Public Relations Tactics

Talking Trust and Transparency With Joe Cohen, APR

May 1, 2017

During his career, Joe Cohen, APR, has held executive-level roles in the agency and corporate sectors, including at MWW Public Relations and KIND. Today, he is CCO at Axis Capital. Cohen also served as PRSA’s chair in 2014.

You’re a respected communications leader and highly likable. How has that helped or hindered achieving your goals? 

Much of one’s success relies on the ability to develop relationships and establish trust. Part of what drew me to our industry is the collaborative nature of the work. But you learn that you need to make choices, and trying to please everyone is a recipe for failure. There was a time when I struggled with this. As I grew as a professional, it became clear to me that people will respect you more when you are transparent and willing to hold your ground.

You became a manager and leader at a fairly young age. What challenges arose, and how did you overcome them?

In addition to being young, I looked young. But I was able to counter perceptions of “not being ready” through hard work, preparation and personal presentation. I was conscious of how I spoke, dressed and carried myself, as I understood there was little margin for error.
Having a great support system is also important — at work, at home and through organizations like PRSA. During times of adversity, I’ve always had people I trust that I go to for counsel and leverage as a sounding board.

How do you stay current with the ever-changing PR profession?

The business and media landscape remains in a nearly constant state of evolution and you can easily and quickly be left behind if you don’t make a conscious effort to stay current. 

One of the benefits of being in an agency environment is that you are continuously exposed to insights and innovations that cross multiple categories. When working in-house, you learn a tremendous amount about a given sector but you must make a conscious effort to expand your perspective. 

Being involved in organizations like PRSA, following trade and industry media, going to networking events and making time to learn from younger professionals are all ways to keep one’s finger on the pulse of the profession.

How do the changes in the profession affect your leadership style?

We now live in the era of transparency. Whether it’s managing external or internal relationships, a greater value is placed on being upfront and authentic. Attention spans are also shorter and practicing the discipline to be concise is key. This can admittedly be difficult for me at times! 

Much has been said and written about managing younger employees, who are digital natives and do tend to consume and process information differently. I believe we’re managing through the early stages of a generational shift, and leaders must adjust their style and embrace what can often be a two-way learning process.

You’ve now led communications at both agencies and corporations. How is that the same and different?

The fundamentals of communications do not change but, clearly, there are differences. Agency life can be intense and, at times, relentless, but also extremely gratifying. The ability to gain experience across a diverse range of clients and sectors is invaluable and the creative energy and adrenaline rush that comes with competing for new business can be exhilarating.

On the in-house side, you’re able to go deeper into learning a specific business and you are typically better able to control your schedule. And your role as a counselor is heightened, as you are the communications expert within the organization. 

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


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