ANALYSIS: Profile - Lewin�s formula is just what MS&L needed Manning Selvage & Lee�s Atlanta office was on life support when Jan Lewin arrived in 1995. Kimberly Krautter examines how Lewin used her wits to put a battered and br

?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 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

was good.

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,?

she says.

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

themselves, ever.?

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

Saturday morning.


MD/SVP Manning, Selvage & Lee


McGrath/Power, NY

Rises to account supervisor


Manning, Selvage & Lee, Atlanta VP


Founds Lewin Communications


Manning Selvage & Lee MD/SVP.

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