Clyde Group’s First President/COO Emphasizes Relationships, Listening

Today (Sept. 26) Washington, D.C.-based Clyde Group announced Michael O’Mara as its first president and COO, reporting to Alex Slater, CEO and founder. Previously, O’Mara spent nearly 16 years at IMRE, the advertising and marketing agency, where he rose to COO. He was a product manager for eight years at Newell Rubbermaid and RPM International Inc., maker of coatings, sealants and building materials.

In this exclusive interview, O’Mara discusses his emphasis on relationships, serving staff and clients, and the importance of listening as a way of building relationships. Below are edited excerpts from that interview.

PRNEWS: What are your top priorities?

Michael O’Mara: My number one priority is to make this as seamless as possible. I don't want the team feeling anxiety about [my arrival] … I just want them focused on the work and feeling comfortable.

It's a relatively small agency of about 50 people. So, it’s about relationships [with staff and between staff and clients]. Those are huge in ensuring that our current clients are being serviced properly…and that the work is outstanding.

Part of the Clyde way is the idea of having really strong collaborative relationships with senior advisory teams, and frankly, relationships with all of the people there. That's going to be the key to ensuring that I can serve [staff and clients].

Ultimately, that's my number one role: to serve and create an environment that enriches [staff] in a variety of ways, including from a career perspective.

PRNEWS: And your second priority?

O’Mara: We're near the end of September, so planning for 2023. You have to cover the current situation and go beyond. The successful agency is one that can understand what changes are coming and stay ahead of the curve.

PRNEWS: How do you stay ahead of the curve? Are you looking at potential political changes in D.C., for example?

O’Mara: You look at a variety of things. So, there's what we hear from clients; there's what we see in the culture. The way that communication happens is, frankly, tied, in part, to what happens in popular culture. So, you have to understand what’s new, whether they're new platforms, new technologies, new ways of visualizing things.

PRNEWS: What will be the most vexing thing for small- and mid-size PR firms in 2023?

O’Mara: I think that any executive responsible for the welfare of individuals working in an agency, the first thing on their mind is what's going on with the economy. And then, what are the implications of that for clients?

And moreover, though, what are the opportunities for a scrappy, agile agency that can work fast?

It's exhausting to think about the political permutations that we've had. And throw in a pandemic. I'm not a political prognosticator… but the number-one thing that would keep me awake at night from an agency perspective is the economy.

Michael O'Mara

PRNEWS: How will your experience as product manager help you at Clyde Group?

O’Mara: That gives me the ability to understand the client's point of view. You understand the client’s demands beyond the process alone. How the client has to navigate through their organization, whether it's financial or political expectations. Having that point of view, that other perspective, has really helped me and my teams.

PRNEWS: So, from your years as a client, what makes a good agency?

O’Mara: What I've learned is that relationships are critical. And clients want to work with people that they like. And they want to work with people who know what they're talking about. From a client perspective, that is a baseline.

PRNEWS: Beyond that baseline?

O’Mara: It's building on that equity and pushing the client, sometimes in uncomfortable ways, to do things differently and try different things.

Ultimately, our goal is to achieve the goals of whatever the campaign or the scope of work is. Really, though, clients need to feel like they are better because of our relationship with them.

Sometimes [getting there] can be an uncomfortable process. But it doesn't happen without that core relationship, that's that core equity in the relationship.

PRNEWS: How do you create that core equity?

O’Mara: Well, first, you have to listen. Listening is critical. And you have to make sure that whatever it is you're doing, you're carefully aligning with what the overall scope of work is. So, it's not doing something because it's the sexy thing to do. Instead, you say ‘How does this add to what we're trying to achieve?’

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him: @skarenstein