LONG-RUNNING PR ACCOUNTS: Personal relationships, trust, and atotal understanding of a brand's history help agencies buildlong-standing relationships with their clients. Julia Hood reports

Hank Dye's first client was Martha White Foods. It was also his

first agency job, in the new PR division of a Nashville advertising


"It was a pioneering time for PR in Nashville," Dye remembers. "I really

was a child."

The year was 1966. Dye is now CEO of Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence. One of his

most important clients is still Martha White Foods, which has changed

hands five times in its history. "Through all that, you might say that

we have been the consistent factor," Dye says. "The protector of the

icon, of the heritage."

The ties that bind

Loyalty can be fickle in the PR world. Annual contracts and reviews have

become standard. Some clients today seem to search for PR counselors,

only to drop them before long. In a recent example, Sun Microsystems

abruptly ended its four-month relationship with Eastwick Communications

in July.

But PRWeek's search for accounts that have lasted 20 years and longer

was unexpectedly fruitful. Burson-Marsteller has held on to Unilever for

28 years. ALR in Dallas has worked with Rev. Billy Graham for two

decades. Publicis Dialog has helped the California Table Grape

Commission since 1979.

Andy Polansky, now President and COO for Weber Shandwick Worldwide in

North America, was an AAE in 1981, when BSMG was retained by

Ingersoll-Rand. And Ketchum CEO Dave Drobis pitched the Potato Board

account 30 years ago - and it's still a client.

Long relationships are not restricted to PR, though. For 28 years,

Edward Howard & Co. has handled IR and some PR for Cedar Fair, an Ohio

amusement park operator, even after the company went private in the

early 1980s.

Cedar Fair became an NYSE limited partnership company, and Edward Howard

has found that the account has fluctuated between his being very active

and merely consulting on isolated projects.

Throughout the changes, the firm has tried to be flexible. "Our policy

has always been we are willing to work with people when it is not that

active, but when it appears there is an opportunity for things to

change," says Pat Gallagher, SCP with Edward Howard.

In fact, lengthy accounts rarely, if ever, retain the shape of the

original relationship over the years. Hank Dye began working on the

Martha White Foods account just before the company went public. He found

himself learning all about IR, with media interest primarily restricted

to trade publications.

"As they went public, you had disclosure requirements," Dye recalls.

"But The Wall Street Journal wasn't waking up every morning wondering

what was going on with this small company in Nashville." Dye's role

evolved as the company was bought and sold five times, and he and the

firm he started in 1980 became the true repository of the brand's


In 1953, one of Martha White's sales representatives discovered a

bluegrass group called Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain

Boys. The group was enlisted to promote the company's flour and corn

meal through tours and appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Dye sometimes

even traveled with the band on the tour bus.

When Pillsbury became the brand's parent company, its southern ties


But Dye stuck with the brand, and Pillsbury is now committed to

restoring Martha White's prominence in the bluegrass and country music

scene, and recently helped the Grand Ole Opry celebrate its 75th

anniversary. "There were some years when the owners lost sight of that

opportunity," Dye says.

"But there is a brand team now that has rediscovered that."

The agency's understanding of the heritage has been a significant factor

in this revival. "It could have been lost," says Raquel Beckett,

associate marketing manager for Pillsbury. Beckett says the brand

inspires miraculous loyalty figures among consumers in the south. "Part

of the reason that we have been able to succeed in the marketplace is

because the agency has kept a lot of that knowledge over the years."

A personal touch

Having a personal connection with the client can help ensure


Wally "Famous" Amos has known Chris Rosica, president of his PR firm

Rosica Mulhern, since he was a baby. "I've kind of landed this role

because Wally likes having me there," Rosica says. "He's my champion and

he trusts us implicitly."

Amos says that the rapport he enjoys with John and Chris Rosica is


He trusts them to set up events without too much consultation from


John Rosica was also responsible for bringing Amos and Literacy

Volunteers of America together, a relationship that has proved hugely

successful both to the cause of literacy, and to boosting Amos'


John Rosica recalls their first meeting with LVA. "We were so different

from anything they had seen before," he says. "Wally came in with his

hat and his cookie shirt on and I was wearing my corduroy jacket and

pressed jeans. It was frightening for them."

More terrifying for LVA than the hip clothing was the prospect that PR

would damage the integrity of their product. Rosica had to work to

reassure the organization that their intention was to reinforce the

integrity of the organization. Literacy events related to Famous Amos

have taken place in libraries across the country ever since.

Strictly business

While John Rosica says he would not even consider working for a client

that he does not like, or that does not seem to like them, some others

agencies have less personal relationships with their clients. Laura

Walcher has worked for Diane Powers of Bazaar Del Mundo for 25 years,

and while she does not characterize her as a "friend," she says she has

"much respect and affection for her."

The Bazaar was Walcher's first client when she started her own agency,

and it was not always easy learning the nuances of her profession

through the client work. Powers had only been running the Bazaar for a

relatively short period of time. "We just had to each establish our

responsibilities," Walcher explains. "She had to adjust her vision of

what I could and should be doing. Sometimes it had to be adjusted up,

sometimes down."

She recalls her "knees knocking" when she was required to provide the

occasional "reality check" to her client. But she was excited by Powers'

vision, and as they got to know each other, the relationship


Walcher knew she was finally establishing herself as an important part

of the team when, about four or five years into the account, she found

herself being brought into strategy sessions for events at a much

earlier stage.

Clients and agencies alike have experienced growth, mergers, and


"At the time (we started working with them), MS&L was D'Arcy McManus &

Masius," recalls William O'Neill, executive director of communications

operations for General Motors. "I would say the strength of the

relationship is that it has evolved, been flexible, and changed over

time. There is no question we will be working with MS&L in various


Agencies can also expect to experience lean times with their clients

when the account spans two or more decades. But standards must be

maintained, even when money is tight. "When we get a budget cut, they

get a budget cut," explains Jack Mitenbuler, business services manager

for Dow AgroSciences, which retains agency Bader Rutter. "I don't

imagine it's a lot of fun for them, but they have managed just


Bader Rutter also offers continuity to Dow, not in a sense of extending

the heritage of the brand, but serving as a solid resource for the

in-house PR staff. Communications jobs at Dow AgroSciences are often

training vehicles for sales representatives who are moving up through

the corporate ranks. The system is mutually advantageous. Corporate

employees learn to appreciate the PR function, and Bader Rutter is able

to build relationships with people who move on through the


Speaking up

Mitenbuler also thinks that PR agencies need to be willing to make their

opinions known, even when they don't agree with the corporate line. "You

have to be able to fight with each other," he says, citing one Bader

Rutter staff member who is particularly good at stimulating strategic


"This guy will play the foil, the devil's advocate, and will fight and

challenge and argue."

Perhaps most importantly, an agency should never be complacent in its

achievements. Fleishman-Hillard's extraordinary 48-year run with

technology and engineering giant Emerson has been characterized by

increasingly difficult and rewarding challenges. In 2000, the firm

helped Emerson reposition itself in the network power space, helping the

media and investors understand that the company is no longer just about

the motors that made it a well-known brand.

When Kathy Button Bell, Emerson's chief marketing officer, took her

in-house position two years ago, she was given the opportunity to

rethink the agency relationships. However, she wasn't about to let

Fleishman go.

"They keep getting better as we need them to be better," she says. Bell

is also gratified that Emerson has been able to forge relationships

across Omnicom, including DDB and Interbrand. "It makes a difference

being able to keep it in the family."

Bell says the by-product of a good long-term account is trust. "Because

of the length of this relationship, we feel more confident taking risks

with them." she says. "We know they are not just the new guys who are

trying to make a name for themselves."


Agency: Matthews/Mark

Length: 25 years

Laura Walcher launched her own PR firm (later Matthews/Mark) when her

boss, the Bazaar del Mundo's regular PR council, resigned. It was easy

landing her first client, but proving herself to Diane Powers, founder

of the Bazaar, was difficult. "She was new in her business, and I was

new in mine," Walcher reflects. "It took me a long time to work out my

relationship with her. But I was determined to make it work." Gradually,

Walcher assumed greater responsibility in planning events, including the

successful Cinco de Mayo festival. Walcher is now helping Powers fight a

regulation that will put her contract to run the Bazaar up for bid this

year, required because it is located in the Old Town San Diego State

Historic Park.


Agency: Bader Rutter & Assoc.

Length: 20 years

Ron Bader is "a real firm taskmaster," says Jack Mitenbuler, business

services manager of Dow AgroSciences. "He is a good businessman, and he

is buttoned up. And that is the same general behavior you see from the

client services team." Bader's culture is one factor that helped it keep

the pest management company, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, a client for

two decades. One recent account highlight was the successful promotion

of Sentricon, a termite control product. Pest control operators were

recruited and trained as media contacts to create awareness for the

brand locally.


Agency: Fleishman-Hillard

Length: 48 years

Fleishman's Emerson account started so long ago that no one is quite

sure how it all began. "My understanding is that it stemmed from an

internal employee communications issue," says Mark Polzin, SVP. The list

of those who managed the account in the past reads like a history of the

agency itself, including Robert Hillard and the firm's current CEO John


Both companies are based in St Louis, and the brands have grown

together, with work spreading to Asia and Europe in tandem. Emerson's

chief marketing officer took her job two years ago, and had the

opportunity to look for a new agency. "Instead, we've grown the

relationship," says Kathy Button Bell. "They look for the best

opportunities for us, not just to get our name in print."


Agency: The Headline Group

Length: 20 years

Claudia Gaines Patton's first client was the landmark Fabulous Fox

Theater in Atlanta. The former schoolteacher, now CEO, spent her summers

promoting rock shows, and approached the theater's newly hired GM Edgar

Neiss when she started her firm. "He was going to design a lot of new

series for the theater and was going to really shake things up," she

remembers. "He said he'd give me a whirl." Patton's first project was

promoting The King and I with Yul Brynner. Neiss compares the

relationship to family. "It was sort of a growing up together. Sometimes

business relationships are like that."


Agency: Rosica Mulhern

Length: 20 years

Rosica Mulhern made Amos Famous. John Rosica was the national promotion

director for RCA Records when he met Wally Amos, a former agent with

William Morris, known for his homemade cookies. Rosica started working

for Amos' company (now owned by Keebler), and then launched his own

agency. Cause-related marketing in conjunction with Literacy Volunteers

of America helped make Amos an icon, recently featured on A&E's

Biography. But it's the personal relationship with John Rosica and his

son Chris (the firm's president) that is paramount. "It's a total trust

thing," Amos maintains. "If they left, I would not be there."


Agency: Edelman

Length: 20 years

Richard Edelman, CEO, and Jody Quinn, EVP, made up the original pitch

team for the Fuji account, to handle PR for the company's first Olympic

sponsorship in Los Angeles in 1984. Edelman has been agency of record

ever since, focusing primarily on product work, before moving on to

corporate positioning as the digital imaging market beckoned. Quinn says

there is comfort in the relationship's familiarity. "But you still need

to keep it fresh," she warns. "A potential pitfall is a partnership that

is willing to just ride it out, instead of finding ways to keep it



Agency: Originally the PR division of ad agency D'Arcy McManus & Masius,

became Manning Selvage & Lee in 1985

Length: 21 years

The PR arm of D'Arcy MacManus & Masius (later Manning Selvage & Lee)

helped launch the innovative Pontiac Fiero in 1980. The result was a PR

smash, with 80,000 orders taken before the first ad ran. MS&L's remit

has evolved, and the firm's continuity amid GM's flux is an asset.

"We've been responsive to their changing needs," says Stan Stein, GM of

MS&L's Detroit office, "whether it is media relations, crisis council,

or any lowest level request." William O'Neill, GM's ED of

communications, says longevity requires anticipating what's next. "It's

bringing in what the client doesn't even know it needs."


Agency: Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence

Length: 35 years

Martha White Foods, producer of corn meal, grits and other staples of

Southern life, is ubiquitous in the region, but unknown outside it.

Parent company Pillsbury sees DVL as a crucial tie to the brand's rich


"That has been very clear to everybody," says Raquel Beckett, the

company's associate marketing manager. "It was hard for Pillsbury to

understand a regional brand when they acquired it." DVL stuck with the

account, even when corporate interest in the brand's ties to the Grand

Ole Opry and bluegrass music waned. But now the Martha White Bluegrass

Express Bus Tour is back on the road. "In the past year, we started

going back to those roots, to nurture its relationships in the South,"

Beckett affirms.


Agency: Hill & Knowlton

Length: 27 years

Two executives from Mazda approached Hill & Knowlton in 1974 with a

problem. "They said we have 100,000 vehicles sitting in the ports and we

can't sell them, can you help us?" says Ron Hartwig, GM of H&K's LA


H&K accepted the client with one proviso: In order to be effective, the

firm would have to be involved in strategic planning for the company's

future vehicles. "And indeed, they brought us under the tent," Hartwig

says. Until Mazda developed its own in-house teams, H&K served as its

primary PR department. H&K helped the company find a US manufacturing

base in Detroit, where it held the first-ever press conference in the US

by a Japanese company.


Agency: TowersGroup

Length: 28 years

Financial companies didn't think much of PR in 1973. Neuberger Berman,

an asset management firm that specialized in individual investors,

changed its attitude when it repositioned. "They were about to offer

money management services like pension plans to organizations," recalls

Alan Towers, president. "In order to support that effort, they decided

to use a PR firm for the first time." Since that successful transition,

Towers says the firms have grown together, but both retain a mutual

entrepreneurial spirit. "They didn't want to work with a large PR firm,"

he maintains. "They recognized the advantage of what a small firm that

really needed their account could do."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Explore further