Recently I was a guest speaker at Jay Rosenstein’s class on sports public relations at NYU. Jay, a long-time professional acquaintance of mine, has been teaching the course, part of the NYU Masters of Science in Sports Business curriculum, for the past six years. He has been on the corporate and agency side during his 30-plus years in public relations and, like me, has seen a dramatic transformation in our discipline. Jay invited me to provide some perspective and wisdom from the agency side to the16 graduate students in his class. No doubt most of the students were looking for insight and guidance about forging a career path in the world of sports business. Since I had the floor for 90 minutes, I hoped to make this time as valuable as possible for those in attendance. So rather than take a narrow focus, I cast a wide net and discussed how the agency business is evolving as a whole, the skills and experience that are critical to the practitioner, and the opportunities that abound.
I began with a brief anecdote about my mentor, the late Mike Cohen, and how he literally handed me his Rolodex — both of them, actually, which were the size of small Ferris Wheels — my first week on the job and basically said they were mine to exploit. Of course this quaint and outdated notion, an avuncular mentor with a Rolodex on steroids, may not have seemed relevant to everyone.
So after my boy-meets-mentor opening soliloquy, I segued into the foundation of my discussion. I highlighted a compelling presentation that P&G Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard gave at the Council of Public Relations Firms’ annual Critical Issues Forum on October 27 (disclosure: P&G is a Taylor client partner). The theme of the presentation was “The Future of PR.” Pritchard, declaring that “This is PR’s time to shine,” spoke at length about how the discipline has grown from a mere afterthought to a critical component of the integrated marketing mix and provided several case studies of how public relations has made a positive impact on P&G ‘s business. What resonated with me and many of the industry leaders in attendance was his very simple yet powerful three-point call-to-action for agencies as they strive to deliver greater value in the consumer brand marketing space:
- Know brand building
- Stake your claim in digital
- Be adept at big ideas
I pounded these three points home with Jay’s students and underscored the fact that a decade ago, even five years ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that a CMO of Pritchard’s stature would publicly serve as passionate evangelist for our discipline. It seemed to resonate with the students as their eyes widened and heads nodded.
I kept circling back to Pritchard’s three points and emphasized how they were relevant not only to agencies, but to individual practitioners as well. The ability to grasp and embrace brand building – a deep understanding of consumer and landscape insights; a thorough command of social media and an ability to influence in the digital space; thinking big, creatively and strategically. Add it all up and you have the skills set of what I believe is the model for today’s marketing communications professional.
As I concluded my thoughts to this group of aspiring young communicators, I hoped my message was clear: it’s more than just the Rolodex.