PROFILE: Staying power fuels Polansky's steady climb at WS

Whether it's for the only firm he's worked for or the 700 staffers he now manages, Andy Polansky, North American president at Weber Shandwick, proves that loyalty can take you far in PR.

Whether it's for the only firm he's worked for or the 700 staffers he now manages, Andy Polansky, North American president at Weber Shandwick, proves that loyalty can take you far in PR.

Andy Polansky is about to celebrate his 20th year working at the same PR firm. That is if you consider a firm that's changed its name several times, gobbled up many smaller firms, and eventually merged with one its biggest rivals to form one of the world's largest PR agencies, Weber Shandwick, the same firm. Indeed, Polansky acknowledges that there are bottom-line differences - literally - between the firm he joined and the agency he now helps run. Groping for a way to demonstrate the changes, he offers, "When I started at Bozell & Jacobs, we had 20-25 people and $2.5 or $3 million in business." He then stops mid-thought and smiles before making the obvious comparison (though it's not one that he can currently pin numbers to - Interpublic Group-owned WS, like other owned agencies, has stopped releasing its revenue figures, citing new corporate disclosure rules). He eventually adds, "Well, today it's grown considerably. So in a way, I started out working in a small company, eventually worked for a midsize company, and am now working for a big company. So even though I've been at the same place all along, I've had those very distinct experiences." The first thing you notice about Polansky is that he has a winsome quality, particularly in comparison to his counterparts in the industry. He smiles a lot, and it doesn't appear to be forced. Perhaps he has reason to smile. At 41, he's president of North America for one of the largest PR firms in the world, and responsible for a staff of over 700. Polansky says that back in his early PR days he didn't imagine being where he is now. "When I spent hours writing a case-history feature for one of my early clients, I never thought I'd be responsible for a leading PR firm's North American operations," he explains. "It never crossed my mind." Polansky joined the firm in August 1983 in its Bozell & Jacobs incarnation. He entered as a junior AE after a college friend who worked at the firm encouraged him to try PR. After working as a stringer for small-town papers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the chance to do PR work for major US companies seemed like an opportunity that would translate into a bit more money and the chance to travel - which he says was the job's true draw. Needless to say, the exotic locales he had in mind as a young college graduate were not on the early itinerary. "Of course, I had these visions of Asia and Europe," he says. "Yet my first three trips were to Broken Arrow, OK, Opelika, AL, and Fort Smith, AR." The first account he led at Bozell was industrial equipment maker Ingersoll Rand, a client WS still claims, and for which Polansky still does some work. Nevertheless, as his career continued, he delved into several areas of communications, including financial, corporate, public affairs, and consumer marketing. At first, the diverse nature of PR work appeared to have caught him a little by surprise. Shortly after starting work for Ingersoll, Polansky worked on a campaign to relaunch the legendary cartoon Betty Boop for King Features Syndicate. "It was an interesting juxtaposition from Ingersoll Rand's jackhammers to Betty Boop," he chuckles. But through his 20-year career, Polansky says that perhaps his most rewarding client experience came from a client called Freeplay Energy, which produces wind-up radios for people in the developing world, whose limited access to power sources can impede their access to broadcast news and information. He says the company's founder came to his office one day to pitch him on the idea. "A lot of people would not have entertained the conversation because their operation at that point may have been too small, or maybe they didn't have the budget to embark on a PR campaign," says Polansky. "I, however, just found the whole thing fascinating." An example of one of the radios now sits perched atop a cabinet behind Polansky's desk - a constant reminder of the account that provided a significantly more exciting travel opportunity than Broken Arrow: his work on Freeplay culminated in a trip to a Freeplay plant in South Africa, where he met Nelson Mandela. Polansky's somewhat rapid ascent through the firm's ranks furnished him with increasing management responsibilities to add to his client work. By his mid 20s, he was already GM of Bozell's New York office. By his late 30s, he was president of the Eastern region of BSMG. Even he reluctantly admits it was a fast and steady climb. Perhaps Polansky's biggest challenge to date has been his role in helping merge his former firm BSMG into WS, after IPG bought BSMG's parent company True North in 2001. Soon after the deal, the two firms joined to form the world's largest PR agency. Polansky says that perhaps the best way to measure the success of the merger is by the fact that it has now been relegated to ancient history in the minds of many at the firm. "Nobody talks about the merger anymore, they just talk about the work we're doing for our clients," he notes. "That's the way it should be." Polansky's boss is quick to extol his lieutenant's role in building WS. "Andy is a friend, a counselor, and a partner," says WS CEO Harris Diamond. "He's meant a lot to the success of the firm since the beginning. He was instrumental in the merger, and was heavily involved in that integration." Although it's clearly a daunting challenge getting to know approximately 700 people, Polansky emphasizes that reaching out to all staff members, regardless of their place in the firm, is an important part of his management style. "What I try to do is get to know everybody in the organization," Polansky says. "My style isn't just to show up in an office, close my door, and talk to the office head. I'd rather walk the halls and get an appreciation of the kind of people we have and the kind of work we do. It might sound rather fundamental, but I think that made a big difference [in executing the merger]. It meant giving people a sense of what they were now becoming part of - defining a new world order, so to speak." ----- Andy Polansky 2002-present Weber Shandwick, president, North America 1999-2002 BSMG Worldwide, vice chairman/president Eastern Region (1999-2001); president and COO, Eastern /Central Regions (2001-2002) 1998-1999 Bozell Sawyer Miller Group, president & COO, New York 1988-1998 Bozell Public Relations, SVP/management supervisor (1988-1989); EVP/GM (1989-1996); president, NY (1996-1998) 1983-1988 Bozell & Jacobs PR, account executive

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