2020 Counselors Academy Conference Lineup


10 a.m. – 6 p.m.


Noon–4:30 p.m.

Pre-Conference Session: “Grow, Run and Protect a Stronger, More Profitable Agency: The Best of Counselors Academy”*

This special pre-conference session brings together a special selection of the most highly rated speakers from past Counselors Academy conferences for a master’s course on how to build and manage a stronger and more profitable agency.

Grow: Learn the six reasons why your agency must have a written new business plan and how to create one that will change how you think about finding and winning new clients.

Speaker: Ken Jacobs, principal, Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching

Run: A look at the most critical elements of building and maintaining a profitable agency and the key financial ratios agency leaders need to monitor to stop giving away work and maximize bottom lines.

Speaker: Darryl Salerno, president, Second Quadrant Solutions

Protect: Practical advice on how to protect your agency against common, but often overlooked, legal dangers — from the clauses that belong in every client agreement to safeguarding our people, client relationships and intellectual capital.

Speaker: Sharon L. Toerek, principal, Toerek Law

Sharon Toerek is a principal of Toerek Law, a national law firm based in Cleveland that is focused on helping independent communications, marketing and ad agencies protect and monetize their intellectual capital and manage the legal implications of their marketing and advertising work. Toerek Law provides strategic counsel on legal issues agencies face continually in their businesses, some of which Sharon will discuss with us today.

Sharon is also the creator of the Agency Protection System, a legal toolkit for marcom agencies, and the founder and host of a weekly podcast for agencies called The Innovative Agency.

People: One of the most challenging aspects of running an agency can be employees and how to manage them. 

Speaker: Molly Eyerman, founder & CEO, Vivo Growth Partners

Molly started her career in public accounting (PwC) and corporate finance (DSW) before moving into the strategic HR consulting and talent management space several years ago. Even when her roles were focused on the numbers, she was always involved in initiatives that supported growth and development of team members, which led to her morphing into “the people” side of business and starting Vivo.

*This is an additional ticketed event and not included in the conference registration. First-time conference attendees can register for the pre-conference session FREE by using code CAFIRST20. (Check the box “I am a first-time attendee” before adding the conference to your cart. Then click View Cart to enter the code, before completing payment.)

5–6 p.m.

Room: Conference Center

Counselors 101 New Attendee Welcome Session

Whether it’s your first time attending Counselors or if you attend every year, please join us to welcome first-time attendees in an informal, get-to-know-you session. Networking with other industry and agency leaders is the No. 1 benefit of conference, so come meet fellow newcomers and veteran attendees alike, and learn how to make the most of your conference experience!

6–7 p.m.

Cocktail Hour by the Pool

Opening Reception — Welcome to Puerto Vallarta!

Join your fellow Counselors for a welcome reception as we kick off this year’s event poolside at the Grand Fiesta Americana. You’ll raise a glass and take in the sights and sounds of the Pacific as it laps on the shore nearby. Relax, you are among friends!  

7–9 p.m.


Enjoy a regional culinary experience and amazing libations that showcase the vibrant and dynamic influences of Mexican cuisine.

9–11 p.m.




8 a.m.–5 p.m.

Registration and Exhibits – Grand Fiesta Americana Conference Center

8:15–8:45 a.m.

Breakfast: Continental Breakfast Served at Conference Center

Full Buffet Available at D’Brick Restaurant

9–10:30 a.m.   

Opening Keynote Breakfast:

“Get a Grip on Your Business”

Are You Running Your Business or Is It Running You?

Speaker: Tom Bouwer, partner, ProfitWorks LLC

If you’d like to be in more control of your organization, you’re not alone. As thousands of business leaders have discovered, the key to faster growth, bigger profits, more loyal customers and fewer frustrations is a comprehensive business system with real, simple, practical tools.

Learn to implement a simple "way of operating" that helps leadership teams clarify, simplify and achieve their vision.

Leaders looking for a silver bullet or the next "flavor of the month" need not attend. In this value-packed workshop, attendees learn to see their businesses in a whole new light and to achieve better results through strengthening the Six Key Components™ of a truly great organization. The outcome creates alignment and synchronizes all the pieces of your business to produce the results you want.

Attendee Value and Takeaways:

• Review the six key components of top companies: Vision, People, Data, Issues, Process and Traction

• Learn a powerful tool to clarify and achieve your vision

• Work with two simple tools that will get the right people in the right seats

• Build the right company scorecard to deliver an absolute pulse on your business

• Master practical tools that successful entrepreneurs use to get more done

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set I

Start, Stop, Keep: A Toolkit to Fuel the Future of Your Firm

Whether you’re currently growing, flat or lagging, this session will equip you with resources, ideas and mindset shifts to fuel a sustainable future for your firm. This will be an ‘open book’ session where we’ll walk through the thinking and tools my firm uses to achieve results like: 140% YOY growth, 29% profitability, Inc’s Best Places to Work and Best PR Firm in Columbus, Ohio.

If you want to achieve similar (and better!) results — this is your session. Between shifting priorities and the constant pull from clients and team, it can feel impossible to THINK BIG. Now is the time. Take advantage of this session among peers where you’ll learn, ask questions and share your experiences. Let’s help each other fuel the future of our firms.

This session will give you alternatives to traditional management that can empower you to:

  • Start identifying which systems and services can fuel your firm’s future
  • Start ignoring the competition and look elsewhere for innovation
  • Stop trying to motivate your team through public praise and incentives
  • Keep the clients you love
  • Keep your pipeline full with highly profitable, right-fit prospects

Speaker: Kate Finley, founder + CEO, Belle Communication

Kate Finley is the millennial founder and CEO of Belle Communication, an award-winning PR, influencer and social media firm based in Columbus, Ohio. Since its launch in 2013, Belle has grown to a team of 19 across the U.S. and has been recognized as a top place to work by Inc., PR News and Ohio Business Magazine. Serving the restaurant, food + beverage, tourism and business service industries, Kate and her team have partnered with more than 75 brands including Shake Shack, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Flatout and Nestle. Belle empowers clients to reach their business goals through a creative, scrappy approach from mass awareness to hyper-local activations. Kate has received numerous awards including PR News’ Top Women in PR, Columbus Business First's 40 Under 40 and Smart Business Network’s “Smart 50.”

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set I

Is Your Hire Smarter Than a 5th Grader? A Whole Brain Approach to Training

Bad hires are expensive and emotionally draining. While 90% of college graduates think they are ready for the workplace, more than 60% of businesses said young employees lack the critical thinking skills, attention to detail and writing pedigree needed to do the work. Sound familiar? Dan Farkas heard Counselor after Counselor after Counselor express annoyance, frustration and exasperation over cracking the code. Many young hires feel the same way. More than 70% of millennials believe they will need additional training in their careers. Less than 40% think their current employers can provide that training. Dan has overseen award winning student run agencies for a decade. In 1-3 hours per week, he has to train more than 200 students per year to be ready for the workforce.

His solution takes a line from Winston Churchill: “The best way to take a look forward is to take a look back.” Early childhood educators use whole brain teaching to mentally and physically engage students. New studies show these techniques also work for adult learners.

This presentation applies those concepts to agencies. Attendees will better understand why the skills gap is growing, and how whole brain teaching can consistently engage learners. You will see examples of how structured whole brain events have helped young communicators. At the end of the session, attendees will get a list of tips to help hires learn and retain the critical skills needed to lead your agency into the future.

Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will better understand why the skills gap is growing among recent college graduates.
  2. Attendees will understand how whole brain teaching can consistently engage adult learners during and after a training session.
  3. Attendees will see examples of how structured whole brain events have helped young communicators grow their skillsets and get a list of tips to help bring these ideas to life at your firm.

Speaker: Dan Farkas, MBA, lecturer of strategic communication, The Ohio State University

Dan teaches courses on research, strategy, content creation, measurement and analytics. The BBC and Mashable are some of the media outlets that have featured Dan as a thought leader on the changing landscape of strategic communication and how we can make the most of it. He also co-advises the organization’s PRSSA Chapter. In Dan's 10 years of teaching, his Chapters have earned national recognition from PRSSA, including Chapter of the Year, Student Run Firm of the Year, Pacesetter and Star Chapter. In a former life, Dan earned more than 20 awards for his work in television news. His work appeared on CNN, MSNBC and

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set I

Vanquish the Value-Killer and Elevate Your Client Relationships

As agency owners, driving our firms to deliver meaningful, measurable results that create long-term value for clients is only half the job. Helping clients protect and sustain that value is the other half – and an all-too-often overlooked opportunity to engage with clients at a higher level, distinguish ourselves as trusted advisers and earn a coveted spot at the C-suite table. Hear about the latest reputation hazards your clients need to know about and learn how to take your client relationships to the next level by helping them better understand, anticipate and take control of the #1 killer of brand and corporate value — reputation risk.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the latest and most pressing reputation hazards your clients need to know about, from the political minefield of the 2020 elections and the coming battle over social media censorship, to growing concerns about A.I., #MeToo and an emerging spectrum of troubles linked to their relationships with influencers, brand partners and other third-parties.
  2. Hear why reputation risk is a golden ticket to C-suite access, and gain best practices for raising risk discussions with executives, without creating unnecessary panic or sounding like Chicken Little.
  3. Learn how to implement a simple yet powerful risk rubric to keep clients’ most precious and fragile assets — their reputations — safe from crisis.

SpeakerJon Goldberg, chief reputation architect, Reputation Architects Inc., Roseland, N.J.

Jon Goldberg is the founder and chief reputation architect of Reputation Architects Inc., a strategic communications and reputation risk management advisory firm dedicated to building, protecting and restoring reputations in a world of evaporated trust and unprecedented stakeholder engagement. Trained as a journalist, Jon founded Reputation Architects in 2009 after more than 25 years as an advisor to corporate and non-profit executives and boards and a senior leader at some of the world’s most prominent communications firms. Prior to founding Reputation Architects, Jon was partner and director of the Corporate Affairs practice of Porter Novelli. He previously served as executive vice president, general manager and national director of crisis and litigation communications at Edelman, held senior client management roles at J. Walter Thompson Company, and was manager of corporate media relations and a principal spokesperson for Prudential Financial. He holds a BA degree in journalism and an MBA, both from New York University.

Noon–1:30 p.m.

Luncheon Keynote: Tapping Into Your Inner Greatness; How to Perform at Peak Impact

Keynote Speaker: Tru Pettigrew

Prepare to be inspired and challenged as keynote speaker and author Tru Pettigrew returns to Counselors Academy with a mission to help you step out of your comfort zone and into a new arena of success and fulfillment.


With Tru as your guide, you’ll learn how to do what you're meant to do at the highest level.


Tru is a celebrated author, an engaging speaker, a committed community leader, and an award-winning marketing executive with close to 20 years of experience at the nation’s top advertising & marketing agencies. He founded Tru Access to serve as an inspiration and empowerment consultancy to help individuals and organizations bridge gaps across areas that cause division, dysfunction and separation.


Considered one of the country’s top Millennial Empowerment experts and cross-generational thought leaders. His first book, “Millennials Revealed” serves as a guide for countless individuals and organizations across the country to help them build meaningful connections across diverse generations. Tru has shared his marketing talents and expertise to help contribute to the success of brands such as Nike, State Farm, Heineken, Hennessy, Unilever and Ford, just to name a few. 


In addition to connecting brands with consumers and building bridges across generations, Tru has also established a strong reputation for helping organizations build bridges across racial, cultural, social and relational lines. 


1:45–2:45 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set II

Want To Have The Agency of The Future? Then It's Time To Take The Lead!

Agency owners and leaders who want to transform their firms into the agency of the future cannot do it alone: It requires team members who are inspired, who see the vision of what their agency can be and,  especially, their roles in achieving it. This thought-provoking session, based on interviews with some of the PR world's most respected leaders, will provide high-level strategies to help you become a more effective leader, as well as practical tips you can start to implement upon your return from Spring Conference. I passionately believe that if you want to implement all the learning you'll get from Conference, and thereby get ROI from your attendance, you should start by becoming a more inspired, inspiring and effective leader. This session will help you do just that.

Learning Objectives

  1. Get the practical tools to become a more effective leader of your team members, your clients, your business partners and yourself, by becoming a more inspiring leader. You'll better understand the critical importance of self-awareness, how your perceptions affect your reality, and the skills leaders must have to create the agency of the future, such as emotional intelligence, building trust, listening and communicating respect.
  2. Gain the leadership skills you need to become a more motivating and inspiring leader, to get your teams in the proverbial boat, rowing together to help you achieve your vision for the agency of the future.
  3. Understand how becoming a more effective leader may be the most challenging, yet most impactful way to implement the learnings you've obtained from Spring Conference and to accelerate your firm becoming the agency of the future, as you envision it. In other words, how to get ROI from your Spring Conference attendance.

Lead Presenter
Ken Jacobs, CPC, ACC, Principal, Jacobs Communications Consulting, Asbury Park, N.J.

Ken Jacobs, ACC, CPC, ELI-MP, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR, communications, marketing and advertising leaders to achieve and surpass their organizational, career and personal goals by becoming more inspired and inspiring leaders, and helps PR and communications agencies grow and manage business, improve client service and enhance staff performance, communications and leadership skills.

Jacobs has provided coaching, consulting, or leadership training for firms of all sizes across the country and is an active member of Counselors Academy, is a PRSA NY Mentor, and serves on the board of PRSA NJ where he leads its Senior Professionals Group. The chapter awarded him the Pyramid Award for Chapter Service in 2014. His leadership column, "Taking the Lead," appears in PRSA Strategies & Tactics.

Breakout Sessions: Set II

Issues & Questions You Never Think to Consider in the Buy/Sell Process

Have you considered or been approached about the opportunity to sell your agency? According to Davis & Gilbert’s PR M&A Activity report, merger and acquisition activity continues to be top of mind across the industry – especially among Independent PR firms, which for the first time are significantly outpacing public holding companies in transaction volume. Owners make the decision to sell for many reasons from financial gain to opportunities for growing and scaling the business. Whatever the end game in mind is, the process from start to finish comes with many unanticipated challenges and questions. From the perspective of a former agency owner who has both bought and sold his company, this presentation will provide insight into the issues and questions that management never thinks to consider before engaging in an M&A transaction, including:

  • Key people involved and when to involve them
  • Learnings from both sides of the sales process
  • Business operations during and after the sale
  • Cultural integration
  • Financial obstacles

Learning Objectives

  1. Operations Management: Understand the challenges associated with normal business operations during and post-sale. Important functions such as hiring and staffing, budgets and financial approvals, and strategic planning and decisions should be negotiated and finalized prior to the sale.
  2. Cultural Integration: While the goal is for the two companies to truly merge into one, it’s crucial that some aspects of the acquired company remain present and the acquiring company welcome another culture into their own rather than expect an immediate adaptation. Functions such as revenue generation, client service, creative, staff development approaches should be negotiated and finalized prior to the sale.
  3. Roles of Buyer & Seller: When acquiring or selling an agency, an owner/seller is gaining new staff and expertise, but also assuming more responsibility themselves. There should be a plan in place for dealing with potential rapid growth, balancing of new cultures and staff, and managing nonbelievers to ensure seamless integration from the start.

Speaker: Bret Werner, Previous PRSA presenter & president, MWWPR, New York, N.Y.

Bret started at MWWPR in 2016 as Chief Client Officer and quickly ascended to President in 2017. His responsibilities include overseeing all practice and office locations to ensure the best class client service and strategies. Werner was named a 40 Under 40 winner by PRWeek. He has also been named to the magazine’s Global Powerbook 500 list.

1:45–2:45 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set II

#PRLife Changing Tech Tools That Add Time & Revenue to Your Business

At the September 2019 PRSA International Conference, a version of this presentation was given that ended up being one of the highest rated sessions of the conference with feedback from attendees such as “The #PRLife Changing Tech Tools session alone made the entire conference worth the price of admission.”

That presentation will be adapted for agency leaders, focusing on the no-cost and low-cost tools most capable of adding the most time and income to your agency. We all know that public relations pros juggle more action items and ideas a day than we can count. Our to-do lists are seven miles long, and everything seems to take longer than it should. Where is technology to save the day? Well thankfully, it’s right here. PRSA Tech Section Chair Elizabeth Edwards has curated a list of the top no-cost and low-cost productivity and production tools that not only add hours back to the average PR pro’s week, but new skill sets for agency teams that adds immediate new revenue streams. In this fast-paced, resource-packed hour we will cover more than 20 proven (and many lesser-known but life-changing tools that can add hours back into the week of each professional on your team, increase your productivity, decrease your stress, and expand PR agency capabilities with new reporting and design abilities any PR pro can easily command.

Learning Objectives

  1. Discover the best tools for streamlining content development, project management, and the countless other tasks required of PR pros. No typical PR tools present.
  2. Learn the best tools for adding graphic and video design capabilities to your PR firm that is so simple anyone capable of handling PowerPoint can easily master it. See one example of a $500 tool that added $30,000 in revenue for Volume PR in 2019 alone.
  3. Add hours back into your week with time-saving, skill-enhancing (free or near-free) tools perfect for PR pros who want to get more done. Then use those hours for more billable client work, and directly increase profit without adding overhead.

Speaker: Elizabeth Edwards, founder & president, 11th Octave & Volume PR, Denver

Edwards is an award-winning communicator, speaker and author, who founded Volume in 2001 and 11th Octave in 2018. Her mind-science practice has led to the development of a map of guidelines to the laws and effects that govern how the mind is hard-wired to be positively engaged. Edwards and her team train and support brands from Fortune 100s to start-ups with their one-of-a-kind system for success. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Edwards is ranked in the top 1% of all PRSA National speakers and worked in communication at Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power, and at Ogilvy PR's telecom practice before founding Volume and starting the public relations and communication world on a path toward more scientifically precise engagement.

3–4 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set III

Make Process Great Again: What Clients Want from Agency Partners

Communication is key, but how do you get all agency partners on the same page? A debate moderated by David Snowden, who has led communications at USAA, The Hartford, Natixis Global Asset Management and is currently responsible for all communications at Argo Group, has come up with a handful of unique communications models to benefit the client and its agencies. Snowden will discuss how agencies can work together to be the most impactful and yield best-in-class results and senior executives from different agencies will debate the pros and cons of each.

Trey Ditto, CEO and founder of Ditto PR, a smaller strategic agency with a team across London, New York and San Francisco, has worked with Snowden throughout the years. Ditto brings perspective on how small-to-mid-size agencies can be seen as an extension of a client’s team through organization and expertise. He will discuss the communications programs that have worked with Argo and as well as other clients, and offer collaboration solutions for attendees. Dan Gerstein of Gotham GhostWriters, one of the leading content firms in New York, brings perspective on how to work with teams to create usable and impactful content. By emphasizing responsibilities over titles, Gerstein and co-panelists will talk about how they run their teams efficiently and cooperatively, without losing sight of creativity.

Learning Objectives

  1. Explore Innovative Communication Models: Understanding the importance of building cross-team, cross-agency partnerships and taking steps to help these teams work together.
  2. Improve Processes For Better Communication: Learn how to collaborate effectively to deliver consistent results. Learn how to design a communications organization that makes sense and delivers results.
  3. Inspire to Create Best-in-Class Results: Share tactics that lead to best-in-class results including building trust, brainstorming and pushing the limits to achieve even more year-over-year.

Moderator: David Snowden, SVP, Group Communications, Argo Group, San Antonio, Texas

At Argo Group, David Snowden is responsible for all communications activities, including employee communications; customer communications; financial communications; media relations; digital communications; and social media.

Panelist: Trey Ditto, CEO + founder, Ditto PR, Brooklyn, New York

Trey started his career in the newsroom of the Associated Press in Dallas. He moved into political communications, working with the Governor of Texas and other statewide elected officials. Leaving Austin, Trey moved to Washington D.C. and became the Communications Director for a U.S. Congressman, who was the most televised Congressman during Trey's stint.
Trey went on to become the deputy press secretary for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, handling local and national media and external relations on K-12 and higher education issues.

Moving to New York City in 2007, Trey worked with some of the most influential and respected leaders and companies in almost every industry, to include TIME 100, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Stone, Lionsgate Films, Roadside Attractions, Tribeca Film Festival, the documentaries I.O.U.S.A. and American Made Movie, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Bank of America, Deloitte, The Hartford, Microsoft, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and Service Nation, to name a few.

Panelist: Dan Gerstein, president, Gotham Ghost Writers, New York, New York

Gerstein is a nationally recognized political writer, communications strategist, and idea man who has been writing professionally for himself and others for 25 years. A graduate of Harvard College, Gerstein got his start in collaborative writing and thought leadership development as a speechwriter and policy advisor on Capitol Hill for U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman from his home state of Connecticut. He went on to serve as a senior adviser and communications strategist for Lieberman in his vice-presidential and presidential campaigns. In 2004, Gerstein moved to New York to become a political communications consultant and a commentator. Known for his independent, thoughtful analysis, he’s served as a contributing columnist for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Politico, and appears regularly as a political analyst on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. In 2012, Gerstein joined the adjunct faculty of New York University’s master's program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

3–4 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set III

Profit Sharing, Incentives and Compensation, Oh My! A Panel Discussion

Moderator: Janet Tyler, Founder, True Depth

Panelist: Julie Curtin, President, DCI

Panelist: TBD

Breakout Sessions: Set III 

Going Deeper on EOS with Morning Keynoter Tom Bouwer

In this breakout session, morning keynote speaker Tom Bouwer will be available to answer follow-up questions and help attendees learn more about EOS and its game-changing impact on business.

4:15–4:30 p.m.

Afternoon Announcements and Poolside Chat Coordination

Main Conference Ballroom — Attendees interested in topics such as recruiting and retention, business development, agency positioning, pricing, and more will gather and find a group for a casual afternoon conversations by the pool

4:30–5:30 p.m.

Themed Poolside Chats

6–7 p.m.

Cocktail Reception

7:30–10 p.m.

Puerto Vallarta Dine-Arounds*

Network with colleagues over dinner out in Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area.

Transportation will leave promptly from the hotel lobby at 7:30 p.m. Latecomers will need to arrange their own transportation and directions.

*Food and beverage costs are the responsibility of the attendee. Registration will take place online and at the conference registration desk in Puerto Vallarta.

10 p.m.-Midnight

Networking in Lobby Bar



8 a.m.–5 p.m.

Registration and Exhibits – Grand Fiesta Americana Conference Center

8:30–9:15 a.m.

Breakfast in D’Brick Restaurant and Conference Center

9:15–10:45 a.m.

Room: Conference Main Ballroom

Keynote Presentation:

Redesigning the Discipline Formerly Known as PR

Presenter Burghardt Tenderich, Ph.D., Professor of Practice, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

Public Relations has become a mashup of media relations, influencer relations, advertising and current and future social media channel management. In his keynote, USC Annenberg Professor Burghardt Tenderich, Ph.D., will explore ongoing disruption to the media environment and the consequences this will continue to have for the profession.

Based on research from the USC Center for Public Relations and other sources, Dr. Tenderich will provide guidance for agency executives on identifying which services and skillsets to invest in for the new decade. He will further unpack the complex dynamics between Public Relations, Marketing and other related corporate functions, with particular attention to emerging trends such as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies in PR, and brand purpose communication.

Dr. Burghardt Tenderich teaches and researches about strategic communication, transmedia branding, social media, emerging media technologies, media entrepreneurship and brand purpose. He is Associate Director of the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.

At the University of California at Berkeley, Burghardt was the Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology and a lecturer on entrepreneurship. Burghardt has over 20 years-experience in communication and marketing in the information technology and internet industries. Previous positions include General Manager, North America, for technology communications consultancy Bite Communications, Vice President, Public Relations at Siebel Systems, and Senior Vice President & Partner in technology PR agency Applied Communications.

Burghardt holds a master's degree and a doctorate in economic geography from the University of Bonn, Germany.

11 a.m.–Noon

Breakout Sessions: Set IV

Ride for the Brand

In summer 2016, as I made a call to my parents. I was lamenting one particular employee who was frustrating me with a perceived lack of commitment to the firm. The next day, I got an email that said, “I was talking with your dad and he thinks you need to tell her to ‘ride for the brand.’ ” This comment prompted me to read the Code of the West — a mantra that had been around my family forever. I realized how every value in it was personal to me — and how I want us to act as a team at A.wordsmith. Fast forward a couple more months and we were at our team offsite going through what we call “Blue Sky.”

This is our opportunity to focus on areas where we see an opportunity or need for us to continue growing as a firm. The key thing we were focused on was our brand. As a group we felt like it was stale and not truly reflective of our firm or our people. We made it a priority to do a complete brand refresh over the next six months. We talked about how we could live the brand. We decided to host an event series that would inspire attendees. We hired muralists from San Diego to paint two extraordinary pieces in our office. We made new, fun swag. We hung our core values proudly in our hallway; and right next to them we put the Code of the West. I explained why these words matter and what it means for all of us to not think it looks cool, but to actually ride for it day in, day out. We check ourselves often and course correct as needed. Good day or bad, we know what we stand for.

Category: Business Management, Format: Expert Breakout Session, Audience Level: Senior-Level

Learning Objectives

  1. Inspire fellow counselors to consider whether their teams are living their firms' brands. Do they understand the "why" behind those brands and what it means to represent the brand as an employee of that company?
  2. Provide actionable advice and ideas for bringing your brand to life - starting with us as the leaders and cascading down through our teams to clients, partners and our communities.
  3. Prompt counselors to look at their current brands and decide whether they are what they want their teams to be riding for, or if they need a refresh.

Ann Smith, president & founder, A.wordsmith, Portland, Ore.

Ann is founder and president of A.wordsmith, a boutique communications firm specializing in thought leadership PR and writing in Portland, Oregon. With 20 years of strategic communications experience Ann has worked in both agency and corporate settings, providing a broad range of support to clients. She founded A.wordsmith in 2009 and is proud to have a female owned and led agency that delivers constant results for clients in industries ranging from technology to hospitality and everything in between. She is a proud Oregon Duck and serves on the board of directors for Opal Creek Ancient Forest; is a member of Go-To Girls, a special society of Girls Inc. and PRSA’s Counselors Academy; she is also an ambassador board member for PDX Women in Tech. She has served on the marketing committee for Technology Association of Oregon and is a graduate of the Portland Business Alliance’s Leadership Portland program. Ann is the author of the first and second editions of “100 Things to do in Portland, Oregon Before You Die.” Outside of the office, Ann can be found sweating to the beat at Burncycle, enjoying live country music, and cheering for her favorite girls from soccer and gymnastics sidelines.

11 a.m.–Noon

Breakout Sessions: Set IV

2020: The Next 7 Months — Strategies to Ensure Success

The conclusion of Conference is often the signal for agency owners to begin thinking about and starting to prepare for the rest of the year. As a former Cohn & Wolfe CEO and adviser to CAPRSA-sized agencies for 17 years, George A. Rosenberg, APR, advocates a number of best practices that owners should begin implementing in the months following Conference to help increase revenue and maximize profit at year's end. This highly interactive presentation will highlight some of the key strategies and tactics to boost the likelihood of financial success and help jump start the agency for 2021. We'll discuss some time-honored techniques that many agencies neglect today, what agencies can learn from successful firms and how agency owners and senior management can adapt those techniques to their firms. Attendees will leave with a series of actions to enhance their prospects for a great 2020.

Learning Objectives

  1. Several key strategies and tactics for increasing revenue in the second half of 2020.
  2. The importance of mid-year assessments and planning in building financial success.
  3. How to jump start their new business effort for the rest of the year.

George A. Rosenberg, APR, principal, The Rosenberg Group Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.

George Rosenberg is an experienced counselor, strategist and business adviser. His firm, The Rosenberg Group, provides consulting and coaching services to public relations and integrated communications firms across the country. George spent more than 30 years in the public relations business, including 17 years with Burson-Marsteller/New York. He was then appointed president and then CEO of Cohn & Wolfe. Today, George advises agency owners on how to grow and manage their agency more effectively and become better, more successful leaders. He helps owners and managers address such key agency needs as creating a vision and strategic plan for their firm, developing and implementing new business and other growth strategies, positioning the firm, hiring and retaining “stars”, identifying and advising on partner roles and responsibilities, and dealing with operational and other human resource issues. He also advises them on mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances and exit strategies.

11 a.m.–Noon

Breakout Sessions: Set IV

The Five Legal Mistakes Your Agency Is Making in New Business and How to Fix Them

Sharon L. Toerek, principal, Toerek Law

Sharon Toerek is Principal of Toerek Law, a national law firm based in Cleveland focused on helping independent communications, marketing and ad agencies protect and monetize their intellectual capital, and manage the legal implications of their marketing and advertising work. Toerek Law provides strategic counsel on legal issues agencies face continually in their businesses, some of which Sharon will discuss with us today.

Sharon is also the creator of the Agency Protection System, a legal toolkit for marcom agencies, and the founder and host of a weekly podcast for agencies called The Innovative Agency.

Breakout Sessions: Set V

Small but Mighty: Creating a Successful Agency Without Employees

No payroll? No problem. It is possible to build and grow a successful agency without taking responsibility for someone else’s personal and financial well-being. The S & G Group has created a different kind of agency model with minimal overhead and maximum advantage. Learn how two equally yoked business partners are creating significant year-to-year growth while maintaining their sanity. It’s not for everyone, but if you’ve ever yearned to keep more of your own money, this may be your workshop. From Acquaintances to Equal Partners – Lessons Learned Along the Way. Attendees will hear how this successful partnership started, some of the early lessons, and the strategy and real-life implications of a “no employees” agency model. Building trust, defining success on mutual terms, and leveraging each other’s strengths has helped the S & G team compete with the big boys. Learn how they carved their own unique niche over a span of more than a dozen years. High Touch. High value. Highly recommended. Clients of The S & G Group never get handed off to a junior associate. That hands-on customer experience has helped this duo create a strong brand as master level strategists. Learn how they juggle multiple clients, maintain quality control, and get tactical work done behind the scenes with external “strategic partners.” The S & G team builds reputation and income by leveraging accreditation, awards and accolades to create a strong brand.

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn how to build a successful agency model without the burden of managing employees.
  2. Learn how to build trust, define success on mutual terms, and leverage strengths in a business partnership.
  3. Learn how to juggle multiple clients, maintain quality control, and get tactical work done behind the scenes with external “strategic partners.”

Gigi Westerman, APR, Fellow PRSA, president, Strategic Image Inc., Arlington, Texas

Westerman, a partner in The S & G Group, is an accredited communicator and a member of the esteemed PRSA College of Fellows. Her career began in television newsrooms, where she worked as a producer and reporter and became an accomplished storyteller. She spent nearly a decade in the healthcare and insurance industries, providing counsel to C-suite executives, before starting her own consulting firm in 2001. In 2014, she co-founded The S & G Group, a strategic planning and communications consulting firm based in Arlington, Texas. Westerman is a high-level communication strategist, skilled in issues management and focused on delivering measurable outcomes that help organizations meet and exceed their business goals. She has won dozens of awards for branding, marketing and integrated communications and is nationally recognized with a PRSA Silver Anvil Award of Excellence.

Sandra Brodnicki, partner, The S & G Group, Arlington, Texas

Brodnicki, a partner in The S & G Group, is an accredited communicator and an award-winning former newspaper editor, reporter and columnist. Over the years, she has perfected the art of storytelling—one of many tactics she uses to develop smart, integrated communications solutions. Throughout her career, she has used those journalistic skills to create and implement strategic communications programs and deliver measurable results to clients in business services, energy, pharmaceutical services, insurance and technology. She formed Brodnicki Public Relations in 2002, and in 2014 co-founded The S & G Group, a strategic planning and communications consulting firm based in Arlington, Texas. Brodnicki is an accomplished branding expert, with a proven track record in the marketing of national consumer products. A high-level strategic thinker, she delivers a process-oriented approach with a strong business vision to help clients meet and exceed business outcomes. 


12:15–1:15 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set V

Beyond the Focus Group: New Uses, Methods, and Outputs for PR Research

Telephone surveys, eight-person focus groups and 100-slide "data dump" reports are being replaced with cutting edge research methodologies and new ways of sharing results. This session is a crash course on insights for communications in a new era.

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn the breadth of new research methodologies available and see examples of how you can apply them to PR campaigns.
  2. Understand the benefits and limitations of traditional research methods, and see how contemporary methodologies compare.
  3. Be able to apply best practices in research to DIY methodologies.

Jessica Broome, Ph.D., head southpaw, Southpaw Insights, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jessica is a researcher who speaks the language of PR. She grew up in the research and insights groups at Edelman and Ogilvy and was Director of Measurement at MS&L before starting Southpaw Insights in 2008. Southpaw uses qualitative and quantitative research methods to help clients (including agencies such as Ketchum, Jones Public Affairs, and Counselors Academy members Violet PR and Scott Circle PR) understand what people think, feel, and do so they can make smarter decisions.

Jessica has a master's degree in Applied Social Research from Hunter College and a doctorate in Survey Methodology from the University of Michigan, where she returns every summer to teach Questionnaire Design.

Breakout Sessions: Set V

How Do You Do, Fellow Kids? Being a Leader in the Agency of the Future

The best agencies of the future are going to be organized differently compared to the giant agencies of today. And all of that starts by understanding the psyche of the people you’re leading. INK is 27% more millennial than other agencies our size. That provides some great opportunities, like growing leaders, teaching millennials to be leaders, and showing how to take ownership of your career and growth. But it also provides some challenging items in terms of leadership. One of those challenges is communicating with your team and empowering them to use and share their skills.

This session will cover actionable tactics to encourage that, including having all levels lead meetings, creating in-house newsletters with fun, engaging topics, being clear about each individual’s purpose within the company, implementing a professional development program that encourages ownership in growth, breaking down silos between levels, tackling brainstorms in new and exciting ways, and getting outside the office for walk ‘n’ talks. The presentation includes interactive features, as well, polling the audience on the size and seniority of their agencies and challenges and opportunities they’ve seen in-house. Starr will also lead a brief ThinkWrong drill, which will get people stretching both their brains and minds in an engaging brainstorm-style activity.

Category: Business Management, Format: Expert Breakout Session, Audience Level: Senior-Level

Learning Objectives

  1. Strategic methods for encouraging internal engagement within your agency, including company-only newsletters, podcasts, walking meetings, and allowing all levels to lead.
  2. How to use tools like ThinkWrong and Slack polls and surveys to get people thinking about their work in new and exciting ways – leading to better outputs from your company as a whole.
  3. Insights on different structures within an agency, including what works and areas for improvement.

Lead Presenter:

Starr Million Baker, APR, CEO + co-founder, INK Communications Co., Denver

Starr Million Baker has a knack for finding better ways to do things and motivating others to do the same. She’s created communications programs with a wide breadth of strategic aims for clients big and small in the B2B technology and energy industries. Starr studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and has earned her Accreditation in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America. Her devotion to her craft and her company has secured her a place on PR News’ Top Women in PR list and added a lot of hardware to INK’s shelves, including multiple Inc. 5000 and Best Places to Work recognition.

1:30 – 2:45

Luncheon Keynote: "Communication in the Age of Rage”

Presenter: Renowned trendspotter, former global agency leader and CMO Marian Salzman

Marian Salzman has been named one of the world’s top five trendspotters and is among the world’s most-awarded public relations executives. She’s been listed in PRWeek’s Global Power Book and as a PRNEWS Top Woman in PR. A sought-after speaker, Marian was inducted into the PRWeek Hall of Femme and Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, and was on the Holmes Report Top Innovators List and Business Insider’s 25 Most Powerful PR People. 

As senior vice president of global communications at Philip Morris International (PMI), Marian is remaking the group — including directly overseeing a staff of almost 100 communications professionals based on three continents. Her staff is responsible for media relations, scientific engagement, content development, crisis management, internal communications, sponsorships and more. Marian reports directly to Global CEO André Calantzopoulos.

Previously, Marian served as CEO of Havas PR North America for nearly a decade. Prior to Havas PR, she was the chief marketing officer at both Porter Novelli and JWT Worldwide and the chief strategic officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide (Havas Creative).

3–4 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: Set VI

1.) 9 Brainstorming Techniques to Inspire Creativity in Your Agency

When Kate Snyder kept hearing from new clients they were changing agencies because of a lack of ideas, she went on a quest to infuse creativity into her boutique agency culture and operations. Rooted deep in research ranging from sociology to neuropsychology, Kate will share why you should invest the time and energy into building a creative culture, and how to do so in a way that will lead to strategic solutions for your clients. This interactive session will cover nine different brainstorming techniques — and the research behind them — that can be used with teams and clients alike in developing engaging and effective solutions. Attendees also will get the chance to practice and engage in some of the techniques themselves to make it easier to implement back at the office. To remain competitive, we need to remain creative. But some good, old-fashioned project management and operations techniques are required to help our teams do so. Come get creative, while learning how to ensure your team is able to do the same.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the research behind what motivates and allows people to be creative, and how to create those environments within your agency.
  2. Learn processes that will allow you to build creativity into your agency operations to ensure clients are getting new and fresh ideas.
  3. Practice and learn nine brainstorming techniques you and your teams can use to go beyond the basic white board brainstorm.

Kate Snyder, APR, principal strategist and owner, Piper & Gold Public Relations, Lansing, Mich.

Kate Snyder focuses her head and heart on creating communication that makes our world better for everyone. She is dedicated to uplifting women in business, she’s a passionate advocate for the arts, and she makes it her mission to ensure those without a microphone have an opportunity to step up to the stand.
Kate is a savvy PR practitioner and veteran strategist who inspires and empowers her clients to connect with their audiences and customers in new, dynamic ways. She writes and speaks about working with government, nonprofits and businesses to be more conscious of their messages, build valuable relationships, and always — ALWAYS — focus on how their efforts connect to their strategic goals and purpose to achieve measurable results for their work. She has built a company committed to doing big work in a small community, and she will motivate you to do the same. Kate is a proud Disneyphile, an unabashed musical theater geek and professional caller-of-bullshit.

2.) When, How and Why to Bring in a Strong #2 to Help Your Agency Soar

A panel discussion led by agency owner (Hinda Mitchell) and three second-in-commands: Gina Richmond (Abel Communications), Amy Boyle Collins (Gambel Communications) and Emily Hartzog (Chartwell Agency).

In this session, these leaders will discuss the role of a strong No. 2 leader at an agency and how the person in this pivotal role can drive growth and success. Attendees will learn some of the key triggers for when an owner should bring in a No. 2 and how best to divide and conquer. 

3.) Leveraging Innovative Tools to Increase Client and Agency Results

In this session, Serena Ehrlich, director of product marketing, BusinessWire, will look at how today's digital tools can be leveraged to add financial value to your agency innovative offerings.  This session will focus on content creation, amplification and measurement tools.

4:15–5:15 p.m.

Closing Keynote Session:

Counselors Storytelling Series: Bank from the Brink

Six of your Counselors peers will share short stories of setbacks and comebacks. Please join us for an inspirational close to this conference.

6:30-10 p.m.

Closing Reception & Dinner

Join colleagues for a closing reception and dinner as we celebrate the 2020 Counselors Academy Conference.

10 p.m.



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