New CEO Attacks ‘Big Quit’ with Strategy and Understanding

As PR is battling the Big Quit, not to mention COVID and its attendant ravages of a shaky economy and social unrest, you want a strategic thinker at the helm. That’s the book on 2021 PRSA chair Michelle Olson, APR, who recently was named CEO, Lambert & Co.

“She’s one of the smartest and most effective strategic communicators in the industry,” says Robert Hastings, EVP, strategic communications, Bell.

Hastings adds that Olson offers a “keen strategic communication insight, coupled with unmatched planning and creative tactical execution.”

He should know. Bell is a Lambert client. Hastings has worked with Olson in plenty of situations.

Not surprisingly, Olson mentions strategy and vision often during a brief interview with PRNEWS.

Avenues for Strategic Thinking

For example, she says a PR leader needs to think strategically about her team and the companies it represents and advises.

“It’s being able to take a step back, see the big picture, and make decisions that will move everyone forward in the right direction,” Olson says.

In addition to a strategic approach, a communication leader must cultivate and share “a clear vision and eye toward the future.” She adds, “You have to prepare the team to go there, together.”

Beyond being the motivator-in-chief, PR leaders, Olson believes, must cultivate an ethos based on “authenticity, ethics and integrity.” Heading an agency or an in-house team, Olson says, involves “being confident enough to lead with your true self and adhering to ‘my word is my bond’ when making commitments.”

'Softer' Leadership Elements

Yet Olson recognizes PR leaders at this moment need more than strategy.

“Empathy and an understanding of what your team is experiencing, especially during a pandemic and in these months when we should be out of it,” is necessary. This mix of strategy, ethics and heart can propel communicators “to reach beyond even what they thought they were capable of.”

As challenges are anticipated for 2022, communicators as well as PR leaders will need to dig deep. For example, Olson sees an acute labor shortage owing to the ‘Great Resignation,’ coupled “with clients who may have paused budgets during the pandemic, but are ready to hit the ground full-speed again.” While there’s always demand for high-caliber talent, it’s particularly so now, she says. And it’s dangerous for employees.

“Agencies are keeping up, but risk burning out existing staff while on-boarding new clients and team members,” Olson says. Along with this shortage is the need to continue to consider diversity, she adds.

To help prompt diverse hiring, Olson advocates tapping resources at BPRS and ColorCOMM continually. “This helps build a dynamic pipeline of prospective candidates…and cultivates relationships over time.” So, when an opening arises, a company is able to quickly tap into a group of candidates.

Other Challenges

Linked closely with the labor shortage are the challenges of maintaining a culture and performance standards. It will be challenging “managing a probably permanent hybrid workforce into the future,” and handling “all the dynamics it brings to an organization.”

One tactic she advocates for maintaining quality and prompting creativity in a hybrid setting is “constantly sharing case studies.” This lets PR teams see “the outcomes of leading with a story through multimedia content.”

Last, Olson touches on prompting innovation across the enterprise. This includes offering “rich multi-media content as part of every campaign, whether for a client’s internal audience or its numerous external audiences.”

A 30-year veteran of Lambert, Olson begins as CEO Jan. 1.

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