When I was starting out in PR, all those months ago, my (long) answer to the question “where do you see your career going?” would go something like this:
Well, I’d like to get my head, concentrate on adding value and creativity to all my accounts and become an account director in five years. Then I’d like to move client side and be the marketing/communications director for a large technology company, become a product marketing manager and work my way up the company to Chief Marketing Officer and possibly even a CEO.”
I was a naive and ambitious 23 when I started my first PR job.
I’m not sure why I chose that particular path, not sure why I chose big companies to incubate my career, not sure why I chose to go client side, not sure why I felt the need to change streams from PR to marketing and I’m not sure why I felt that being CMO or CEO was so important.
However, looking back, I think (if it ever works – and it’s a big if) I would’ve made the right choices, and here’s why.
Looking at the two major marketing conglomerates that I’ve worked for — IPG which owns Weber Shandwick and GolinHarris (my former employer) and Omnicom which owns Fleishman-Hillard and iStudio (my current employer) — there’s almost no way that an account person can rise through the ranks from AAE through to CEO.
IPG’s CEO is Michael L Roth, the former Chairman and CEO of The MONY Group Inc., a financial services holding company that provides a wide range of protection, asset accumulation and retail brokerage products and services through its member companies (from his corporate bio). In other words, a money man.
In other words, they aren’t, and never have been, account staff. (I apologise in advance is either of these assertions are untrue.)
By contrast, Weber Shandwick’s CEO is Harris Diamond, a former lawyer and account man himself. Fleishman-Hillard’s CEO is Dave Senay who has been with the company for 22 years and still services accounts.
Clearly, if you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 marketing agency, PR is not the starting place. Talent, drive and ambition not withstanding.
How come? Is it even possible to move from a PR agency, such as FH, up into the holding company, such as Omnicom? Do PR people lack the skills and/or capabilities to run a billion dollar publically traded company? If so, is there some sort of course I can take? Do I need to start using my middle initial more often?
Answers, as always in the comments.