PR’s Top Pros Talk…Leadership – Cathy Fink
Cathy Fink, President, Makovsky
Cathy Fink, President, Makovsky, offers insights into the challenges of taking on a leadership role at a legacy PR agency. She shares lessons learned and practices from her experiences at a larger public traded company that can have a positive impact in a smaller organization. Cathy also discusses the evolving role of communications and the increased need for transparency.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CATHY FINK
DOUG: Cathy, thanks so much for joining us. And you’ve got a very interesting challenge, which I’m going to have you share, basically taking over a leadership role at a legacy PR brand Makovsky and having to navigate that and continuing its growth. Why don’t you share some of your takes on the challenges that poses, and how you’re trying to work through them?
CATHY: When I was first approached about coming on and taking over this role, I thought a lot about the firm. And I dug into it, and I learned quite a bit about what a strong brand it was, and what a strong legacy it had, particularly as an independent New York shop and one with a lot of strength in different verticals. And so that was particularly interesting to me as someone who came initially and primarily from that from the healthcare world. So, I was interested in having the opportunity to diversify and really learn from some of the great talent that’s at the firm. But it is, as you said, it’s a legacy firm. It’s been a business for 40 years and the world of communications continues to move at a breakneck pace. And so, it’s important that we as an agency continue to evolve ourselves. And Ken, who’s been the leader of the firm, Ken Makovsky, for quite some time, has really done a great job at that. But I think there is always more to do, and there’s always the next challenger, kind of like nipping at your heels. So, that’s a big part of what I spend my day thinking about.
DOUG: And one of the interesting things is you’ve come from a major publicly held firm, and now you’re at a smaller company. What are some of the lessons from, say, the publicly held firm that are positive that you can bring in to a smaller, independent agency?
CATHY: I think one of the most interesting things has been really the financial discipline that comes from having been part of a publicly traded agency and really looking at things, having to make some tough, you know, sometimes some tough decisions, but really looking at the way the business is run and thinking about what is the most efficient and the most cost effective way to run the business, but by the same token, be a place that we were able to continuously attract and grow not only our talent, but also new clients.
DOUG: And that’s such an important point that a lot of the PR consultants to agencies have emphasized is, you know, if you want to give people raises, you’ve got to be able to charge more for their services and time. And it has to become more valuable for it to be worth it. So, you have to think in terms of how do you increase the value of the output of every employee at the company. And that’s a great way to give them opportunity. You’ve also had tremendous experience in healthcare and now you’re working across multiple verticals in your role. Is there a positive to that? Obviously, healthcare is heavily regulated, to the financial service areas are also regulated. What are things you can take from healthcare and what are some new opportunities because maybe there is a different regulatory environment?
CATHY: The first part of my career I really spent in doing product launches and patient education and disease, state type of work, but then I ultimately moved into doing more of corporate reputation and c-suite type of engagement. And so, I think, of course, that that experience is applicable across verticals. But I also think that while it’s been challenging to come to a new firm during COVID, at the same time, that has made quite a bit of my experience in healthcare much more relevant across some of the other industries. I think, in particular, I think about the importance of internal communications and having your values internally really align with your values externally. Your customers and your employees both really need to have an understanding of what you stand for and who you are and that you practice what you preach, if you will. And so, that I think is something that has become even more clear under the glare of COVID. And so, it’s really something that I think I’ve been able to apply across the board to different clients that that we serve at Makovsky.
DOUG: And to that point, the role of communicators was evolving even before COVID. And that’s just been a huge accelerant for those responsibilities. What are some of the key things that leaders and communicators need to be doing differently and are doing differently now to be successful in this current environment?
CATHY: I think one thing that’s really critical is really increased transparency. I think we all feel that whether you’re leading a firm, or you’re advising clients, of course, that needs to be moderated I think, somewhat depending on your culture, but I think increased transparency is just something that is being demanded of people both from the customers that they serve, supply chain has become something that’s sort of like erupted and become really transparent. And the challenges when the supply chain isn’t working has been something that we’ve all experienced. So, needing to have greater transparency there. Transparency, again, with your values and the relationship that customers have with your brand is also very much rooted in the need for transparency. I think additionally, and this is just something that I think is sort of a hard and fast rule for communicators in general, that at the end of the day, people need to understand who you are and what you stand for, and you really need to do that by stripping away the excess and sort of some of the jargon and the smoke and mirrors, if you will, and communicate in the clearest and the most simple, the simplest way that you can describe who you are and what you stand for.
DOUG: And that would be a great point to wrap up. But I did have one more question that I wanted to share with you. And obviously, there’s been so much of an emphasis on data, data, data. Is there room within that to still be able to trust your gut? And are those necessarily in conflict? Can you both look at what the data is, but still trust your gut to find out what good really looks like in terms of doing your job well?
CATHY: Well, I think data is definitely the name of the game. Data is the name of the game and so is content. Those two things I think are like very much intertwined. And I think that we’re all human beings at the end of the day, and if something speaks to you, and if you know in your gut that something sounds right or something doesn’t sound right, you have to trust your gut. And I think we all know, we’re all pretty sophisticated consumers of information, there’s so much information coming at us all the time. And so, you just really have to pay attention to how you react to something. And probably at the end of the day, you’re right, your gut is telling you the right thing. And nine times out of ten, it’s not going to fail you.
DOUG: Well, whether Ken Makovsky depended on data, or his gut, or both, it seems like he’s made another good choice in his 40-year career to tap you for a leadership role. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
CATHY: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure. Appreciate the opportunity.