Counselors Academy: Tom Hoog

Tom HoogTom Hoog, Senior Counselor to the Chairman of Hill and Knowlton got day one of Counselors Academy off to a good start with a refreshingly candid discussion of the key drivers of reputation management.

Hoog framed his issue at the outset: “Lack of trust is a growing problem in all the pillars of society. If we don’t strengthen trust, it will hamper our ability to move the economy and society forward.”

He cited a recent survey of students at 34 U.S. universities that discovered that only 39% would trust government to tell the truth, 22% would trust corporations and a mere 18% would trust the media to tell the truth.

He observed that, over the past eighteen months, we’ve seen several top PR agencies get themselves in trouble. Questioned about whether he believed that Fleishman Hillard’s reputation will be tarnished over several years as a result of the overbilling scandal in Los Angeles, Hoog responded that he expected it would “because all their competitors will use this against them.” He noted that, “It took Hill and Knowlton a full ten years to overcome the Kuwait incident.”

He noted a particular problem for public relations agencies, “In many cases, you are judged by who you represent. If you are representing someone who may be perceived as less than honourable, it will affect your own reputation.”

He added, “In the downturn, we did several things that hurt our reputations. We took business we shouldn’t have. We put junior people on it who didn’t do as good a job as they should have. And this hurt our industry’s reputation.”

His solution? According to Hoog, senior corporate executives must play a role in restoring and sustaining trust. “Executives must live the culture 24/7. … To do this, you must lead and develop your culture from your own value set. Then it is easy to live the brand and culture day in and day out. … [If you do otherwise], people will see you trying to be something that you are not.”

He underlined the importance of a strong, postive corporate culture, noting that senior executives do not have “the ability to keep an eye on everything that is going on. … The lowest person on the totem pole can destroy a reputation just as easily as the top person.”

Hoog also highlighted the problem faced by principals of small and medium-sized consulting firms. “When I was running my own small firm, I became the chief sales person and the top account executive and I did very little to run the firm. This was a terrible mistake. People did not know what I stood for. … It is important that principals in small firms focus on running the firm.”
He contrasted this with the approach that he took when he headed up Hill and Knowlton. At that time, the company had been losing revenue. A turnaround was required.

He started from a couple essential premises.

First, “Client turnover is directly related to staff turnover. A client hates having new people brought into accounts. He who minimizes staff turnover wins.”

Second, “How do you minimize staff turnover? Reputation.” He illustrated this with recent data from the Centre for Creative Leadership that indicates that the top four things on peoples’ list of they they want to work at a company are: number 1, “my thoughts, my opinons are valued;” number 2 “The company I work for is well thought of;” number 3: Career opportunities; and only at number 4, salary. He noted that the first three factors were tightly clustered with a separation of about five points from one to three. Salary trailed another five points behind these.

The solution Hill and Knowlton put in place reflected this understanding:

  • “Our mission statement: We would grow through loyalty-based management.”Loyalty to clients “meant we would give clients ‘best teams’ regardless of geography.”

    H&K changed its bonus program for leaders of offices. “You had to demonstrate that you had given away 20% of the revenue from your office.”

  • “Loyalty to employees meant we would provide them with a career path. We instituted a “two year up or out policy.”
  • To support this, H&K introduced a new training program. Initially the training budget was 6% of total revenues. Once H&K stabilized, it dropped to 4%.
  • “Each employee had to take 30 credit hours per year. If they didn’t take it, they would not be eligible for a raise or a promotion.”
  • “We also put a serious mentoring program sytem into place.”
  • “And a 360 degree review process. It was cumbersome, but it worked.”

All in all, an excellent session. Hoog’s principals and methods can be used by firms both large and small. And while small firms lack the total resources of a giant like Hill and Knowlton, astute managers can choose particular initiatives to introduce to work to improve their situation.

The essential underpinning to any of these measures is that they are firmly grounded in a culture that reflects the values of the leadership of the firm. With this in place, any subsequent measures will ring true with employees and clients alike.

Blogging shines light on PR

Zoey's got her eye on youFree-lance writer Zoey Castelino has been following my blog and those of David Jones and Chris Clarke and she offers some observations on the growing number of PR blogs:

I think this idea of public relations practitioners blogging is a great idea and a smart step in the direction of new and social media. It not only gives their clients a fresh outlook and an idea of what they can do, but also it gives anyone not familiar with the industry a better insight into what goes on behind closed doors.

From my experience, Zoe is absolutely dead-on in her assessment.

Since I started blogging, I have been delighted by the range of people commenting on my blog – not only other pr practitioners, but journalists, clients of our firm and students and teachers of public relations. I have learned a great deal from this conversation and sharpened my own thinking on several issues.

And while there is a certain feeling of vulnerability associated with posting my views on my blog (i.e. Do I reveal my naivete? Are my views unsophisticated or uninformed?), there is real satisfaction in having others respond sincerely and seriously to a post and to realize that I have indeed benefitted from the thinking and experience of people whom I might never have known otherwise .

I can only hope that my blog postings continue to throw light on the business of PR, best practices and life in a consulting firm.

Counselors Academy: Monday afternoon sessions I'm hoping to cover

The afternoon sessions promise a good look at the present and near future:

Julia Hood: Town Hall luncheon interactive conversation with the editor-in-chief of PR Week

Not sure what to expect of this session.

Josh Hallett: Bloggety, Blog, Blog

The conference program says: “From Newsweek’s cover to CNN broadcasts, blogs are the most hyped tool for today’s communicatiors. Find out if the hype’s justified. And discover how our new communications world can evolve into a practitioner’s dream – or nightmare.”

I’m looking forward to this session. Given the profile of its membership, Counselors Academy is a good indicator of the extent to which social media tools have been adopted by small and mid-size firms across North America. At last year’s session in Phoenix, the people who attended Giovanni Rodriguez’s blogging workshop showed only very early awareness of RSS feeds and newsreaders. It will be interesting to see how much farther these media have proliferated in the past yer.

Tom Foremski and Robert French, moderated by Giovanni Rodriguez: The Future of Newspapers/The Future of PR

Another forward looking session. It’s advance billing: “This panel … will look at the financial stress that many newspapers are under and examine a number of possible causes. What does this mean for the future of newspapers? What does this mean for the future of public relations? The panel will debate and discuss a number of recent trends including the impact of Craigslist; competing sources for news; citizen journalism; and new media (blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasts, etc.)” Hmmm. Wonder what the “etc.” could be…

Counselors Academy: Monday morning sessions I'm hoping to cover

So many great sessions at Counselors Academy. I’m forced to make decisions. Here are the sessions I’m hoping to cover on Monday

Tom Hoog: The Key Drivers of Reputation: Management for Agency Executives

The former President and CEO of Hill and Knowlton USA leads a breakout session described as “Agency growth is closely connected to the reputation of your leaders. One of the profession’s most accomplished executives will discuss authentic ways for managing reputation and brand persona for you and your firm.”

Steve Cody: A Future-Driven Vision

The Managing Partner of Peppercom asks the question: “What is your firm doing to develop a shared vision and commitment to the future? [Steve] will discuss the vital role that visioning played in the success of his firm.”

Dick Martin: Keynote presentation

The former Executive Vice-President of Public Relations for AT&T (1997-2003) “will mine his experience for lessons on how organizations should navigate their way through crisis and change.”

Bob Reed: From Mother to Mentor: Professional Development and Training for Today’s Workforce

Oh yeah. I’m up for this one. “Managing and training younger employees can be a challenge. They have perceptions, expectations and habits that can negatively impact how they act and perform on the job. So how do agencies manage younger associates to instill professionalism? And how must agency execs adapt to the needs of today’s workforce? [Bob Reed] will explore the issues and provide answers and information … to help upper management mold less-seasoned employees into productive professionals.”

I’m not sure about the molding. But I sure am keen to help young people succeed.

Counselors Academy: Hyku Sighting

Just arrived at the Westin Harbor Golf Resort (location of the Counselors Academy Spring Conference – a great view of a beautiful city, Savannah).

So, I started looking for a hotspot at one end of the lobby (the riverside bar, where else?) and had to keep moving to the centre of the lobby to find a hotspot (spotty coverage in the hotel lobby). And who was sitting right in the sweet spot? Josh Hallett of hyku. Heck of a nice guy. I’m looking forward to his session tomorrow.

Mesh Day One: Can Blogs Influence Politics?

This session featured a panel of well-known Canadian political columnists Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne along with Brad Davis, the Director of Internet Communications for the Michael Ignatieff Liberal leadership campaign. Warren Kinsella moderated the discussion.

Paul Wells got off a couple of great zingers (doesn’t he always?)

  • “We are being flooded by commentary by people who “don’ know jack, can’t write the english language and give it away for free.”
  • “99.9% of Sun columnists don’t add anything to anyone’s day.” (You have to be Canadian to understand this reference. The Sun Newspaper chain fashioned itself after British tabloids in order to build an audience. They now are having the greatest problems adjusting to sweeping changes in the media market.)

Mesh Day Two: How to Engage the Blogosphere

Michael O’Connor Clarke moderated this panel of Nathan Rudyk, Sarah Spence and David Carter.


Nathan Rudyk

  • “For a small business, you can blog and blog effectively. Use targeted keywords.”

Sarah Spence

  • “First, you need to know what’s happening in your space. Who’s in your space? Who are your competitors? Who’s offering similar services? … Talk not just about you. Talk about your industry. Get engaged in the conversation that’s already going on. Then, develop your own voice.”
    David Carter
  • “The power of blogs is that a blog equals a person.” Have multiple blogs for multiple groups of employees and multiple interests.

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Small to mid-size company: Who’s going to blog? … In a small company, it’s hard to convince senior executives to blog. … In one company, we identified ten people with customer contact. … You can harness those people. … Team blogs. It’s absolutely a way to go. Harness people with passion and put them in a team context.”

Sarah Spence

  • “We’re still figuring out how to enage bloggers. … When I was at Orange, we launched a Microsoft SmartPhone. When we launched what we found were that there were a lot of people out there who were writing about the phone. … One of the PR people realized that there were all kinds of people writing about the phone. … We just started to talk to people. We were transparent about it. … We brought them into our product launches. We gave them products ahead of time so that they could review them.”

David Carter

  • “The conversation is going on without you. And if you don’t get into the conversation, people will talk about you and you won’t have a voice. … To engage these people, first of all you acknowledge them. Thank them and respond to their comments.”

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Om Malik talked about the death of trade press to blogging. … For our clients, we are engaging the bloggers who are becoming, in fact, the new trade press.”

David Carter

  • “To make the case for blogging, I ask clients how much time they spend on emails. And I suggest that they put in an equal amount of time on engaging bloggers.”

Sarah Spence

  • “You can measure conversations, hit rates and comment trackbacks. … A lot of it is about moving organizations to appreciate the accessibility of blogs.”

David Carter

  • The one thing to convince executives to blog: “The conversation is happening without you anyway.”

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Start internally with an internal blog or Wiki.”

Sarah Spence

  • “At Orange, we found our employees were doing it anyway. And you can either harness that or try to ignore it. But you can’t shut it down.”

Sarah Spence

  • “We are just at the point of getting our clients there. And a lot of our clients aren’t ready.”
  • “In pitching bloggers, there’s a difference between the enthusiasts who are already out there discussing a topic and those people you are trying to start a conversation with.”