Part of the fun of working for a great agency is being encouraged to think. Here are some of the things we’re thinking about.

18 Lessons in 18 Years

March 1, 2018 Jeff Bradford

Our 18th Anniversary Celebration Today

Today is the 18th anniversary of the Bradford Group – so here are 18 things we’ve learned since March 1, 2000.

1. Culture matters

Every company has a culture. Bad cultures happen when no one is paying attention. Good cultures are created and continually nurtured – and it is the most important thing any company does.

2. Space matters

The current trend in office space – open space with no walls or privacy – saves a company money, because you can cram a lot more people into the same space, but it does not lead to happy people or productivity. Just about everyone at our shop has an office.

3. Writing trumps everything

Good writing is simply good thinking. So people who write well also tend to be good thinkers. Good writing is also central to effective PR. That’s why the first thing any job candidate at the Bradford Group must do is pass a writing test. We don’t look at resumes until you pass the writing test.

4. Smart people can do anything

“Hire Smart People” is our first core value. We can always train someone how to write a press release or run a social media account. But we can’t train you to be smart, and intelligence is essential in a business like ours, where you have to learn the business of your clients almost as well as they know it, and creatively combine that knowledge with your knowledge of marketing and PR to come up with innovative ways to grow that business. It’s not a task for the faint of heart – or mind.

5. Don’t wait for the client to tell you what to do

We are consultants to and partners with our clients, not vendors. That is, we believe they hire us to recommend the right marketing tactics, not just to implement those tactics. For the same reason, we also need to stay ahead of our clients, not follow behind them.

6. Learn constantly

We are committed to learning something every day because A) we are curious, intelligent, active people and B) our profession advances quickly and you’ll fall behind if you don’t keep up.

7. Entrepreneurs are the wonderfullest people

Nashville is a very entrepreneurial city. It doesn’t matter if you are from here or who your daddy is. If you are smart, work hard and are nice to people, you will succeed in this town. The best evidence of this is that the Nashville chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization is tied with the New York chapter for largest in the country.

8. Pick up the phone

Generating a news story is sales. And closing a sale just about always involves some kind of personal interaction. You can’t simply fire off an email and expect to see your client in the paper tomorrow. You have to pick up the phone and personally pitch the journalist to whom you sent the email.

9. Do what you’re good at

About six months ago, my partner, Gina Gallup, and I divided up duties so that I do only (or at least, mostly) what I am best at: generating new business and being a source of ideas to best serve our clients.

10. Nashville is incredible

The hyper growth Nashville is currently enjoying is not an anomaly. In the 33 years I’ve been here, this city has always exceeded expectations. I think a big reason for this is that it is such an accepting, welcoming place. People want to be here, and the people who come here want to be better.

11. Get out in the community

The last thing I want to see on a resume is, “I’m a people person.” Because usually (not always) that’s all you are. However, much about PR is simply knowing people – a lot of them, especially those who have the power to make good things happen for our clients. To get to know a lot of people, you simply have to be out there, which is why I’m on five non-profit boards and am at some kind of event about twice a week.

12. Seek outside advice

Two of the best things I’ve ever done to help our company were A) to join the Nashville chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, where I’m part of a forum of other CEOs who meet monthly to share our hopes, dreams and fears, and B) hiring Andy Bailey of Petra Coach to help us become a stronger company by making us focus on culture, set goals and hold each other accountable.

13. Make sh*t happen

Results matter. That is pretty much all clients care about. This is why “Be an active marketing partner” and “Generate measureable results” are two of our three core values. (The third one is “Hire smart people,” which enables you to do the other two.)

14. PR beats advertising

In “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR,” authors Al and Laura Ries declare that as the number of media outlets mushroom, and people become more and more inundated with marketing messages, they will tend to believe and care about only editorial content – the realm of PR.

15. Have a great partner

My partner Gina Gallup has been with me since the beginning on March 1, 2000. She is good at all the things I am bad at, works harder than I do, is smarter than I am and is the bedrock of this company. The Bradford Group wouldn’t have lasted a year, much less 18 years, without her.

16. Take time to hire well

The company rises or falls on the quality of the people who work here. We have learned that it is much better to take a month or two to find the right person – and work a little harder in the meantime to keep up – than it is to make a quick hire, which inevitably leads to disaster.

17. Adapt, adapt, adapt

Thanks to the digital revolution, very few professions have changed as much as has PR. We don’t do things the same way we did 18 years ago – or a year ago – because change is the only constant in this world.

18. Reputation matters

After 18 years, we’ve become one of the 4-5 firms a company is going to talk with when they are considering hiring a PR firm. I think we’ve become one of these select firms by consistently doing great work, treating people fairly and doing business honestly – and hiring only really smart people.

4 comments on “18 Lessons in 18 Years
  1. Stephen Gallup says:

    You are right about Gina!!!!

  2. Dave Delaney says:

    Love this roundup, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned.
    I just celebrated six years and feel like I’m always learning more.

  3. Gregg Kuperstein says:

    Fantastic insights, a true primer for any company looking to create something lasting and special. I see your 19th, “It takes vision and leadership,” what you’ve brought in spades. Congratulations.

  4. Tim Richardson says:

    I’ve learned many of these same lessons. Kudos to you and your team for doing hard things, the right way. Continued success!

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