Tuesday, March 22, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Pam Talbot, President and Chief Executive Officer, Edelman US

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The third is Pam Talbot, the president and CEO of Edelman US.

Pam Talbot has dual roles for Edelman Worldwide: she serves as president and chief executive officer of Edelman U.S. and also as manager of Edelman’s worldwide Convergence Marketing Team.

With special expertise in consumer product marketing, she has led the company’s work on Microsoft, Kraft Foods, KFC, The NutraSweet Company and more, and has been recognized as a Public Relations All Star in the consumer products field by Inside PR Magazine.

The Convergence Marketing Team was established at Edelman to address the emerging needs of highly technical companies to inform, educate and motivate consumers as their products moved into the mass marketplace. By combining the skills of Edelman’s Consumer Marketing practice with its specialist skills in technology and/or healthcare, Edelman can help companies succeed in this complex task.

Pam, who joined Edelman in 1972, is based in the Chicago office. She is the winner of three Silver Anvil Awards, the highest honor in the public relations field, as well as several Golden Trumpet Awards from the Publicity Club of Chicago. She is a member of the Public Relations Society of America.


Pam Talbot, President and CEO of Edelman US (and, no, she's not related) Posted by Hello

I have some students that read my blog. So, for their edification, what are you looking for in interns and account coordinators?

We are always looking for people that are really smart. The field is changing so quickly, we have to find people that are flexible, can learn things quickly and are intensely curious.

There also needs to be an appetite for work - people that are going to be dedicated to the craft, and who put the time and energy into learning the industry and how it changes.

Overall, people that have intelligence, curiosity and an appetite for hard work.

What do you see as the difference between PR and publicity?

Publicists are a subset of public relations. Publicity is often a great tactic - a tactical expression of PR.

PR is a much broader field that is all about marketing, interacting with publicity.

However, publicity is becoming more complex than it ever was in the past. To be superb at publicity is a skill that not too many people have.

With the time cycles - media affecting media - but primarily because so much has moved online, and there are so many more outlets, more personal styles, and the adaptation to different types of outlets that are conversational in tone, the online world has changed a lot, with an explosion of new media. It is this new territory that has changed how publicists work, and why the new publicist has to be superb at their job.

Plus, the way that the media is influenced has changed a lot also, so stories and story ideas are coming from various directions.

It will only get more crazed - and the tactics that we used in the past will be under more and more scrutiny, like the recent VNR stories.

In a sense, Edelman is a family business. What is it like rising through the ranks at a family business?

It's hard to compare what it's like at other companies, since I've been here since the early stages.

Like any good companies, though, it is a meritocracy. A person will rise through the ranks based on what you bring to the company, based on abilities to get along with peers, as well as the family.

There is a control at the top, as with any company you want to influence and have respect from the top people. In this case, it just happens to be family members.

You've had a 30+ year career at Edelman, which is unheard of in today's PR world with layoffs and title jumping. What do you credit your longevity to?

There are a couple of things that I look at: the type of person I am and my loyalty to people who treat me well. Plus, things have gone well for me at the firm.

I have a relationship with the company, and with my clients. I do great things for both of them, and they do great things for me. Like any good relationship, it's built on trust.

Plus, I have the work ethic and work style of the Edelmans: serious, committed, doing a good job, and intensity. I have been able to move forward at a rapid pace as the company has grown. I have been a part of the growth, and stimulated by it.

We have a great symbiotic relationship, built on stamina. As long as that dynamic continues, I will continue at the firm.

Edelman bucks the NYC trend with having its HQ in Chicago. What it's like to be in Chicago as opposed to NYC?

Edelman actually has dual headquarters in New York and Chicago.

The benefit of having Chicago as a co-HQ, is that it balances the sensibilities a little bit.

New York is the vibrant center for communications and media, but a huge part of the country has those Midwest sensibilities that we are able to bring from Chicago. It's the Midwest values, and pace of life - a different sense of who we are talking to - that grounds the company. It makes the company earnest, a little accessible to all employees. The Chicago mindset gives us a good set of integrity and values.

When a company is driven out of a single, New York HQ, it clouds the view that everyone is like NYC.

With a lot of the independent agencies posting good, double digit growth – some close to their 2000 billing levels – how come we haven’t seen hiring levels rise back to the same level?

People are hiring, but there is still a little bit of lag. The firms are scared and we went through some hard times.

This is the first time that I can remember laying off people since I've been in such a position to provide input on layoffs. We don't want to repeat that, so we are moving much more slowly this time around.

And, while we did lay off people, we did not lay off as many people as we could have. We wanted to keep the people, and grow into the revenues. We still have capacity that isn't fully utilized with people getting back to billable.

One thing that the downturn taught the agency was about productivity. We learned how to be more productive, sending the right people to the meetings, and not everyone. It's forced us to have better time management.

We're hiring people, people have been hired away from us - the market is quite heated right now.

With all the technology hype that is coming out of Silicon Valley, do you worry about another dot-com boom and bust in PR? Do you think PR has learned from the past, or are we condemned to repeat it?

For the moment, are we going to go through another bubble period? Of course - as a whole, our industry is staffed by people and by nature, people do not remember the lessons of the past. The next bubble will not have the same hallmarks as the past, so we will not be able to predict it.

There is always a greed factor, and the money is there and you want to grow. There's a great possibility that the industry will repeat its mistakes from the dot-com era.

This time, it is different since people do acutely remember the bust. They are assessing likelihoods of client success, and being more realistic on fees. There is more care and skepticism, but as an industry, we are susceptible to getting caught up in the hype.

You have a reputation for an agency that works its people hard, a sweatshop. What is your response to that, and how do you work with your employees to make sure they have a good work/life balance?

A sweatshop is a place that people work hard, with no gratification. Or, a place that is just toiling with no forward movement.

People do work hard here, and people do work long hours.

The difference is that people at Edelman are highly motivated, are having a good time at work, are feeling fulfiled, are moving forward and enjoy what they are doing.

That is a hard thing to do - to find the work/life balance. Our employees work harder than we expect and want them to. One thing that happens is they model themselves after their bosses and their bosses' bosses - they stay late and working late, but also find that balance to make sure they have a life outside the office.

One thing we have done is built in more holidays into the calendar. In the past, we used to be open all the time. We now close down the offices and make all holidays required, so we aren't always open. In the past, people took no holidays when it was an open schedule.

A second thing - we communicate how important it is to have a life outside the company. By having a life outside the company, you bring more to the company. Looking back in life, it is important to realize the importance of personal time, family and friends.

Edelman actually has a plank in our vision, living in color. We want well-rounded people who experience life in the broader sense (theater, reading books, watching/playing with kids), then bring that knowledge and sensitivity to the company. That experience is absolutely fundamental to growing as a PR person and our agency.

How has Richard's blog, Speak Up, helped the agency in securing new business?

Indirectly, with Richard participating in this new realm, it helps make everyone more aware and sensitive to it within the firm. The blog lets Richard share some insight with companies that are interested in the blogosphere.

Richard is smart and it comes through in the blog. It shows a connectedness to the world for the company.

Are you doing more with blogs, and thinking of setting up a blogging practice for clients?

Blogging is a confusing world right now, but it's important to understand it, the impact it is having, understand who is doing what right now (to the degree you can) and whether it matters to the clients from an executive perspective.

We have a very vibrant interactive practice, and we are doing internal and client seminars. We are working to get more people educated in this new realm of communications. We want to understand the area.

We will not have a distinct practice, but have people that can counsel groups at our firm. It's another form of media, expression. A blogging practice should not be broken up entirely into its own group, but since it is new, we have to spend some time learning it.

From recruiters, I have heard that there seems to be a missing generation of PR people – the SAE level. What level do you find the hardest to find right now?

For us, it is not the AE level. It's harder to find the AS, SAS and VP levels. That was the group that was washed out during the layoffs.

If you look back, the layoffs came at 2002 - people that were at the AE levels would now be at the AS level. Those are the people that washed out.

During the layoffs, you couldn't catch the numbers by just letting go of the entry level people.

It has always been hard to find good AEs, but it's the AS to VP level that is the precious level.

When did PR shift to being just media relations, with little strategy and tactics? Are we going to see it swing back?

PR has moved away from media relations, but should swing back. For Edelman, PR has certainly become media relations at its heart, but moved beyond media relations. We have never swung to media relations, but push the definition.

We're very much part of strategy and counsel, working with clients and internal groups to develop messaging for future products.

The relationships we develop with clients are where we have a seat at the table thinking through the high-level objectives. We aren't talking about just media results, but what the marketplace outcomes are.

What are some of the proudest moments or campaigns in your career?

There are too many to name, and there's been so much that I have worked on that I am proud of.

How has technology changed public relations? Do you see people depending too much on technology? A phone phobia for the younger generation that isn’t used to cold calling?

The biggest way technology has changed our culture is face-to-face communications, the decreased interactivity. It's a negative.

Positively, technology has increased the way we can communicate with clients and medias.

Plus, there is so much more information at our fingertips that we can incorporate into our thinking - pitches, strategies - that it has made us much smarter and more educated, which only helps our clients and our firm.

It's a new thinking and education into everyday uses that we apply for our clients.

You sent two people to the New Communications Forum. Do you feel that such events are helpful to the agency as a whole, sending colleagues to events to mindshare the experience for the greater good?

Such experiences marginally help the overall firm. We need to do a better job internally to share what we learn and know within the system.

Sending people is good for the people, and we send a lot of people to a lot of different events. This does have an impact on the company, but not to the degree that it should.

Public Relations seems to be under fire right now - both internally and externally - with the different crises of late, including the latest NYT article on VNR’s. With his blog, Richard has become a spokesman for the industry, using his blog and power for the better of the industry. What do you think is the biggest issue for PR in 2005 and beyond? Can PR survive the recent spate of bad news?

Public Relations will survive the recent spate of bad news. Once you are in the spotlight, everyone finds a new story to write on, but it's the same story being written over and over again, with a slight twist.

The recent press attention is proof of the power of PR. Not too many years ago, we would have died at this amount of attention paid to us.

We do have an impact on the world, and are growing into the role we are playing. Public Relations professionals need to take our industry and ethics more seriously.

Look at most people in the industry and watch their day. Or, watch them over the month or a year, and what we do is good and ethical. Most of the people in the industry have ethics and this is a passing issue.

We do have to pay attention to the ethics - not just what is in the spotlight, but the changing nature of media and PR. It is all coming together in new ways. It is redefining the new ways to do PR.

What is PR? It is a more complex environment to define what is right and what is wrong.

Any last words or advice for PR people?

We're in a time of enormous change for PR and need to be acutely aware. We need to be on guard, but excited. There are more opportunities than even before, but we are at a crossroads of redefining the industry.

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