I’ve always thought of myself as an optimist who could accomplish anything in life. Optimistic euphoria is a personal addiction that’s hard for me to kick. Of course, throw in a few overly optimistic failures and self-doubt begins to erode confidence and dull the drug. So, one of my secrets to remaining positive has always been to draw inspiration from others who are on the same journey. What’s really cool is I that I didn’t have to look too far this year to find a big source of it.
At the recent PRSA Counselors Academy Conference in Asheville, N.C., I was browsing the conference program to select my next workshop of the day. I ran across an interesting session being presented by my College of Fellows colleague, Elise Mitchell, APR, Fellow PRSA, who is CEO of Mitchell Communications Group in Fayetteville Ark. Something about the title, “Postcards from Dartmouth,” intrigued me. Not knowing what I was in for, I entered her “class” and took a seat right up front.
If you haven’t heard Elise speak, then you don’t know what you’re missing. She’s a highly charged public relations professional and businessperson, who is definitely on the right track — in business and in life. If you were a waning optimist entering the session, you definitely left recharged by some rare kind fuel not known to mankind. It was an alternative energy source of the highest order.
In the course of 60-plus minutes, Elise threw back the curtains on her 15-year journey to create a successful public relations firm — which she built up from nothing to 30 employees and $6 million in billings today — and shared some of her highs and lows along the way. She framed her discussion by describing how a one-week leadership summit at Dartmouth College brought clarity to the vision, values, mission and life of this extremely energetic entrepreneur.
She took the twice-overflowing room on a wild ride that started with her optimism and ended with our feeling like the big winners. I came out of this amazing workshop believing that Elise could easily win “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” in the same season. I jest, but only slightly: Given the way in which the audience buzzed about her presentation for the remainder of the conference, I think everyone in attendance came to idolize her.
As I started to write this blog post today, I reflected on what I actually learned from Elise. Among the many key takeaways, I found these valuable enough to implement immediately within my own agency:
- Show your employees the complete picture of their compensation package at least once a year. Too often, employees consider their salaries and bonuses to be their only financial takeaway. The total package reveals the truth about how much you value your employees in relation to your competitors.
- As your business grows, you may need to revise your infrastructure to keep pace with the increased demands. As her billings swelled, Elise realized her agency needed to hire someone with financial acumen beyond basic bookkeeping skills. A new controller now helps to steward the financial side of her operation.
Finally, I also learned that, sometimes it’s not the story, but how you tell it.
Elise’s enthusiasm, optimism and winning ways were invigorating and infectious, and all public relations practitioners would do well catch what she’s spreading. If you ever attend a conference where Elise is speaking, I’d strongly encourage you to sit in on her session, or at least try to grab five minutes with her at a break. It will be time well spent.
Talk about member value. PRSA dues $225. Counselors Academy Conference $825. Elise Mitchell’s inspiration, optimism and winning ways — priceless.
Bob Frause, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and CEO of the Frause public relations agency in Seattle.