FEATURE: The cornerstones

Having to satisfy clients, staff, and the bottom line, agency managers must be innovative. John N. Frank profiles 20 individuals who fit the bill

Having to satisfy clients, staff, and the bottom line, agency managers must be innovative. John N. Frank profiles 20 individuals who fit the bill

A PR agency demonstrates its quality by its work. But that's not to say that an agency's value should be judged solely on its client-facing responsibilities. PR agency managers who have done well in this fast-changing climate must understand what clients want from them, the creative and personal needs of their staffs, the PR business, and the bottom line. PRWeek asked agencies to nominate their top managers for this report. What follows are profiles of 20 agency managers in four functional areas - managing directors/general managers, chief financial officers, human resources directors, and heads of agency information-technology departments. John Bellizzi CFO, MS&L John Bellizzi took over as the first global CFO at MS&L two-and-a-half years ago. He then proceeded to take a scalpel, rather than a hatchet, to agency expenses. He cut such areas as management costs, rent, and back-office expenses, allowing the agency to maintain the resources it needed to sustain revenue growth throughout the recession. "You can't cut your way to greatness," Bellizzi says. Therefore, he's also created ways for the agency to track financial performance and to know how it's doing on a timely and accurate basis. These tools include a monthly key- indicator report to provide a snapshot of critical measurements for the financial performances of individual offices. The report also shows where the agency stands in terms of its new-business goals. On the compliance front, Bellizzi has managed the increased reporting and compliance needs of an agency that's part of a publicly held company - Publicis Groupe - without increasing his staff. Michael Bigelow CFO, Waggener Edstrom Michael Bigelow is very up-front about how he views his job. "I have no interest in being a cost cop," he explains. "I am passionate about helping our people to understand what it takes to be a well-run organization and the role that they play in impacting our bottom line." Five years ago, Bigelow championed the inauguration of an internal course for employees on business fundamentals, giving them an opportunity to understand how costs and revenues interplay to create a profitable operation. His openness with employees extends to posting monthly financial updates on the agency's intranet so everyone can monitor performance. And while some may cringe at discussing agency revenue or other figures with clients, Bigelow talks about such things as billing rate, cost structure, and the agency's business model with clients. Also unlike some, he doesn't become worried when a client's procurement people become involved in a deal. "We welcome the involvement of procurement," he says. "We welcome the opportunity to share with them how we run our business to ensure they get top value for their PR spend." Charme Brinkley CFO, Levick Strategic Communications In the past three years, Charme Brinkley has developed profitability and productivity models for Levick to determine client feasibility and to keep the agency profitable during the recession. In addition, she put financial controls in place to better monitor agency expenditures and she began having weekly and bi-monthly meetings with employees to educate them about the company's financial climate and corporate objectives. "The management style I employ is consensus management," she says. "If you can get employees to buy into corporate goals and objectives, it eases the efforts in terms of achievement and [it makes] employees feel they have a stake in successes." Brinkley has helped the agency manage down a substantial amount of debt, implement new pricing, and cut expenses since 2001. The privately held agency went from a negative profit margin in 2001 to a 2% margin in 2002 and a 28% margin in 2003, when it recorded a profit of $1.5 million. Levick is projecting a profit of $2.8 million this year. "One of the key factors for increasing corporate profitability is to partner with employees," Brinkley says. Neal Cohen Chairman, North America, APCO Worldwide Under the leadership of Neal Cohen, revenues for APCO's Washington, DC, office have risen 22.8% in the past three years, the agency claims, while profitability increased 34%. Cohen has overseen the growth of APCO Insight, the firm's research arm, and StudioAPCO, a creative division. APCO Insight's growth in 2002 was 39%, followed by 16% growth in 2003. StudioAPCO grew more than 130% in 2003. Cohen sees growing business with existing clients as a cornerstone of success. One (undisclosed) client he attracted to the firm four years ago has now become its fifth largest. In 2003 alone, revenue from this client, a major oil producer, grew 15%. Cohen has worked with the American Tort Reform Association as a client for roughly 15 years, growing it to become the ninth largest in the agency's Washington office. Cohen also pays attention to employee morale and retention issues. APCO had a 9% turnover rate last year, one of the lowest in the business. He and APCO's CEO, Margery Kraus, host breakfasts to welcome interns and at the same time answer employee questions about clients, operations, and the business. "Distinguish between people," Cohen advises. "The same approach doesn't work for everyone." Stacey Gaswirth EVP, Shelton Group Every new Shelton PR client for the past six years has been brought in by Gaswirth, who leads new-business efforts at the agency. The Dallas firm's wins have included tech clients such as AMI Semiconductor, Alliance Semiconductor, and eSilicon. In the tough business environment of recent years, Gaswirth has worked closely with the agency's CFO to scrutinize costs. She's looked at everything from telephone bills to computers to insurance to 401K plans to keep costs in line while at the same time ensuring clients are getting their money's worth and not being over-serviced for their needs. The result, Gaswirth says, has been that the agency was more profitable in 2003 than the year before on lower revenues. Agnes Gioconda Chief talent officer, Fleishman-Hillard Since her 1993 arrival, Agnes Gioconda has helped Fleishman to implement systems that have brought structure to both its professional-development and its training programs. Working from the agency's headquarters in St. Louis, Gioconda and her HR team created key qualifications for every job at Fleishman, outlining essential skills needed for each position. The agency has also started a career-mapping program in several offices so managers and employees can discuss workers' futures with the firm. The goal is to let employees see how they can create long-term careers with Fleishman and, in the process, cut down on employee turnover. Gioconda has built the agency's internal recruitment team, holding down external recruiting costs as a result. In 2001, Gioconda oversaw development of the Time-Off Purchase Plan that allows employees to buy additional days off. Laura Grimmer CEO and founder, Articulate Communications Laura Grimmer has had a crucial role in helping New York agency Articulate grow from its launch in 2001 to an agency that started this year with $1.5 million in annualized revenues and 10 employees. She has concentrated on technology, working with b-to-b tech companies. She has also yet to lose a client. Though a small shop, Articulate has made it a priority to offer benefits to employees, such as fully paid health insurance, a 401K plan, and such perks as free drinks and snacks, as well as monthly office outings. David Harris CFO, Citigate Sard Verbinnen David Harris has helped his firm, a unit of UK-based Incepta Group, keep fixed costs down and variable costs at a minimum in recent years. He's cut expenses by renegotiating and re-bidding the agency's top-tier benefit package, information systems, and other long-term contracts. At the same time, the agency has been able to expand, opening a Chicago office in 2003. Harris and his staff have introduced a cost-accounting system to track client and staff profitability and have integrated the firm's time-keeping system with client reporting and HR systems. On the employee-benefits front, Harris has introduced a flexible benefits plan, a dental plan, and an employee-guidelines manual. He has also strengthened the agency's 401K plan. Harris and his team oversee all non-client aspects of running the business including financial, human resources, operations, information technology, and interacting with parent company Incepta. Sharon Linhart President, Linhart McClain Finlon Public Relations Creativity, energy, and community involvement are all hallmarks of Sharon Linhart's style. She is a well-known figure in Denver through her involvement in such civic endeavors as serving as a director for the Denver Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of other organizations. Linhart has been able to attract such major clients as the Colorado Department of Transportation and Johns Manville. Business with the Department of Transportation has risen every year since the account began in 2001, while Johns Manville last year doubled its business with the agency. When it comes to her employees, Linhart tries to maintain an open flow of information, letting staffers know, for example, how much money is in the pool for the quarterly bonus program. Linhart has attracted talent from such major firms as Ogilvy, Burson-Marsteller, and Ketchum. Ed Mangis HR director, PAN Communications Ed Mangis is the first human resources director Andover, MA-based PAN has ever had. Upon his arrival five years ago, he started formalizing all company policies regarding HR. In the process, he has helped the agency grow. Mangis created a formal performance-evaluation process that includes employee self-evaluation. He also developed a new manager-orientation program and a shadow program that lets new employees follow agency veterans to learn how PAN functions. Mangis believes in a balance of work and social life. He instituted a Flex Friday benefit that lets employees work any consecutive eight-hour shift beginning as early as 7am on Fridays. The agency also has summer hours and in December gives employees a half shopping day to help ease holiday stress. He's added two company events - a road race challenge and a snow tubing outing for employees. His HR department makes sure it touches base with one employee per day to establish a rapport with them. Jeffrey Marshall CIO worldwide, Burson-Marsteller Jeffrey Marshall has helped Burson manage costs by centralizing purchasing, closely reviewing telecom changes, and reviewing technology needs using cost/benefit analysis. After Burson became part of WPP Group in October 2000, Marshall worked with other WPP IT professionals to consolidate IT functions into a separate in-house entity. Marshall has also overseen the implementation of several new technologies, such as wireless access to the corporate e-mail system. Marshall is the chief implementer of InfoDesk, Burson's intranet system. He also put in place Avaya IP Softphone, a system that allows employees to make and receive calls remotely as if they were in their offices. Andy Roach CIO, Ketchum With constant upgrades and changing standards, IT costs can easily spiral out of control. From Ketchum's Pittsburgh office, Andy Roach has addressed that problem with a web- based application called Asset Tracker, which inventories agency technology resources in its 21 offices around the world. The application allows resources to be shifted throughout the system. At budget time each year, the tracker can help determine what percentage of equipment should be replaced. Roach has been reorganizing Ketchum's global IT network, centralizing desktop-support functions and improving help-desk performance in the process. IT support costs have dropped 20% thanks to such changes. Roach not only cut costs, he brought additional income to the firm by establishing licensing policies for clients and others to use Ketchum's tech resources. Jeff Saper CIO, Financial Dynamics Jeff Saper began his career at Financial Dynamics four years ago when the agency was called Morgen-Walke Associates. When the firm switched to its new incarnation, Saper was instrumental in implementing such technology changes as new e-mail addresses and new websites, in addition to working with a variety of outside vendors - all while cutting IT costs. Saper is now in the process of updating and integrating into one site six different company websites. Also in the works is an agency-wide knowledge-management system that is linked to its intranet. Saper's tech prowess has also helped the company save money. He implemented a voice-over IP phone service that centralized phone operations in New York and cut monthly phone charges by utilizing a flat-fee call rate from anywhere in the world. Bill Schreiber GM, Porter Novelli Sacramento Under Bill Schreiber's leadership, Porter Novelli's Sacramento office in 2003 placed in the top quarter of the network's offices in terms of profitability. His efforts led to the winning of two major 2004 election-initiative campaigns and to an expansion of a ChevronTexaco affiliate account. Indeed, Schreiber's business philosophy is that the best way to generate new business is to expand relationships with existing clients. Schreiber has also proven himself an adroit rainmaker for the agency, bringing in such new clients as the California Chamber of Commerce, Union Pacific Railroad, the Automobile Alliance, and the California Housing Finance Agency. A hands-on manager, Schreiber is not above drafting proposals or presentations and is adept at fostering initial relationships with clients. Schreiber also seems to have done his job when it comes to maintaining staff morale. The Sacramento office has had a 90% staff retention rate during the past five years, well above industry averages. Schreiber has assembled a diverse team, bringing in key players from both the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle. "'Player-coach' is probably the best description of my management style," he explains. "I come into the game to help solve problems, provide strategic direction, and serve as senior client counsel." Greg Sendi SVP, MD of public relations Northlich Sendi crossed the country from San Francisco, where he had worked with Fleishman-Hillard, to Northlich's Cincinnati offices in 1999 to build the agency's b-to-b and tech practices. As the tech bubble came and went, he turned his attention to healthcare as well. Healthcare and b-to-b now account for more than half the PR revenues at this integrated agency. Sendi built what started as a one-time assignment with Humana into one of the agency's largest integrated accounts. He's also developed media relations and employee communications programs at P&G Global Marketing and he has worked with Ashland to create a major employee communications program. Early on, Sendi also recognized that clients want better measurement tools. As such, he fostered development of the Northlich Media Score and the Northlich Reputation Prism, two proprietary tools that are now having a positive impact on Northlich's bottom line. "The most influential managers I've had have been the ones who encouraged me to think about my work as part of the answer to a client business problem or opportunity," he says. Sendi tries to do the same with his employees. Maintaining a collegial attitude with employees is also a mainstay of Sendi's management style. He even allows himself to be the butt of jokes occasionally, such as the banners staffers hung from a parking garage announcing his birthday and age. Ellen Shedlarz Chief talent officer, Hill & Knowlton Ellen Shedlarz has focused on work-life balance issues in her two years as H&K's first chief talent officer. She has worked in consulting and professional-services firms in the past, so she brought a wider perspective to H&K and its HR issues. Policy improvements that she's overseen include flexible start and end times for employee workdays, longer vacations, leave for new fathers and new parents of adoptees, and immediate participation in the company's 401K plan for new employees. She also helped H&K upgrade health coverage, switching to a new provider this year. On the recruitment front, she's helped land such major talent as Steve Aiello, now a senior counselor in public affairs; Steve Singerman, who took over as GM in the Chicago office; and Tom Reno, the GM in New York. Janet Tyler President and cofounder, Airfoil Public Relations Janet Tyler believes in the old maxim about making no small plans. She set the startling goal of 40% growth for her Detroit agency in 2003 and offered agency employees a free trip to Las Vegas if they could reach that lofty objective. When they did, Tyler packed off the agency to the gambling capital of America for horseback riding and visits with Elvis impersonators. Tyler has done what few others have in another way as well. She created an agency devoted to technology business in auto-centric Detroit and she's kept it on a growth path at a time when many other tech agencies have simply disappeared for lack of work. Tyler used her long-term relationship with Microsoft to make business with the software giant a cornerstone of her agency's business. Jody Venturoni EVP and GM, Weber Shandwick Southwest Dallas-based Jody Venturoni, who oversees WS offices in Dallas, Austin, TX, Denver, and Kansas City, MO, has worked tirelessly to maintain staff morale during recent hard times. She has put together a variety of programs, some fun and some serious, to keep the firm's employees motivated and involved. Among her innovations are Inside Track, a forum for employees to talk about career issues with senior staff members. She also started Army of Fun, committees in each office designated to come up with enjoyable events. Her Mind, Body & Soul program gives each employee $60 a month to use for activities that will improve their quality of life. She has also created various employee-recognition awards at the agency. Among those is the Heavy Hitter Award for top-flight media- relations staffers. Venturoni's efforts are bearing fruit. For the past two years, WS Southwest has scored in the top ranks of the agency's offices in terms of employee satisfaction. Art Webb President, BCF Advertising, Public Relations and Promotions Webb has overseen a rebranding of his Virginia Beach, VA-based firm from Barker, Campbell, Farley & Mansfield to BCF. The new name was instituted on April 2. A major event for clients was held on April 15 for them to see and talk about agency capabilities as the firm unveiled its new slogan, "Move the Masses." Webb routinely leads new business pitches and has helped bring on board such accounts as White House Foods, the Aluminum Association, and Hall Automotive. On the financial side, he works with the accounting department to determine quarterly income projections and then works to manage payroll and operating expenses against those projections. Webb strives to motivate employees to reach higher levels of creativity. "People thrive on the thrill of doing great work," he explains. "They know that this is a place where we do great work." Todd Wolfenbarger Partner, The Summit Group Since joining Salt Lake City's Summit Group two years ago, Wolfenbarger has been instrumental in bringing in business from Nextel Communications, InfoSpace, and a variety of other national clients. He sends every potential client a "golden idea," bringing them something new to think about. The ideas are sent wrapped in gold packages and written on gold paper, a presentation sure to garner attention. Internally, he challenges agency employees to come up with their own golden ideas, in the process encouraging staffers to take leadership roles on their accounts. Summit says that it's bringing in the highest level for revenues in its 21-year history, a testament to Wolfenbarger's ability to spot business opportunities and to encourage employees to think creatively.

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