The Power of Creative: Confidence and Continued Education

A Firm Beliefs conversation with Kim Sample

Kim Sample, President of PR Council, recently joined Bob Pearson for an insightful discussion about her career in the public relations industry. Kim shared thoughtful insights from more than three decades in the industry on the importance of agencies communicating their value as well as the concept of “taking your seat at the table.”

Below are highlights from their discussion. 

Bob: I thought the best place to start would be with the startup that you were involved in. You’ve had the experience of starting a firm from scratch – what were some of the joys of doing that? What were some of the learnings?

Kim: It was honestly one of the best moments of my career. I started a firm under the Omnicom umbrella, and we had zero business to start. It was just so exciting to figure out where the opportunity was in the marketplace, what clients needed right then, and how we could give them better service. I think we had such an advantage because we weren’t trying to fix a legacy operation – we could be in the moment and really ask ourselves what exactly does the market need right now.

Bob: Tell us about PR council – what is the role like?

Kim: We have 160 member firms across the US and Canada that have a million dollars in revenue to a billion dollars in revenue. We are pretty laser focused on serving leaders in agencies as we feel like those are places for more junior talent to go develop their careers, while they are also a place to help leaders build more valuable agencies. We’re constantly asking ourselves how to give our agencies a competitive advantage. We’re small, but we’re really trying to create a big impact for our leaders.

Bob: When you think about our industry, we do a lot of great things. There is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of great people, but we also have things we need to learn and address. What issues are ahead of us that we need to really get our heads around?

Kim: Yeah, there are a few things that are really on my mind. Someone shared a data point that 56% of CCOs don’t know how to communicate the value of their agency – that feels like a big problem. And I get it because as an industry, we’re not the best at measurement. So, we’re really interested in helping leaders to improve there.

I think there is a bigger problem though, and it’s not the entire industry, but I think we have a lot of talent who are incredibly smart but they’re still living in a land of tactics and not really conveying the business results that we’re able to achieve for clients. I think we’re in the middle of a transformation where PR can go from being a call center to a value creator – but we’ve all got to get on board, use the right language of business, understand the data points that we have access to, and really sell those.

Bob: Every now and then something comes along that’s a true inflection point and you either make the most of it or you don’t. With the rise of generative AI, are you seeing more firms leaning into it or are we still in observation mode?

Kim: It’s a mixed bag for sure. I think our biggest enemy in the public relations agency business is our level of busyness and just the lack of time. We did a survey recently where we found that 30% of our agencies have an AI policy for employees, 30% are working on it, and 30% don’t have one. That seems problematic because our young people are in two camps – they’re either terrified to experiment and potentially get in trouble with their managers or their clients, or they’re off experimenting, looking for ways to cut their mundane work, and they might be using it in ways that the company’s not comfortable with or that clients don’t know. So, I think getting these policies ironed out, in a living document that is updated every few months, to let employees know what’s in bounds and what isn’t, is super important. And if we’re not encouraging our employees to experiment safely, I think we’re going to lose.

Bob: In your role, you’re trying to help an entire industry learn. 160 organizations are a lot. How is that different? How do you approach it? What works? What doesn’t work?

Kim: It’s challenging because I’m serving a lot of people who are smarter than I am, and they really know their business. One of the things that we found is working really well is bringing together small groups of CEOs. We’ve launched these cohorts and we’re asking them to try to spend a half day together and a dinner twice a year – some of them are spending a lot more time than that and some are spending a little less – but that at least breaks them out of routine and gives them a little bit of time to hear from others.

Bob: One thing I thought would be interesting for you to reflect on is the concept of being at the table. You’re dealing with a lot of CEOs and you’re getting a lot of learnings there. If there’s a common refrain we hear in the industry, it’s people who will say “we need to have a seat at the table.” I’d be very interested in how you’ve carved out a seat at the table for yourself.

Kim: I think part of it is being really relevant to the business challenge or the business opportunity and making sure that I’m really focused on communicating the value that my team and I bring or the value that we create.

Listen to the full episode here:

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