Having managed accounts at two major public relations firms, in 1986 I decided to go out on my own as a provider of video news release services. I started KEF Media in a small office borrowed from a company that did video shooting and editing. I had just one employee and a telephone.
At the time, VNRs were just coming into vogue as a publicity tool and there was really nobody in Chicago, where I lived at the time, offering end-to-end VNR services. I figured my agency background would give me a leg up because I understood how the business worked and what agency account managers wanted. I also knew quite a few Chicago agency people.
Happily, I was right. Before long, things were humming along and, thankfully, they’ve stayed that way these many years later. We now have nearly 30 associates and our own building just outside Atlanta.
As my friend and fellow comrade-in-arms Bob Cohn (who founded Cohn & Wolfe nearly 50 years ago) once told me, it’s an honor to have so many wonderful and dedicated people working under my name.
Looking back, I’m reminded of that old saw, “I never met a man who gave me more trouble than me” because any difficulties I encountered along the way were usually of the self-inflicted variety.
If I could go back to Michigan Avenue on that bright May morning when I hung out my shingle and find 32-year-old Kevin Foley, here is what I’d tell him:
1. Be kind, empathetic and understanding- As a Type A personality, this was hard for me, but there is no excuse for inappropriate behavior. In no way was this helpful or productive. Not surprising, people came and left with frequency during our formative years.
2. Patience- Again, tough for a Type A. In my case, impatience manifested itself in all the wrong ways costing me valuable relationships and even friendships because I didn’t slow down before I sped up.
3. Hire smart people- And let them be smart when you do because, brother, you don’t know everything. Early on I hired with an eye on cost, not quality. Over the last 15 or 16 years, however, I have learned so much from the people I employ and we have prospered as a result.
4. Loyalty- Not just to clients but to those who work for and with you. These are the people who help make you what you are so they deserve your loyalty in return.
5. Never hire friends- It will almost always end badly.
6. Accept defeat- Sometimes you’ll be wrong and you’ll fail. Own it, learn from it, and be candid with clients and those who work for you. Humility is a great teacher.
7. Never accept adequate- Clients can get adequate anywhere. They want and reward exceptional, so always push yourself hard to deliver more than is expected.
8. Know your limits- Don’t try to be all things to all people. If you do, you’ll be nothing to everybody. Stay in your lane and do outstanding work.
9. Listen- To everyone, including the youngest members of your team. Everyone has something to contribute, so don’t think you’re the smartest guy in the room. Shut up and pay special attention, especially to criticism.
10. Enjoy the job- This will be your career, the second most important part of your life after your family. You pass this way just once. Work hard, but it should be rewarding, fun and fulfilling. Never forget that.