It’s Been 21 Years, But Who’s Counting?

OK, let’s start with the confession.

It’s been a number of weeks since I last blogged and this post doesn’t exactly fall under the “art of storytelling” umbrella.

But my reflections on hitting our 21-year anniversary strive to tell a story, so here goes:

Nothing like a milestone number to prompt a walk down memory lane.

I suppose every person who has launched a new company believes there’s a better way.

In our case, that better way came from previous PR agency experiences in which the numbers – also known by the word “billability” – seemed to be the all-consuming force.

The Hoffman Agency was launched with a simple notion:

Hire terrific PR practitioners.

Win good clients (defining “good” as offering a differentiated product/service, mutual respect and expectations that align with budget).

Then put the two together, charging the account teams with one mission: deliver results-driven PR programs that contribute to the client’s business objectives.

In taking such an approach, it seemed that the financial performance would follow behind. It just wouldn’t be the lead pin.

We opened our doors with that premise and one client, Meridian Data, in December 1987.

Shortly after, a conversation took place that would forever change the trajectory of the Agency. In my previous agency life, I had supported Philips and Sony in bringing this crazy idea of storing digital information on a 4.72-inch plastic disc known as CD-ROM to the public’s attention. When the general manager of HP’s application service division asked Esther Dyson of EDventure fame if she knew any PR agencies with CD-ROM expertise, Ms. Dyson was kind enough to pass along our name.

By our second month of operation, the Agency had landed its second client, HP. Needless to say, the HP name brought prestige and credibility to the fledgling operation and we were off and running.

And run we did. (Believe this is the point where we queue up the music from the famous “Run, Forrest, run” scenes in the movie “Forrest Gump.”)

For a number of years we executed on a plan that wasn’t exactly strategic: Add new clients at a rate that enabled us to continue to deliver the goods to current clients and thereby develop account team continuity. Hire A+ talent. And retain those folks through a culture tuned for people passionate about the practice of PR and serving clients.

By the early 1990’s, consolidation in the PR industry was making its way through the technology sector. It caused us to reflect on our own future. Specifically, should we acquiesce to an overture from the mega-shops or chart our own course? And we knew that if we were going to go our own way, we had darn better have a strategy to sustain differentiation and ultimately growth over the long haul.

That strategy came in the form of building a new-era global PR agency while keeping our maniacal focus on technology (defining technology broadly to include telecommunications, consumer electronics and what has become known as new media). By new-era, we meant a global agency not weighed down with legacy infrastructure, but an operation in which thinking, content and resources flowed easily across geographic borders.

The quest for these characteristics started in 1996 when we opened the doors of our first overseas office in Singapore.

Fast forward to today. We’ve indeed become a new-era global agency with offices across the United States, Europe and Asia Pacific.

We’ve handled and continue to handle big names such as HP, Amazon, Google, Dolby and Sony.

We’ve also contributed to the success of companies who aren’t household names but who offer work that’s just as satisfying.

Furthermore, almost 40 percent of our revenue comes from multi-country programs and half of our revenue comes from outside the U.S. corridors.

This evolution of business has caused us to think of ourselves as more of a Silicon Valley company than an American company. While Silicon Valley isn’t a nationality, we as a company identify with the characteristics associated with the Valley: passion to be the best, intelligent risk-taking, self-reflective, egalitarian, action-oriented, etc.

Of course, none of this happens without the right people.

The Agency has been blessed with incredible people who have taken the company to heights I couldn’t have imagined back in 1987.

And to borrow from Sinatra, we’ve done it our way, demonstrating that extraordinary client service, a care for the individual and financial performance can cohabitate.

I present the State of the Agency to our staff every six months, always ending with the same three words:

Enjoy the journey.

I’ve not only enjoyed the journey (although the recent months have left something to be desired), but I believe the best is yet to come.

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8 comments

8 Comments so far

  1. Matt Shaw July 9th, 2009 1:30 pm

    Lou, thanks for the look back on your impressive journey (so far). Keep up the great work – we look forward to your post in 2030.
    matt

  2. Lou Hoffman July 9th, 2009 4:50 pm

    Appreciate you weighing in Matt. If I’m still posting in 2030 that at least makes for one positive sign.

  3. Dude July 21st, 2009 12:39 pm

    Loumeister:

    OK, let’s get the *real* (untold story) history correct:

    1. You had an “office” near the San Jose Fire Station. The place was crammed and stacked high with copies of Electronic News, CRN, Digital Review and MIS Week — publications that you devoured weekly. It was you . . . and you only, doing the work and the schlepping. Back then, you *mailed* news releases out. The Internet was still somewhere in DARPA.

    2. You had a sense of humor and a passion for excellence (more like perfection, i.e., “Doing it right.”) then.

    3. Somewhere in there, you got married. Heather had packed her duds in a handkerchief, tied it to a stick and was walking down the street. She was done with the, “It’s just a paper promise!” statement.

    4. Soon after, your great kids arrived, El and Princess Grace (two of the funniest kids I’ve ever met).

    5. Meanwhile, you actually hired a person or two, “Every person I hire is one more than I thought I’d ever hire,” you once said. You moved from the Fire Station cubby hole to expansive digs down the street — in a building with the slowest elevators in the world. Chauncy was there with his own Ad/Design firm. You were rolling.

    6. Chauncy created some hilarious ad campaigns, including the ones with your Mom featured prominently: “My son could have been a doctor. He could have been a lawyer. But no, he has to be some fancy-pants marketing communications guy!”

    7. And you stuck to your principles: great work, great people, focused on results. And teaching the lost art of “Blocking and tackling” in communications.

    8. You moved again. Opened offices around the world. Moved up and down your street – I still don’t know what house you’re in now. Lived in the UK for a year, hired more great people, etc. And the agency’s reputation grew.

    Not only should you be proud — you have a great family and an extended “family” of solid, creative, driven professionals that you’ve hired, mentored, and taught (who’ve helped make the profession better) — but you should also be applauded.

    You and your operation are one-of-a-kind. While others have cashed or checked out, you’ve stayed at the helm. A little like Walter Cronkite at the wheel of his boat — with a persistent sense of humor and passion for excellence.

    An interesting trip so far, no?

  4. Lou Hoffman July 27th, 2009 12:39 pm

    James,

    I appreciate the positive words and “color.”

    You’ve done a good job capturing the nuance + more.

    BTW, those piles of publications seem to follow me.

  5. Edith July 29th, 2009 10:08 am

    Lou, your look bank really moved me. I can only agree to James when he says „Not only should you be proud — you have a great family and an extended “family” of solid, creative, driven professionals that you’ve hired, mentored, and taught (who’ve helped make the profession better) — but you should also be applauded.“
    At Hoffman I have learned what this worldwide family can achieve. And at the beginning of all this stands your passion for PR and especially your understanding for people. I am sure that every member of the Hoffman family will take this spirit with them wherever they go. I for my part enjoyed this journey immensely. Carry on like this – and have a good time!

  6. Lou Hoffman July 29th, 2009 10:23 am

    Thanks Edith.

    There’s no question that one of the best parts of my job is watching the career development in others.

    Even after 21 years it never gets old.

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