?That Saturday morning? in July of 1995 started off fine. Jan Lewin was a content, working mom with a self-titled healthcare PR shop. Her business was booming; it was even being courted for acquisition. Life was good.
?That Saturday morning? in July of 1995 started off fine. Jan Lewin
was a content, working mom with a self-titled healthcare PR shop. Her
business was booming; it was even being courted for acquisition. Life
That was before she got the phone call. Jim Gray, then president of
Manning, Selvage & Lee/US was on the line. Prior to assuming his
national mantle, he had been managing director of MS&L?s Atlanta office.
That Saturday morning he needed serious help.
Only 18 hours earlier, Gray?s hand-picked successor in Atlanta, Joseph
Ledlie, deputy director Glenn Jackson and senior staffer Beau Spalding
had ditched the firm to start a new agency. Gray needed Jan to
resuscitate the office.
The defection was very public - and very ugly. Manning?s six remaining
staff members were demoralized and muddled around the 9,000-square foot
office. Almost all of the clients were either taken or had ended their
contracts, and the red ink was piling up at a rate of $90,000 per
Revenues plunged from $2.2 million to well under $1 million.The
decimation was total.
Susan Storey, EVP of the GCI Group in Atlanta, says that the entire
business community witnessed the fallout. The embarrassment had the PR
industry buzzing, as MS&L was the city?s first PR agency and the
premiere shop for 25 years. But after that day, the whole town thought
it was game over for Manning in Atlanta.
?We felt it was probably unlikely anyone could rebuild the agency and
win the confidence of clients and employees and the community,? says
Lewin was a respected professional, but her peers believed the task was
impossible. ?Jan has shown that this is not the case,? Storey adds.
Grasping the total devastation of that event five years ago is central
to understanding the enormity of Lewin?s contribution to MS&L.
Gray, now associate dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke
University, explains why he chose Lewin. ?First and foremost we needed
someone who was courageous because the situation that these three
defectors put us in was not only precarious but quite gloomy,? he
recalls. ?They had basically ripped the office apart, taking the biggest
clients and a lot of people, leaving us in the lurch.?
Looking at the firm today, one would never guess what had happened.
Within 12 months, Lewin had stopped the financial hemorrhaging. She
snapped up condom maker London International and repopulated the staff.
By the end of 1997 MS&L Atlanta was profitable, and the office closed
its books in 1998 with about $3 million in revenues.
Last year Lewin reorganized the firm, added an IR practice and
positioned the shop for some big wins in 2000. The moves paid off - this
year she has parlayed blue-chip clients like Philips Consumer
Electronics and Coca-Cola Enterprises into a 45% revenue increase in the
first two quarters.
She also shepherded the recent acquisition of Atlanta-based Deeley
Trimble & Associates, the foundation of Manning?s new global workplace
communications? practice (PRWeek, August 7). The group will be managed
out of Lewin?s operation.
?My message,? says Lewin, ?is never underestimate one human?s ability or
a group of humans? ability.? Lewin confesses this dictum did not come to
her easily. ?My biggest regret was really underestimating the importance
of the relationships you need to have with the people you work with,?
Lewin began building relationships on the mean streets of Manhattan
before earning her chops at MS&L in Atlanta. Her first pitch for
McGrath/Power PR was the Austrian Wine Queen. ?I didn?t know anything
about PR. I didn?t know what pitching was,? she laughs. Her only
experience with media at that point was selling spots for WSB-AM radio
in Atlanta. Complicating things was the fact that ?(McGrath) forgot to
tell me that she didn?t speak English.? Lewin was stuck escorting a
21-year-old Austrian wine spokesmodel adorned in lederhosen through the
streets of Manhattan.
A self-described ?jerk? when she first blew into Atlanta, Lewin says she
probably wouldn?t have hired herself then. Although she was a native
Atlantan, her only business experience had been in New York. ?Every
lesson I learned, every project that I worked on, I had to fight at some
point to get it done, do it right, get the recognition,? she says. ?It?s
just a different world there, and I wasn?t mature enough to recognize
when I came to Atlanta that Atlanta was still the South, and I probably
should have changed.?
Lewin credits Jim Gray and the folks at MS&L for being patient with her
and teaching the value of empowering people in the workplace. ?In the
early part of my career I cared about the client at any and all
expense,? she says. ?I turned around one day, and I didn?t have a
support system or a network, and no one person can ever do it by
Rehabilitating the Atlanta office took both fighting spirit and
empowerment skills. It also didn?t hurt to have a high profile client
(London International) on the roster. Lewin says that big ideas cloaked
in strong strategy helped energize the agency and poised the client as a
harbinger of public health information.
?I value strategic creativity,? says Lewin. ?PR is just a tool for
achieving a business objective. I don?t want to waste anybody?s money or
time with an idea that?s not going to drive business, and I think a lot
of agencies lose sight of that.?
Lewin believes strategic thinking can be taught just like writing but
claims the industry falls down in the case. ?I don?t think we put enough
emphasis on training strategic thinking,? she says. ?Strategy is the
foundation of what we do for our clients as opposed to the big
Creative strategy put Manning/Atlanta back on top and has earned Jan
Lewin the respect of her peers. The ugliness of 1995 is a thing of the
past, and Lewin even enjoys a professional kinship with Ledlie as a
fellow Rotarian. Ledlie, now president of his own Atlanta-based firm,
has this to say, ?Any difference in view occurs in business between
(any) able professionals.?
Jane Shivers, director/partner of Ketchum?s Atlanta office, says Manning
is once again getting into plum pitches. ?Jan Lewin has a healthy
combination of scrappiness, good business sense and warm personality.
She was the right choice to rebuild one of the region?s great public
relations brands.? It was a good thing Lewin took the call that fateful
MD/SVP Manning, Selvage & Lee
Rises to account supervisor
Manning, Selvage & Lee, Atlanta VP
Founds Lewin Communications
Manning Selvage & Lee MD/SVP.