In honor of Independence Day, we sat down with SHIFT Partner, Jim Joyal, to get his thoughts on SHIFT as an independent PR agency and what that has meant for the Agency since he helped found it in 2003.
After being founded in 2003, SHIFT remains an independent agency. What does that mean to you as a founding partner?
As a quick clarification, we are “independent” in the recognized sense of the world (i.e. not a part of a giant, monolithic agency or holding company) and as a group of (employee) owners. This independence allows us the opportunity to chart our own course, write our own rules and develop a culture that benefits the greater good (as opposed to what is good for public shareholders, or old guard leadership) without having to march lock-step with corporate structures. We can break things and figure them out unencumbered by the rules, regulations and regiments – and possible negative consequences – of the mothership. It’s nice.
Talk about the growing trend of agency acquisitions within the PR industry.
Let’s be honest, 99.9% of gals and guys like us start companies to one day benefit from their effort – to cash out and hopefully find a way to give back to the world that rewarded them so richly. I think we are currently experiencing a wave of acquisitions of companies from my (PR) generation; folks my age and CEO Todd Defren’s age who have been in the game for 15-25 years and want to try something new but bank enough cash to fund and sustain the next chapter of their life. Truth be told, there are not a whole lot of us left to be acquired. However, the next generation of agency owners – those with 8-10 years of agency ownership under their belt– will most certainly start the acquisition cycle all over again in the years to come.
What are agencies like SHIFT doing right that allows them to remain independent?
I’m not sure it’s a question of doing it “right or wrong,” but more a philosophical choice that Todd and I made. Prior to implementing the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), we were – and still are – approached by most of the major agencies and holding companies who recognized our success as a firm, respected the approach we took and wanted us to join their portfolio. But, at the end of the day, it just didn’t feel right to walk away with pocket-fulls of cash when we knew that our success was the result of the team’s efforts and not solely our individual contributions. That’s why the ESOP made so much sense. Every SHIFTer could be rewarded as owners.
What advice would you give to PR pros looking to launch their own independent agency?
Get plenty of sleep, grow a second or third layer of skin, start kissing up to your rich uncle, and learn to LISTEN. Read the DAILY newspaper (not the Daily Show) and bring something unique to the table while balancing it with traditional PR assets. And be patient. There will be pain but the pleasure that follows will have made it all worth the while.
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