a management team to keep the firm afloat, it was like landing a jumbo jet with no controls, gearing down to 14 people over about two years. During that time I worked to find a lot of talented individuals’ jobs.”
Again through PRSA contacts, Mike became director of media and analyst relations at web hosting provider Interland before starting his own firm in March 2004. In August 2005, he “partnered up with two others – one who is killer in creative service and one who is excellent at strategic marketing, I’m PR and we are all interdisciplinary – and building Arketi been a true work of love for all three of us.”
Today, Arketi is a high-tech business-to-business public relations and digital marketing firm that has 17 professionals and serve clients such as Cbeyond, divisions of Xerox and Knowlagent. Mike served as president of the Georgia Chapter of PRSA in 2009, is on the board of directors for the Technology Association of Georgia, and on the national executive committee of the Counselors Academy of PRSA. He and his wife Kelly set up an annual Leadership Award, awarding a $1,000 scholarship to a PRSSA Georgia or Florida student leader.
“PR has gotten more strategic and more respected in organizations. Today executives know what it is and know they need it. We still to some extent struggle with measurement, but I don’t get too hung up on that. There are many ways to measure, but essentially we help them think through and get through to the market place. We sometimes act as the conscience of organizations.
“Over time, I’ve come to realize the strength of the written word – my partners say, ‘if you need a killer executive quote, Mike is the guy to go to.’ Day in and day out, as PR professionals, we put words in executives’ mouths and with that comes real responsibility. We can’t take lightly how to craft those words and think through the implications, nor should we. I have a renewed appreciation for excellent writing because in today’s 24 by 7 world driven by texts, tweets and emails the art of the written word is an endangered species..”
– Chris Schroder
Amanda Brown Olmstead celebrates 40 years in the industry … and many more to come!
Last Friday night, nearly 100 PR professionals who have worked in Amanda Brown Olmstead’s firm through the years gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her firm at her home/office on West Paces Ferry. (see group photo at end)
“The best part was seeing people I hadn’t seen in 25 years – people who worked in the 1980s. It was really great fun,” she told us Monday.
For one of the best known names in Atlanta PR, it was a well-deserved pause in a career that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
A Jackson, Miss. native, Amanda majored in sociology and psychology at the University of Mississippi before moving to Atlanta in 1965. “Those were better majors for me than a journalism degree,” she said. “I believe PR is about human behavior and persuasion to make something happen …to encourage a purchase or to open a door to a new relationship.” One door she opened right away was at the flagship department store in Atlanta: She was immediately hired after college by Dick Rich of Rich’s (now Macy’s). At age 23, she became fashion and publicity director for JP Allen before joining Saks Fifth Avenue to open its Phipps Plaza store in 1968.
“Then Bob Cohn twisted my arm enough times to join Ball, Cohn and Weyman, who started their PR firm after being political reporters at the Constitution. We had an office in the ‘new’ Colony Square and one of my first assignments was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Atlanta Magazine. It was all so much fun.”
Being a point person for another account, Colony Square, she began working with developer Jim Cushman, who asked Amanda to help bring in retail stores to the new cutting-edge mixed-use concept at 14th and Peachtree.
“Since I had this extensive retail experience and knew designers in New York and L.A., Jim wanted me to use my contacts and asked if I wanted to do it. I thought … I’d want to do this myself!” So she opened her own firm on June 1, 1972 in Colony Square as Amanda Brown Creative Consultants with one employee and a $5,000 business loan.
She quickly picked up a chain of retail stores located in airports and hotels and the Georgia Textile Manufacturing and American Textile Manufacturing trade associations as clients. Several years later she moved the firm downtown into the Equitable Building – an insurance and real estate client – and later into the historic Candler Building.
While there were two other women operating as solo practitioners, Amanda was the first woman with a full-service firm in the Southeast. During the height in the 80’s, she had 48 employees when Peter Gummer of Shandwick, a public PR company, bought her firm and 64 others around the world. As happens with public companies, budget cuts led to her having to trim the staff back.
In March 1996, before the Atlanta Olympics, she negotiated with Shandwick to break away, earning back her brand. She existed in the same space with the same phone number until she moved to a loft downtown and eventually to her current home office.
ABOA has six team members today with impressive clients such as the Georgia Ports Authority, Weston Solutions and the Georgia Forestry Association/Commission. “Did you know Georgia has highest percentage of privately owned forests in nation and that there are more trees growing in Georgia today than when Oglethorpe stepped off his ship in 1733?” she asked us. We didn’t know that.
“I enjoy working today as much or more than I ever have. I’m having such a really, really good time. There is still nothing more exciting than picking up a new client and developing those relationships, celebrating a victory of getting a client a newspaper or TV placement – or giving good strategic advice.
“I have one client for which I’ve been training their executives to prepare for new business presentations and they have been winning a lot of new business. They think I’m magic! It makes what I’m doing so rewarding.”
Having put together a lot of old scrapbooks for her anniversary celebration, Amanda marveled at the old presentation booklets for which she had to rub on press type.
“I came in with typewriters and White Out, but we always stayed ahead of technology. I really think a lot of the mental things involved in PR haven’t changed at all, such as meeting needs for how people connect and communicate and create community. It’s different with social media with the world in your hand, but we solve the basic human need of how you get there through effective communications.”
How many more anniversaries does she plan to celebrate? “I’m going to keep going until the engine runs out,” she said.
– Chris Schroder,
Posted May 1, 2012 by Chris
Caren West learned a thing or two before staring her own PR firm at 26
Twenty-six might seem a young age to start your own PR firm in Atlanta, but Caren West had already learned important lessons from her 12 years working in hospitality: “Your job is to make sure your guests have a good time and a great meal.”
Now she counts restaurants, musical events and media companies among her firm’s clients. “It’s more than a job, it’s someone else’s dream that we get to be a part of.”
When she was 13, Caren walked across the street from her home outside Baltimore and landed a dishwasher’s job. During college summer breaks from Auburn, she worked at the Weekapaug Inn in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. “Think Dirty Dancing,” she suggested. “Auburn’s summer breaks were longer than other schools, so I raked it in at weddings and big dinner parties after the other students went back to school. It helped pay college expenses!”
She wasn’t headed for a career in PR. She majored in communications and minored in psychology (her mother’s field). “I was interested in TV production and I landed a job at Turner, but they merged with Time Warner before I could start and my job was caught in a hiring freeze. So I decided to evaluate what I was going to do next. I tell people I didn’t find PR, PR found me.”
She started at a music label and soon was pulled into working for two small PR firms, yet continued freelance writing – her first love. “I loved the media and I’m obsessed with magazines. I thought I’d try journalism, but people kept asking me to write for PR.” She eventually landed a weekly column at the Sunday Paper, was special projects editor at Jezebel and landed a weekly on-air gig on 99X. Then her PR projects started getting bigger and bigger and Caren West PR was born.
CWPR clients include the 20th anniversary of Jeffrey Fashion Cares, Wild Heaven Craft Beers, next month’s retirement of Monica Pearson from WSB-TV as well as CounterPoint, a new music festival planned for this fall in Chattahoochee Hill Country.
“I have a passion for writing. In PR, it’s important. You have to be great writer to be able to tell a story with every pitch. There is so much noise, so many blogs and social media, having consistent and meaningful messaging is so important.”
She partnered with graphic artist Chad Shearer in 2005 and the four-person firm keeps an office in Old Fourth Ward with four dogs. “It’s a zoo. I love it,” she said.
“I’ve had offers to go to New York, but I always turn them down. I love Atlanta. Atlanta was on the verge and I wanted to be here,” she said. “It’s an entrepreneurial city. The PR community works together to breed success. I love the fact that I can partner with other PR people and cross-promote.”
CWPR was an early adopter of social media and building the buzz. Jezebel Magazine just listed Caren’s personal Facebook page as Atlanta’s funniest. (Better hurry if you want to be her friend, she only has a few spots left before she hits the ceiling of 5,000.)
She was especially honored to be asked by WSB to handle Monica’s retirement schedule. “I love media people so much and I respect the hours that go into what they do and I’m willing to jump through hoops to do whatever they need.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted April 23, 2012 by Chris
Sharon Goldmacher might be the only person who can solve this winning PR formula: C21 + 2013 = Final Four
When Sharon Goldmacher of communications 21 was trying to decide where to start her career, she had a bit of a Goldilocks experience: New Orleans was too hot and the Baltimore/D.C. area was too cold. Atlanta, it turns out, was just right.
Not only is she celebrating her firm’s 20th year, she and her firm have taken on a second job of sorts: managing the operations and execution for the 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four as well as providing marketing, PR and promotion services. That would be c21’s 21st year, coming of age just in time, naturally.
“I tell people my full title is ‘Executive Director of the Atlanta local organizing committee and I have no tickets!’ ” (The NCAA has taken over all ticket distribution responsibilities, but you can enter a lottery for tickets here.)
As Sharon was preparing to graduate cum laude from Tulane with a double major in political science and communications, she worked part-time at the NBC affiliate, WDSU-TV. She helped provide coverage for Mardi Gras, the space shuttle Challenger explosion and a decapitation with an alleged Mafia connection.
“The coup de grace was a 12-car pile-up on a foggy Sunday morning. It was a very bad wreck. That was it for me,” she said. “I’m not a big emotional person, but for survival’s sake, I wanted to stay as humanistic as possible, so I decided to get out of TV News reporting in New Orleans.”
Born in California, Sharon had moved with her family to Orlando, Boston and Baltimore. “We were in Orlando and attended Disney the second day it opened, which was a great memory I will never forget,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go back to Baltimore and, after job-hunting in D.C., I decided it was too cold. My sister went to Emory and my college roommate was from Atlanta. It was the greenest city I’d ever seen in my life, so I moved here.
“After I did some volunteer work at an Atlanta PBS station, someone said, “You’d be great in PR.’ And I said, ‘Awesome – PR, what is that?’ ”
She worked for a small PR firm that handled commercial real estate before joining Knapp Communications, where her friend and mentor was William Pate, now president & CEO of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I finally decided I wasn’t that great with authority, so after three years at age 28, I struck out on my own. The downside was I had no formal training in running a business,” she said. “From the beginning, I was very much focused on client satisfaction. After all, they are your lifeblood. When you’re getting started, you don’t have flexibility to say ‘I will work with you or I don’t want work with you.’
“I lost focus on the fact that people working with clients need to be happy as well and around my fifth or sixth year in business, I lost a couple of key people. So then I rotated 180 degrees: I learned you have to have great people and make sure they are happy. If the team is happy, then the client is happy. The work is there and if the employees are challenged, they will want to do best they can. So we do a lot of training and pay 100 percent of development and education.”
communications 21 has numerous clients, including the Southeast Dairy Association, Copper Development Association, Community Coffee Company and Quality Technical Services. But the firm’s big client is the NCAA Final Four, which will host the second largest sports event (behind only the Super Bowl) in Atlanta next April.
“Our goal is to have this be the best tournament ever, in honor of 75 years of March Madness in 2013,” said Sharon, who was the volunteer chair for marketing and PR promotions in 2007 and then helped prepare and deliver the Atlanta organizing committee’s winning pitch for the 2013 event. It wasn’t long before the committee asked her to be executive director of the Atlanta committee. “Our goal is to have the Final Four here every three to five years,” she said.
In addition to taking over ticket distribution, the NCAA has its own telescopic seating that it will install over the lower bowl of the Dome, making it a much more intimate setting than four years ago when only 50,000 seats were available. Not only will seating increase to 73,000, but the floor will be raised three feet above the benches and media. Also, instead of just three total games, the event will include a free music series (The Big Dance) and 89 different sports in the Georgia World Congress Center as part of Bracket Town – the fan fest event.
In addition to heading the committee, c21’s 13 employees will handle all marketing, PR and event promotions. Normally a host city has an executive director, a director of operations and a support person. “I told them they are getting 10 additional people for the price of three!” Sharon said.
– Chris Schroder,
Posted April 15, 2012 by Chris
Carol Cookerly learned early on that an appropriate demeanor needs to fit the occasion – Today, that would be happy
When PR expert Carol Cookerly was early in her TV career just after graduating from Duke, her news director gave her a lesson in appropriate demeanor that fits the occasion.
“He called me in to his office after I had done a live shot at an explosion. ‘Carol,’ he said. ‘Instead of looking so happy at doing your TV reporting job, you should probably look more empathetic to the occasion.’ I went back and looked at my tape and that was a eureka moment for me,” Carol said Monday. “Make sure your demeanor fits the occasion. Even though I really was happy doing my job as a live stand-up reporter on the local evening news in Greensboro and Durham.”
Today, celebrating 20 years running her own PR firm, Carol’s happy demeanor seems most appropriate. With 24-full-time employees serving a diversified client base, she reports that the economic impact on her firm’s revenues of several recent downturns in the economy “has been negligible.”
Carol grew up in Charlotte until she was 15 and then her family moved to Washington, D.C. After majoring in economics, he worked four years covering “the mundane to murders” for the Carolina TV stations. Following a move to New Jersey and New York, she joined a PR firm for three years, eventually migrating to Atlanta to work for Hill & Knowlton.
“Then I went into computers and software for two years and learned how to sell,” Carol said. “I learned about the IBM selling process and I credit that with a lot of our ability to grow as a PR firm.”
Three years after she left PR, she opened her own firm and called up a number of the consumer goods firms she had served at H&K. “They weren’t working with any other firms and they were game to work with me,” she said. “So I immediately hired an account person and an admin. I never wanted to specialize in any one vertical and that has worked well for us. We’ve had a very controlled, profitable growth curve.”
Cookerly serves clients such as SunTrust Banks, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Clean Air Campaign and U.S Micro. Carol has served on the Metro YMCA board for the past 15 years and this past year she was honored with the Bransby Christian Leadership Award for the volunteer of the year. She is also heavily involved with the Murphy-Harpst home in Cedartown, supporting severely abused children.
“I can tell you we focus on writing as in-depth a plan as we possibly can and then try to work those plans. We’ve gotten more complicated business propositions and we’ve gotten very adept at complicated stuff. We don’t just say we’re going to do a media relations gig – we try to work out as rounded a marketing program as we can.”
That has included an early commitment to social media. “We got in early in social media. A VP of my staff, Candace McCaffrey showed leadership early on in that area and became an expert on social media strategies. Then we decided several years ago that everyone was going to be expert in it. We promote our firm heavily in social media. We’re right in the thick of it. Though we also strive, if the goal is publicity, for as much national media, even more than local media.”
Carol, however, just closed down her personal Facebook page. “We’re big into it as a firm, but it’s counter to my nature as a private person to have all this stuff bleeding onto my page even when I don’t post. I’d rather go walking. I take a walk in the woods for 30 minutes each day without a cell phone. That’s how I relax.”
That and horseback riding. Carol was a competitive circuit jumper most of her adult life, but slowed down the past few years. “I’m thinking I’m ready to get back into jumping,” she said. “It’s the only time I can concentrate. When you are riding a horse jumping, you can’t think of anything else.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted April 9, 2012 by Chris
Karin Koser’s career started before she could even finish graduate school – and she’s been shooting higher ever since
Karin Koser will learn in June whether her firm’s video work for Shepherd Center will win one of the industry’s highest awards: a national Silver Anvil, for which their DVD series is a finalist in the Health Care Services category. They’ll be competing against other Atlanta and national broadcast and PR talent – something she’s been doing successfully since she was in graduate school.
In fact, a career opportunity so enticing knocked on her door while she was at the University of Georgia pursuing a graduate degree in broadcast journalism that she never finished her degree.
“I only had six to nine months to go to complete my degree when I saw a job posted on the bulletin board for the Georgia Department of Tourism to be a travel reporter on WAGA-Channel 5’s PM Magazine program,” Karin recalled Friday. She thought “this is the type of job I’d even quit my degree for – if I could possibly win the competition for it.” She did.
Splitting her time between the Tourism office and the TV station, she traveled the state for three years, writing, editing, producing and hosting video segments that aired on the highly rated program until it was bumped off the air by Wheel of Fortune. “My favorite stories were ‘fairy crosses‘ in Fannin County and sitting on the porch of the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island with Gogo Ferguson when a baby deer walked up and she fed it in her lap with a baby bottle.”
So she stayed on for a total of 14 years as PR Manager and later assistant director at the GA Dept. of Industry Trade & Tourism, traveling the world, helping raise media and tourist interest in the state and initiating the “Georgia On My Mind” campaign. As the Olympics approached, she was launching the Welcome South Visitors Center when Ken Willis, then at GCI, recruited her to the PR world.
“I was a senior account supervisor working with Shaw Industries and Lake Lanier Islands, but by that time I was also the proud mom of a young daughter and all those hours and travel weren’t compatible. So when a job as PR Director at Egleston came open, I knew that was closer to home and closer to my heart.” She stayed there more than three years, helping with the communications around the hospital’s merger with Scottish Rite hospital.
“I had been thinking of jumping off and starting my own business,” she said. “I was watching and being encouraged by folks such as Melissa Libby and Lee Echols and finally in January 2000, I did that. Fortunately, I talked to my bosses at (the newly merged) Children’s Healthcare and was able to serve them as a consultant for two years, continuing C-level PR strategy work and promoting healthcare breakthroughs and events like the Festival of Trees and Art of the Season. At the same time, I got a small contract with Connecting with Kids to produce short- and long-form videos about child and teen health.”
She’s led KPK & Co. for 12 years and branched off KPKinteractive in 2008 to take advantage of the interactive opportunities the Internet provided with video technology, and social media channels. Her firm’s video/interactive clients include Shepherd Center, with which she’s worked since 2002, Interface and DeKalb Medical Center. On the PR side, KPK & Co. works with Georgia State University and the American Craft Council’s annual event in Atlanta, among others.
Karin knew she wanted a career in PR after her freshman year at UGA when she was in Rome, Italy, with her mom. Karin’s European-born mother taught her conversational German growing up and took her on lots of trips – a benefit of her mom’s job with Lufthansa. On a bus tour of Rome, the tour guide slipped easily from English to German and Spanish while promoting the city with passion. Karin was impressed.
“Then it hit me, I could be passionate about promoting my own city and state and possibly make a career out of it,” she said.
In 2008, Karin and her team created the “Story of Hope” brand for Shepherd, profiling patients who came to the rehabilitation center and found it a life-changing experience. That led to the development of ShepherdTV.org and to a series of videos this past year informing families what to expect following a spinal cord or brain injury and the promise of eventual recovery and a better long-term life. The video programs were distributed nationally and are available at two new websites: braininjury101.org and spinalinjury101.org.
This campaign, consisting of two full-length videos, packaged as a DVD series with companion booklets, marketing materials and online, is the work that could land Shepherd Center and KPKinteractive a Silver Anvil in New York. Other independent Atlanta finalists in the awards are Jackson Spalding and Hipple & Co. Reputation Management.
“I think there is a story behind everything,” Karin said. “If we can connect the product or the service personally, it will resonate and be successful in reaching our client’s targets. Video, especially distributed interactively, is the best communication tool these days to reach people. We feel like we are at the right place at the right time and this is really the core of what we do. I’m personally passionate about health and wellness, higher ed, lifelong learning, arts/travel/culture and that is reflected in our client portfolio.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted April 2, 2012 by Chris
Former ABC Editor David Rubinger jumped to PR, then corporate and now has his own firm.
A number of Atlanta journalists migrated into PR later in their career, but you may be able to count on one hand – perhaps one digit – former editors of the Atlanta Business Chronicle who now work in public relations. Meet David Rubinger, who actually worked on all three sides part of the communication spectrum: journalism, PR and corporate.
“I still think the most fun I’ve had in my career was my time at the ABC,” David told us last week. “It was perfect for someone like me who was new to Atlanta. Anita Sharpe was editor and Ed Baker, the publisher, introduced me to this city in a way a young person at age 24 would never normally get coming to this city.”
The next stop for David was Ketchum, to which he was recruited by Jane Shivers to run the media relations department. “It was a very difficult decision to leave,” David said. “I valued the time at ABC, but with two children (four now) and looking for further professional growth, I wanted to try something different. The opportunity was right: The Internet boom was starting, Ketchum was growing quickly and I ran media relations. I don’t know if that could happen today, given economic realities for large PR agencies, but at the time they were willing to use my experience at the ABC to win new clients.”
An additional benefit: David got to “work on accounts such as Equifax and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, help implement new programs and learn the agency business without the extreme pressures of being 90 percent billable right away.”
The benefit paid dividends five years later in 2003 when Equifax CEO Tom Chapman recruited David to “go corporate” and head up the corporate communications department. That assignment opened his eyes to a totally new perspective.
“Until you are inside corporate, you don’t realize the complexities of getting all the various constituencies on the same page,” David said. “There are so many voices in a large corporation that you need to align,from the CEO to the board of directors to legal to marketing to human resources to finance. Getting everyone aligned can be a very difficult task and it doesn’t happen until you understand the pressures each of them face to work together as a team. And being a public company made it even more complicated.”
All of which gave him a good perspective when he started Rubinger Inc. in July 2008.
“When you run your own shop, you really learn to understand the client on personal and professional level … to know how they like to work with a consultant of any type,” David said. “I equate it to dating: Understanding what a partner wants, not stepping on toes, giving each other mutual respect, getting to know the client more than a weekly status call. You have to understand their needs. It takes time … sometimes it’s six months before a client and consultant get on the same page. If you know that, it pays off for the long term and it’s much more gratifying over a long relationship.”
David grew up in Manhattan, “devouring the New York Times each morning.” He was involved in the college paper at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, worked an internship at McGraw-Hill’s Electronics Magazine, leading to his first job at McGraw Hill’s online real-time news pilot program. He moved to Atlanta with his wife Hedy, a partner with Arnall Golden Gregory. “I like to say I’m a ‘Damn Yankee’ who became a ‘good old boy!’ ”
He began what he calls his “decade-long MBA program at the ABC,” first as banking/finance writer, then the real estate beat, then managing editor and finally editor for three years, leaving in 1998.
“Your sole goal as a journalist is to get the story and when you don’t get cooperation from a business entity, as a journalist, you don’t understand,” he said. “When you move to corporate, you understand the dynamics involved with legal, marketing, etc.”
At Rubinger, David and his five contract professionals serve clients such as State Bank Financial Corporation, Vocalocity, Heery International and Half-Off Depot.
“As a small firm practitioner, real success is when you are a true partner with the client,” he said. “I do whatever I can do to help them succeed as a business. It’s so much more than getting your client a news clip … it’s being their counselor in ways PR practitioners 50 years ago never would have dreamed. I love what I do now, capitalizing on a 23-year rolodex, helping solve issues, promoting brands, using my best thinking to solve clients’ problems.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted March 12, 2012 by Chris
It’s easy to press Bari Love’s hot button – the one she’s wearing now, that is!
When Bari Love was a young travel writer, she was assigned to write about a small town in Georgia. When she drove into the village for the first time, she was welcomed by a big sign on the local bank: “Welcome Bari Love of Southern Living.”
“That was a big lesson to me in branding,” Bari said. “Powerful brands have a big impact and must create and maintain a great trust with their customers.”
In her new job as SVP, Communications and Marketing at the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) Bari is the one now wearing the sign. “I’m wearing this ‘Vote Yes’ button for the July 31 Regional Transportation Referendum and I don’t intend to take it off until August 1,” she said. “It’s the biggest thing I’m working on for the Chamber.”
Bari took the MAC job in October after three decades on the agency side of numerous Atlanta PR and advertising firms, including Jackson Spalding, Ogilvy PR, Fletcher Martin & Ewing and Fitzgerald & Co.
Quite a career path for a woman whose college ambition was to go to law school.
“When I transferred to the University of Alabama from Indiana University, where I was majoring in political science, I needed to declare a minor,” the Birmingham native recalled Friday. “So I chose advertising and PR. Rusty (husband Russell Love) was finishing up law in Tuscaloosa and I landed a job at Southern Living in the file room of the travel department. I spent the summer reorganizing all their files and doing research. Occasionally, I’d find something interesting and they would let me write a filler story.”
After a year, she was promoted to travel writer, in what she called “the best job out of college ever! I’d travel with a photographer for the first week of the month, gathering 10 to 15 stories and then spend the rest of the month writing them.” Her favorite stories were about the pre-development days of Jekyll Island and when she and a photographer spent two weeks working on a cover story “getting to know every inch of Stone Mountain. We even found the guy who did the giant stone carving.”
When Rusty landed a job in Atlanta, Bari went searching for a job. “I had never worked in PR but I had met a lot of PR people when I was a writer, so I started interviewing with them,” she said. “Adweek Magazine’s cover story the week we moved here was their selection for Agency All-Stars and Julie Davis was their PR selection. So I wrote her a letter, saying ‘Congratulations on being named … you probably need to find the next All-Star,” so she called me in and hired me.
“My first day on the job, Julie was out of the office and her partner called me in and said, ‘I have some news: we’re dissolving the agency, but the good news is we’re letting everyone go except for you – you can help us dissolve the firm.’ The partners ended up splitting the business and I went with Julie. We built the firm back up mostly through supporting ad agencies. One of them, Dave Fitzgerald, bought the firm. That was when ‘Integrated Agency’ was all the buzz, even before we had a name for it.”
After seven years working with Julie, she served as EVP at Fletcher Martin Ewing for seven years before three years at Ogilvy as managing director. In 2007, she joined Jackson Spalding as a partner, leading several large accounts including the Primrose Schools and Chick-fil-A. When the communications job at MAC opened up, she was recommended strongly by Renay Blumenthal, a classmate in the 2006 Leadership Atlanta program.
“This is such an interesting opportunity at the Chamber,” Bari said. “It was the right time to help Atlanta with its marketing communications. There is so much positive news to share. We have so many assets. My main priority at MAC, other than transportation, is to transform the website into a digital media platform, which debuts in July. There is also a lot to do to continue building on our partnerships in the region and across the state. Our job is to to recruit companies to the region and to help those that are here to grow.”
Looking back, Bari sees the Atlanta PR industry as “still a business of a lot of personal relationships. Through relationships you build trust and that is so critical. The transition to MAC has allowed me to look at a new set of issues and priorities and to get creative on solutions. Fortunately at MAC, I have great colleagues and a little more time to think and work through the critical issues to help us grow.”
When she’s not pedaling major policy issues, Bari is pedaling fast on her bicycle. One of her favorite routes is a place she knows well: “All around Stone Mountain, of course!”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted March 5, 2012 by Chris
You might say Melissa Libby wrote the book on Atlanta Restaurant PR
Melissa Libby was debating which major to declare at the University of Georgia and became skeptical of her ability to get a job if she chose English, even though she knew she loved to write. So she selected journalism instead, but when she took her first class in PR with a “fabulous” professor, she knew that would be her career.
“I never dreamed I’d have my own PR firm with such great people and such great work,” she said Monday in between conference calls. In September, Melissa Libby & Associates will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Though clients today include Aria, Fifth Group Restaurants, JCT Kitchen, Marlow’s Tavern and Woodfire Grill, Melissa certainly never thought she’d be focused on restaurant PR when she landed her first job as an assistant in the PR department of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. Nor did it seem logical seven years later when she left as PR director at the Hyatt Ravinia to be PR director of the Swissotel at Lenox (now The Westin).
When business had slowed down at the Ravinia, her boss gave her permission to do freelance work. After printing business cards, she landed her first client: Michael Tuohy at his then hot new restaurant, Chefs’ Café at the High Museum. So in the face of a recession in 1992 when Swissotel eliminated her job, she was ready to go on her own full-time. quickly landing Robert Mondavi wines and Guest Quarters Suites as clients.
“Looking back, I probably should have focused on restaurants, but at the time, there were not any restaurant-only PR firms,” she said. (There are perhaps a dozen in Atlanta today.) “I would have skipped the funeral homes and IT companies.”
One day over drinks with Rick Gove, another Atlanta PR pro, they were each lamenting how they had clients that weren’t in their sweet spots. So Melissa traded Rick her business-to-business accounts and he gave her his business-to-consumer accounts.
In the beginning, it was all about media placement. Then in 2001, she published a cookbook, “Atlanta Cooks,” though that was not her original intention.
“We were really frustrated that Atlanta had all these great restaurants but the national media wouldn’t include any of them in their ‘best’ lists. So we were going to gather some recipes and put them in homemade cookbook and send to the media. But then we decided if we were going to do that, we should do photos, then we said we should make it look nice and add color photos. Then we thought if we were going through all this trouble, we should bind it, then we decided to make it a hardcover edition and then we said if we are going to spend so much time, we should sell it.”
She sold 10,000 copies, following it up five years later with “Atlanta Cooks at Home,” which focused on chefs’ free time and what they do at home. She sold another 10,000 copies, some of which are still available in stores and websites.
Today, her eight full-time employees spend much of their time on social media. “It’s a perfect way for the restaurant industry to communicate with their costumers,” she said. “When you think about where you are going to go out to eat, you either go online, talk to friend and get a word-of-mouth recommendation. Social media works really well for that. It’s immediate, social, fun and emulates conversation with friends.”
The LaGrange, Ga., native lives in Collier Hills with her golden retriever and enjoys long runs in her spare time, having completed nine marathons. She is famous for having driven Julia Child around Atlanta one day and complying with her request to go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Julia ordered a hamburger, shake and fries … french fries, of course.
“I love the restaurant industry,” Melissa says. “The people in this business are creative, hard-working, hospitable … they love serving people. I joke that some people have to talk about serious matters with the media. I have to explain the newest cocktail trend or St. Patrick’s Day gimmick. At a cocktail party, I’ve always got something new and fun to talk about!”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted February 27, 2012 by Chris
Bob Hope can’t wait for wacky ideas to come back into vogue … he always has lots of them ready!
Bob Hope not only has a legendary name, he’s had a legendary career in Public Relations: working for the Braves, Coca-Cola, a small Atlanta firm, one of the world’s largest firms in New York and then back to Atlanta to start his own firm.
He’s perhaps best known for the wacky, crazy ideas he came up with to bring Atlantans out to the Braves games when the team was not that successful in the 1970s. And the PR career? It sort of happened when he couldn’t stand rolling giant rolls of paper while working the night shift to help pay for tuition while he studied journalism at Georgia State.
“I was six months into college and working the graveyard shift and I made a long list of companies that I’d rather be working for and the Atlanta Braves were #1 on the list,” Bob said. “Luckily when I went to apply, a guy in the PR department had just been called up to the Army and they asked if I wanted to fill in? Lee Walburn asked if I knew how to write a press release and work with baseball stats and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ ”
Bob had just started college and hadn’t taken the press release course yet so he found a friend who worked part-time at the AJC and he helped Bob prepare his press release samples to bring back the next day. “I think I impressed him and once I was in there, I never left. It was a wonderful experience going through college. Then Lee left when I was 24 and Atlanta was hosting the All-Star game that summer. Later Ted Turner bought the team and that’s when the real craziness began.”
Ted couldn’t pay the players enough to field a great team, so Bob was charged with coming up with promotions that would attract fans to the ballpark. “I told Ted I wasn’t sure we are going to see a big rise in attendance but since you and I are going to be here we would have to at least entertain ourselves.”
Some of Bob’s crazy promotions included couples marrying before the game with wrestling matches afterwards, a frog jumping championship, flying saucer night, a mattress stacking competition, motorized bathtub racing and the infamous ostrich races.
“I was working with Ted night and day and I always thought I was dying of something, the tension was so high. Some of it was self-imposed as I was trying to meet Ted’s expectation level. He was world’s greatest promoter and I was his promoter. Then I was in my early ‘30s, had two little girls and a wife and I said I have to stabilize myself. Coca-Cola gave me a great job, though it seemed like the most boring place on earth compared to working with Ted.
“I had a brilliant idea to start my own firm and have Ted and Coke as a client and then Bob Cohn of Cohn & Wolfe came to me when he had 11 people and asked if I wanted to come in and slowly buy him out. We grew quickly. Bob was good salesman and he eventually sold the firm to Burson Marsteller and I moved to New York with my family.”
Having grown comfortable working with CEOs, Bob Hope fit right into the Manhattan scene, working with a color CEO who was always inviting Bob to go to lunch with well-known names such as Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, Fred Smith and Roberto Goizueta – even the exiled king of Greece.
In 1994, Bob’s family was tired of New York, so he called Paul Beckham, whom he had met while working for Ted. “Ted is unconventional and he didn’t want to restrict me, but he didn’t have unlimited money, so he had a young financial guy, who turned out to be Paul Beckham, shadow me and occasionally put a leash on me. So when I came back to town, Paul was looking look for his next move and we jumped in together.”
As they knocked on doors to build up the young Hope-Beckham firm, the PR agency grew fast. Today, the firm as 18 employees and clients such as Aaron’s, Belk, Comcast, the Atlanta Track Club and Greenberg Traurig.
“The sad thing about the recent economic downturn is that some companies started playing conservative and they didn’t do things that got them in the successful position they were in,” Bob said. “They began playing it safe. They need to keep employing the good creative ideas that got them to where they were. The biggest killer in this business is the safe choice.”
With Bob, it’s a pretty safe choice that a client will have access to lots of great ideas. Just ask Ted.
– Chris Schroder,
Posted February 20, 2012 by Chris
Jeff Dickerson likes a good battle and he’s in another now: Transportation
Over the years, PR pro Jeff Dickerson has written for the AJC, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and appears on local TV, but what he enjoys most is fighting the tough battle. He’s been doing it since high school.
“My attraction is to those cases that look like they can’t be won,” Jeff said Friday, driving from the WAGA Fox-5 Studios where he just finished taping another segment of the Georgia Gang. “I spent a lot of years at newspapers getting people into trouble with the press and that prepared me pretty well to help people get out of trouble with the press.
“In high school, I went out for the debate team. The debate topic was gun control. ‘Which side are you on,’ they asked me. I said, ‘I don’t care, just give me a side and I’ll argue it.’ ”
Right now Jeff is fighting for the July 31 Transportation Referendum, working with two other communications professionals, Bert Brantley and Saba Long, for passage of the 1 percent transportation sales tax that appears on metro area ballots.
“We’ve never come together as a region,” Jeff says. “Never ever. Now we can raise $6 billion, generating nearly 200,000 jobs over 20 years and get some traffic relief and stay competitive with other regions that want to eat our lunch. We have to learn how to stop thinking parochially. We’ve just got to do it. We have to think beyond this county didn’t get train or that project. We have to think as a region.”
Jeff didn’t have such long-range thinking when he left the University of Michigan and started walking down the street in Detroit – in January in the snow.
“I wanted to be a lawyer and was on my way to the post office to get apply for a job,” Jeff said. “The wind was blowing and the post office was a half mile away. So I turned instead into the Detroit News building since it was closer and I got a job right away as a stock boy. Soon, I was on the copy clerk in the editorial department.” Within five years of that snowy walk, he was editorial page editor of the News, which at the time had a daily circulation of 650,000 and 850,000 on Sunday.
“The News was in an amazing newspaper war with the Free Press – they were 15,000 apart in circulation. After I moved to the AJC, former managing editor Jim Minter discovered I had written some opinion pieces with the conservative News and he said wanted me to edit the Journal editorial page (then separate from the more liberal Constitution). I wrote on and off for the editorial pages 17 years,” Jeff said.
He never did become a lawyer, but he thinks the PR industry has lots of parallels. “A PR professional is like a lawyer in that everyone deserves a public defense,” Jeff says. “Only a fool represents himself in the court of law and it is pretty much the same in the court of public opinion – except out here there are no rules, no judge, no discovery – a reporter doesn’t have to share information with our clients the way a prosecutor has to share with the defense. I think it is much more foolhardy to go into public event without seeking professional help.”
Former Atlanta PR executive Betsey Weltner finally talked Jeff out of the newspaper business. “A week before I was to join Betsey’s firm, I called her and said, ‘Tell me again what it is I’ll be doing in PR?’ I had no concept of what I was to be doing. I had worked at paper for so long, it was sort of a huge risk in 2000, when newspapers were still fairly healthy. She said, ‘You’ll figure it out when you get here.’ The first Saturday a client had a big issue come up and I jumped right in. Then I realized what I was supposed to be doing. It was an easy transition.”
Later that year, he went out on his own, Jeff started Dickerson Communications with the Georgia Bankers Association as a client and later SCANA. He helped SCAD secure its Midtown campus and then jumped into the fight for the parking lot in Piedmont Park. He represented the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which had to secure approval to build the lot despite neighborhood opposition – a project that reminds him of the current Transportation debate.
“I think our chances of passage of this initiative are 50/50. If we do a lot of work and really articulate the benefits of coming together as a region, then we will prevail. We have to listen and appreciate and respect others’ opinions and argue benefits and not be judgmental. If we do that, it will put us over the top., ”
He hopes to ride some of the new less-congested roads on his motorcycle – one of his hobbies. “I just jump on my bike and I never really know where I’m going to end up,” he said.
Sort of like that snowy day a long time ago in Detroit.
– Chris Schroder,
Posted February 13, 2012 by Chris
Rob Baskin on What Clients Really Want – and, yes, he should know.
Rob Baskin has worked on all sides of the PR equation: as a reporter, a client and now as president of the Atlanta office of Weber Shandwick, a global PR agency with offices in 81 countries.
“I’m equally comfortable on either side of the desk,” he said Friday. “It’s really one and the same skills, though applied differently. Having worked both sides, I’m now better at both of them.”
So what do clients really want, we asked?
“Clients really want three things: they want their PR firm to listen better, execute well and to be a good source of ideas,” Rob said. “Agencies and their people, by necessity, have to be in the forefront of change. A communications professional’s skills have to be honed ever sharper each year.
“We are all subject to innovation in marketing and communications – ever more true with technological innovation – but certain principles of communication have not changed. Public relations professionals need to be widely read, well informed generally and specifically on how people acquire and use information. Of course there are online aggregators, but younger professionals should remember there’s this great invention called the newspaper. It organizes a summary of what’s going on in the world – whether it’s in print, online or on a mobile device – in an informed way that provides a general overview and gives its readers a sense of community that can be useful to clients.”
Like a lot of PR folks, Rob started off in newspapers, first as a reporter for the Marietta Daily Journal covering county government and later joining a trade group (Southern Newspapers Publishers Association) as program director, training reporters and editors in 14 states in the fundamentals of newspapering.
“My great lament as a journalist is that the newspaper industry had a virtual monopoly on subject expertise in whole areas of local interest – government, schools, lifestyle, sports and they squandered that. They thought they were in the newsprint business and didn’t understand they were in the news business and they unknowingly abdicated their leadership. They didn’t have to.”
Rob said he went back a couple of years ago and read “Future Shock,” a 1970 book by Alvin Toffler. “I was blown away by how accurately he forecast how we’d live, how information would flow and how people would gather information. I liken the changes to what the agency business was 20 to 30 years ago: It was checkers and now it’s a three-dimensional chess game that never ends. The PR professional has to know how information moves through society and to manage that flow. We have to present it in an influential manner. While that’s always been true, the dynamic is dramatically more complicated today which, in turn, makes our business much more interesting.”
Fitzgerald + Co. CEO Dave Fitzgerald brought Rob over to Weber Shandwick a year ago. “We were friends for 30 years and we had had conversations about my joining his PR unit four or five times over that period,” Rob recalled. “In the fall of 2010, we literally bumped into each other and Dave said, ‘Am I ever going to be able to lure you over here?’ I said, ‘Well, actually, this is the perfect time to make the deal.’ ”
Rob first entered the PR world as account director at Cohn & Wolfe when there were eight people in the firm that soon grew into the biggest shop in the South. He was later its general manager in between stints on the client side at Coca-Cola, where he was director of PR in North America and director of corporate communications during Coke’s fast-growth years in the 1980s and 1990s. Before joining WS, Rob was with MSL Group, serving as managing director for MSL Atlanta and interim managing director for MSL San Francisco and MSL Los Angeles.
A Cleveland, Ohio native, Rob majored in political science and earned a graduate degree in journalism at Ohio State before heading south in the late 1970s.
So, what lesson did he learn he’d like to share with PR folks?
“Some agency people get frustrated when they present new ideas to clients and the clients don’t readily embrace them. Clients work on funding and execution cycles and they can’t always make decisions quickly. Clients want ideas, but for them to take root can take time. A PR person has to have patience and staying power.
“Eighty percent of the jobs in a PR firm are tactical in nature and that is a must – you throw yourself into those details and work it hard to make programs successful. But that’s table stakes. Every agency does that or tries to. What differentiates agencies are the consistent efforts at presenting new ideas that bolster a client’s business objectives and offering them up in such a way that clients keep asking for more – even when they don’t immediately act on them.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted February 6, 2012 by Chris
Media Guide project turned into a business for Mitch Leff
Little did Mitch Leff know in the early 1990s when his boss at Cohn & Wolfe asked him to take over the firm’s 20-year-old Atlanta media guide that he was looking at a future revenue stream for him and his wife Karen. After he opened his own media relations firm in 2002, PR people around Atlanta would suggest that Mitch revive the annual guide that had originally been a printed booklet.
“PR people took great pleasure in calling me to say it was out of date right after it was printed, but of course it was,” Mitch said. “Media people move around all the time and some always did the week we printed the guide. The firm used it internally and then began selling it to others for $10. We used the money from selling a couple of thousand each year to pay for the firm Christmas Party.
“I told Jim Overstreet we could sell it for more than that. He finally let us raise the price to $16 or $20, including an occasional updated insert. People would show me their books all written over with changes. The project went on until Cohn & Wolfe closed their Altanta office in early 2000s.” Mitch said.
“Ten years ago when I was on my own, I thought about doing it as a CD, but it turned out the cost of a CD was more expensive than a website – and you’d still have to update a CD,” Mitch said. Finally, he decided to produce his own database online and call it Leff’s Atlanta Media. (Schroder PR designed and built the website for him.)
Today, hundreds of Atlanta subscribers pay $149 for an annual subscription to the database – “an incredible bargain!” Mitch proclaims. “We update it every day and update whole sections every month. The website allows you to search for more than 1,500 contacts in a 15-county area of metro Atlanta – print, TV, radio, online, national bureaus and freelance writers.”
In addition to the directory, Mitch provides subscribers with a PR guidelines section, tips on how a business can work with the media, Microsoft Word templates for pitches, press releases and fact sheets. He’s expanded the site to include Mitch’s Media Musings, where Mitch can explain media moves in more detail, as well as Mitch’s Media Match, a companion site that connects journalists with local sources to help flesh out stories on which they are working. It’s free to journalists and only $150 a year for a firm that might want to post experts on its searchable site and receive emails from reporters on deadline who need a source to interview.
Mitch has thought about expanding the service to Georgia or other Southeast markets, but it already takes up to 20 percent of his time and he does have a media relations firm and a family to manage.
A Long Island, NY, native, Mitch moved to Atlanta in 1979 and graduated from Peachtree High School and Emory. At Emory, he majored in finance while planning concerts on campus. “I’d bribe college reporters with tickets in return for an article – something that doesn’t work in the real world,” he said. He graduated a few months after “Black Monday” on Wall Street, eliminating most opportunities for a finance job.
“So I started looking at other things to do and since I’d been doing marketing and PR, I thought maybe I could get paid to do it.”
He first started working on the Goodwill Games during a 10-year stint at Cohn & Wolfe. He later joined Edelman, GCI and Turner Broadcasting before starting Leff & Associates with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America as his first client, a non-profit for which he had been volunteering and which he still serves today.
One of the ironic parts of his job is “when reporters call me and say I haven’t written about their publication lately in my blog. So I just tell them, ‘Send me some news!’ ”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted January 30, 2012 by Chris
Claudia Patton Developing Talent – and Tastes – around the World for Edelman
When Claudia Patton was named Chief Talent Officer (CTO) five months ago for Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, she figured she would be spending a lot of time helping its many U.S.-based employees expand their global horizons. So she had to smile when she was in London recently and met with a PR professional from their Shanghai office who was preparing to spend 18 months in Atlanta as part of Edelman’s “Fellow” program.
“I think she might have been a little intimidated when she connected with our Atlanta team via Skype video,” Claudia said. “There she was in Shanghai and she looks into the screen and sees 80 Edelman employees staring back at her. She asked what it would be like when she moves here in May, so each of us took a turn telling her what we would partner with her on. She took it very seriously, so when I saw her in London, she had a detailed list of questions she wanted to know more about, including ‘hot dog at The Varsity.’
“That’s not something you can really explain,” Claudia said. “You just have to experience it.”
Claudia began her professional experience as a teacher in the DeKalb County Schools, later entering the music business before teaching a commercial music course at Georgia State. Being an entrepreneur by nature, she started a small PR firm on the side with a hospitality focus. The Headline Group eventually grew to $3 million in revenue and captured Richard Edelman’s attention when he was looking to grow his fledgling Atlanta office.
She not only grew the combined office from the 14th largest firm in Atlanta to the largest, she was soon appointed the Southeast leader for the New York-based PR firm. She says the teaching background really helps her understand how to help each individual employee grow his or her international perspective to meet the increasingly global client base.
“You have to listen first,” she says. “Then you can pick up how each person learns.”
No longer responsible for a profit & loss ledger, Claudia is charged with ensuring the firm has a global mindset, “developing growth plans for each of our employees whether they are sitting at their desks or working in a global client’s office.”
Her world now is filled with developing career paths, building computer training programs with graphics and video, ensuring everyone is sharing knowledge and cultural insights and organizing the Fellows program, which immerses employees in a totally different culture for 18 months at a time.
“Already I’ve found when leaders are repatriated into their original offices, there is a big difference in their mindset and their passion about their clients. It is supercharging the company for our next generation. Everyone has to understand each other culturally as well as from a business perspective. We are planning who we are going to be years from now.”
It’s required a little cultural change for Claudia as well. She wakes up a couple of hours earlier each morning to be on the phone with Europe and then late at night she’s talking to Asia.
“It’s cut into my exercise time,” she said. “But I can get back to that soon enough. Right now, it’s all very exciting.”
– Chris Schroder,
Posted January 23, 2012 by Chris
Jacksons & Spaldings partners in more ways than one
When Bo Spalding looked up at the doorway of his wife Melissa’s Piedmont Hospital room last week, he saw the smiling face of his business partner’s wife, Claire Jackson. In a remarkable twist of fate, the spouses of the longtime PR firm partners were each undergoing breast cancer surgery on successive days in the same hospital. The same doctors performed surgeries, which lasted nearly five hours each. Not only that, Claire and Melissa each underwent similar, though less invasive cancer surgery together 12 years ago.
When Glen Jackson and Bo left Manning, Selvage & Lee in 1995 with five other PR professionals to start their own firm, they knew they would be going through a lot together as business partners. Weathering up and down markets, the pair has seen their firm experience mostly ups. Jackson Spalding has grown to Atlanta’s largest local independent firm and one of the largest in the Southeast now with more than 80 full-time professionals, including their Dallas, TX and Athens, GA offices.
Little did they know their families would be going through such a close encounter with cancer together. On Friday of last week, Claire wandered into Melissa’s room and told her, “24 hours ago I felt like you do now. I feel so much better now, so know that you will too.” In an email to more than 50 friends and family members, Bo said Claire’s visit was extremely encouraging to Melissa, who at that point was experiencing a lot of pain.
“Melissa had breast cancer 12 years ago, but the doctors didn’t get it all, so she had another surgery. She underwent chemo, got that behind her and faithfully went back annually for mammograms.” Bo said. “That’s a good thing, because a mammogram in December showed a tumor on the other side.”
“Melissa’s surgery has an even higher degree of concern since she was diagnosed with cancer for a second time,” Glen said Saturday. “Claire elected to have the surgery Wednesday after battling cancer 12 years ago to reduce the risks of it returning.
“It is ironic that Bo and I were together at Piedmont, but it was great to support one another,” Glen said.
Glen, of course, was the founder and guiding light of the Atlanta PR Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, held annually on the Thursday before Thanksgiving for four years. Due to a number of factors, the breakfast was not held in 2011. That morning of prayer will not be lost on the PR community, who are offering up countless prayers this week for a speedy recovery for Claire and Melissa.
– Chris Schroder,