Is Taking Business Personally a Problem?


Years ago we resigned a big brand account in the consumer electronics space.

I tried to be diplomatic about the reason with the head of PR: requirements of the assignment changed, not a good fit, yada yada yada. She wasn’t having it.

Finally, I explained the core issue:

“You don’t need a PR agency. What you really need is a call center.”

At this point, a rather spirited discussion ensued. The head of PR finally brought the dialogue to a close with this zinger:

“Lou, you know what your problem is?”

In the split second pause, I’m thinking, a) She doesn’t really want me to answer the question, so keep quiet, and b) I am somewhat aware of my flaws, but have no clue where she is taking this.

“Your problem is you take business things personally.”

In those eight words, she perfectly captured the disconnect.

If you care, you do take things personally.

Most companies view this as a positive attribute. It’s what causes one of our account folks to see a client opportunity over the weekend that calls for immediate attention and jumps into action.

We go the extra mile.

Still, her point as it relates to general business stayed with me particularly as it relates to staff attrition. Understanding intellectually that employees will leave for other opportunities and rather than taking it personally, it’s an opportunity to improve the Agency the same way the departing employee is striving to improve his/her stead.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also come to realize one of the best things about the Agency has nothing to do with PR or even business. It’s about attracting terrific people and cultivating a culture that results in friendships that transcend business.

I smiled when I stumbled across this tweet over the weekend.

Tweet - reunion

All six are talented professionals who contributed to our success. Their tenures ranged from three years to 10+ years. It’s cool that they were able to rendezvous over pancakes and a cup of joe.

As we’ve retooled over the past 24 months, anchored by hiring Steve Burkhart to run our U.S. operation, the Agency today is a very different place than the one where they met.

As it should be.

Organizations must evolve the same as individuals evolve.

Nonfiction doesn’t show up in my nightstand often, but the Randy Komisar book, “The Monk and the Riddle,” left a lasting impression. Komisar points out that businesses “are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil …”

I’d like to think our quest for “good” has underpinned the Agency through both successes and struggles.


  • Justin L

    Right on, Mr. Hoffman. Right on.

    Though simplistic, the mentality of taking pride in relations work and making it personal extends beyond the 9-5 range of duties and expectations of our trade.

    “It’s about attracting terrific people and cultivating a culture that results in friendships that transcend business.”

    I might just frame this.

    Thanks for sharing.



  • hoffman

    Thanks for the positive words.

    I don’t think Warren Buffet is ever going to ask me to sit on his Board with this philosophy.

    Then again, I think there’s room in the business world for different beliefs.

  • Frank Strong

    That’s a great post Lou. That’s often how I feel about it too. Why wouldn’t we want people that care on our team?

  • hoffman


    Makes sense.

    As you and others have shared feedback, I’ve realized that this isn’t a radical concept. One could make an argument that NOT wanting people to care constitutes the radical thinking.

  • James

    Well said. I left my last PR firm more than 15 years ago, but I join dozens of other agency alumni every year for a get together. I don’t think that happens much among in-house PR folks.

    • hoffman

      Thanks for the input James. Perhaps it’s the dynamic similar to what bonds soldiers.


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