ANALYSIS: Profile - Carney: Alexander Ogilvy’s wonder pro. Her boss may be able to work a room better, but no one runs an agency like Alexander Ogilvy’s Holland Carney. Aimee Grove inspects Ms. Holland’s PR opus

If the current media-generated stereotype of Silicon Valley PR pros is that of party-hopping, money-hungry ’bunnies’ selling gullible start-up clients on the value of ’buzz,’ Alexander Ogilvy EVP/GM Holland Carney wrecks the image. Not only is Carney not blonde, not out to marry a dot-com millionaire (she’s openly gay and in a committed relationship) and nowhere near a bubble-headed automaton, she is also - unlike the agency’s famously extroverted CEO - painfully shy. ’The joke about me is that you’re most likely to find me in the bathroom at a cocktail party,’ she admits.

If the current media-generated stereotype of Silicon Valley PR pros is that of party-hopping, money-hungry ’bunnies’ selling gullible start-up clients on the value of ’buzz,’ Alexander Ogilvy EVP/GM Holland Carney wrecks the image. Not only is Carney not blonde, not out to marry a dot-com millionaire (she’s openly gay and in a committed relationship) and nowhere near a bubble-headed automaton, she is also - unlike the agency’s famously extroverted CEO - painfully shy. ’The joke about me is that you’re most likely to find me in the bathroom at a cocktail party,’ she admits.

If the current media-generated stereotype of Silicon Valley PR pros

is that of party-hopping, money-hungry ’bunnies’ selling gullible

start-up clients on the value of ’buzz,’ Alexander Ogilvy EVP/GM Holland

Carney wrecks the image. Not only is Carney not blonde, not out to marry

a dot-com millionaire (she’s openly gay and in a committed relationship)

and nowhere near a bubble-headed automaton, she is also - unlike the

agency’s famously extroverted CEO - painfully shy. ’The joke about me is

that you’re most likely to find me in the bathroom at a cocktail party,’

she admits.



As Pam Alexander’s right-hand woman on the West Coast for the past eight

years, Carney has built much more than buzz. From a three-person outpost

in 1992, the San Francisco office where Carney presides has become the

hub of a growing hi-tech PR empire that includes branches in Menlo Park,

CA, Los Angeles, Denver and Dallas and generates almost dollars 30

million a year. In its first year, Alexander Ogilvy (then Alexander

Communications) began stealing high- profile accounts and market share

from longtime Silicon Valley leaders. In 1997, when Fast Company

profiled the industry’s two hottest hi-tech firms, it shone the

spotlight on Alexander and Cunningham Communications. And since the

agency’s 1998 acquisition by Ogilvy PR Worldwide, it has continued to

add blue-chip clients like Healtheon/WebMD, Quest and Merrill Lynch to

the roster.





Carney’s the glue



Here’s the scoop: Pam Alexander may score all the headlines, but most

Silicon Valley insiders point to Carney as the glue that holds it all

together. ’Holland is a very behind-the-scenes person, she’s not

comfortable being in the limelight. But I can’t underscore enough her

role in the success of this agency,’ says Kate O’Sullivan, GM of the

firm’s Mountain View office. ’Just look at it this way: four years ago

we had about 25 people on the whole West Coast and now it’s more than

150. She definitely deserves the credit for this sustained growth.’



PR was not an obvious career choice for this self-described ’techie’

whose father, an engineer, fostered an interest in computers from an

early age. After college, where she switched her major more than a

half-dozen times before settling on art history, she became founding

editor of Atlanta Computer Currents, though she says she was never truly

bitten by the journalism bug: ’I really was never interested in tearing

companies down and analyzing why they might fail.’



Familiar with Pam from features she had written about Alexander clients

in Atlanta, Carney phoned her when she felt the urge to switch

sides.



’She knew I was too shy to do media relations, so she offered me the

opportunity to write and start an editorial services department. I said

yes before she even told me how much it paid,’ says Carney, in a voice

still laced with a Southern drawl.



Carney may have been scared of pitching, but her affinity for strategic

thinking and candid counsel made her a PR natural. Within three years,

she had risen through the ranks and gained Alexander’s confidence. So in

1992, when several potential clients such as Hewlett-Packard indicated

they needed an actual Silicon Valley presence, she was the one who hung

the shingle in the Bay Area. Within a few years, the West Coast team had

scored not only H-P’s business but also a slew of Internet pioneers such

as LookSmart, CitySearch and eToys. Today the agency has about 280

employees and generates dollars 27.8 million in revenue. Roughly 130

staffers , and about half of Alexander Ogilvy’s total revenues, fall

under Carney’s bailiwick.



In addition, the tech policy, IR and editorial services groups all

report to her. And with Alexander on the road acting as ’agency

evangelist’ all but a few days a month, all day-to-day responsibilities

fall to Carney and her East Coast counterpart, Sandra Moreland.



Despite her heavy schedule, Carney says she still spends up to 50%-60%

of her time working directly with clients. ’If you are not doing that,

you’re not informed enough to run the agency. I want to be the brain

surgeon, not the hospital administrator,’ she says.



Most who know and work for Carney highlight her sense of humor as a key

factor of her success, especially as a manager. Her office, for example,

looks a bit like a 1970s-era play school: the shelves are lined with

Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman dolls and collectibles (as well as random

nun and Elvis memorabilia) and what she calls ’a shrine to vintage

personal communications devices,’ i.e., walkie-talkies.



’I would notice lots of times the receptionist bringing in big piles of

random boxes. I finally asked what they were and Holland sheepishly

admitted, ’It’s my eBay addiction,’’ laughs Leslie Nakijima, a former

San Francisco employee.



Speaking of consumer giant eBay, Carney faces some rather tough

challenges in the year to come. As one of many San Francisco agencies to

load up on b-to-c Internet companies last year, Alexander has felt the

effects of the sector’s recent downslide, though Carney insists they

have shifted away from consumer dot-coms.



Actually, employee turnover is more of an issue than account churn. ’Our

turnover is at all-time high, and I definitely want to bring it down,’

she concedes. To counter the brain drain, Alexander Ogilvy has

instituted some fairly progressive benefits, like a ’Q-Life Fund’ of

dollars 2,000 per employee to be used for anything he or she feels will

enrich the quality of his or her life - not just professional

development, but personal perks such as yoga, childcare, a gym. Everyone

from senior AEs and above now receives a Palm Pilot, and soon all

employees will be able to participate in an agency-wide equity fund.



While Carney says the Ogilvy merger had little direct effect on her job

responsibilities, at least a few people think that integration remains a

challenge. For example, client Anne Everhart, VP of marketing for

Americangreetings.com, says, ’They could manage their business a little

better. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of coordination between

the Chicago Ogilvy team, which handles our consumer PR, and Alexander

Ogilvy, which handles financial and trade PR.’





The rock on the West Coast



Carney says she plans to keep the agency growing, though at a more

moderate pace. New locations in Seattle and Phoenix (where Pam Alexander

resides) are on the drawing board, but no matter where the agency goes

or what form it takes in the future, one thing looks fairly certain:

Carney will be the rock on the West Coast. ’I know eleven years at one

place is almost embarrassing these days, but I really can’t see myself

doing anything else.’ Neither can we.





HOLLAND CARNEY - EVP/General Manager Alexander Ogilvy



1989: Joins Alexander Communications in Atlanta



1992: Opens San Francisco office



1999: Named EVP and West Coast GM.



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