Kempner takes MWW's evolution personally

The television at his home. His wife's cell phone. The screens on order for his firm's offices. All Samsungs. No, it was not part of the deal when MWW Group won the electronics giant's North American account in April. However, it epitomizes what CEO Michael Kempner classifies as commitment.

The television at his home. His wife's cell phone. The screens on order for his firm's offices. All Samsungs. No, it was not part of the deal when MWW Group won the electronics giant's North American account in April. However, it epitomizes what CEO Michael Kempner classifies as commitment.

"You should enthusiastically support clients in every action," he says. "Why wouldn't you?" In fact, the level of Kempner's devotion was evident early on.

"Watching the process my 13-year-old daughter went through in picking her cell phone gave me an awakening to this culture we live in," he shares. "The cell phone will soon be the central device for all communications, from paying bills to totally replacing land lines. To be part of that revolution with a sector leader is so satisfying."

To reach that point, MWW faced one of the most vital pitches in its history as the final four firms vied for the account March 14.

"In some cases, it's clear that I should let my team pitch and just say, 'Thank you,'" he says. "With Samsung, I immediately sensed that they expected and deserved my personal attention."

"As one of the top electronics brands in the world, we value a PR leader who is creative, strategic, and passionate about the [work]," says Tara O'Donnell, senior manager of corporate communications at Samsung Electronics North America, who was present at the pitch. "It is clear that Michael's [strengths in all three areas] trickle down throughout his agency."

Kempner walked out of the pitch confident, but admits to anxiety in the succeeding weeks. In fact, he recalls one account - "a big one," he says, without identifying it - where the person directly below the CEO called him to say, "I can't make it official, but you've won." Three days later, the CEO opted for a favorite of his who didn't even pitch.

History did not repeat itself in this case. Samsung, following those tense weeks, called MWW in for another meeting to tell the team it won. "I was thrilled," he says, "and excited to get going."

In the spacious East Rutherford, NJ, office of MWW's scrappy, fervent CEO is a huge easel. On it is a large pad with pages of notes on Samsung, outlining all the things Kempner will handle personally.

"I won't pop into meetings once in a while," he stresses. "My hands will get dirty on this account," though he's quick to note that he'll hardly handle it alone.

"I learn so much just by hearing conversations down the hall," he adds. "I expect to learn as much from my staff as they do from me."

Good thing, too. If that weren't so, MWW may never have won one of its biggest clients, McDonald's. "I never wanted to pitch it," Kempner recalls. "The staff begged me to. The rest is history."

Looking forward, Jon Harris, VP of media development and communications at Sara Lee, another current MWW client, envisions a strong bond between MWW and Samsung based on his own dealings with Kempner.

"Michael truly understands what it means to be a partner with a corporation," says Harris, who has known Kempner since fall 2001, when he was at Bally. "Many can devise strategies, but [Kempner] can do in five minutes what it takes others hours, even days, to do."

September marks MWW's 20th anniversary. With 11 offices and yet another major victory secured early last month - Volkswagen of America - MWW continues to evolve.

"As an entrepreneur, you can never be satisfied," says Kempner. "I have a lot of work to do."

Part of that will be to help the industry he loves earn the widespread respect he feels it merits.

"PR's reputation is still not what it should be," he opines. "Sure, sophisticated clients understand the strategic value of what we do, but too many people still compare us to snake-oil salesmen. Where are PR leaders pushing back? We must figure out a way to lead."

Michael Kempner

1986-present
MWW Group, president and CEO
 
January 2005-present
Financial Relations Board, CEO

1999-present
Stone America Licensing, CEO

 

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