Relocating to head another office can be a daunting process. But by learning about the region - and staff - before arrival, new managers can shake their outsider status in no time.
Very few people mistake Portland, OR, for Austin, TX. Aili Jokela certainly doesn't. So as the Fleishman-Hillard SVP prepared to leave her role as GM of the Austin office to run the agency's Portland arm, she knew she had her work cut out for her.
"It was really important that I do as much advance learning about the market as possible," she says. "I looked at the city, the region, the state. You want to know what kind of culture you're coming into. Going from Texas to Oregon is quite a change."
When agencies bring in a GM from outside the region, that person faces numerous challenges. But a little homework and some savvy networking skills can go a long way.
Jokela says the internet was a great resource, providing easy access to articles and other information on everything from Portland's politics to its culture. She also spoke to staff and clients before setting foot in the office.
"There's a fair amount of work you can do long distance, so you can come in with a good sense of what is important," she adds.
When VP Ben Farrell moved from the Bay Area to open the Horn Group's new Washington, DC, office, he arrived well-armed with information about the region. But in Washington, knowledge is largely built through personal connections.
"Getting networked was job one," says Farrell. "I reached out to not just the venture capital community, but the larger marketing community, as well."
Farrell says it took him about three months before he truly felt comfortable in the region. And that is essential for making the transition - time.
"It takes at least six months to shake that feeling of being an outsider," says EVP Howard Solomon, Ruder Finn's new San Francisco GM, who transferred from the Chicago office. Solomon knows of what he speaks. He transferred from New York to Chicago six years ago, and until his move to the Bay Area, was splitting his time between Chicago and LA. "It's not terribly complicated," he says. "It just takes time."
Beyond researching the region before arriving, Solomon strives to get to know his new staff. Understanding the staff, both in terms of what the individual employees have accomplished and what they aspire to achieve, is an excellent way to learn about the region, as those employees are often a new GM's best eyes and ears, he says.
But new GMs can also find eyes and ears outside the office. When Jeff Miller moved from Virginia to join Maloney & Fox as GM of its new Seattle office, he joined the local PRSA chapter, as well as the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
While meeting with clients and staff is vital, so is getting an external perspective from such organizations. Even tapping into networks, such as college alumni associations, can provide local insight, says Miller.
"Each market is so different it's tough to apply past experience," says Michael Law, MD of Ogilvy PR's San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, who moved from the agency's Asia-Pacific offices last year. You can't view one region through the prism of another, he says. But don't completely turn your back on the region you're leaving, he advises. Contacts from a former region can help open doors in the new one.
"The California Chamber of Commerce has been a real help in getting a sense of the business landscape," says Law. "And our people in California have been the best resource for me."
But Hill & Knowlton COO Gene Reineke, who oversees the Chicago office, cautions against joining too many groups. Reineke was transferred from Chicago to DC in 2003, and then back to Chicago in June of this year.
"You want to get as networked as quickly as you can, but you don't want to spread yourself too thin," he advises. Reineke agrees that all the aforementioned ways of getting up to speed are important. But nothing compares with getting out from behind the desk.
"Get out of the office," says Reineke. "To sit in the office would be a mistake. Have as many meetings out as possible, whether it's with staff or clients or you're just networking."
How to get up to speed in a new region