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10 Lessons I Learned in 20 Years with Stratacomm

Let’s fire up The Wayback Machine and set it for August 1998. President Clinton’s affair dominated the headlines. North Korea launched its first satellite. Lauryn Hill launched her first album. An obscure Internet company, Google, was seeking angel investors. And yes, I joined Strat@comm (we later dropped the “@” – a story for another day).

As I reflect on my Stratacomm journey thus far, here are 10 of the many things I’ve learned along the way:

Take calculated risks. I turned down a great offer with a large PR firm to join Stratacomm, a relative startup. It was a better culture fit and among the best decisions of my career. In 2014, we took an even bigger gamble, buying back majority control of Stratacomm from a global PR firm who’d purchased control in 2004. Today, Stratacomm partners answer only to ourselves and are succeeding while controlling our own destiny.

Do fewer things, better. Lots of agencies bill themselves as experts at everything. If only. Stratacomm’s practice groups focus largely on transportation, energy and environment, and infrastructure. We understand and navigate the complexities and nuances of these issues like nobody else. The onset of autonomous vehicles, clean energy and smart cities offers incredible new opportunities ahead and Stratacomm is exceptionally well-positioned to help clients succeed in these fast-evolving areas.

Pursue relentless optimism. Both optimism and pessimism are infectious and often self-fulfilling – choose positivity. In the face of big challenges (like navigating the 2008-2009 recession or other challenges typical in our industry), Stratacomm remains undeterred. If two extremes appear as the only viable options, we get creative and seek out a third way. And those times we do stumble, we get right back up, learn from it, adapt and get stronger. When you believe in yourself and your team and challenge each other to push beyond comfort zones, you will succeed far more often.

Roll with the changes. Back in the day, we put heavy emphasis on traditional media relations. Social media did not exist (and yes, fax machines were still a thing). Today, Stratacomm adeptly communicates across mediums: earned media, paid media/advertising and owned media (social channels, websites, blogs, email marketing, events, etc.); ensuring all campaigns are integrated and harness the reach and power of social media. Online communities and advanced analytics drive research and measurement in ways unavailable a few short years ago. We now look ahead to a new wave of innovations affecting our industry and our clients, like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

Know thyself. In our personal and professional lives, it’s so important to know who we are (strengths, weaknesses, motivators, hot buttons, etc.), how others perceive us and how we interact with the world around us. The Stratacomm partners took personal assessment surveys to map and understand our behavioral differences and we invest in coaching and other activities to gain more self-knowledge to be more effective leaders. It’s invaluable.

Do the right thing. We turned down business we believed was too close to ethical tripwires. We resigned accounts for the same reason. Zero regrets.

Lace up those running shoes. Things move fast in the agency world. It’s sort of like sprinting through a marathon while keeping multiple plates spinning every step of the way. The demands on our time are tight and we are tasked with a wide-range of client and firm responsibilities all at once. Yes, it ebbs and flows, but our people hustle every day to successfully deliver on concurrent high-priority activities with lots of moving parts, different teams, unforgiving deadlines and multiple clients.

Nurture company culture … and fiercely protect it. To retain and recruit the best people, who, in turn give their best to our clients, it’s our partnership group’s job to both lead and serve them. This means hiring diverse, talented and creative people who share our bedrock values of client service, teamwork, innovation, learning, ethics and fun. We strive for a culture of high expectations and low drama. And we provide our teams support, resources and rewards so they can thrive. Our average tenure far exceeds industry averages, our employee surveys are always exceptionally positive – and we were just recognized with a best and brightest company to work for award.

Focus on the customer first. Above all else, we only succeed when we help our clients succeed. We recognize our clients have lots of options, yet they entrust Stratacomm with their time, money and reputations to help solve some of their most pressing business, industry and public service challenges. We must consistently deliver on our commitments and add measurable value. Most importantly, we treat our clients as true partners as we value the relationships and understand they are far more than transactional. I’d put Stratacomm’s client service up against all comers – and our third-party administered client surveys consistently back it up.

Love what you do – or do something else. There is a reason I chose to stay with Stratacomm for 20 years and continuing. The people I work with internally and externally, the challenges we tackle, the creativity we unleash, and the thrill of the win (be it seeing a colleague succeed, delivering for a client or gaining a new one) – makes every day a new adventure. I wouldn’t have it any other way – and look forward to what tomorrow brings.

John F. Fitzpatrick co-manages Stratacomm, a strategic communications consultancy with offices in D.C. and Detroit.