ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
March 16, 2012

PRSA Counselors Academy: Austerity Measures and Raising the Bar Do Not Mix


Build on the latest strategies and tactics for senior-level communicators at the PRSA 2012 Counselors Academy Spring Conference, May 6-8, in New Orleans. The conference is designed to help your agency maximize profits, people and potential.  Register Now

I’ll never forget the day the Counselors Academy brochure arrived in the mail.

It was Jan 2009, and my public relations business was almost five years old. I had been growing it every year in double digits and had added an employee in 2008.

And then it all hit the fan and I lost about 40 percent of my business in one fell swoop, and let my one employee go.

It felt like I was back to square one.

I realized at the time I knew a lot about public relations, but I didn’t have a clue about running a public relations business.

That’s when I opened the Counselors Academy brochure — a conference for agency CEOs and leaders about the business side of the agency. I thought long and hard about it. At a time when I was to be implementing austerity measures, I was contemplating a fairly significant expense.

There are two reasons for this post:

  1. I have drunk the Kool-Aid that is Counselors Academy and want to pass the glass around.
  2. Whether Counselors is for you or not, the idea of taking a risk and investing in yourself and/or your business is an important one.

I carried that brochure around for four months before I finally registered. I knew it was exactly what I needed to do to bring my business to the next level, but I was deeply concerned about seeing a return on the expense.

Well, it ended up being the smartest professional decision in my life.

Suddenly, I had access to agency leaders like I couldn’t imagine. I met smart public relations pros who were more than happy to open their books, so to speak, and show me how to run a financially healthy firm. They shared percentage of billable hours, revenue per employee and other things I was never exposed to.

And you know what? That’s outside of the actual sessions.

Agency coaches, attorneys in the creative industries and other agency leaders all come to present and share expertise on stuff such as contracts, human resources and how they grew their agency.

Here’s what really made a difference. I went into this thinking everyone would wonder what little old me was doing there with my solo practice based in a small town in the mountains.

It turned out, people really loved what I was doing. You may not think you’re interesting or that you have a good story to tell, but you do. Sometimes you just need to pull yourself out of your element to find it.

Back to my points:

  1. If you have an agency of one, 10 or 500, I can’t recommend Counselors Academy enough. I’ve met my closest friends and trusted advisers here, and can’t wait to return year after year. Registration is open now. It’s May 6–8 in New Orleans. In fact, Gini Dietrich and Jay Baer are co-keynoting the opening session. And I get no benefit from sharing this with you, other than your eventual adulation.
  2. Maybe Counselors isn’t for you, but something else is, something you’ve wanted to do and have held back. I wanted to raise the bar, and you can’t do that when you’re too focused on austerity measures.

The funny thing is, I met Gini on the first day of the first year I attended. She wrote about that here. I was very jealous because she had planned ahead and had had a road bike delivered to her hotel room.

A few years later, here I am, working with her as chief content officer. My long-range plan didn’t go as intended, but I got a better offer along the way — one I could not refuse.

And that is why, sometimes, you just have to go for it.

So, what are you sitting on? How do you want to raise the bar?

A version of this article originally appeared in Spin Sucks.

Lisa Gerber is the president of Big Leap Creative and the chief content officer of Arment Dietrich’s Spin Sucks blog.

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