"You Can’t Just Be a Dreamer, You Must Have a Strategy"

A Q&A with Elise Mitchell
Founder & Chairman, Mitchell Communications Group
CEO, Dentsu Aegis PR Network

To meet Elise Mitchell is to be inspired -- and perhaps even a bit awed -- by her. This is a woman who is a force in the PR industry and in life, who brings seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm to her endeavors.

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Elise built Mitchell Communications from scratch into one of the top 10 fastest-growing firms globally, a two-time Agency of the Year winner and Inc. 500/5000 Fastest Growing Company. These days, Elise, author of “Leading Through the Turn,” is CEO of the Dentsu Aegis PR Network and a highly sought-after speaker and executive coach.

As she has done many times in the past, Elise will be a featured speaker at PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference this year in Toronto. Her session, The "It Factor, How to Get Further, Faster," promises to be outstanding and memorable.

I caught up with Elise recently as she was traveling internationally. We chatted about what Counselors has meant to her in her career; and her current passion for executive coaching. A condensed version of the interview follows:

G: Hi Elise, so great to talk to you as always. Let’s start with Counselors; what has the network and spring conference meant to you over the years?

E: Thanks Greg! As you know I love talking about Counselors. Counselors was instrumental in helping me build Mitchell Communications Group. When I was trying to build an agency, the people I met who had success in building their firm before I did were mentors and advisors and acted as a sounding board for me on too many occasions to count.

They were available to me when I had a question. They were willing to share concepts that worked for them and how it worked and why. The network I was able to build was great but then the counseling itself was always the focal point for getting practical content around how to build an agency.

G: What’s different about Counselors vs. other conferences you’ve attended?

E: There’s a lot of different conferences you can go to to get ideas about how to be a better strategist or what are the trends and changes with PR, but no other conference that I went to had the practical aspects of building an agency.

They didn’t just say “oh I built this agency and it’s great.” They said, “OK, let me tell you how to put together an HR model to evaluate people, or recruiting strategies, or how to make more profit.”

G: What are you focused on professionally these days?

E:  I’ve taken a new role as chairman at Mitchell, I am still the CEO of the Dentsu PR Network and I am doing a lot of work around the intersection of neuroscience and leadership.

G: I had the pleasure of reading your book, “Leading Through the Turn,” and it was very influential. Are you continuing to write?

E: Yes, I write regularly on my blog, “In the Turn,” and have a blog post that is really popular about how individuals can transition from “I’m overwhelmed to I’ve Got This!” People desperately want to have some measure of control over their schedule and over the demands of their life. My blog elaborates on a practical approach on how to balance those priorities.  

G: I also understand that you’re doing more work in executive coaching, correct?

E: That’s right. I’ve done a lot of coaching over the years but it was very informal. I wanted the discipline of a process and also an approach to coaching that I felt was very powerful so I am becoming a certified executive coach. I have seen a huge impact on the professionals I am working with right now. I think that is going to become a powerful part of what I do in the future.

G: What I like personally is that you never seem to stay in one place. You built your agency then pivoted to doing more things at an executive level, and now writing and coaching. Why coaching?

E: My greatest passion right now is to help others to live and lead at their best. I am particularly interested in working with executives who are serious about improving, enhancing their own leadership abilities and that of their team. I want to work with people who are really interested in taking things up a notch and getting to the next level. Particularly, leaders who are trying to surpass the toughest challenges that they are facing right now. Those kinds of individuals are highly motivated to grow in a motivated space.

The idea is to create context, then vision, then inspire others. If you only have a great Idea, no one will buy anything from you. You can’t just be a dreamer. You must have a strategy.
— Elise Mitchell

G: What do you hope to bring to these kinds of leaders?

E: I want to help people identify and thoroughly think about their strengths and opportunities. Also, to help them set a framework for achieving their most important goals. I want to combine all my business expertise, experience and many mistakes into one practical approach.

G: What’s a tip that you think most leaders need to hear and remember in our industry.

E:  I think that one of the primary jobs of a leader is to set a context for their employees, clients, and the audience that they serve. The only way to set the context is by connecting the dots yourself and constantly monitoring the environment around you. Also, by identifying the larger forces that impact or could impact what you do, and draw conclusions from that.

G: How would you advise executives to recognize these larger forces?

E: Sometimes, you have to do it on your own. We have to figure out what is important and what do we need to do about it. Leaders have to think about the implementation of the context. Then they need to ask themselves, “Well what does this mean for us?” “How do my clients anticipate, prepare, leverage, identify opportunities?”

The idea is to create context, then vision, then inspire others. If you only have a great idea, no one will buy anything from you. You can’t just be a dreamer. You must have a strategy.