Absolut's Moran enjoys the rewards of taking risks

During his tenure in PR, The Absolut Spirits Co.'s Jeffrey Moran has compiled an impressive resume he credits to taking chances and answering when opportunity knocks

During his tenure in PR, The Absolut Spirits Co.'s Jeffrey Moran has compiled an impressive resume he credits to taking chances and answering when opportunity knocks

Some PR pros drift aimlessly from one job to the next with no set plan. Others insist upon carefully plotting every step along the way. But few have traveled such a varied, interesting road as Jeffrey Moran, director of PR, events, and sponsorship for The Absolut Spirits Co. - a brand synonymous with innovative marketing for more than 20 years.

In assessing the impact Moran has had on all his companies, Porter Novelli CEO Helen Ostrowski says, "His passion and commitment are real assets to whatever organization he is part of." Ostrowski's familiarity with Moran comes from the six years he spent at the agency from 1997 to 2003.

A glance at the full body of his work demonstrates the result of a well-calculated strategy, but he humbly attributes 60% of his decisions to taking risks and the other 40% to his naivet? about where those risks might lead.

Moran's resume reads like a how-to manual for becoming the head of PR at a nationally recognized corporation, but it wasn't a given that he would enter the industry during his college years at Indiana State University.

"In journalism school, I didn't know that [PR] was the be-all, end-all," he says. "I thought my best course was to get the journalism degree, and that would allow me to choose my path."

Moran's PR career started with the county of Cape May, NJ, following an internship. After a year of working for the government, however, he knew it was time to take the next step.

"I thought, 'I'm not retiring here,'" he recalls. "I really didn't have aspirations to go into the political world."

Moran's ultimate goal was always to come to New York. He finally got to do so in 1990 upon joining Fleishman-Hillard as an account assistant. It was his first taste of agency life. "They were good at training me," he recalls. "It was really great for me to spend that first six months just getting the lay of the land."

After several years at Fleishman, a realization that he'd best thrive in the consumer market led to his next agency position at Marilyn Evins.

"When I think back, it's as if divine intervention had me take these steps," Moran says. "And now I know why."

Moran went from working with companies like Milton Bradley and Playskool to having direct access to fashion designers Valentino and the Missonis. "The one thing about fashion is you grow up very quickly. It was almost like my maturation process in how to deal with billing, client service, client complaints, and high-caliber media."

Looking to move to a midsize firm, Moran spent two years at M Booth & Associates, where he began to appreciate that an agency's people can be its most attractive assets.

But not every transition in Moran's career went smoothly. After taking his first crack at the corporate world as Linens-n-Things' manager of sales promotion and PR, Moran realized he was not quite ready for the crossover.

"Every decent PR pro has a track in their mind," Moran says. "They think agency for a while and then about going corporate. I thought the same way, but that's when you realize you must cut your losses and get out before you really screw yourself and your reputation."

Moran re-entered the agency world upon joining Porter Novelli in 1997. "Again, it was the notion of the people that sold me," he says of the value he places on the workplace environment. "People and culture are so important."

Ostrowski says that he not only sought out those attributes in a firm, but contributed to them, as well. "He has a real gift as a leader of morale and culture. Clients and staff alike sensed that they were at his center of attention."

But the word "stationary" never fit into Moran's vocabulary, and a series of internal staff changes at PN's client MasterFoods USA left an opening for a PR director. Moran had worked closely with the company and could mentally project himself into the job, so when the opportunity knocked, he answered.

"The parting with Porter was sad because I was leaving a great group of people, a great company, and a great culture that I actually felt I [helped] perpetuate. But the positive side was that I now became their client, so the relationship changed, but the people didn't."

During his MasterFoods stint, Moran discovered the true power of corporate PR pros. "You find more and more that media people can easily form relationships with agencies," he explains, "but there are quite a nice cadre of high-level media who really like to hear from the horse's mouth. All of a sudden, I thought, 'I'm the horse's mouth!'"

But just as Moran settled into his "five-year plan" at MasterFoods, a friend called him to say, "I have your next job." Moran says there were few brands that he'd have jumped ship for, and Absolut happened to be one of them. "I've always been the Absolut consumer and the Absolut brand marketing kind of guy," says Moran. "It was kismet. This was a perfect fit."

Moran reports to Matthias Aeppli, VP of marketing for The Absolut Spirits Co., who wholly agrees with that portrayal. "He understands the brand strategy, as well as the role of Absolut's PR," says Aeppli. Also, his personality is well-suited for Absolut: a mix between being task-driven and a cultural insider."

Aeppli also cites Moran's extensive agency experience as one of his assets, saying, "He's a strong leader of the firms we work with. He clarifies direction and desired output."

But Moran doesn't attribute strategic planning, or even luck, to his current success. Instead, it's his openness to the unknown opportunities that lie ahead.

"I've often said that my own naivete got me through what could have been some rigorous transitions," Moran acknowledges. "That naivet?, in retrospect, was the best way to go about it. You know there are huge risks involved when you start to do things later in life, but you're better off if you do them with enough forethought and a realization that if it doesn't work, you can keep going."

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