Bonus online article: When an agency turns 50

December 5, 2012

Fifty years ago, when Jim Strenski founded Public Communications Inc. (PCI), he created a pattern for our organization we still follow today. Regardless of our client mix, we seek out clients with causes that we can embrace. 

Dick Barry reinforced this philosophy when he joined our Chicago-based agency in 1970 as executive vice president. (He later served as president and CEO until his retirement in 2006.)

In 1998, PRSA presented Jim with the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award for his leadership in public service and willingness to work with pro bono clients. (In 2007, Jill Allread became the second president in PCI’s history to earn the prestigious award.)

Our “believe it, embrace it” culture has led us to concentrate on working with both corporate and nonprofit clients who are “doing good” — and deserve to take credit for it. Our staff takes personal pride in helping promote the National Lung Cancer Partnership’s Free to Breathe events.

Last year, the National Lung Cancer Partnership raised more than $2 million to support cancer research and they are on pace to exceed that this year. With ProCure Treatment Centers, we help cancer patients find an effective alternative to radiation therapy. With Walgreens Complex Therapies, we promote a way for people to be cost-effectively treated at home rather than in hospitals, resulting in fewer adverse events.

Through clients like these and many others, we touch lives.  When we train educators, conservationists, scientists, genetic counselors and engineers — people who do amazing things and invent miraculous devices — we feel good knowing we’ve helped them formulate what they say, write, post or tweet.

Reflecting our core values

Being in business this long, we have worked with dozens of clients celebrating milestone anniversaries with all manner of galas, special events, fundraisers, campaigns and projects.

When it came to planning our own 50th anniversary this year, we looked back with a desire to honor Jim and Dick and all those who helped our agency become what it is today. We wanted to be sure our anniversary reflected the core value on which PCI was founded — serve the public.

To commemorate our celebration, we reached outside our client base and looked for organizations in the community that were not in a position to afford an agency.  We focused on groups that represented each of our five core areas of business and chose service projects that engaged our employees.

We collected 75 pounds of trash in a beach clean-up, created a mosaic out of dominoes at a senior center while observing Martin Luther King Day, facilitated an after-school sports program for Girls In The Game, and participated in a cancer walk with particular relevance, not only because it exemplifies the work we do in health care, but in that we honored the memory of the five-year-old son of one of our former employees and raised $2,000 for pediatric cancer research.
Laughing over truly laughable kick-boxing stances with your colleagues and a group of pre-teens, or wading into Lake Michigan to retrieve plastic bags, orange peels and candy wrappers brings our staff members together. Their and our postings, tweets and comments testify to the camaraderie built through these simple volunteer activities and remind us about the worth of our work.
When we advise clients on their anniversary celebrations we recommend they look outside their organizations and contribute to something meaningful — something that aligns with the mission, purpose or even a brand platform.  The choice of activities is more meaningful when employees are involved, which seems obvious, but is something that is often ignored or forgotten.
We are practicing what we preach by making sure that our anniversary serves as one more opportunity to reflect on the importance of what we do for a living.

5 things that we’ve learned in our 50 years

  1. Success begins and ends with trust — Who we are, the trust we exchange with our clients and the way we conduct our business has allowed us to grow and prosper through good word-of-mouth.
  2. Referrals build business — More than 85 percent of all of our new business inquiries and a full 92 percent of the new business we win come through referrals from those who know us – clients, former clients, partner agencies and colleagues at other agencies. It has been the most cost-efficient and effective way to grow.
  3. Clients like senior counsel — Clients stick with us to a large degree because the owners and officers of the agency lead all our accounts – hands on – no matter the size or scope of work.
  4. It’s never easy — Going in, we prepare for the worst case so our clients feel secure that if there is a problem, it will be handled.
  5. Bottom line, clients prefer steak to sizzle — A client surveyed our understated but engaging and professional lobby and said, “Well I’m relieved to see that you ‘live’ the way you work.” That says it all.
Dorothy Oliver Pirovano, APR
Dorothy Oliver Pirovano, APR, is the CEO of Public Communications Inc., Chicago.


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