Interview Segments on Topic: PR Agency or Corporate PR/Outsourcing
Ann Barkelew is a senior counselor of Fleishman-Hillard Inc., and the retired senior partner/founding general manager of the agency's Minneapolis/St. Paul office. She has more than 35 years of top management experience with Fortune 100 and small - to mid - cap companies. She is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including "Public Relations Professional of the Year;" Fleishman-Hillard's Lifetime Achievement Award, a “Public Relations All-Star”, and in 2003 the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award.
Interviewer: It’s so interesting that you brought up about the mentor because I was going to ask you about that. So what was next for you after Dayton Hudson?
Barkelew: Well I promised myself that I’d quit smoking before I turned 50 and I did. That I would return before I turned 60 and I did. But once it was announced that I was leaving. My phone, I got a lot of phone calls from people saying would you come and do this project for us? And this project for us? So I immediately, I retired and went to work on three projects. I helped create some good public relations programs for Musicland working with Marsha Apple the senior vice president and being sort of an outside consultant for her. And then I did a needs-assessment for Kohl’s media to help them determine how they ought to be organized for public relations and communications. And then I had my most interesting assignment, and I got called in to help Minnesota Vikings and head coach Dennis Greene who became one of my very good friends, but he was the first African American head coach in the NFL and he had come to Minnesota with a very successful career behind him, but a lot of people wanting to attack him. And so there were some source, not to be named, kinds of stories that ran in the newspapers, so I was hired to help Dennis and the Minnesota Vikings deal with those issues. And that was, so it was three really widely different assignments. And I was so busy and I really did not like going to Kinko’s to copy all my stuff, so I figured I really did need a copy machine. About the time John Graham from Fleischman Hilliard, whom I’ve known forever and whom I’ve admired for many years, and we’re both from Missouri so we sort of were souls of the same nature, and and he called and said, “I want to put a flag up in Minnesota and I’d like for you to do it for me.” And I said “No, no, no. You have the wrong person. I don’t like agencies. I never used them. I thought they were all overrated, so I’m the wrong person for you.” And he said, “Well let’s talk about that.” And there was one exception. I really liked Kexton Company in New York and I told him why I liked them, and he said, “Well why don’t you open an office for Fleischman Hilliard in Minnesota like you would have hired?” And so I said “Oh that’s a great challenge. I could do that.” And so we did. We opened an office and I gathered together, we started out with five people and our initial budget was, our initial revenues were $400,000 in Minnesota. And then at the end of six years when I retired again, we were at 35 people and $7 million and the third largest agency in the twin cities. So that was pretty exciting.
Interviewer: Great. Yeah what’s interesting is I believe at that time there was some general noise that it was too competitive an environment and they just didn’t, people just didn’t hold out a lot of hope for you or the success of the office, right? And what was the big challenge?
Barkelew: Well the big challenge was that Fleischman Hilliard is an international agency, and no big national agency had ever survived in Minnesota. It’s very, very proud of Minnesota offices, very proud of Minnesota companies. That’s why so many companies that are Minnesotan are incorporated in Minnesota, But I think Burson Marstellar had been in there a couple of time. Hilliard Knowlton had been there a couple of times and, and they closed the offices and people moved on to other places. But, so I said, now there was a Shandwick office there but they were there because they bought a local agency and so they just changed names, but most people in town still called it Mona Murry McGrath so and so, that was a challenge because, and it’s what we ran into on every new business pitch. People would say “Well we understand you are sort of pricey because you are a big national.” We have all these offices and everything. I am competitive with any, any piece of offer that you may get from someone else. What we did was, we really promoted the fact that we were all Minnesota people, and that we did all of our business in Minnesota. We weren’t just housed in Minnesota, but we were an office that focused on Minnesota companies and on Minnesota business and so we were there to stay. And we also didn’t bait and switch, I mean we looked at all the things that had always bugged me about agencies, and we corrected those and it worked. So it was great fun. And it made my career then, very interesting because I had had public sector PR experience, corporate PR experience and then finally agency experience. So having done all three, I then could retire…sort of.