Dr. Michael Cacciatore, an assistant professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, was named one of ten educators selected for the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations Educator Fellowship Program. For this fellowship, Mike traveled to Edelman offices in Chicago for a few weeks this summer to observe an active agency environment. Check out Mike’s experience.
I’m writing this post from the Chicago O’Hare airport where my flight back to Atlanta has been delayed. Today was my last day at the Edelman-Chicago office. I spent my last two days shadowing and interacting with people in Edelman’s Consumer marketing team. During that time I was able to sit in on several brainstorming sessions for consumer clients. The sessions were fascinating to observe and it was truly impressive to watch the evolution of ideas in the span of a few hours. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see if any of what I observed in these sessions makes it out for public consumption.
Another highlight from these last two days was learning some of the current realities of life in public relations. A senior vice president took time to share with me some of his favorite PR ideas from the last few years. The pitches were impressive and I was surprised to learn that each had not made it out of the Edelman offices and into practice. However, I learned that the reasons these ideas stalled had nothing to do with their creative content or execution – in fact, clients were just as impressed as I was in the pitches. Rather, ideas were rejected because, for example, they may have cast a different product that the parent company owned in a negative light. It was one of the realities that might not immediately come to mind to those pursuing a career in PR, but it is undoubtedly one of the challenges facing practitioners moving forward.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to say “thanks” to everyone at the Edelman-Chicago office and the Plank Center. I learned a lot through the fellowship and there are a number of things I’ll be bringing back to the classroom this Fall and beyond. I’ve already started to adjust my syllabus materials to incorporate some of the information I was privy to these last two weeks. Everyone at Chicago office was incredible and I cannot stress how much I appreciate the access I was granted. It was wonderful to be able to witness the Edelman culture firsthand and I’m excited to follow the PR tactics for many of the brands that Edelman represents moving forward.
With that, I’ll end my post with some images from my time in Chicago…
I’ve noticed that in my writings I neglected to comment on Edelman-Chicago’s “Service Week,” which occurred during my first week at the office. Service Week is Edelman’s attempt to boost employee engagement, morale, and skills in areas of leadership and teamwork. The Chicago office served as the pilot run for this program and from what I observed and heard it was an undeniable success.
During the week I talked with a number of employees who used the week to volunteer time with worthwhile causes in the Chicagoland area. I also participated in a brainstorming session for one of the office’s pro-bono clients. The session was open to volunteers in the company and it was incredibly well attended. One of the organizers noted that he typically prefers smaller brainstorming sessions, but didn’t want to deny participation for those who volunteered their time. As a result, part of the session involved breaking into sub-groups.
Later, I sat down and talked sustainability with an executive vice president. Once again, the importance of research emerged during our talk. Those working in the “Business + Social Purpose” practice of Edelman often rely on data from the Edelman Trust Barometer to inform their sustainability work. We also talked about the biggest challenges that have faced those working in the sustainability space at Edelman. One key theme emerged: ensuring others understand the precise nature of sustainability and the capabilities of the sustainability team. Although Edelman was an early adopter when it came to embracing sustainability, the program is still relatively new. This is something that the current emphasis on integration and collaboration at Edelman appears to be addressing. Related to this, I learned that many potential clients still think primarily of smaller boutique agencies when it comes to entering the sustainability space. Although Edelman was an early adopter in areas of sustainability, the company still must work hard to ensure others are aware of their work and its value for a client.
Today and yesterday, I spent the bulk of my time shadowing and speaking with members of Edelman’s crisis team. While the Edelman-Chicago offices are an overall fast-moving environment, the crisis team took that speed to a different level. My schedule changed nearly every hour as team members responded to crises concerning their clients. One of my potential interviewees was understandably unable to meet with me as he had to catch a last-minute flight to attend to such a crisis situation.
As part of my shadowing, I was fortunate to attend the weekly crisis team meeting, where team members provided updates on all the active accounts. The meeting went incredibly fast, with little room for superfluous information. I got a sense of the collaborative nature of the crisis team as it seemed nearly all members were available to work on those accounts most in need.
In my one-on-one meetings with members of the team I tried to get a sense of what makes for a successful crisis communicator. I learned that successful members of the crisis team have often spent time working on political campaigns since the nature of crisis work and campaigns often overlap. Other traits of successful crisis team members that came up during my discussions with team members included “deep analytic thinkers,” the ability to quickly switch gears between clients, and a forward-thinking outlook. Several team members described their work as being 60% reactive and 40% proactive, with most of what I observed during those days seeming to fall in the “reactive” category.
Today was the “Chicago Office Summer Celebration.” It took place across the street from the Chicago office in beautiful Millennium Park. There were concerns about rain, but as has been the case since I have been here, the weather turned out to be great (it’s definitely nice to get a respite from the Georgia heat this time of year).
The party started at 11:30am, so it was a light work day. Attendance was strong and the company used the occasion to go over numbers from the previous fiscal year and to discuss some projections moving forward. Leadership, however, kept the overall tone quite lighthearted. For the most part, today was about celebrating the previous year, and more importantly, the people that made it happen.
The firm gave out a number of awards, including recognition of Edelman’s “Rookies of the year” and an honor for the “best team” at the Chicago office. Morale was definitely high and each winner was greeted with applause and raucous hoots and hollers. It was definitely cool to see and it was the perfect way to start the weekend.
During the last two days I had several one-on-one meetings today with senior-level Edelman employees. All were very glowing in their discussions of the company. These discussions, coupled with what I have observed on my own, make it clear that Edelman has done a great job cultivating an environment that keeps employees happy. Many of those I have talked to have noted that the Edelman culture extends to the offices they have visited and worked in across the globe.
That culture will surely be on display later this week when I attend the “Chicago Office Summer Celebration” in Millennium Park. But, don’t let the party fool you. These offices are incredibly busy. My schedule is in constant flux as new meetings emerge on people’s schedules. Everyone I have observed is quite busy and they all put in long days at the office. Everyone seems to really enjoy their work, but make no mistake, the work is hard.
I got a good sense of the larger mission, or “Master Narrative” of Edelman during my talks. The organization has definitely positioned themselves as one of, if not the leader in research-based public relations. This emphasis emerges in nearly every conversation I have in the office. Related to this, I had the opportunity to observe some of the media monitoring tools being used by Edelman Berland. The software is incredible and keeps the company up-to-date on how consumers, media and other audiences are discussing a given client.
I started my day by attending a workshop that was put on for Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN) – an initiative designed to increase the number of women in positions of senior management in the firm – and other interested employees. The focus was on strategies for effective communication and public speaking and it did not disappoint. From the standpoint of an educator, it provided a number of valuable tips and strategies that I’ll be bringing to my lectures in the fall. Equally important, it gave me a sense of employee interactions at the Edelman-Chicago office. It was interesting to see how close-knit everyone in the office is – a somewhat surprising observation given the sheer size of the Chicago office (with more than 600 employees). Participants were active in providing feedback about the workshop and to their peers during the exercises. It seems these types of workshops are the norm rather than the exception around here as Edelman appears to invest heavily in opportunities like this for their employees. If what I observed today is any indication it seems efforts at increasing collaboration at the Chicago office are working…
Later I sat down with a senior vice president who gave me an overview of Edelman’s organization and structure for working with clients. I got a sense of the staggering number of moving parts that are dedicated to a client, as well as how groups in different offices stay informed with one another to keep projects moving smoothly. This same vice president also shared some insights into desirable work qualities that I’ll be sharing in my courses this coming fall.
As the students in any of my classes could attest to, I spend a fair amount of time highlighting the importance of at least a baseline understanding of research methodology for those pursuing employment, internships and other post-college positions in public relations or related fields.
This is why I was so pleased to see the emphasis on research at the Edelman-Chicago office. During my first meeting of the day the focal point was on the interpretation of research findings from a pair of focus groups and a survey of Edelman-Chicago employees. The team is using the findings to inform strategies to better foster collaboration both within and outside the office. As a side note, it was interesting to see that groups like Edelman are putting an emphasis on issues like integration and collaboration, much like in academia.