I was fortunate to be on the ground floor when The Castle Group was a young and fledgling firm. The agency was just turning a year old, Y2K was on the horizon and I was employee number eight to join a PR and events endeavor dreamed up by Sandy Lish and Wendy Spivak.
(As an aside, I must say I feel a bit nostalgic writing this. I came on as a Senior Account Director with several years of PR experience but none in an agency setting. I felt I was taking a chance with this new firm and I am sure they felt they were taking a chance on me. It turned out being one of my better career choices that helped shaped me as a PR professional.)
With The Castle Group turning 20, I hear they have four fundamental Cs that are critical to the firm’s success – Creative, Client-centered, Communications and Connectivity. Well, I am happy to tell you that these 4 Cs, while not named as such, were already established components of the firm’s day-to-day operations and helped propel the agency to early success that has enabled it to reach its 20th birthday.
I could review specific examples of communications projects and creativity and such, but I think painting these Cs in broader strokes does more justice to the group of eight back in the late 90s known as The Castle Group.
Here are some early snapshots of the Four Cs in action on the PR side of the house:
Creative: We had lots of creative story and campaign ideas, all agencies do, but it was what we did behind the scenes in a creative (and resourceful) manner that helped give us the edge. We would develop media pitches that sounded pretty good. Before getting on the phone with reporters, however, we would first role play with account team members. One would answer the phone as a reporter while his colleague pitched the story. Feedback could be brutal (and fun!) but it would always help refine and hone the story. We had many successes that clients would attribute to our creative ideas, but I always attributed it to being creative with team members and working this on the front end to enable the creative ideas of a campaign to shine.
Client-centered: We were only eight people, yet we were considered extensions of our clients’ teams. That speaks volumes. At the time, we were working with national financial services companies, national higher education organizations and regional healthcare organizations. We were not an established firm with multiple offices and a long history of success. Yet, we knew what it took to gain trust. We put ourselves in our clients’ shoes, considered their challenges and successes our own, and felt genuinely appreciative when clients would tell their management we were part of the team. (After all, you have to have a bit of an ego if you’re going to make it in this business.) Again, work on the front end paid huge dividends and results on the backend.
Communication: It was the early days of the Internet and the use of email was starting to gain traction. However, when dealing with reporters, we always had the philosophy of “get off email and get on the phone!” Or better yet, meet with someone in person! Today, it is so much easier to conference call, video-conference or FaceTime someone, but making the effort to personalize communications helped us establish relationships that would help with specific pitches and campaigns and beyond. In terms of writing for perfection, I recall many times I would submit what I thought was a slick news release for review with team members only to have it redlined and told it needed to be much better. I would think, “Are you kidding me?” and fume but would then get back to the keyboard and bang out a much better product. Did I then take it easy on others when I had to review their work and spare them the ego hit and handwringing I had gone through? Nope. I took the same approach, helping to make them better writers and getting better results for the firm and clients.
Connectivity: As mentioned earlier, I am writing of events that transpired in the late 90s, so connectivity with audiences did not exist as we know it today. Google alerts, newsfeeds, Facebook likes and tweeting 140 characters were way off in the distance. These were the days of faxing news releases and pulling together hard copy press kits! However, staying connected was an important skill at The Castle Group. Since reporters at that time weren’t as connected as they are today with online resources, we would help bridge the gap. If we saw news trend or a story that did not involve our clients but thought a reporter might find it of interest, we’d send it along. Knew of a tip? We’d send it along. Lunch for the sake of having lunch and getting to know each other better? See you next Wednesday at noon. By building these relationships with the resources available, we were able to create better connections and ultimately better results for us, reporters and clients.
I could go on with other examples of the Four Cs but I’ve already taken up too much space here. I would, however, end with these thoughts. Twenty years can go by in the blink of an eye, but The Castle Group’s success did not happen overnight. It was a lot of hard work and application of The Four Cs by its principals who then ingrained this mentality with its earliest employees who then shared this with subsequent team members all the way up to today. A great story and a great firm. I’m glad to say I have been a part of both.
Mike Aalto is PR professional with more than 25 years of public relations experience in PR agencies and corporate settings including the financial services, technology and healthcare industries. He currently is Vice President of Public Relations at Devonshire Investors, the private equity group affiliated with Fidelity Investments.