The Agency Business: Lumin's leaders reflecting on progress while planning ahead

Lumin, an agency network formed by five firms in 2003, was created to serve as a think tank and to develop PR products.

Lumin, an agency network formed by five firms in 2003, was created to serve as a think tank and to develop PR products.

Though things have started off slow, its leaders remain upbeat. In June 2003, five midsize PR agencies announced that they were banding together to form an agency network - but one they insisted was different from all the rest. Rather than seek geographic reach, as most such alliances do, Lumin, as they called it, would be more of a think tank, an "intellectual collaborative," designed to share ideas and, thus, improve the abilities of its communications counselors. Lumin's main goals are to develop new PR products and provide business education to the member agencies' employees. From October 3 to 5 this year, Lumin leaders held a retreat at a conference center in Rye Brook, NY, to look back on what they've done the past year and where they're going. The consensus seems to be that while the cutting-edge plan has achieved some of its goals, it is still a work in progress. Indeed, Lumin has yet to attract a client. Lumin was created by Richmond, VA-based Carter Ryley Thomas, Minneapolis-based Padilla Speer Beardsley, LA-based Paine PR, New York- based Peppercom, and New York-based Patrice Tanaka & Co. Paine PR's acquisition this month by Canada-based Cossette Communication Group has meant that the agency has dropped out of Lumin. In an interview, two Lumin board members - Steve Cody, managing partner of Peppercom, and Mark Raper, chairman and CEO of Carter Ryley Thomas - admitted that things have moved slower than expected for Lumin, but they are still upbeat. Part of the problem, they said, has been the success of the individual firms in getting new assignments this year. Because of that, Lumin will focus on doing fewer things next year, but "much deeper and better," Cody said. The main area that suffered was new-product development. Lumin hoped to develop three offerings in its first year. It launched one: SalesScape, a research and training program based on Peppercom's Pain-Based Selling that helps companies with sales techniques using PR. It plans to debut two other products soon. "One has to do with bringing together very high-level, very senior, very experienced strategic thinkers to tackle significant corporate issues," said Raper. "And the second one has to do with doing a gap analysis between how a brand plays to internal audiences." Another project in the works is a book on C-level communications, with chapters written by representatives from each agency, to be used for marketing purposes. Lumin isn't concerned that it does not yet have its own client, though that is a major goal for the next year. "We're in the process of identifying a national client that we will work together on in 2005," said Raper. "The first year was really all about the internal infrastructure and doing some management development and sharing some best practices," said Cody. As for training its own people, Lumin did launch Business Illuminated, which it calls an MBA-like curriculum. In its first incarnation, the program had about 10 people from each firm undertake a 14-week session that included readings, quizzes, and a final project. It appears that Lumin's biggest promise - and biggest success so far - is in the way it allows agencies to brainstorm on existing or potential projects. "At any given time, two or more of the agencies are collaborating together on an existing client assignment," said Cody. "CRT has tremendous depth in healthcare and some other areas. Padilla has terrific research and IR experience. PT has terrific experience when it comes to marketing to women. So, from a Peppercom standpoint, whenever our large brand clients are looking for us to branch out in certain areas, we have a built-in research pool." Lumin says that clients of one member agency are delighted to learn that professionals from the other agencies - for a total of 250 employees - will be brought in for brainstorming. And it helps with new-business pitching, too. Cody and Raper speak of "the abundance mentality" - the opportunities the agencies involved have in sharing information. "We're all about moving ourselves and, hopefully, to a degree, the profession a little higher up the food chain," Cody said. Cody and Raper said Lumin will not necessarily seek to replace Paine PR, but that it always has been open to other agencies joining the network if the fit is right - namely if the agency adds the right kind of thinking. Lumin's board of directors
  • Mark Raper, chairman and CEO, and Mike Mulvihill, president, Carter Ryley Thomas
  • Lynn Casey, chairman and CEO, and Matt Kucharski, VP, Padilla Speer Beardsley
  • Patrice Tanaka, CEO, creative director, and cofounder; and Ellen LaNicca, president and cofounder, Patrice Tanaka & Co.
  • Steve Cody, managing partner and cofounder, and Ed Moed, managing partner and cofounder, Peppercom

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