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On Inspiration, Optimism and Winning

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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.

About the author

Bob Frause, APR, Fellow PRSA


  • Your post captures the essence of Elise, Bob, and the incredible value of being a Counselors member. Eric Morgenstern, of Morningstar Communications in Kansas City, said it best at dinner during the conference: “Elise is the fifth force of nature.” She is indeed the genuine article.

  • You so eloquently captured what I have been a having an extremely difficult time describing. Elise’s presentation went far beyond talking about the ups and downs of owning a successful firm. She inspired everyone in that room to do better, be better. There was something so dynamic and so empowering about her presentation, I was actually brought to tears.

    Thank you, Bob, for sharing your thoughts. And again, to Elise, for your openness, candor and being a true “bright spot” in this year’s conference.

  • Thank you, Bob, for capturing what I find so valuable about PRSA and Counselors Academy. I always leave these conferences a better person, both professionally and personally, due to all that I learn and the interactions I have with amazing professionals like you and Elise Mitchell. I return to work once again inspired, which for me is priceless.

  • Soooo glad I attended that session. I tried to capture the essence on my blog but couldn’t do it justice (thanks for your PRSAY write-up here), as it was one of those you-had-to-be-there Counselors Academy moments (along with Darryl Salerno’s session, Jay Baer and Indra Gardiner’s session, the Saturday night stand-up comedy routines, and on and on…)

  • I’m in awe of this entire thread. All that excitement and praise for a workshop where the two most important things learned were that you should be open with your employees about their benefits package and you should hire a good accountant. I just don’t know what to say.

  • All of us are both proud and inspired by Elise. Thanks for a terrific summary, Bob.

    For all the senior PR agency counselors: join us at Spring Conference. Year-after-year, this event always provides the single greatest ROI on professional development I’ve ever made.

    Listening to Elise was this year’s highlight.

  • In addition to building a firm that has become the premier place to work for PR professionals in northwest Arkansas, Elise has recruited senior-level PR pros around the country to work with her. I’ve been part of the MCG team for nearly six years now and hope to continue working with her for years to come. Though distance separates us, she makes sure we feel connected to each other and that we share a common vision for how Mitchell Communications Group serves its clients. The tangible lessons she offers in her presentations pale in comparison to the aspirational ones that we should not be satisfied with past accomplishments and must strive to improve ourselves and support each other. If the session was recorded, please share the link so more can benefit from her presentation.

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