QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: Ken Makovsky

Meet the aspiring 800-pound gorilla of the PR world who heads the eponymous midsize agency Makovsky & Co. Look out, Charolette Beers - the law student turned PR paterfamilias is after your brief, and he'll be whistling the St. Louis Toodleoo as he tap dances rings around America's detractors.

Meet the aspiring 800-pound gorilla of the PR world who heads the eponymous midsize agency Makovsky & Co. Look out, Charolette Beers - the law student turned PR paterfamilias is after your brief, and he'll be whistling the St. Louis Toodleoo as he tap dances rings around America's detractors.

How did you get into PR? I was an unhappy law student, but wanted to become an advocate championing a client's cause. I had run for student body president at Washington University, and had been president of my social fraternity. From those experiences, I learned that I wanted to do creative programming, respond to and change attitudes, and run a business.

I wrote my own column in the student newspaper (my first effort as a journalist), and won a national competition in column writing. I discovered that I liked to write, and it also inspired my interest in the media. Public relations was the perfect blend.

Tell us something amusing about your firm? In the rough early years, it was necessary to build up an esprit de corps. One way we used to build camaraderie was an annual holiday party with a skit that roasted everyone from me to the mail room clerk. There were no holds barred. After the party, we treated the whole firm to a Broadway show.

What was your best pitch/stunt? My best pitch was landing the Beach-Nut apple-juice crisis account on the phone. I was on a ski vacation in Park City, UT, when my staff called me for an impromptu conference with the new president of the embattled baby-food company. We concluded a deal subject to my meeting a key staff member in Chicago on the way home from Utah, and on that Monday participated in another conference call that won the business.

What was your biggest screw-up? Pitching the Sony Consumer Products account with a major effort when we didn't have any consumer-electronics experience.

We made it to the finals, so we put more than $30,000 in staff time and $20,000 in expenses into one of the (then) biggest sales presentations in the firm's history. Lack of industry experience was the final deciding factor.

What's the most daring thing you've ever done - in or out of work? Leaving my home in St. Louis for New York, and abandoning the law (for which I had spent the previous three years studying) in favor of public relations (about which I knew little), without a job or prospects. It was like jumping off the St. Louis Arch without a safety net.

If you could work for one company or on one account, what would it be? I would like to have the challenge of convincing the world of the validity of the American system - democracy and capitalism.

If you were an animal, what would you be? That 800-pound gorilla. That way I could intimidate all my competitors!

Name one thing about your past that people would be surprised to learn. I was a tap-dancing teacher.

What is the secret of your success? It can be summed up by a quote from Calvin Coolidge: "Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

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