“I call that a bargain, the best I ever had.”
– Pete Townshend
While I’d often heard it pays to learn a musical instrument, little did I know it would one day become of the most important keys to my career.
By day (and nights, all too often), I’m a public relations counselor. Have been since 1985 when I was lucky enough to stumble into a dream job at Epley Associates. But on nights, weekends and occasionally some really tough days, I’m a guitarist. That’s my true passion.
I started on the road to being the next Pete Townshend when I was 13 and “liberated” (okay, stole…) one of my brother’s guitars. And while I never quite reached that original goal, I did find I had a knack for making the guitar sound less than objectionable (at the very least, no one threw things at me…).
So what does this have to do with my professional career?
About 20 years ago, my good friend and then-boss, Mike Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA, asked me to join him in a talent show at something called the PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference in St. Petersburg, Fla. Mike had been a professional musician in his younger years and is blessed with a magnificent voice and stage presence. We performed three songs, and when we finished, the room erupted in thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Later that night, we played our guitars on the hotel’s back deck, drank exceptionally good single-malt scotch (Bowmore for those of you keeping score) and led a sing-a-long of rock, blues and country songs that lasted until early morning.
In addition to a warm memory and a new favorite scotch, I left St. Pete with something much more valuable. I’d found and plundered a virtual treasure trove of professional knowledge, ideas and energy that were there for the taking. I’d met and learned from some of the world’s best and brightest public relations and business experts who readily shared the secrets of their success.
Since then, I’ve crisscrossed the continent attending every Spring Conference except two – one when I had a client conflict and one that was scheduled the week of my wedding.
In no uncertain terms, Spring Conferences have been one of the single most important and valuable professional and business development investments I’ve made in what’s approaching a 30-year career. As a member of Epley’s senior management team and then later at The Catevo Group, I was able to put to use information and insights learned at Spring Conferences on a full range of business issues:
- Attracting and retaining top talent
- Managing billing, dashboards and financial accounting
- Avoiding common ethical and legal pitfalls
- Increasing profitability
- Improving client service and retention
- Creating a successful and sustainable new business development program
- Coordinating M&A activities
- Leveraging new technology to increase profits
- Getting on top of emerging trends in business and politics
- Cultivating a culture of creativity and entrepreneurship
As helpful as CAPRSA was to me as a senior executive in a mid-size firm, its true value became crystal clear in 2009 when my partner and I launched our own firm, Forge Communications. From Day One, I knew exactly what to do to get our firm up and running smoothly, efficiently and, most important, profitably. There was no guesswork involved for us in figuring out client contracts, vendor management, fee schedules, business development, branding and time management. Virtually everything I needed I had learned at the various Spring Conferences I’d attended. It was a seamless start, and it’s been a (mostly) seamless five years in business.
And when I faced challenges or problems along the way, my Counselors buddies were always ready, willing and able to share best practices, lessons learned and the wisdom gained through the school of hard knocks. If you have a problem, you can trust that at least one CAPRSA member (and probably 30 others) have been there, done it and have the t-shirt and whip marks to prove it. And every one of them will be more than willing to sit down and help you work through your own special challenge.
The best and the brightest public relations minds all in one place to share ideas, information and insights – all for the price of a song.
The Who were spot on: “I call that a bargain, the best I ever had.”
Long live rock – and CAPRSA.