20 for 20: Lessons learned from a look back through two decades of agency leadership

January 7th 2015

The celebration of Mfa’s 20th year of business has forced a lot of reflection on just how far the firm has come. I’ve never been shy about admitting that I didn’t actually intend to start an agency. After all, I was helping a friend in exchange for office space and on Day 1 received a call from a former colleague who needed help on another project.  This quickly snowballed into a growing client roster. Two decades and five office spaces later, there are many proud moments woven into the Mfa story. I’ve also found myself in awe of how much the PR industry as a whole has evolved.

As fun as it is to reminisce about larger than life events and iconic moments-in-time that we’re so grateful to have been a part of, I have really focused on looking back primarily through a learning lens, in the hope that we can better predict what’s to come. These are the lessons that my staff has essentially strong-armed me into sharing publicly – something that I’ve vowed to embrace more in our 21styear!

  1. As much as the media landscape has and will continue to change, good storytelling always reigns supreme.
  2. You’ll have to humor me with a quick walk down memory lane with mentions of faxed pitches and press releases, cutting out and taping up clips for coverage binders, and tracking down media contacts through the Bacon’s books. It goes without saying that technology has changed the way we work. I’m sure the dawn of electronic clipping alone has saved millions of trees.
  3.  Always listen to and trust your instincts. In general, we communicators are an intuitive group, which is also a part of why we get hired! Pay attention to those specific pieces of information that resonate with you or the conversation you subconsciously keep coming back to. Tune into your instincts and use them to your advantage.
  4. A true pro can recognize a shift in the media landscape before it happens and prepare a proactive response before it’s needed.
  5. While it’s a difficult call to make, walking away is sometimes the right thing to do. Whether it’s not a great fit or just the right time to end a long-term partnership, addressing an unfixable relationship can help boost staff morale, prevent a reputation issue and free up energy to put into more positive and profitable ventures.
  6. A good laugh and spa visit is never a bad idea!
  7. A little bit of luck (or maybe it’s good karma?!) typically plays into the best turn of events. The skill to hone is recognizing exactly when the pendulum is swinging your way, in order to fully capitalize on a situation.
  8. We often hear that we have a highly inclusive culture – we’re both an Mfa family and a thriving business. We pride ourselves on recognizing the importance of offering staff at any level the opportunity to work on accounts and in businesses they are passionate about.
  9. Professional coaching is a wise investment in building a happy and productive team. Come to think of it, Summer Fridays, visits to the Shake Shack and gym memberships also fall into that category!
  10. The office is, quite literally, much quieter these days! While the majority of our staff pitch and correspond with media through email and various social platforms, we continually work on everyone’s ability to provide a smart verbal pitch or update. I also still believe nothing beats a good conversation and that there is power in picking up the phone or taking media out for a run, yoga class, or a great meal.
  11. If a task will take you two minutes or less to complete, skip adding it to your to-do’s and just handle it immediately.
  12. A good manager will groom a team that can boil down a lot of information into a timely, useful and translatable piece of information for media.
  13. One of the biggest challenges in the electronic-media age has been perfecting the art of merchandising a win. As much as clients understand the importance of blog and .com coverage, it’s hard to beat a big, glossy, printed cover. What we often recommend is an analysis of how digital hits have a direct impact on the client’s bottom line, which can typically be found through Google Analytics or calls to the brand’s customer service line.
  14. My personal news consumption has changed in numerous ways. In particular, I now rely most heavily on my iPhone first thing in the morning and last thing before bed for a quick catch up on the news.

The continual evolution of the media landscape is exciting, especially for those of us that can never seem to get enough information. Trends in related industries and various thoughts on leadership are among my favorite topics to peruse as I wander the pages of theHarvard Business Review, Fast Company, NY Mag’s The Cut, NYT, Washington Post, THE WEEK, PSFK and Refinery 29.

  1. The importance of a solid client relationship is timeless. What continues to shift is the content and method of delivery for client updates and trend forecasting information.
  2. PR is an art and a valuable tool for every organization. It’s also fun! I try to remind our staff of this as much as possible. Enjoy the journey and embrace the opportunities! (This is PR, not the ER.)
  3. Bruce Springsteen still rocks our world.
  4. Our simple strategy of working with brands we admire and people we like has proven to be timeless.
  5. Relationships are important! The majority of our work comes through staffers, media friends and clients that move on or share a reference. Putting effort into building strong relationships that will last the test of time does indeed pay off.
  6. The power of your brand is found in the team that you build.

By: Missy Farren, Founder and CEO

CATEGORY TAGS: Bylines, Mfa News

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