When Jean Farinelli was growing up, she would chat up the customers of her parents’ hairdressing salon and ask them if they wanted the interior of their cars cleaned for a quarter. Those quarters went toward the purchase of a red convertible Chevrolet ten years later, which gave her 25 years of faithful service.
When Jean Farinelli was growing up, she would chat up the customers
of her parents’ hairdressing salon and ask them if they wanted the
interior of their cars cleaned for a quarter. Those quarters went toward
the purchase of a red convertible Chevrolet ten years later, which gave
her 25 years of faithful service.
As the new president of the PRSA Foundation, she is again chatting up
people for money, except this time her audience is PR industry high
fliers and corporate giants such as Sears. If you’ve done well in the PR
business, then odds are Farinelli will be introducing herself to you
Two years removed from agency life, Farinelli has found an outlet for
her talents at the PRSA Foundation, where she holds a non-paying
volunteer position. The body is funded to the tune of dollars 3 million
by institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Prudential Insurance
and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But Farinelli’s goal is to see
that figure raised significantly. To her credit, she knows how to drum
Already Farinelli has introduced new board members from Sears,
McDonalds, Navistar, ITT Industries and Philips Electronics - companies
that, coincidentally, have huge PR budgets. PR agency chiefs seem
glaringly absent from the foundation’s board, though Farinelli claims
that there are some mid-size agencies on board and other members being
added. Behind the finance drives, the mission of the PRSA Foundation is
to advance the stature of the PR profession and foster superior thinking
through projects such as the National Credibility Index (NCI), which
analyzes the public’s most trusted sources of information. When the NCI
debuted last year (PRWeek, June 28, 1999), Arthur White, founding
partner of the legendary research firm Yankelovich, Skully & White,
says, ’It has the potential to improve the quality of civil debate in
America.’ The newest Credibility Index, assessing 40 different
information sources for personal investing, will be released this
’Think of the Foundation as an idea lab for spawning high-impact
projects that can generate the very best communications thinking and
practices - certainly that’s my mandate,’ Ms. Farinelli explains.
The PRSA Foundation is just one of a number of new projects that
Farinelli is spearheading now that she’s left agency life behind. For
the former CEO and president of Creamer Dickson Basford, it’s quite a
change of scenery.
Farinelli parted company with CDB more than a year ago in less than
amicable circumstances. Industry sources claim the firm was losing
senior staff and had a hard time growing geographically or financially.
But it would be unfair to lay all the blame at Farinelli’s door. During
her 11-year tenure two separate advertising giants, Aegis and Havas
Advertising, owned CDB. Within a 12-month period Farinelli had 11
different bosses - not an environment conducive to growth.
Farinelli recalls having to support at least one decision she did not
agree with - the spin-off of the agency’s healthcare group, which had
brought in significant revenues. ’I thought about my life and decided I
don’t want to do this anymore,’ she says about her departure from CDB,
which is now headed by Darryl Salerno - whom Farinelli brought on
Salerno refused to comment for this piece, referring the call to
According to former colleagues, Farinelli has never been afraid to let
managers grow, even if that sometimes results in mistakes. ’She gives
people the authority and allows them to make mistakes. That didn’t play
out too well at Creamer,’ says one source.
Despite the turbulence, Farinelli feels she made major contributions to
the agency. She established WebDiagnostics, a Web site evaluation
service, and a corporate reputation study called Hidden Value. Marilyn
Laurie, a former EVP at AT&T and now a consultant, says: ’She has done
some great research in the interests of intangible values that affect
corporate success.’ CDB also earned kudos for its creative work, such as
the hugely successful campaign for Pizza Hut, which involved sending
free pies to people named Domino.
Farinelli is also a firm believer in the healthy body, healthy mind
She’s traveled to Australia, enjoys mountain climbing and even started a
wellness program at CDB, which helped employees quit smoking. When a
high paying cigarette client came knocking at the door, Farinelli stuck
to her principles and took a pass, according to a colleague.
Faith in the industry
Having faith in your convictions is something that Farinelli would like
to encourage in the PR profession. ’PR people have to be willing to put
their jobs on the line every day. They have to convey things that people
don’t want to hear,’ she says, and encourages pros to make the most of
their unique top-to-bottom oversight of a corporation.
The biggest challenge facing the industry, she claims, is ’to bring
critical thinking to the table.’ She bemoans the fact that graduates
from elite institutions such as Yale, Harvard and Stanford join
management consultants like McKinsey & Company and Andersen Consulting,
rather than take up PR positions.
There’s no doubt that Farinelli herself brings critical thinking to the
table. Dan Scoggin, now president and CEO of Houlihan’s Restaurant
Group, recalls tracking her down in Australia to see if she would run a
project for him. The two previously worked together to raise the profile
of TGI Friday’s in preparation for a public offering. Scoggin says he
has worked with around 50 PR people since those days, but is yet to meet
someone as good.
Larry Chiagouris, another former colleague and now vice
president/analysis strategy for Starz Encore Media Group, thinks that
Farinelli deserves to stand back a little and enjoy her success.
But Farinelli keeps running in more ways than one. She is currently
working on a 12-month consultancy project for restaurant review
authority Zagat’s, as well as running several PR societies such as the
Women’s Forum. She has also devoted several months to posting 27 years
of Silver Anvil winners on the PRSA Web site.
And as this issue was closing, she called to let us know she’s signed up
another trustee to the foundation board - from her personal
JEAN FARINELLI - Founder, Farinelli Consulting
President, PRSA Foundation
1969: Corporate PR executive at Dow Jones
1972: Account manager at Carl Byoir & Associates
1982: President of PR division of Tracy-Locke/BBDO Dallas
1987-98 President and CEO, Creamer Dickson Basford.