Finn Partners – Inspired

We at Finn Partners are Inspired by many things: A photo, a song, a news story, our clients - and each other. This blog is an opportunity to tell our story and to share our challenges, successes and motivations with you.


3 Lessons on How to Keep Clients Relevant at SXSW Interactive

A large-scale event like SXSW Interactive is often intimidating and overwhelming for any attendee, especially for companies and organizations that are pretty old-school amongst a sea of the hippest and coolest new companies. The constantly evolving world of tech can be a daunting one and it’s easy to go unnoticed when you’re in the presence of the Googles and Samsungs of the world.

This year was my first time attending SXSW on behalf of Finn client IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity. While IEEE is considerably conservative compared to the plethora of shiny new start-ups, we were able to hold our own, garnering placements in top-tier tech publications such as Mashable and Popular Science. So, how did a traditional organization like IEEE find a way stand out?

1. Focus on the hottest industry topics. It feels as though a day doesn’t pass when we don’t hear about another hack or breach of cyber security. We live in a connected world, where computers mediate our perceptions of reality, and the industry is more concerned than ever about what will happen when the world as we know it fuses with virtual reality with all the various streams of content, personal data, sensors, cameras and implantable or wearable devices. At SXSW Interactive, IEEE pulled together and hosted the Future of Identity Series, which featured a diverse roster of creative visionaries and technology innovators, and explored the impact of converging technology on our concept of self, privacy and security. In order to acquire the maximum presence possible at your clients’ panels, make sure to listen to what your industry currently cares about and capitalize on it.

2. Pick a social issue that your client can get behind. The absence of gender diversity in tech received mass attention at SXSW Interactive this year. Therefore, IEEE’s Women in Tech Summit was a perfect opportunity for IEEE to join the conversation. Attendees ranged from young female engineers to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer (and former Googler), Megan Smith, among many other notable guests from organizations such as NASA! The event was a huge success (and a blast!) and it is vital for influential organizations to make their footprint and attempt to tackle relevant social issues in their industries.

3. Bring in a celebrity or featured guest. This one may be a little more difficult, but if you have the opportunity, bring in a person of note on behalf of your company or organization. At this year’s SXSW, IEEE tapped Hugh Herr, IEEE member and head of MIT’s Biomechatronics research group, to deliver a keynote speech as part of IEEE’s Future of Identity Series. Needless to say, this garnered much attention for IEEE and really elevated the organization’s presence at SXSW.

And finally, as the last unofficial lesson from SXSW Interactive, but one of the most important of all: have fun! A lot of work goes into big events and it’s imperative to enjoy yourself and enjoy the ride – it’s over before you know it.



It’s Time to Start Paying Attention to Intention: Some Lessons from Social Media Week New York

Be honest. How often have you shared or retweeted an article without reading it? How often have you opened a blog post and just read the first paragraph before moving on? Did you really feel connected to the story and the people providing their expertise on the matter discussed?

This week, I attended a presentation by Michael Zimbalist, SVP of Advertising Products and R&D at The New York Times, entitled, “Measuring Attention and Intention.” Michael spoke about how his department was taking a closer look at the relationship between readers’ attention and intention in an effort to help those of us in the audience understand how brands can create more engaging original content.

Not surprisingly, Michael’s team had discovered that the longer an ad could capture a person’s attention, the more deeply that person engaged with the brand or product. Because of this, the team is now focusing on ways to keep people on the page with sponsored content for longer periods of time. For example, the Financial Times is now charging advertisers by the length of time a reader looks at an ad or sponsored item instead of the number of clicks or shares the content generates.

While Michael’s presentation focused on advertising, he did let us know that the Times’ editorial staff has access to some of the same tracking engines and can use them to gauge what’s popular with readers. Therefore, on both sides of the earned and owned media coin, PR professionals should keep a keen eye on the quality of storytelling versus the volume of story installments: the tweets, blog posts, videos and infographics that create a brand’s overall narrative.

What can we learn from Times’ focus on this relationship between attention and intention? For one thing, it is more crucial than ever to be selective and focus on the quality information we share. There is too much noise to constantly bombard reporters and their readers with every single incremental announcement a brand makes. It’s also inaccurate to measure success solely on the number page views, re-tweets or posts. To fully engage an audience, a brand must translate people’s intent to understand a message into their undivided attention to the story.


Finn Partners Continues Its Rapid Growth with Two Acquisitions in Nashville, Tennessee

I am very pleased to announce that Finn Partners has come to an agreement to acquire two firms in Nashville, Tennessee. The two firms are Seigenthaler Public Relations and DVL Public Relations & Advertising. The two firms will combine into a new entity which will be known as DVL Seigenthaler, a Finn Partners Company.

The Nashville region’s diverse economy is on a very strong growth track and we are excited to become part of it. The city’s ascendency and its innumerable attributes have been the subject of numerous national news profiles, many of them noting its booming healthcare industry, eclectic cultural scene, rising universities, prime location and welcoming vibe. In fact, a Time magazine story entitled ‘The South’s Red-Hot Town’ articulated what data clearly demonstrate: Nashville “has had the strongest employment growth of any large metropolis since the Great Recession”.

The combined firm will be by far the largest PR agency in Nashville, and will be one of the largest in the entire Southeast region of the United States. Finn Partners will be the only global PR firm with a presence in Nashville, a market that is expanding at a rapid pace, and home to many of the nation’s largest companies. The two firms together have about $11 million in annual fees, and the combined staff will total about 80 people. Their clients include Airbus DS Communications, AMSURG, Bridgestone Americas, Inc., Brown Forman, Electronic Recyclers International, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, JM Smucker Co., LifePoint Hospitals, Inc., the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, Nashville Electric Service, Natural Resources Defense Council, Regents Financial Corp., and Singer Sewing Company.

Both DVL and Seigenthaler have terrific teams and will bring important added resources to Finn Partners. Both firms are extremely well known and respected in Nashville. The Seigenthaler family is legendary in that market. Both Ronald Roberts, the CEO of DVL, and Beth Seigenthaler Courtney, the CEO of Seigenthaler PR, serve on many boards of business, education and philanthropic organizations, and have strong relationships with the media, with business leaders and with elected officials in the greater Nashville region.

We believe that the management teams of both firms are a really good fit for the Finn Partners culture. They are very excited about joining Finn Partners, and we are excited to have them become part of our team

DVL has a strong advertising/creative/digital team that will join forces with Finn Partners Digital. All together, we will have about 50 people in our combined digital and creative services department.

With these acquisitions, the overall annualized fees for Finn Partners is about $65 million, and we will grow from 370 to about 450 employees.

With these two acquisitions Finn Partners remains one of the fastest-growing independent US-based PR agencies. We are excited by the path we are on, and look forward to continuing to strengthen our resources so that we can provide our clients with the very best services possible while at the same time offering a great work environment with a clear professional growth path for our employees.


Technology + Creativity = Magic: What can creatives learn from CES 2015?

It was clear that engineers, product designers and entrepreneurs were inspired at CES this year. Everywhere you looked, there was a beautiful display of skilled engineering and the application of the advanced technologies available. Finding new ways to combine sensors, tiny cameras, advanced display, connectivity, and mechanics have resulted in some of the most exciting products from CES 2015; AmpStrip fitness monitor, Bragi’s Dash truly wireless headphones, MagicBook augmented reality book companion, 3Doodler 3D printer pen. They have also given us some of the most ridiculous (are we really so lazy that we can’t adjust our own belts?) innovations.


The balance of tension between both technology and creativity make the difference between genius and ridiculous. It’s a lucky mix of methodology, data and technology along with just the right amount of serendipity. Just because a technology makes something possible, doesn’t mean it has a legitimate purpose. That’s just technology for technology’s sake. Without applying creativity in order to solve a real problem through technology, create improvements, or otherwise add value to our lives, it’s just a silly mess of sensors and wires.

A former client of mine always said, consumers don’t care about technology – they care about what they can do with it.

I believe the winners at CES were the ones that found ways to apply both creativity and technology, and sometimes a bit of audacity, to change the way we think about something. These advancements open our eyes to a whole new world of possibilities and give us something so simple, powerful and amazing that we wonder why we never knew we needed it in the first place.

As communicators and marketers, we are sometimes guilty of the opposite. When we are creative for creativity’s sake, we lose sight of the goal. We lose touch with reality, we lose our audience, we dilute our message, or we fail to show a return. Our audience doesn’t care about how creative we are – they care about how our creativity makes them feel, how it speaks to them.

The truly great creative brands are the ones that find new ways to combine the new communication technologies available to us with thoughtful creativity and storytelling to move us.

It was said in a panel last week at CES (and I’m paraphrasing), “technology without creativity is boring. Creativity without technology is useless.”  I’ll add that a true harmonious marriage of the two is magic.

Let’s strive for magic.



The Passing of Great Public Relations Man Frank Mankiewicz

Frank Mankiewicz passed away last week at the age of 90. There is a generation of Americans who remember Frank as the press aide to Robert Kennedy who had the solemn duty of announcing RFK’s assassination to the world, but Frank was to be found at the center of some of the most interesting moments of the 20th Century—from early Hollywood, to World War II, to Kennedy’s Camelot, to the growth of National Public Radio.

Frank grew up the son of the screen writer and movie legend Herman Mankiewicz of Citizen Kane fame.  He experienced war first hand as an Army infantryman and saw combat at the Battle of the Bulge. He also ran the presidential campaign for George McGovern—which was my first real political memory. I ran around the neighborhood singing “McGovern, McGovern, he’s our man, Nixon belongs in the garbage can…”  As it turns out, Frank and I were both on the right side of history on that one.

But the Frank I remember was a great mentor–the consummate public relations pro and a downright decent human being.  His office was a revolving door for young PR acolytes and seasoned communicators who all relied on Frank’s sage counsel.  Working with Frank was akin to a master class in PR, and the lessons we all learned from Frank were the simplest but the most essential.

Words matter.  Frank loved the power of words.  How we say things makes a difference. To Frank, le mot juste was paramount.  A writer for a father no doubt drilled this lesson, but nuanced language was so important in the political years of Frank’s career—Frank always said if you wanted to know where a politician really stood on the issue, wait for the but. As in, “I support equality for everyone, but….”

Relationships are critical.  With an office next to Frank’s for many years, I marveled at stream of influencers, journalists and Hollywood stars that were always calling.  His loyal secretary would sing out “Frank, Warren Beatty is on the phone.”  “Frank, it’s Leslie Stahl.” “Frank, Ted Kennedy for you.”  The air was electric.  Something was always happening.

Stay plugged in.  Frank understood that PR was the nexus of business, politics and entertainment. At 90, Frank always had a great book recommendation, had seen the latest movie, and watched the hottest new TV shows.  Whether it was breaking news story, Supreme Court case or polling data, he always had a clever opinion and a marvelous quip. He appreciated those around him who were plugged in–and had a keen eye for fakers.  About a lackluster job candidate he once said, “I’ve written more books than he’s read.” It kept us all sharp.

The world has lost great thinker and a great man. What is not lost are those lessons we can all learn from Frank Mankiewicz.



Finn Partners Acquires Johnson King

I am very pleased to announce that Finn Partners has acquired Johnson King, a highly respected European Tech agency. Technology is one of the largest practice areas within Finn Partners, and this move significantly strengthens our global team in this sector. The key word here is “global” – as the Johnson King relationship now expands our team in London, but also extends our physical presence to Paris and Munich, and brings our combined team to 30 across the three offices.

It was only a year ago that Claire Ayles, Flora Haslam and Mike King, the owners of Johnson King, decided that an important next step in the firm’s development was to become part of a larger agency. They spoke with a number of agencies who were interested in acquiring their firm, and I am very pleased that they decided that Finn Partners is the right fit. Throughout our discussions, I have been repeatedly impressed with the deep expertise the Johnson King team has in the technology sector.

I have also been impressed with their culture and commitment to excellence.

Again and again, Johnson King has been named a best place to work in the PR agency world. Mike King and his colleagues share our commitment to creating a positive culture – with opportunities for professional development and growth. It is this shared mission of being a ‘best place to work’ that enables us to retain and attract the best talent, and do our very best work for our clients.

Chantal Bowman-Boyles, whom we hired to open our London office in early 2012, will now head up Europe for Finn Partners, and I’m excited to work with her, the Johnson King team, and all of Finn Partners to continue to build our presence and diversify our practices globally.

Finn Partners officially launched in December of 2011. A spirit of partnership and collaboration have been core drivers of our company vision. Since our launch we have been named “new agency of the year”, “best place to work” and “mid-sized agency of the year”.  We have been listed as one of the fastest growing PR agencies in the world and today we have a staff of 350 working out of 12 offices in key markets around the US and internationally, with strong practices in technology, education, travel and leisure, consumer, public and global affairs, the arts and publishing, all complemented by a very strong digital and creative services team.

We are excited by the path we are on, and look forward to continuing to build Finn Partners into one of the most dynamic PR agencies in the world.

Finn Partners & JK




Finn Partners Acquires gabbegroup

With healthcare and education sectors continuing to provide strategic opportunities for growth and expansion, I am delighted to announce Finn Partners’ acquisition of gabbegroup’s public relations practice, effective today.

Collaboration is at the core of the Finn Partners’ mission, and it is that same commitment and passion for excellence that led Jim Gabbe and Jill Gabbe to build one of the most successful independent specialist agencies in their field. Founded in 1980, gabbegroup is an award-winning firm that will expand our presence in the health and higher education sectors.

I am proud of their track record and their work for some of the world’s best known and preeminent brands. The collective experience, intellectual capital, creativity and enthusiasm this acquisition brings to Finn Partners will enhance the opportunity for a dynamic future of shared success.

Since our launch in December of 2011, Finn Partners continues to be one of the fastest growing independent PR firms in the world, with our growth coming from a combination of winning new clients, growing existing clients, and making acquisitions. With today’s announcement, I continue to believe that Finn Partners is continuing its upward trend. We have one of the strongest, most strategic teams of any independent firm operating today, supported by a culture of collaboration and commitment to being a great place to work.

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You Should Make a Video Game

I had the privilege of spending last week working at San Diego Comic-Con with Microsoft. Its Games Studios wanted presenters to talk about the future of game design, and for some reason they wanted one of those people to be me. This was all in an effort to promote the upcoming game development software Project Spark, which opens up video game design to more than just computer scientists. It makes it so kids, adults, parents, teachers and students can all jump into complex game development in a very easy-to-use and easy-to-understand way.

Throughout the four-day event I spoke one-on-one with a wide range of people. The interactions that stood out the most though were kids and their parents. Project Spark requires some coding and development in order to create video games. Something that shouldn’t sound too appetizing to a 6-year-old. But every time I demonstrated a simple line of code, (WHEN: A is pressed DO: jump) which made the video game character jump up and down every time I hit the A button on a controller, little eyes lit up.

Coding, development and gaming are becoming the playthings of the next generation of communicators. Every parent I talked with told me about how they had their kid messing around with Scratch or Hopscotch (programming languages geared towards kids). They spoke about fun mini-sites their kids were developing and online resources they were playing around with. Now gaming is joining the open-source movement.

As I was walking through how you can make your own video game, kids were picking it up almost instantly (watch a 5-year-old explain game design). That’s in part because gaming is already everywhere around them. Points, levels, rewards, online competition, Club Penguin. These are staples of the 21st Century Playground. As gamification seeps more into our everyday lives, it moves closer and closer to the focal point of a communications strategy.

So what is my recommendation?

Think of communications like a gamer. Think about why the original Super Mario Brothers was so captivating in its 8-bit glory. It’s the challenge, the points, the score, the progression.  And it’s all of these things wrapped up together in a story (sometimes a very loose interpretation of the term) that makes you feel accomplished.

Gaming is no longer a fad, a platform for kids or a purely entertainment outlet. As future-leaning communicators, we should embrace gaming and gamification and understand how big of an impact it will have on our industry.

From my experience, the best way to embrace is to understand. Try making a game. It’s much easier than you think. Understand the architecture of gamification. There are a number of free tools to get you started:

  • Project Spark is free and currently available only on Windows 8 and Xbox One. That is my software of choice, because it’s simple to get you started and has very advanced layers when you’re ready to play with code and mechanics.
  • Scratch may seem geared towards kids, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned a lot from it myself. And it’s free, brought to you by MIT.
  • Sploder is a free online tool that is dead simple to make your own quick 2D game. It’s a bit limited, but great for people who want to dabble without getting into any sort of coding.
  • Game Maker Studio has a free version that is limited in what you can create, but great if you just want to poke around to see what gaming is all about.

So there is my big challenge to you: make a video game.



Five Ways We’re Working Differently After TEDxFultonStreet

TED events are known to be thought-provoking. But what TEDxFultonStreet founder Aaron Sylvan really wanted in planning his inaugural event supported by Finn Partners, was for guests to leave as a different person; with a new or changed perspective. With this in mind, he aptly themed his event Chrysalis, Radical Transformations.

And it was.

Rather than remix the agenda or speakers, I wanted to share living proof that Aaron’s idea for a TEDx event was a success. We were inspired in many different ways; here are just a few:

1. “No” and “Never” are not options. Many of the speakers spoke passionately about fulfilling their dreams, and the challenges they’ve overcome in achieving said dreams. In our world, we have big dreams and goals for our clients, and sometimes there are obstacles in place of making things happen – whether it’s because of a structural issue or fear of doing things differently. When faced with possible roadblocks in making changes or pursuing a new course of action, we’re making sure we say “why not?” every time and creatively remove barriers to achieving bigger goals to move our clients ahead of the competition.

2. Be ok being uncomfortable. One of the best stories came from a QVC pitch woman, who was thrown in front of a live camera – hair literally still in curlers. That segment became the highest grossing sale of the day, and her company has netted more than $200 million since. Her secret: only authenticity helps you connect with your audience. We are taking this advice to all new business pitches.

3. Collaboration. Collaboration is at the heart of Peter Finn’s guiding principles for our company, and as such we are constantly looking for new opportunities to collaborate – between clients, industry colleagues, and in unexpected places. We’ve already begun collaborating smarter with our global colleagues, thinking about new ways we can work together to benefit clients that are working in similar spaces. And we’ve just started working with business journalist Dennis Kneale for storytelling with clients and C-suite executives.

4. Networking. This was one of my favorite speeches – in college, my friends would always be astounded by the number of people I knew on campus, so much so that they’d joke that “they were in” the network (a throwback to the old VZW commercials). Mark Sackett made a great point when he took a stack of business cards out of his pocket and threw them on the ground. His point? Don’t let the interaction end when you leave an event. If you’re going to spend time speaking to them and exchange cards, do something about it when you get to the office the next day. I personally have already put that into practice, making online connections with the people I met while attending events like the ExactTarget Future of Marketing summit and the SocialRadar NYC launch party.

5. Disconnect. A surprising number of speakers stressed the importance of disconnecting from technology to make real connections. Lori Cheek believes in it so much that she built a dating business around it. TED and TEDx events themselves are conducted in person because the networking and interaction opportunities are almost more important than the speeches themselves.