15 Hot Properties: Highly Valued PR Assets

We studied truckloads of nominations to come up with this year's 15 to Watch - those PR professionals 35-and-under who have arrived; gotten noticed, made something happen, garnered peer admiration, made their mark. Nominators nationwide pointed out impressive work and uncommonly motivated, innovative and active PR practitioners. (Thank you!) Common stripes we notice on these creatures, in no particular order: creativity; vision; a capacity to work on a grand scale; and, yes, a lofty personal plan. Our 15 to Watch definitely want to be noticed--for their skill, brains and terrific ideas. We heard from corporations, government agencies, PR companies of every size and stature, nonprofits, and independent operators. We heard self-promotion and flattery from bosses, kiss-up colleagues and subordinates. Nonetheless, we hunkered down to identify the "real deals." We also sought out last year's winners to give you an idea of what life is like after snagging a place on the highly esteemed 15 to Watch list. For some, the year has registered highs and lows much like the Dow Jones. In the dotcom world, we heard deep sighs of relief at being gainfully employed at all. Others are still riding the roller coaster. Because dozens of qualified nominations came our way and only 15 could be named to our list, we selected a short list of Honorable Mentions. These people similarly push the promotional envelope to catapult brands and products through the roof. Keep an eye on the PR people recognized in this issue--they have convinced everyone around them that as highly-valued PR properties go, they are hot, hot, hot! Jocelyn Allen As a single mom with a fiance, a career and a master's degree in the making, Jocelyn Allen shouldn't have any spare time. But between her studies, her family and her job, she has managed to found Divas 4 Life, a nonprofit organization that offers young African American women "life sustaining skills" -- from etiquette to tips on composing a resume. It's that kind of tireless involvement in the community that has won her respect from the GM communications department, media stakeholders and the charities GM supports. Since assuming her position last May, Allen has spearheaded projects like the GM Center for African American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a new curatorial department and resource center at the museum, funded by a $5 million donation from GM. Media coverage made it all the way to The London Times. Mentors: "I've been very fortunate to be surrounded by many supportive people in my career. One mentor is Corby Kessler, from Nike. Another is my boss here, Ed Snyder [executive director, GM corporate communications]. He was relentless in pursuing me for this position a year ago." Best advice: be yourself. "When I was first coming into corporate America, I had been a video producer, very independent and creative. I feared giving up some element of creativity to become what I perceived as 'corporate'-- the blue suit every day. My former boss told me, 'You're being looked at for this job not because someone wants to mold you into something you're not, but because someone wants to celebrate what you are.'" On spin control: retain your personal integrity. "I bring personal conviction to [this] position. And I look at PR as much bigger than the media. One of the first press events I did, no press showed up because George W. Bush was in town. That was a nightmare, but we were donating $30,000 to an organization for autistic children. We went ahead as if the media were there, and I had people come up to me afterwards saying, 'this is wonderful -- that you all would come out here and take the time to do this.' One man told me, 'I bought Fords all my life, but I'm a Cadillac man now.'" Jocelyn.allen@gm.com External Communications Manager, Philanthropy, Community Relations and Diversity Comm. General Motors Detroit, Mich. Age: 31 Courtney Bokor Courtney Bokor's business cards may as well bear the sub-title "right arm," according to her boss, Rhonda Sanderson. How else do you describe someone who can spark media interest in the decidedly un-sexy business sector of hydraulic hose repair; dismantle and repair virus-riddled computers; clean up dog poop and other disasters without complaint; manage a mean budget; and juggle a staff of four plus a full roster of free agents? Bokor serves as second-in-command at Sanderson & Associates, the boutique agency she's worked in since she graduated from Indiana University in 1998. Soon she'll be heading up the agency's second office due to open in the city. Sanderson's clients represent one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. -- small business franchises; cleaning services, fast-food chains, printers and computer trainers, to name a few. In Bokor's estimation, the entrepreneurial market is the place to be. "I've gotten a lot more responsibility out of the gate, a lot more experience and exposure to different kinds of businesses," she says. "And I don't lose sleep over job security -- I watched two friends get laid off last week from big agencies. I don't have to worry about that." Lesson learned: NEVER make up nicknames for people. Alternate career: accounting. "I find numbers incredibly relaxing. And unlike PR, there is a right solution and a wrong one." Media relations 'holy grail': "Our clients are never going to be on ABC's Nightly News. For them, magazines like Inc. are more important. It may seem like small potatoes, but they're looking for people who might want to buy their franchises. And those people aren't reading The New York Times looking for business." Next Big Thing: "Give me another decade or so and I'll take over this company." Best advice: read . . . everything you can get your hands on. Courtney@sandersonpr.com Account Supervisor Sanderson & Associates, Ltd. Chicago, IL Age: 25 J.C.Benton Anyone who's ever dismissed government jobs as boring or stale obviously never walked in J.C. Benton's shoes. A year after graduation from Ohio State University in 1995, Benton was managing media relations in a hostage crisis in the state Bureau of Worker's Comp (BWC) claims department. During a seven-hour standoff, a disgruntled worker held three state employees at gunpoint, using his own two children as a shield. "We had every media outlet in central Ohio in the building before the SWAT trucks even pulled up," Benton recalls. Managing this and other media frenzies for a $21 billion, 3,000-employee agency feeds Benton's interest in tackling big issues. In June 2000, he jumped to the Ohio Department of Education, which serves 600+ school districts statewide. He now oversees communications for the Center for School Reform and Options and tackles hot potato issues such as charter schools, school vouchers and home schooling alternatives. As a public servant, Benton is routinely paged at night and on weekends and yet he still finds time for community involvement. He serves on the board of the Central Ohio PRSA chapter, lectures at the college level, donates blood regularly and maintains a pen pal at a local elementary school. He also volunteers for Columbus Children's Hospital, the Coalition Against Family Violence and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Worst nightmare: "I worry that a Columbine or Santana High School incident could happen in Ohio." PR crystal ball gazing: "The use of the Internet will expand and more reporters will conduct media interviews via email." Dream job: Presidential press secretary. Best advice: give every project your best shot. "Get to know as many people as possible, and learn from all of them." Lesson learned: never burn a bridge. "As far as networking goes, you never know who could become your next employer, archenemy, or new best friend." Quote of note: "Your work represents your character, so if you do something halfway, it will reflect directly back onto you." j.c.benton@ode.state.oh.us Public Relations Manager Ohio Department of Education Columbus, OH Age: 28 Bryan Curran Bryan Curran has attention deficit disorder of sorts: he prefers the chaos of agency life over the more regimented existence of corporate PR. "I thrive on change, it's what makes me tick," he says. Change and an offer from a former boss drew him to his job with BSMG four years ago, departing as public relations manager for Sprint Business. Now he's the youngest senior staff member of the firm's Dallas office, and manages the company's efforts in wireless technology in the Southwest. These days that includes a $6 million paging industry campaign between Motorola, Glenayre, Arch Communications, and SkyTel. Curran oversees four employees, some older than himself. He credits a thorough recognition of individual accomplishments as the reason he zipped through the ranks. "We truly have a team environment here," he says. "And there's a tremendous sense of achievement when we finish a project." Best Advice: work hard. "My parents instilled in me a very strong work ethic, telling me you can do whatever you want so long as you enjoy what you're doing." Worst advice: work hard. Curran takes a dim view of those with a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. "I've seen a lot of hotheaded people who can't find a balance between their work and personal lives...I put a real strong value on family, friends, and a life outside the office." Biggest Industry Challenge: weathering the technology shakeout. "In an economy like this, advertising, PR, and marketing are the first to see budget cuts...there is no way to avoid the impact of a slowing economy." But Curran remains jazzed about the possibilities of wireless and has yet to lose a client. In case he does, American Airlines has recently thrown a sizeable chunk of business his way. Alternative career: advertising. "Stick figures are the extent of my artistic ability but it would be fun to stay in the creative realm and try something new." Lesson learned: pace yourself. Curran appreciates opportunity, but he's also cautious about assuming too much responsibility. He credits a boss who's in lock-step with his abilities. "I've been fortunate enough to be managed in a style that has allowed me to grow at a manageable pace." Quote of note: "In corporate PR, I was limited as to career advancement -- managing projects as opposed to people. That's a completely different challenge." Bcurran@BSMG.com Group Manager, Wireless Technology Group BSMG Worldwide/Southwest Dallas, Texas Age: 28 Julie Dennehy Dennehy leapt into solo life five years ago after six years with Boston-based Schneider Associates, starting completely from scratch (i.e., taking no clients with her). Now her Boston-based Dennehy Public Relations includes one employee, a part-time intern, and a consumer- and retail-oriented client list that boasts 7-Eleven, Blockbuster, and Labatt USA. These national brands rely on Dennehy to infuse local flavor into their regional campaigns. Dennehy owes much of her success to her vast network of contacts-- a network she helped build by co-founding the Boston Sole Practitioners Collaborative, a 75-member sub-group of the PRSA. She and her colleagues have joined into what amounts to a virtual agency, offering clients their individual specialties and competitive rates. "I really enjoy the collaborative nature of this business," Dennehy says. Somewhere in her day, Dennehy also finds time to raise a toddler. Biggest industry challenge: refining my business. Dennehy is convinced that sticking to her specialty (consumer and retail) has improved her business. Best advice: love what you do. "I saw [animator] Chuck Jones speak at Harvard, and his most memorable quote was 'find out what you love to do and then get someone to pay you to do it'...He inspired me to take a deep breath and go into business for myself." Worst Advice: being a generalist is the best way to succeed as a soloist. "It's been much more satisfying being a specialist," she says. "Because I really love the area I work in." Alternative career: teaching. Dennehy frequently lectures at area universities, and annually gives a presentation on special event management at Boston's Emerson College. She's also active in her regional chamber of commerce's school-to-career program. "A lot of teenagers don't have the communications introduction I wish they had," she says. "I would like to see more schools focus on media awareness." Quote of note: Do what you love, focus on your business, and keep your support systems out there. Julie@dennehypr.com Principal Dennehy Public Relations Boston, Mass. Age: 31 Mark Feldman Cause branding is something akin to Mark Feldman's personal brand. This Cone EVP, Cause Branding Division, has extensive experience driving PR for cause-based initiatives, including President Clinton's Americorps program and New York Cares, a Big Apple non-profit that supports volunteerism. Since coming to Cone four years ago, Feldman has grown cause-branding revenues 860 percent and directed the agency's research efforts that benchmark consumer, employee, and executive attitudes towards cause marketing. He manages a staff of 34 and works with clients that include Sprint, Chevrolet, and Fidelity Investments. "I believe in the power of business to really affect social change," he says. Feldman draws creativity and energy from his two kids -- he claims that their imagination and disregard for convention provide fantastic inspiration. "[Working in PR] is doing the same thing that my kids do when we're telling stories at night," he says. "We're creating programs and dreams, doing things that people say are impossible to do." Biggest industry challenge: convincing companies that cause branding is a must-do, not a "nice to do." Corporations are becoming more transparent thanks to the Web, says Feldman. Progressive core values are no longer just a means to additional sales, they are essential to a brand's identity. Best advice: "Never say a bad thing about anybody. Everything is interrelated, situations change based on circumstances. I come in contact with the same people time and time again." Lesson learned: empathy. Although not often embraced by communications professionals, Feldman learned its importance plotting strategy with heads of multinational companies. "You've got to understand all the things that are beyond their control that influence the way they act -- board members, numbers reports, political aspirations, even their own families," he says. Alternative career: teaching."I love the intellectual challenge of academia," he says, though he doesn't rule out sharing his knowledge as a business school professor or the possibility of a run for political office at the local level. Extracurricular: biking and kayaking. "The Zen of mountain-biking," he says, helps him achieve moments of clarity he brings back to the office. Quote of note: "I had such power to change things at 21-- If there was an article in the paper about homeless kids needing help, by the end of the day I could have 50-60 volunteers there." Mfeldman@coneinc.com Executive Vice President Cone Boston, MA Age: 34 Stacy Geagan Recent PR events orchestrated by Stacy Geagan have involved the repatriation of an arctic fox, the rescue of more than 60 greyhounds and a weekend trip to New York for a 250- lb. alligator. Some might assume Geagan works for a zoo, but she actually represents an airline. It's just that animal antics play nicely into the persona of Delta Express, the low-fare carrier to Florida that she cheekily refers to as "Delta's funky cousin." Under her direction, the airline has happily returned misdirected animals to their natural habitats and rescued unwanted pets. As for the gator, he visited JFK airport as an ambassador promoting ecotourism in the sunshine state. "When you're a start-up company within a major company, it's a hard brand to sell," says Geagan, alluding to the 1996 launch of Delta Express. "No one cares about planes. So we tie our messages to things people do care about." Geagan's prowess extends beyond media relations, too. She worked on the Delta Express account at Ketchum from 1997 until 1999 and then jumped to the client side to help reshape the airline's corporate communications, finance, technology and marketing departments into in-house professional services teams. She has since coordinated Delta's first economic impact study in Atlanta. During her tenure, Delta Express has expanded its daily flights from 62 to more than 180, and last year, Geagan assumed additional PR oversight of Delta Shuttle. Past job: communications manager for the Arts Festival of Atlanta. Greatest PR accomplishment: promotion a la Letterman. "To date, I'm most proud of my work on the Delta Express Budget Travel Tips program. We collected travel tips from more than 80,000 employees at Delta, boiled it down to a Top 10 List and executed a satellite media tour that was picked up by more than 154 stations in five weeks." Personal stats: a graduate of Oglethorpe University; a sports enthusiast who plays semi-pro beach volleyball and is running her first marathon on May 6. Quote of note: "I'm not disheartened by small budgets and I truly believe that anything can be accomplished in two weeks." Stacy.geagan@delta.com Manager, Corporate Communications for Delta Express & Delta Shuttle Delta Air Lines, Inc. Atlanta, GA Age: 28 Pamela Johnston Pamela Johnston's business philosophy: throw caution to the wind. She started her own PR firm with one client on board when she was six months pregnant. She has crashed more than a couple press conferences as an unwelcome guest. And she recently sent a client CEO onstage, armed with a Roman shield, to keynote in front of a hostile audience equipped with cream pies. A little irreverence is all in a day's work for Johnston, who eschews accounts she considers "boring," readily admitting her preference for the sexy stuff. After graduating from Tufts University in 1990, she worked at Marina Maher Communications in New York on fashion and beauty accounts, then jumped to GCI Group where she juggled consumer, leisure and tourism campaigns. By the time she became managing director at Adams Unlimited, she was shamelessly seeking out clients based on their fun-factor (i.e., touring companies, hotels, restaurants). Johnston launched PJInc. in 1997, and two years later was named "Guerilla Marketer of the Year" by Brandweek. The shop now boasts a staff of five and a media database to die for. Johnston claims her firm's ability to move "nimbly and quickly" is part of what makes PJInc. competitive. "Try comparing a cargo ship to a speedboat," she suggests. Best compliment received: "A reporter once told me she'd take a call from me before she would take a call from her mother." Greatest career feat: The Triple Crown of PR: front page coverage in USA Today, the top story on MSNBC and the wires (AP, Reuters) on launch day for a new client. Best advice: Try to sleep on airplanes and consider it "down time." Worst advice: Sometimes you just have to give up. Memorable mistake: "I emailed a congratulations notice to a journalist on his new position at BusinessWeek. Unfortunately his job was at Fortune. A few email exchanges later, we landed our client a two-page feature with a photo shoot. Mistakes can sometimes be used to your advantage." Next Big Thing: "Figuring out how to keep the bundt cake from sticking to the pan." Pamela@pjinc.net Founder PJ Inc. New York, NY Age: 32 Robin Kim Most people with Robin Kim's tenure have a lot more gray hair. As a college intern, she was already writing healthcare policy briefs for a congressional rep. After receiving her B.A. from U.C., Berkeley (1989), she worked for BBC Radio in the U.K., served as speechwriter for a San Francisco mayoral candidate, orchestrated community development programs for the U.S. Information Agency and founded the nonprofit Live Youth Campaign, an initiative that focuses on substance abuse prevention through strengthening high school kids' self-esteem. Kim earned her M.A. in marketing strategy and communication from U. Penn in 1994. She joined Hill & Knowlton, New York where she became the linchpin researcher in a crisis plan involving the merger of two Fortune 500 healthcare companies. Two years later, she jumped to Cohn & Wolfe and spearheaded the firm's first official San Francisco office. The venture, which now employs 13 people and serves heavyweight clients in the energy, biotech, wireless and e-business sectors, has been profitable since day one and exceeded revenue goals by 30% in its first year. Best advice: keep listening. "Don't become so overly enthusiastic that you stop listening to what people really need. And don't move so fast that others can't move with you or none of your ideas will ever stick. Too many people start programs that die when they leave." Lesson learned: keep your cool. "I lost my cool with a client who was chronically abusive. Afterwards, my boss said, 'I don't care how right you were. If you can't handle a difficult client, how can clients trust you to manage truly difficult situations?' The true test of your professionalism comes when you're at your worst, not when you're at your best." Crystal ball gazing: "The market has resulted in an entire generation of managers who have never had to lead during a downturn. We're in for a shakeout." Greatest accomplishment: nonprofit work . . .and its impact on people's lives. Alternate career: astronaut. Robin chose her "day job" because "I got car sick a lot as a kid." ROBIN_KIM@sfo.cohnwolfe.com Senior VP and Head of Operations, SF Cohn & Wolfe San Francisco Age: 34 Amy Messenger Amy Messenger attributes good timing to the acquisition of Atlanta-based Alexander Communications by Ogilvy PR in 1998, allowing the formerly tech-focused agency to add on services like crisis management and internal communications. Then again, Messenger's whole career has embraced good timing. At 24, she landed a job as a charter employee in Alexander's San Francisco office. She ascended the ranks so fast that her bosses sent her a mile high: at 28, armed with only one employee and her own determination, she opened a technology practice in Denver. Six months later, the shop was turning a profit and grew to 40 employees in two years. As managing director of Alexander Ogilvy/Denver, Messenger oversees 60 employees and $5.5 million in billings. Messenger says she's never really faced adversity in her career, getting by with a little help from her friends. "It's like they say, the only dangerous physician is the one who thinks he knows everything," she says. "You always have to call on the people who've gone before you." Biggest challenge: keeping staff motivated. Technology, Messenger confesses, can get boring. And sometimes it's tough to keep employees happy. "When [consumer E-commerce] took off, people trapped in server-router exile suddenly wanted to get into toys and books." Biggest industry challenge: more diversification as the tech economy shakes out. "We're doing a lot to market our additional services and meet different communities. We built our brand here so quickly that it's a challenge to let people know we have more than just technology services." Alternative career: teaching.Messenger loves kids (she has a two-year old) and also loves acting like a kid. "It's great to make work fun, getting kooky in the office." That includes impersonating Saturday Night Live characters and quoting rock buffoons Spinal Tap. "If we're under pressure to perform," she says, "I'll tell our team to 'turn it up to 11.'" Extracurricular: parenthood. "Two years ago I would've said travelling and skiing. Now I still like to travel but I really enjoy being a mom." Quote of note: "Be careful when you put off a decision, because it's the same as actively choosing status quo." amessenger@alexanderogilvy.com Managing Director Ogilvy Public Relations Denver, Col. Age: 33 Michael Prichinello Michael Prichinello has the uncanny ability to turn seasoned reporters to putty in his hands. His knack for dealing with the media is so pronounced that RLM has designated him as the company's official media trainer. In that capacity, Prichinello coaches corporate spokespeople from journo-phobic CEOs like Joseph Park, founder of Kozmo.com, to more generic staff marketing directors. Prichinello began his relationship with the media as press secretary to the lieutenant governor of New York when he was just 23. Mentor: RLM CEO Richard Laermer - "one of the few really talented PR people I've come across," says Prichinello. "He's not just a good pitch on the phone; he knows what the public is about, understands pop culture and has an amazing way to fuse business, pop culture and the market all in one package." Best advice: know your target. "You have to meet [journalists] and study them, know what they're interested in, what their beat is, what excites them. What's the trend in their own private story, what do you get out of their column every week? That helps you give them what they want, not just what you need." He cites an example, "I was walking past Macy's and saw an interactive kiosk from Yahoo. . .they were auctioning dresses in the window. . .proceeds going to charity. It was such a cool combination of old and new retailing. So I called [a reporter 'friend'] who said, 'what's the catch?' But there wasn't one - I just knew he would dig it. It turned into a good story for him, and now when I call, he picks up the phone." Fantasy job: European Formula One racer. It can't be NASCAR; Formula One is more dangerous - more curves. Dream PR job: I'm doing it now; we do pro bono work for @ngelWish.org, a charity that helps grant wishes of kids born or living with AIDS. It's rewarding when clients see sales go up, or they raise $150 million in venture capital attributed to press, but [with @ngelwish] you've done something for someone in a much worse situation than yourself. Mike@yeahwhatever.com Account Manager RLM Public Relations New York, N.Y. Age: 26 Michael Quint This PR vet has excelled in his career because he loves working within all aspects of an organization -- part of the reason he prefers life on the corporate side. "I don't really consider myself as much of a PR person as a business person," says Quint, director of corporate communications for the metropolitan D.C.-area startup called eGrail. "I make sure my goals are aligned with my executive team." Quint loves technology. One of the reasons he came to work for the content software-maker was because he planned to use their content-management software in his own job, making it that much simpler to relate its capabilities to journalists. Prior to assuming his post at eGrail, Quint spent three years at MicroStrategy, learning that technology and working his way up to director of public relations. He departed just weeks before the former software-titan plummeted in market share and enacted sweeping layoffs. Biggest Industry Challenge: getting past the glory days.Internet software is not the cash-cow it once was but Quint remains optimistic about the future. "The market is hungry for good stories," he says. "It won't be long before [potential clients] who use the Web as a strategic initiative look at eGrail." Best Advice: business can educate a humble man. In a copy of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a former boss inscribed memorable words of encouragement. "She told me to keep an open mind and listen to people, because the business world has much to teach,' he says. "It made me realize I didn't know anything yet." Alternative Career: investor relations and marketing. Quint already wears many hats in his understaffed upstart venture. "While I like PR, I think it's one piece of the puzzle," he says. "I'm doing Web design and corporate positioning. I'm working with analysts, I'm doing corporate positioning and tagline work." Greatest PR achievement: Fresh out of school, Quint helped a European-based client with no American presence quickly secure 10% market share using only "aggressive" media relations. His client landed a $150,000 contract thanks to an article Quint placed-- it more than covered what had been spent on PR services. Quote of note: "Advertising is important, but unless you have the money to do it right, it's entirely more effective to do PR." Mquint@egrail.com Director, Corporate Communications eGrail Bethesda, Maryland Age: 29 Patrick Riccards As a 22-year-old press director in the U.S. House of Representatives, Patrick Riccards was warned that he was chronologically challenged. "I was told, 'don't broadcast your age,'" he recalls. He moved through the ranks of Capitol Hill's communications elite, serving as communications director and speechwriter to Congressman John Olver (D-Mass.) and holding a number of communications posts for Senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Later, he climbed the agency ladder at Widmeyer Communications, moving from account manager to VP and director of the technology and healthcare practices in under three years. Riccards did his best to disguise his youth from clients who were billed for senior level counsel from a man who didn't look any too senior. "I even grew a beard," he quips. His age still belies his success. At Outtask Inc., a pre-IPO business services provider, Riccards manages public relations and media activity as well as advertising and analyst relations. In his spare time, he serves as executive director of the Coalition to Protect Community Not-for-Profit Hospitals. Credits success to: adaptability. "One of the positives of coming out of a political environment is that I can grasp a whole lot of areas. And in today's economic environment, when the free-spending days are over, someone who can execute a broad portfolio is someone valuable." Best advice: honesty is the best policy.It was from Marsha Berry [Senator Robert Byrd's (D-W.V.) press secretary]. "We were touring the Senate press gallery and she said, 'never, ever lie.'" Biggest Industry Concern: "We're judging an industry based on stock prices. My company goes up against competitors who have raised 10 times the money but have half the customers and revenue. We've only raised $15 million because it's all we've needed." Toughest challenge: debate surrounding not-for-profit vs. for-profit healthcare. "You're talking about something that affects the day-to-day lives of the community." Hobbies: Baseball and being a political 'junkie.' Patrick.riccards@outtask.com Vice President, Public Relations Outtask Inc. Alexandria, Va. Age: 28 Sophie Ann Terrisse Sophie Terrisse always imagined one day being called counselor, although PR wasn't part of the initial plan. After receiving a law degree from the Sorbonne, she spent six months as an attorney in her native Paris before crossing the pond and landing a PR job in Manhattan at the boutique firm, The Wiener Group, where she stayed three years. In 1992, at the ripe old age of 24, she founded STC Associates, envisioning a more holistic agency model. "I'd been spending 30-40 percent of my time managing relationships with outside advertising, promotion and Web development agencies," she says. "This seemed like a waste of money for the client, plus it made it hard to keep a cohesive message." STC's one-stop communications model hinges on three acronymic pillars of "IM": image management, integrated marketing and Internet management. Since its inception, the firm has scored major clients such as the Bermuda Department of Tourism, Prestigious Watches, Wild Turkey and AIG Telecom, and helped launch the multi-billion dollar telecom firm Global Crossing. STC now boasts more than $4 million in annual billings and has 23 employees in New York, London, Paris and Bermuda. Biggest challenge: English as a second language. "I didn't speak English quite so well at the time. Early on, I had people hanging up on my pitch calls, but overall, my accent has been a plus. People remember it, so it's become a business card of sorts." Best advice: Self-finance your business. Worst advice: Become a Web development firm. Lesson learned: how to sip with the press. "We have a couple of beverage accounts and there was one magazine writer who got completely bombed at a tasting. I had to take her back to her apartment and put her to bed. She was so embarrassed that she wouldn't take any of my calls after that." Strangest professional duty performed: adapting the United Nations approach. "When I started out, I was a one-woman show, so I'd switch my accent from French to German to Indian on the phone to make it seem like there were more people in the office." Sophie@stcassociates.com Chief Executive Officer STC Associates, Inc. New York Age: 33 Stella Zimmerman Stella Zimmerman is not only on the fast track at Cooper Iverson Marketing, she practically built it. In just five years, she rose from post-college intern to VP of strategic planning. She now handles the agency's recruitment efforts and attributes her quick ascent to a smaller agency where young "stars" are often quickly identified and endowed with appropriate responsibility. Plus, Cooper is recognized as a great place to work, evidenced by CEO Lorraine Iverson, named "best employer for the West Coast region" by Working Woman Magazine. Zimmerman enjoys the collaborative nature of agency life, and makes the point that intimacy breeds creativity. "I enjoy the team approach," she says. "It's great to have a wide range of experience on our team, because people with less experience are more likely to take risks and offer new interpretations... That keeps things from getting monotonous and boring." Biggest industry challenge: retaining great employees. Zimmerman can't blame those who answer the call of headhunters offering higher salaries, although nary a colleague leaves: the 15-person agency has less than 2% turnover annually. Zimmerman credits a flat organization where egos are routinely set aside and points of contention addressed long before they reach a boiling point. Best advice: not letting age stand in the way of abilities. Zimmerman managed accounts one year out of school, and has often faced quizzical looks when meeting clients for the first time. "A CEO once asked me point-blank how long I had been in the business," she says. "I told her, following it up with 'don't underestimate me.'" Worst advice: adhering to the adage, 'the customer is always right.'They're not, says Zimmerman, and it's important to step in when they are headed down the wrong path. For example, she recently faced objections from a client who wanted her, not a subordinate, to handle a media tour. Rather than concede, she kept the employee in the tour, a successful endeavor. Alternative career choice: teaching. "I'm passionate about what I do, but at times I've thought about working with youth. Teaching the skills to be better people is far more important than helping a company prepare for their IPO..." Quote of note. "Clients will come and go but editors and analysts will be around forever. Those are the relationships we have to hold closest to the vest." Stella@coopiver.com VP, Strategic Planning Cooper Iverson Marketing San Diego Age: 27 15 to Watch Alumni Locator Here's where to find those on last year's 15 to Watch list. . . a year older and unquantifiably wiser. Alisa Fogelman-Beyer, (Washington, D.C.). The ProMarc Agency, founded by Beyer, was acquired by Hill & Knowlton earlier this month. Beyer will head up H&K's technology practice as senior managing director and practice leader. Afb@hillandknowlton.com Jessica Blue, VP, Richard French & Associates (Raleigh, N.C.). A full-fledged VP since last September, Blue handles new business development and senior counseling with client CEOs. Jblue@rfrench.com Joe Carberry, Director, Corporate Relations, Visa U.S.A. (San Francisco). Recently took over the day-to-day management of media relations and has instituted an analyst relations program. Jcarberr@visa.com Alana Coleman, Senior Consultant, Strategic/Ampersand, Inc. (Toronto, Ontario). Left Hummingbird and joined this Canadian marketing communications firm that specializes in technology. Alana@stratamp.com John Deveney, Founder and Senior Counsel, Deveney Communications (New Orleans), His firm received a Gold Quill Award for Internet marketing and was recognized by the American Marketing Association. Jdeveney@deveney.com Susan Hardin-Brennan, Public Relations Specialist, U.S. Postal Service (Washington, D.C.). Expanding her practice to include promotion of Postal Service technology and e-commerce efforts. Sbrennan@email.usps.gov Evan Kraus, VP and Director Technology Services, APCO Associates Inc. (Washington, D.C.). ekraus@apcoassoc.com Felicia Lindau, CEO and Founder, Sparks.com.(San Francisco) Her big accomplishment this year: staying in business. Felicia@sparks.com Joe McGrath, remains PR Manager, Neurological and Spinal, Medtronic Inc. (Minneapolis). Joseph.mcgrath@medtronic.com Sharon Reis, Partner, has gotten her name added to the shingle: GYMR, (formerly Garrett Yu Hussein, Washington, D.C.). Sreis@gyhllc.com Jason Roth, at large (New York, NY).After 5 years at Spin Magazine. Jason jumped to Inside.com, then acquired by Brill's. And guess what? Jason is sifting through offers from media companies looking to claim his expertise. lucidj@aol.com Samantha Sackin, remains Senior VP, Fleishman-Hillard (Los Angeles). Sackins@fleishman.com Eric Schellhorn, Principal, Crowded Room (San Diego). Left Jack in the Box Inc. to start his own agency. http://www.crowdedroom.com Adam Sherk, left Outrider USA to join atomic tech PR and launch their Pacific Northwest office. Aso be found moderating I-PR, an e-mail newsletter and discussion list. adams@adventive.com Jon Weisblatt, PR Manager, Dell Computer (Austin, Texas). Following a 9-minth stint managing the Chairman's Office of Communications, Weisblatt will take on a new assignment overseeing communications in Dell's Small-and-Medium Business division. Jon_weisblatt@dell.com Honorable Mention Todd Defren, 32 Managing Director Sterling Hager San Francisco Todd@sterlinghager.com Mark Devaney, 35 Director of Public Relations GraficaGroup Chester, N.J. Mdevaney@grafica.com Elizabeth Lampert, 35 VP Consulting Services Levick Strategic Communications Washington, D.C. Jason Mandell, 27; Jesse O'Dell, 28; & Jason Throckmorton, 26 Founders LaunchSquad San Francisco Jason@launchsquad.com, Jesse@launchsquad.com and Throck@launchsquad.com

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