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Michael MonahanNews

Six Things I Learned in My First Week as President of Chicago’s Next Great PR Firm

By January 11, 2018 August 29th, 2019 No Comments


  1. This is not going to be easy. Building Chicago’s next great PR agency is going to take work – hard work. There are some really good agencies in Chicago, and while it’s a market that’s large enough for all of us, it’s going to require a lot of effort to rise to the very top.
  2. Communication is key. In my first few days on the job, I’ve met with each one of Tech Image’s account leads and have either called or emailed every primary client contact in our portfolio. The conversations with our clients were enlightening. In some cases, I heard what I expected: “Congratulations on the new job. I’m happy with your team’s work.” In other cases, I was pleasantly surprised by their candor: “You’re doing solid work, but here are some opportunities for improvement.”
    I never want to be the last one to know about a problem. Whether it’s an internal issue or an external one, I want to be involved. I welcome the crucial conversations that will strengthen both our team and our relationships with our clients.
  3. I need to be better than I have ever been before. I said recently that it’s been a long time since I’ve been as engaged in my professional career. This is true. I’m up earlier and work later than I have in years. The Tech Image team skews younger than a lot of companies, and it’s important that my account managers and I set a good example for them. But it’s more than that. It’s about actually being present, and providing leadership and guidance that allows them to serve their clients exceptionally well.
    On my first day on the job, I wrote to my team to tell them, “I won’t be perfect. I will make mistakes.” Along the way, however, we will grow this agency and the individuals who work here. Matt Sanderson, CEO of Tech Image’s parent company SmithBucklin, often says, “I want this company to ruin any future job our people have, by comparison.” That’s a mantra I’ve taken to heart. I want to build a great, enduring company at Tech Image – one that values client service, growth, transparency, harmony and technology above all else.
  4. I have a lot of people to thank. I’ve worked for some great people, our former president Dan O’Brien primary among them. Paul Cacioppo, Joe Troy, Mark Tubb and Kari Groh all get credit as well, for helping shape me during certain parts of my career, even when I sometimes didn’t realize they were doing it. People like Henry Givray, Eric Polins, Bill Carlson, Harry Costello, Charlie McShane, Jenny Weigle all were instrumental in my growth. Leslie Tieszen and Bryn Mars deserve credit, as well, for being important sounding boards or mentors for me when I needed one.
  5. Tech Image is a special place. We have a group of amazingly talented people who work here. We have the backing of a solid parent company in SmithBucklin, giving us the resources of a large company while allowing us to maintain the agility of a small one. All of our back-office functions are handled for us, so most of our people can spend the majority of their time on client work – and that helps make us unique in the marketplace.
    In addition, by way of SmithBucklin’s ESOP, we are employee-owned. I believe this has two effects. First, it allows every employee, even our most junior associates, the opportunity to own a piece of a growing company. Second, it changes the psychology of how we approach our work. We approach our jobs as owners more than employees – another of our key differentiators.
  6. This is going to be fun. I view my role at Tech Image as the first step in the second half of my career. I worked incredibly hard to get here, on a long road that’s taken me from Tampa, Florida, to Birmingham, Alabama, to Vancouver, British Columbia, to Canton, Ohio – and now to Chicago. I worked a lot of long nights and weekends. I’ve stayed in nice hotels and I’ve stayed in absolute dumps. I’ve launched new products and I’ve had to communicate downsizings. I’ve been promoted and I’ve been fired. And I haven’t seen anything yet.

I read an article once that said that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank sent Nike Founder and CEO Phil Knight a Christmas card every year containing the phrase, “You will know our name.” Here’s my version:

Dear Chicago PR firms – that image closing in on you in your rearview mirror? That’s Tech Image. – Chicago’s Next Great PR Firm.

I came to Tech Image four years ago because I wanted to make a difference, and because I believe we have the opportunity to reshape the digital PR landscape in Chicago and beyond. This week was our first step, and look at what I’ve learned already.


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