Manager, Hill & Knowlton Small Business (H&K SMB)
Inspiration for new ideas can come from nearly anywhere. For Courtney Hill, 25, inspiration came from a chain of grocery stores, which lead to a new business idea for Hill & Knowlton.
"We saw a lot of smaller to mid-size companies that asked for help, but couldn't afford us," Hill recalls. He had been tasked with new business research and found that, in the grocery store industry, major chains would use their distribution network to stock discount stores with the same merchandise.
Hill believed the same model might be applied to PR services. That idea lead to a business proposal, which he submitted to H&K's leadership.
"I pitched [New York GM] MaryLee Sachs and [CEO and chairman] Paul Taaffe, who let us go ahead and test it," Hill says. "They were really excited to see the initiative and see the team think out of the box."
From that research, Hill founded and now serves as manager of Hill & Knowlton Small Business (H&K SMB), which services entrepreneurial firms, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
The practice, which H&K COO Gene Reineke calls "Courtney's baby," currently has five clients. Hill has won numerous in-house awards, including the "best new initiative" for H&K's SMB practice.
"He came up with the idea and sold it to all of us," Reineke says. He calls Hill "smart, aggressive, and professional," having first met him in 2001, when an H&K colleague was getting his doctorate and teaching mass communications at the University of North Carolina. That colleague encouraged Hill, a student, to apply for an internship at H&K.
"He's mature beyond his years, and his handling of clients continues to impress us," Reineke says.
Hill also works on as the lead on H&K's Illinois Lottery account, one of the Chicago office's largest accounts, which was just recently retained by the agency after a competitive re-pitch. The work on that account compared to his small business work, he says, is like night and day.
"My role at SMB is running the practice, hiring, and retaining clients, Hill says. "With the lottery, the client says, 'This is what you need to do, and you handle the implementation of everything.'"
Reineke says Hill is attentive to clients of all sizes. "I don't think it's the size of the client; it's the personal relationships," Reineke says. "He's able to develop relationships and gain clients' confidence."
Hill says he's happy with his current career trajectory.
"Right now, our focus is for the SMB to be the biggest and best unit it can be," Hill says.
"I would hope he decides to continue with H&K and continue to learn and explore new opportunities for areas of growth," Reineke says. "The industry is always evolving and he's got the right frame of mind to be successful."