Almost four years ago I started my own business. It’s been about five years since I started blogging. A lot has happened in those last five years. Things I never would have expected (including keynoting a conference, co-founding a successful local conference, and working with a number of Fortune 500 companies). But, compared to the fortunes of a number of other people I know, my achievements appear like mere blips on the radar.
I don’t say that to sell myself short. I say that, instead, because some people have really made tremendous strides in those last five years. And it’s been really fun to watch these people’s progress. After looking into this a bit more, I was really surprised at the number of people I’m connected to in some way, shape or form who have really seen a meteoric rise the lsat few years. Let’s take a look.
2008: Director of Public Relations, Costa DeVault
2013: Owner, Geben Communications
Road to where she is today: Heather started her own agency around the same time I broke out on my own. We’ve shared many stories and tips along the line. We’ve even partnered on a few client engagements. Proud to call Heather a friend–and proud of her work in starting her own shop.
2008: Manager-Research, Dix & Eaton
2013: Group Director-Analytics, WCG
Road to where he is today: I got to know Chuck when he was at his job in Cleveland five-years ago. We worked on the social media track at BlogWorld together, where I got to know him a bit better. And since then, his career has completely took off! And he now possesses one of the more in-demand skill sets in our industry (digital analytics).
2008: Account Coordinator, Risdall McKinney PR
2013: Director-Emerging Media & PR, space 150
Road to where she is today: Lisa’s come a long ways since her days at Risdall McKinney PR. Probably the person locally here in MSP who has made the biggest strides in the last five years. Can’t wait to see where she is five years from NOW! (I’m sure I’ll be reporting to Lisa at some point)
2008: Marketing Analyst, Cox Auto Trader
2013: Social Media Manager, U.S. Cellular
Road to where he is today: Sonny’s progress has been particularly interesting to me as five-plus years ago, I attempted to help Sonny (and friend Scott Hepburn) out when they were looking for jobs. The result? We solidified a friendship and I got to know a pretty good guy. Now, Sonny’s in Chicago, happily married, with a new baby and a successful career.
2008: Higher Education Reporter, Star Tribune
2013: Senior Manager-Corporate PR, Best Buy
Road to where he is today: Five years ago, Jeff was on the media side. Now he’s a PR vet after stints at Augsburg College and HealthPartners. Over at Best Buy now, Jeff’s getting a taste of Fortune 500 life.
2008: Account Supervisor, Weber Shandwick
2013: Director of Social Media, Lifetime Fitness
Road to where he is today: Tony was a lifelong agency guy until his jump to LTF. Now he runs social for one of the largest health clubs in the country.
2008: Social Media Director, Carolyn Grisko & Associates
2013: Vice President-Social & Digital Strategies, Weber Shandwick
Road to where he is today: Got to know Scott while he was in Chicago. Now, he’s leading Weber’s social/digital work in their Seattle office and doing great work (I hear about Scott from my Minneapolis Weber friends from time to time–and got to meet him when I spoke at a PRSA event in Seattle last summer).
2008: Communications Associate, Otaka Energy
2013: Director-Digital Marketing, JCPenney
Road to where he is today: I got to know Sean while he was at Target–and sports blogging (he spoke at the MN Blogger Conference two years ago). Since then, his career has taken off with his recent opportunity at JCPenney.
2008: Marketing Manager, Target
2013: Social Engagement Lead, General Mills
Road to where he is today: With a rich and varied background on the agency and corporate side, it’s no wonder Aaron wound up in a leadership position with one of the bigger corporations in the Twin Cities (General Mills).
2008: Senior Communications Coordinator, Government of Ontario
2013: Senor Vice President, Edelman
Road to where he is today: After meeting Dave a few times at social media events across the country, it’s been fun to watch him flourish at Edelman where he’s now senior vice president. Last I heard, Dave was (probably is) leading a team of 50+ for one of Edelman’s largest North American tech clients.
2008: Director of Digital Strategy-Pierson Grand PR
2013: Product Marketing Manager-Google
Road to where he is today: Adam didn’t make the biggest title jump in five years, but the guy does work for the Google now, which counts for an awful lot (and I’m insanely jealous that he gets to live near the Bay now). Keep in mind, Adam did make a pit stop in Minny, working with Lee Odden over at TopRank.
2008: Mobile marketing spokesperson for the “Hotdogger”
2013: Senior Digital Strategist-Weber Shandwick (Minneapolis)
Road to where he is today: From Hotdogger (so jealous) to Digital Strategiest at one of the biggest PR firms in the world in five short years? I think Mr. Olson is doing something right…
2008: General Counsel, NextStep Solutions
2013: Social Media Leader, Global eTransformation-3M
Road to where he is today: Probably the most interesting change in the last five years on this list, Greg went from corporate attorney to social media lead at one of the largest companies in the Twin Cities (and a pretty big player worldwide in certain segments).
2008: Community Affairs Assistant, City of Westerville
2013: Director of Content + Community Strategy, Geben Communication
Road to where she is today: OK, so I have two folks from Geben Communication on this list. I’m allowed to rave about my friends, right? Amy has gone from a community affairs assistant in Ohio to one of the more in-demand content folks in the business (with a recent stint at Brains on Fire before coming to Geben).
2008: Merchandising Analyst and Social Media Evangelist, Ben Bridge Jewelers
2013: Social Media and Community Manager, Microsoft
Road to where she is today: Veronica took her experience in getting Ben Bridge off the ground with social and turning that into a pretty killer role at Microsoft–just one of the largest tech companies in the world. No big deal.
2008: Worldwide Competitive Response Manager, HP
2013: Social Media Manager, Taylor Made
Road to where she is today: After many years at Hewlett-Packard, Philips took my dream job (one of them anyway) at Taylor Made in San Diego where she serves as social media manager for the golf company.
For some reason (read: my wife), I got sucked into the annual Barbara Walters special featuring the most fascinating people of 2011 a couple weeks back. Some of the folks on her list I did actually find fascinating (Simon Cowell, for example). Others, not so much (the Kardashians–are you kidding me? Aren’t they the OPPOSITE of fascinating?).
But, the show got me thinking about our own industry (PR/digital marketing) and the people I find fascinating as we head into 2012. So, allow me to put on my Barbara Walter guise for a moment. I give you the 13 most fascinating people (in digital PR/marketing) in 2012 (in my opinion).
The Social Media Club co-founder made a big jump in 2011 when he accepted a job at Deloittle Consulting in the firm’s social business unit. Interesting job–and it might signal a shift in firms other than those in the creative industry (Edelman, for example) trying to make headway into the social business arena.
The HARO founder sold HARO in 2012 to Vocus, but worked to hold true to his promise not to change the heart of the popular platform. He also got married toward the tail-end of 2011–always a big life-changing moment. So, what will this mean for the serial entrepeneur in 2012? Not sure, but I know it will be interesting.
With 16 years as a solo PR counselor, Kellye (at left above) certainly has the chops to blog about the solo lifestyle. But, she took that a big step forward in 2011 when she launched the “Pro Membership”–content only available to “Solo” members (read: paid content). It’s an interesting concept, and with such an engaged solo community nationwide (check out the weekly #solopr chat for more), I’m curious to see where this heads in 2012.
Let’s see. In the last two years Heather has: 1) Started a very successful digital PR business in Geben Communication, 2) led the popular #pr20chat, 3) Spoken at numerous conferences and events across the country, 4) live blogged a trip to Haiti after the earthquakes of 2010. I’ve even featured her as “Rock Star” in a previous post. I’ll stop there. Point is, in the last two years, this woman has bit off a whole heckuva lot. So I’m eager to see what she takes on in the year ahead.
The former Fleishman-Hillard senior vice president made a big jump to rival agency, Weber Shandwick this year. Sure, there’s always agency movement, but this seems like a pretty big move. And, he’s playing a key role for the firm’s “Social Business Innovation” group. I’ve never met Matt, but I’ve followed his blog off and on for years–seems like a very smart guy. And, as he teams up with people like Greg Swan, Scott Meis and Stephanie Agresta at Shandwick, I’m interested to see where they can take Shandwick when it comes to “social business.”
I know, some of you are saying it right now. Kristina doesn’t work in PR/marketing–she works in content strategy. But, without content, where are we as marketers and PR counselors in today’s world? She’s in! In all seriousness, Kristina’s fascinating to me for many, many reasons. She’s running what appears to be a gangbusters business in Brain Traffic here in the Twin Cities. She just put on one of the more success conferences (not just content strategy conferences) in the Twin Cities last year in ConFab. And, well, she’s just damn funny. I mean, I don’t know Kristina (need to change that, by the way), but if you follow her on Twitter you can get a taste for the snarkiness. And, I’m gleaning all this from merely what I see online. I’m sure there’s much more depth to her in person 😉
WGC. Olgilvy. Edelman. Sounds like A-list agency list right? It’s also a list of agencies Chuck has worked for in the last three years. And, in that span he’s also went from a manager of research and online reputation at Dix & Eaton (a mid-sized firm in Cleveland) to vice president of analytics at Edelman, one of the most respected agencies in our industry. I think he’s done OK for himself the last few years. But, what makes Chuck more intriguing to me is his focus: Digital analytics. Go ahead–count the number of people you know that focus on this area? You can’t come up with more than 5, can you? Most can’t come up with 3. Chuck’s a thought leader in an area that has few–and an area that needs more. So, I’m especially interested to see how 2012 pans out for him.
I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s work for a while, as one of the founders and bloggers at B2B Social Media (an area I also have a lot of interest in). But, it’s Jeff’s recent move to Randian6 as a social strategist and decision to publish his first book (The B2B Social Media Book with co-author Kipp Bodnar) that puts him on this list. 2012 proves to be an exciting one for Jeff.
Kevin’s an interesting guy. After starting his career on the news side (including 9 years at local outlet, KSTP-TV), Kevin is now working on the social team at General Mills–a pretty interesting job in its own right. His primary job at GM? Content creation for the company blog (A Taste of General Mills) and a host of other social work including measurement and online engagement. And, did I mention he plays a key role for one of the largest Fortune 500 companies in my hometown? Enough to get my attention for 2012.
In 2009, Michael (the guy on the right above) started Social Media Examiner. Two years later, it’s one of the predominant blogs and online publications in our industry with more than 450,000 readers each month. But, the truth is Michael had to reinvent himself a number of years back. He’s went from the king-of-white-papers (at least in southern California) to the publisher of one of the most well-read sites in our industry. Quite the change. And, having heard his story first-hand at BlogWorld this past fall, I’m even more interested to see what’s next for Mr. Stelzner.
There’s a few reasons Tac’s (the fella at left above with Minnesota’s own Lee Odden) intriguing to me. First, I’ve been a fan of his blog for a while now (New Comm Biz). Second, he recently (last summer) took a job heading up Waggener Edstrom’s digital strategies group in London. And lastly, he’s a true geek (and I’m really not). I admire the geeks of the world. Why? To me, if you’re a geek, it means you’re inherently inquisitive. And that means, you’re asking a lot of questions. And that means you’re challenging common perceptions. And that basically means I like how you think. Intriguing–at least to me (and someone I’d like to meet, selfishly).
I’ve long thought Adam was one of the more interesting people on the Twitters. He’s constantly challenging the status quo–and I love folks who constantly go against the grain. Then, take a peek at his resume. 14 years with companies like Fallon. Leo Burnett. Con Agra. And now, Walgreens. And that’s no small job. With more than 8,000 locations across the U.S., Walgreens is our nation’s largest drug store. It’s a huge company. It deals with all sorts of issues and challenges. And Adam’s the leading social voice for the organization. Quite the challenge, but I’m guessing he might be up to the task. Should be interesting to watch this year.
Shelly Kramer (at left above with Adria Richards) is the kind of woman who will get in your face. Put up a fight. Challenge you. And then the next moment, she’ll go out of her way to help you out. At least that’s been my (minimal) experience with her. And, despite how I’ve responded and interacted with Shelly publicly, that’s what I really like about her. Oh, also her Twitter bio (“Luv Milk Duds+Beer”). Oh, and also she’s been a entrepeneur for most (if not all) of her professional career–so, I could probably learn a thing or two from her, too. But mostly, I just find her kinda interesting for no concrete reason. Gotta get down to a Jayhawks game this year so I can finally her (hope she’s not a K-State fan).
Who’s fascinating to you as you look at 2012?
Note: Photos courtesy of jdlasica, CC Chapman, Steve Garfield, Mack Collier, Joshua Kulpa, TopRank Marketing, Ben Spark, Adria Richards and Geoff Livingston via FlickR Creative Commons.
I met Heather Whaling a few years ago. The first thing that I like about her: The Twitter handle (@prtini). But, what has tied Heather and I together is the fact that we both started our businesses at roughly the same time. We’ve shared resources. Advice. And most importantly, just been sounding boards for each other, when needed. We’ve met in person during the last two BlogWorlds (Heather’s been a moderator and speaker)–and not surprisingly, she turned out to be every bit as great as she was “virtually.” Without sounding all fatherly, I’m really proud of Mrs. Whaling. She quit a darn good job in hopes of pursuing her dream of starting her own agency–that’s a tough thing to do. But, she’s doing it. Quite successfully, I might add. I’ll let Heather tell the rest of her story…
You quit your “day job” almost two years ago now and broke off to start your own agency. From our regular chats, it sounds like things are going wonderfully well. But, back in 2009, how did you make that tough decision? And, what have you learned since then that you can share with others that might be considering a similar path?
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two years. Looking back, I can say that leaving my safe, steady job to launch Geben Communication was the best professional decision I’ve ever made.
I was never one of those people who set out to be an entrepreneur. In 2009, my husband and I were living in Florida, but our families were in Ohio, so we wanted to move back north to be closer to family. It was the height of the recession and I’d been toying with the idea of going out on my own. I decided to give it a try. I’m not an overthinker, so I didn’t spend a lot of time overanalyzing the decision. Once I got the idea in my head, I jumped in with both feet and worked really hard to ensure Geben would be a success.
For people who are thinking about starting their own PR consultancy, I’d encourage them to consider the business elements. There are lots of talented PR pros, but you need more than that to run a successful business. You have to be able to move someone along the continuum from prospect to paying client. That doesn’t mean you need a business degree or background. At my core, I’m a PR person. I didn’t have a business degree. So, instead of writing a business plan for the company, I wrote a PR plan. And, I worked the plan – everything from speaking at events and identifying relationship-building opportunities with referral sources … to how I’d incorporate media relations and social media to educate potential clients about the services we offer. It seemed like a natural thing for me to do. Looking back, it was also the right way for me to approach establishing and growing a new company.
What’s one challenge about running a small agency/business that most people don’t often think/talk about? Conversely, what’s one benefit people often overlook?
At Geben, we incorporate some of the best elements of the start-up world, including quick-thinking, responsiveness, collaboration and a “get it done” mentality. As we grow, I’m 100% committed to making sure we never lose that level of service and quality of work. It’s why people come to work with us, so it’s core to who we are and how we work. But, that means scaling is a constant challenge. Not every PR person shares my approach to work and level of responsiveness. Consequently, I’m really picky about who I hire. We’ve tripled in size since January – and fingers crossed, we’ll continue to grow! – but we’ll only grow at a pace where I know we can continue to deliver on the service and quality promises I’ve made to our clients.
As for benefits, there’s too many to list. Most of all though, I appreciate the freedom and flexibility to choose the clients we work with. I mentioned I’m picky about the people I hire. I’m also picky about the clients we work with. Geben helps businesses and organizations integrate their traditional and digital PR efforts. That works best when we work with clients who who see us as an extension of their team … not just as another vendor.
I also refuse to work with jerks. (Seriously, I fired a client once because they were completely rude over a period of time to one of my employees. I’m loyal to the people who I work with. No piece of business is more important than how they are treated.) Nearly two years in to this, I am so appreciative of our clients and the ability to work with them on a daily basis. It’s amazing and humbling.
In addition to your own blog, you’re also a contributing writer for Mashable. Since that’s a title and job most people would love, can you share how you opened that door initially?
It really goes back to PR 101 and relationship building. I was working with a Mashable reporter on a story about one of my clients. We kept in touch and worked together on a few other stories. Then, I asked her if I could interview her for something I was working on. Out of that, we developed a strong relationship and when she was looking for contributing writers, she asked if I would be interested. Of course, I jumped at the chance! Now, I contribute to Mashable and starting this month, I’ll be a regular contributor to Open Forum, focusing on digital PR articles.
What’s the one common question you hear from clients today—and how is your firm addressing it?
We are seeing less of a “bump” from traditional media hits. While those placements are still incredibly valuable for a number of reasons, traditional media relations alone isn’t enough. As a result, clients are intrigued by the potential of working with bloggers. Incorporating blogger relations into the mix creates a new set of opportunities for brands to connect with stakeholders and target audiences. Whether we’re promoting an event, launching a new product or service, or helping our clients position themselves as subject-matter experts – developing relationships with bloggers is critical to what we do. Helping clients connect with existing online communities is a major opportunity for PR.
You’re also a HAPPO champ, and you’re big on giving back to the PR industry. What’s one tip that job seekers might not have heard already that you might share?
I’m a sucker for helping students and young pros get started in PR. Recently, I’ve noticed a number of them saying that they’re not looking on job boards; instead, they’re totally focused on networking to find their first (or next) job. Networking is invaluable, but don’t turn a blind eye to the companies that are posting openings. The job search needs to be a blend of applying for positions found on career boards and developing/cultivating your network. It’s not an either-or situation.
Finally, you’re also a big sports fan. For some reason, you’re a huge Yankees fanatic (who grew up in Ohio—how do Indian fans feel about that?). How did that connection come about? And, how, if at all, do you use that passion for sports in your daily work?
In my defense, I’m from New Jersey and my extended family all lives there. Being a Yankees fan is in my blood. It does make for some interesting conversations with the in-laws, who are Cleveland fans, but that’s a whole separate discussion!
I think my love of sports helped mold me into a pretty competitive person. I love winning (and not in the Charlie Sheen sense!). There’s nothing quite like a prospect choosing to work with us over another firm. The drive to keep “winning” exciting clients motivates me to work harder, smarter and better.