A View from the Window Seat

By Tom Garrity, Chairman of the PRSA Counselors Academy

The window seat is one of air travel’s great pleasures.  With the raising or lowering of the shade you are able to provide light for the cabin, get a visual weather report or just stare!  The latter is something I enjoy because the vastness provides a great backdrop to meditate, plan for the future while providing a unique perspective from 30,000 feet.

In the season of reflecting, when a lot of us are flying to visit loved ones my CAPRSA 30,000 foot view is the great work of your executive committee.  There are a number of great successes, highlighted with a successful Spring Conference in Seattle.


However, with permission of the board members who remain to serve Counselors Academy in 2018, I want to share some thoughts of the practitioners who will be rolling off of the board to spend more time building their practices, helping clients and contributing to their community:  Ann Barks, Lisa Gerber, Pam Golden and Martin Waxman.

If you don’t know Ann Barks, you are missing out.  She is a solid practitioner who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her background as a military photographer provided the foundation for her public relations know how.  She served as my Ex-Officio on the board and did a great job with membership and making sure that everyone felt welcome at Counselors. By the way, need a reference on where to get good eats in NOLA?  Ask Ann!

Lisa Gerber is someone whom I had the honor of meeting at CAPRSA in Palm Springs.  She is a digital nomad who lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.  Skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer and making all of us outdoor maniacs jealous year round!  Lisa is the person who helped to bring the CAPRSA.com website and blog to life.  She led the content committee with great success.  Oh, and if you enjoy skiing in deep powder with a penchant for foreign travel, ask Lisa about Northern Japan.

Pam Golden is amazing! Her leadership of the programming committee resulted in our professional development on either side of the Spring Conference.  Quite frankly, it is a tall order!  She led her team to develop informative webinars.  She also did a great job setting up the recent CAPRSA event in Atlanta, which was a hit and helped to oversee coordination of a roundtable event in Chicago.  What impresses me about Pam is how well traveled she is.  Before a recent visit to Las Vegas, Pam shared with me her list of places to go and places to eat.  It wasn’t a google search kind of overview, She was like Wikipedia meets Trip Advisor!

And last, but definitely not least, is Martin Waxman. Conference Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, Chair-elect, Chair and past chair. Yup, he has done it all and throughout has managed to successfully run a public relations practice, participate in a successful industry podcast, host digital media classes through Lynda.com and pursue a masters degree at McMasters University #OverAchiever #unassuming .  To know Martin is to appreciate his dry humor and fantastic storytelling.  While we’ve had a chance to play the board game Sorry in Ashville and attend Jazz Fest in New Orleans Martin’s best attributes are his gift of hospitality and friendship (many times co-existing). Thank you.

From my view at 30,000 feet, Ann, Lisa, Pam and Martin have made a positive mark to move CAPRSA forward and the public relations industry is better as a result of their respective leadership.

Plan To Win More Business


By Ken Jacobs, ACC, CPC

Winning new business is one of the most important things you must do for your agency, whether it’s medium sized, small, boutique, or it’s just you and a partner. (Even if that partner might just be a dog.)

And one of the most important things you can do to win that business is to have a written business development plan. (You heard me!) 

I’ve been sharing the “gospel” of the written plan with CAPRSA members for a number of years, via conversations, the Spring Conference Best Of Counselors Academy Pre-Con,  and most recently, a Counselors webinar called “How To Start Winning More New Business, Now!” 

During the webinar, a number of the attendees had wise answers when I asked “Why must you have a written business development plan?” Here’s a selection: 

  • “To keep us accountable.” Dory Anderson, Lemke Anderson
  • “If you don't know where you're going you can't possibly know when you get there.” Mary Deming Barber
  • “To set future direction of the firm” Todd Barish, Indicate Media
  • “To set our strategy and work toward goals.” Natalie Ghidotti, Ghidotti Communications
  • “If it's not written down, it's not going to happen!” Chris Kuban, Chemistry Multimedia
  • “To focus and drive efforts, ensure everyone is on the same page, and approaching the best targets for the business.” Bonnie Shaw, Clearpoint Agency

I agree wholeheartedly. And here’s a recap of nine of the 11 reasons I shared: 

  1. It’s Not Really Optional, Is It?  As an agency owner, you’re not just in the business of PR, marketing communications, social PR, content, etc. You’re in the business of winning new business. The sages tell us if we fail to plan, we’re planning to fail. Doesn’t it make sense to have a (written) plan to succeed? 
  2. Your Agency Will Be Fired, Due To No Fault Of Its Own. They want a bigger agency. A smaller agency. They’re hiring the agency run by their sister-in-law. It’s a fact of agency life that our firms will be fired. Now we’re starting, from what feels like scratch, to rebuild, to make our annual numbers…
  3. Your Budget May Be Reduced, Due To No Fault Of Its Own. Those of us who experienced the “Great” Recession of 2008/9 know that no budget is sacrosanct, and unfortunately, PR/Communications is the first to go. A strategic, active, new business effort allows you to bounce back.
  4. What Do Prospects Perceive About You? When you experience #s 2 or 3, we get out there, pitching every piece of business we can. What do prospects pick up about us? The smell of desperation! And if I may quote myself, “The smell of desperation does not new prospects attract!” At best, we sign on with clients who sense that desperate aroma, and haggle over prices, resulting in absurdly low profitability for us. Until they find a more desperate agency.
  5. Someday You’ll Want to Fire A Client. The aforementioned price haggler. The one asks for explanation over and over and over. Who never presses the button. Who constantly asks for work beyond the agreed-upon scope or budget. OR worse, is abusive to your staff. They deserve to be fired, and life will improve when you do so. An active business development effort allows you to replace the billings you lose when you say “Buh-Bye,” and then some. 
  6. Some Things Worth Having Take a Long Time To Build: If you’ve ever targeted, pursued, created a relationship with, been hired by, and gotten that first check from a dream client, I imagine you’ll acknowledge it took longer than you expected. The time to start this effort is yesterday!
  7. Agencies Must Be Like Sharks: I’m not saying they must be predatory. But just as sharks must keep moving to live, agencies must grow to exist. Why? Are salaries and benefits going down? How about your rent, technology, or other capital investments? Plus, if you’re going to retain and attract talented and ambitious staff, you’ve got to grow the agency to accommodate their career paths. Your agency doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to be bigger than it was last year.
  8. The RFP Hamster Wheel Is An Exercise in Futility. I’m not talking about an RFP from a prospect with whom you’ve been building a relationship. I’m talking about the RFPs that go out to a large list of agencies, seemingly without reason.  They may be perfectly happy with their incumbent. Perhaps they just want new, free ideas. If you look at how many of these “open” RFPs you won last year, I imagine you’ll see a very low win rate. So why keep participating in them? Doesn’t it make sense to use methods where the odds are in your favor?
  9. Writing It Down Makes It Happen. I’ll share three quotes that prove the point: “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” Antoine de Saint Exupéry; “Well begun is half done,” Aristotle; “It’s only a dream until you write it down, Then it becomes a goal,” Emmitt Smith. 

For the other reasons you must have a written business development plan, nine questions you must ask yourself to build the plan, three rules to follow, and the first six steps to do so, please reach out to me personally at ken@jacobscomm.com and I'll share the complete presentation. And if you aren't a member of Counselors, let's change that! Learn more here

Ken Jacobs, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which does two things: 1) Helps communications agencies grow and manage business, improve client relationships, and enhance team performance, communications and leadership skills. It does so via training and consulting; and 2) Empowers corporate and agency PR, and corporate communications leaders and executives to breakthrough results by becoming more inspired and inspiring leaders. He is also a strategic advisor to the Prosper Group.  You can email him here.  

Call For Entries: Counselors Toronto 2018

You've worked hard to build expertise and knowledge - now is the time to share it! The 2018 Counselors Academy Conference will take place from May 6-8 in the beautiful city of Toronto. We are actively building a new conference program that will help agency leaders grow and succeed. Here's where you come in: it's time to take what you know and share it with your colleagues. Our Call for Presentations is now open and will close on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. 

Please visit this link to apply. 

When A Client Leaves: How to Learn from Losing

By Greg Abel


If there’s a single message that’s been drilled into my head from attending the annual Counselors Academy conference the past five years, it’s this: all of your clients will eventually leave. That’s not a terribly uplifting thought, is it? But knowing that simple fact will do wonders to drive behavior in order to maintain a successful and profitable business. Anticipating client turnover can help agency leaders focus on important activities such as: 

PR Agency leaders: Paid leave isn’t about you

By Kate Snyder, APR

In the past year, team members at our eight-person PR agency welcomed two – count ‘em, two – babies to the world. Which means in the span of 12 months, the Piper & Gold family survived two maternity leaves, including my own. 

I was convinced that, as an agency owner, it would be impossible to take more than two weeks off after having a baby. I thought, if I can just get the first two weeks, then I can start checking emails, maybe taking a phone call here or there. I wasn’t sure if I’d want more time out of the office or if I’d be ready to head back, but I didn’t believe I had options, so it didn’t really matter.

Facing and Embracing Risk in Your PR Agency’s Growth Strategy

First, where do you lie on the risk continuum. Are you risk tolerant? Or risk averse? Either way, this doesn’t impact your ability to grow your agency, but the way you do it changes.

Kate Snyder is risk averse and Heather Whaling is very risk tolerant. See how two different scaling agency leaders approach the many challenges.

If we look at the diagram above, there is a cycle to scaling your business from the leadership perspective.

    Firing PR Agency Employees: Best Practices From 11 Agency Leaders

    Firing employees is the hardest thing we, as PR professionals have to do. You've tried to make things work, you've coached them and shifted roles, but they simply aren't fitting in or working out. You want to let them go, but you need to be sure clients have been handled properly, and you are concerned about team morale. 

    How quickly should you move once you've made the decision? What kind of severance package do you offer and how do you communicate to the team and clients? 

    We asked 11 PR agency leaders what they recommend - what is their process?

    Want to do More Speaking? Get Ready for Your Close-up! 

    By Rob Biesenbach

    As leaders and business owners, many of us speak regularly at industry conferences and other events. If you’ve enjoyed some success as a speaker and want to do more of it, one of the most important things you can do is assemble a visual portfolio — photos and video of you in action. 

    Why Pictures and Video Are Essential to Your Success

    After all, pictures are said to be worth a thousand words. (You heard it here first.) And video has become absolutely vital. I’ve done more than 50 speaking engagements in the past two years and have found more and more conferences are asking for video clips as evidence of a speaker’s skills. 

    The Power of Two: Matching our passion with our work 

    One of the challenges we all face is humanizing our passions. During a Counselors Academy event I got to know CAPRSA Member Sheryl Barto, Principal of O Communications. After reviewing her Instagram feed, it was clear she was matching her passion for people with her love of horses. I asked Sheryl to share how she is involved in her community and raising awareness for our profession. Also, how appropriate that April is National Autism Month! - Tom Garrity

    In 2012 I was handling pro bono PR for the local affiliate of Light It Up Blue, an international day which shines a spotlight on autism. I have a son, who is now an adult, on the autism spectrum. One initiative for our Aspen event was to feature celebrity autism parents. Holly Robinson Peete, star of 21 Jump Street, and Rupert Isaacson, author of The Horse Boy, were parents of young boys with autism.  Wait – Horse Boy? I was a life-long, horse-obsessed girl AND I had a son on the autism spectrum. How could I have not heard of this guy? He had a book titled The Horse Boy, and an award- winning documentary by the same name, which was featured at the Sundance Film Festival.  I should also add, I really wanted to be a horse trainer when I graduated high school – but my mom wouldn’t let me. 

    Break Free of the Management Weeds and Become a Real CEO

    By George Rosenberg

    “Can you help me be a real CEO?”

    As an advisor and coach to agency owners for more than 13 years and a former agency CEO, this is a question I hear often. These ambitious and often young agency owners – many of whom typify Counselor’s Academy members -- want to grow significantly, hire and keep the best talent, manage their staffs with excellence, run a profitable firm and feel that they are indeed, successful CEOs. Who wouldn’t want to ? But it ain’t easy!

    Building a successful agency is an incredibly tough job – and an even tougher one for owners who must wear multiple hats and try to do it all. But one job is more critical than all the rest – becoming a real CEO and too many owners are forced to learn on the fly and wonder “what does it take to become a real CEO?”