Ken Makovsky on the Passion of Public Relations
By Ken Jacobs
Name: Ken Makovsky, APR, Fellow PRSA
Current job title: Founder and President, Makovsky
Previous executive roles: Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager, New York Office, Harshe-Rotman & Druck
You’ve led Makovsky for 40 years. What leadership approaches served you well at the start and still do today?
There are several. For starters, trust your instincts. CEOs today have analytical tools that provide ongoing insights as well as the ability to gain real-time feedback from customers and prospects through digital channels. But a seasoned “gut” response after reviewing the data often proves victorious.
In addition, expect the unexpected. Change can be scary, but it also creates opportunity. It is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on in the business climate around you.
Finally, operate with integrity and authenticity. Both are more important than ever before. They mean candor with your team, your clients and the outside world.
The internet, for all its value, has also fostered an erosion of trust among many people and the brands they use, which increases the importance of integrity and authenticity.
How have you modified your leadership style over the last 40 years?
Leaders must constantly adapt to changes without losing the principles that have made them and their organizations successful. These changes impact your leadership style and keep it fresh.
What kinds of changes am I talking about? To cite some examples, penetrating new industries requires us to understand the cultures that run through them. Offering new services forces understanding benefits you may not have thought of before. New people bring new perspectives and ideas.
Working from home, combined with the internet’s influence, increases the importance of independence for employees. How people communicate changes.
Leaders are constantly challenged in each of these situations — and enlightened.
You have a law degree. How has this affected your leadership style?
I ask a lot of questions. Identifying the issue or issues is a baseline for me. So is researching and understanding all the facts around the client’s business and the situation the business is in — along with making the client’s case and being cognizant that we must optimize it.
I learned this in law school, and it applies to our business as well.
What’s your counsel to PR-communications managers who want to move to a leadership role?
Public relations must be your passion. You need to believe that communication between two people or two million is a sacred trust. You have to recognize that you are serving a vital purpose through your profession.
You must be equally passionate about leadership and the courage and empathy it requires. Be sensitive to the world around you. Cultivate your curiosity.
If you don’t succeed in a particular initiative, don’t allow yourself to feel defeated. Persistent leaders have often solved more problems than the world has ever realized!
You’re the founder and former president of IPREX, the global communications network. How do you lead other senior executives who don’t report to you?
Mutual respect! Realize that everyone around the table is a leader, so practice the rules of leadership: Remember that teamwork works. Know what you stand for, but also be flexible. Follow through. Be fair. Fulfill your responsibilities. Accomplish your objectives. Stay cool, collected and happy.