This month marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Stanton Communications. I opened the firm after a long and very positive experience at what is now MSL/Publicis. That company had been good to me, but a culture shift increased the emphasis on new business over client service. That wasn’t going to work for me.
I wondered if a firm wholly focused on the client could survive and thrive. With my wife Peg’s encouragement and support, not to mention willingness to go without a paycheck for a while, I decided to find out.
Though I had no prior experience creating or running a business, I at least understood that any company had to stand for something if it was to be credible in the marketplace. From the very beginning, the character of a firm with my name on it would have to embody three foundational attributes:
The public relations industry receives scant credit for integrity. References to spin over substance or hype vs. honesty are commonplace when our profession is described. That is unfortunate given the quality of the professionals in this field and the importance of the work they do.
I never expected that our firm would singlehandedly change the perception of an entire industry, but at minimum it had to go about its work in an ethical, honest and responsible manner. Everyone in the firm understands and accepts that we do for clients what we say we will do. We reject new business that is in conflict with current clients. We bill in a detailed and transparent fashion. These may seem obvious, but one learns quickly in this business, you have only your reputation to represent you. You do well not to damage it along the way.
When Ampex Corporation signed on as our first client in 1989, we made commitments and upheld them throughout our relationship. The result was a multi-year partnership that introduced the then-little understood technology known as high definition television. The opportunity to work on that kind of initiative is a reward in itself, but the greater honor came in knowing the client trusted us, valued our work, and counted on our performance as essential to their success.
Many thanks to David Jensen, then head of corporate communications for Ampex, for taking a chance on us and investing confidence in us. He got us started doing the right kind of work in the right kind of way. We strive to continue in that fashion every day.
There’s a joke one hears in PR circles that says “I went into PR because I couldn’t do math.” The implicit message is that PR doesn’t require much in the way of smarts. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The challenges we are asked to address for clients are multi-dimensional and intricate. They require a very thorough understanding of disparate factors, complex political and cultural considerations, and, increasingly, international sensitivities. True professional communications is an endeavor that transcends conference room brainstorming and goes far beyond the nauseating challenge to produce ideas for generating “buzz.”
My best teachers in this field were very smart. They asked tough questions, applied keen insights and saw the three level chess board in bright relief. Our firm strives to credit them by being truly and fully strategic. We created a disciplined and structured strategic process that today is the centerpiece of nearly every client program we undertake. It is this intelligent initiative that enables our firm to compete with the best and the brightest in our industry. I firmly believe it is why we have been able to thrive for a quarter century in a competitive environment that can be daunting in the extreme.
Jacelyn Swenson, our former client at GE and now with IBM, once told our firm that the most important thing a communications agency can do for its clients is to help them think. It’s one of the smartest and most compelling directions we have received. For us to do that, we ourselves need to think – thoroughly, carefully and with a full appreciation of our clients’ business objectives. We hope Jacelyn is pleased that we listened and adopted her advice.
Only if you think strategically, can you invent creatively. Over our history, we have done many things that are genuinely fun. We helped plan, stage and promote Maryland’s Preakness Celebration festival for more than a decade. We staged special events including a program that featured General Norman Schwarzkopf and Johnny Cash. We helped Denny’s maximize its support for the movie Madagascar and helped Sprint bring to market innovative mobile devices that were the best in their class. These and other initiatives generated sensation, galvanized attention and earned recognition with our industry’s highest honors for creativity.
What we care about most, however, is that they helped our clients win. And in return, our clients have helped us win and sustain an enterprise formed 25 years ago on the simple premise that if we devote ourselves to client service excellence, we are doing what we set out to do.
My heartfelt thanks goes out to every client who engaged us along the way and every professional who put Stanton Communications on their resume and in the process made us an ethical, intelligent and creative firm.