Mills Public Relations at 10—The Best is Yet to Come

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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Back in 2004, the ‘plan’ for Mills PR seemed simple enough. Do what you do best—deliver measurable PR results for clients no matter how complex the issue might be—and do it with passion, accountability  and integrity.

Thus the agency began its journey. Without a clear growth strategy. Without any thought about adaptive technology and digital PR. Without any real understanding of human resources, business financing, accounts receivable, leases, insurance requirements, HIPPA. Without a crystal ball warning of the Great Recession that lay in wait …would follow.  The ‘plan,’ such as it was, boiled down to a simple notion: if my former boss could become a millionaire in the PR industry, Mills could surely make a go of it.

Sitting here today, it’s obvious how Mills survived and succeeded. Without the clients we’ve been privileged to represent and the people who pitched in, Mills would not have lasted ten minutes, let alone ten years.

Thankfully, we thrived, then survived and prospered once again. Over the years, we had so many great moments. We helped relaunch the iconic Fenway Frank under the Kayem brand. We spent almost nine years providing media relations, crisis communications and digital PR services to the fifth largest passenger railroad in the United States. We delivered international media coverage that involved household names like LeBron James and Venus Williams. We worked with Steve Wynn’s organization. We cast a huge spotlight on an initiative to teach urban kids how to swim.  We helped clients win too many ‘Best’ awards to count, including financial services, community reinvestment, food, couture, arts, spa services, and real estate. We provided an amazing amount of pro bono service, including to a group of psychologists who provided free care to military families with loved ones serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

allison 1All of the effort and success gave us knowledge, honed our skills and made us proud. But nothing was more gratifying than the contributions of  Alison Mills, namesake of this agency. Alison has never worked a single day for Mills, but without her strength and courage, the agency would be nowhere. From the moment she said “go for it”—without hesitation —she has been a rock. Even though the kids were aged two and five months in 2004. Even through the lean first years when cash flow was hard to come by. And even though she holds down a high-profile government position. I could never thank her enough.

As a small agency, Mills has been fortunate to recruit many gifted staff members over the years. Together, we have shared ‘learning moments’ both large and small. Most of the people who have worked for Mills took a big chance by joining a small agency. Work at Mills provides the opportunity to work long hours, take on complex clients and challenging issues, all while delivering the same level of service and results as organizations ten times our size.  Not to mention work for a principal who brings the ‘eye of the tiger’ every day!

From our first hire (Laura Sargent) to our most recent addition to the team (Nicole Brathwaite), I’d like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of the employees who played a part on the Mills team over the past decade – especially current staffers Brittney Hemela and Sarah Mattero whose can-do spirit and zest for success are evident in everything they do.

I’d also like to recognize the energy and commitment of former employees like Laura, Suzanne Aronowitz, Katie Canavan Theriault, Erin Blake Elfante, Stacey Wilbur, Tom Halkin, Rhiannon D’Angelo, Kevin Mahoney, Natalie Pietzrak, Julia Williamson, Matt Kischer, Jean Murin and Pam Bolotin. All of their efforts translated into amazing outcomes for clients.

mills prOne team member deserves special recognition. Brent Trethewey, who has provided branding, business development, and search marketing services to Mills since 2012, drove our rebranding effort, which produced our “Brand in Gear” motto. Brent’s friendship, loyalty and commonsense approach to a challenging industry is irreplaceable. Your faith and belief changed the agency for the better.

Jim McSweeney, president of The CIP Group, provided unique support. Jim has done so much for the agency. He provided affordable office space in East Cambridge during the critical bootstrap years. He educated us about human resources laws and regulations. He even hired the agency to represent his business. Mills could not be prouder to know such a wonderful, charitable and intelligent man.

Since the start, the Mills ‘model’ has focused on delivery of as a small, efficient boutique agency that can compete with larger organizations by ‘extending’ its range of service offerings through strategic partnerships with key experts. Mills owes a debt of gratitude to the many talented consultants who’ve worked with our clients. This roster includes Nikki Roadman, Nancy Gaines, Howard Leibowitz (when he was between stints as Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s consigliere), Jim Borghesani of Prime Media, Greg O’Brien of the Stony Brook Group, Matt Watkins of Watkins Strategies, Susan Wagner of Susan Wagner PR, Steve D’Agostino-Jones of Best Rate of Climb as well as Lieba Golden-Koulendros, Lauren Fish, Emily Woods, and Courtney Megliola. We thank all of our partners for their contributions. We could not have succeeded without them.

It’s important to note how clients have imparted lessons to our team. Staring the day after Mills incorporated, when Forest City Enterprises hired the agency for its first project contract, and later that year when Kayem Foods named Mills as its ‘Agency of Record,’ many amazing client relationships blossomed. While there are too many to list, we’ve been proud to work with Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, John M. Corcoran & Co., Kendall Square Corporation, Commonwealth Century 21, Boston Center for the Arts, the City of Gloucester, Quality Beverage, Forsyth Institute, Network Heath, Cambridge Savings Bank, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Telecommunications Insight Group, Edaville Railroad, Hebrew Senior Life, New England Sports Academy, The CIP Group, Longwood Events, Zoots, Bosse Sports, Osbon Capital Management, Girls Scouts of Eastern MA, Alan Rouleau Couture,  The Fours, Bob’s Southern Bistro, the Carriage House Salon, Wynn Resorts, Healthcare for All, Lizzy’s Ice Cream, Tower Investments, Cambridge Health Alliance, Competitive Power Ventures, UBurger and dozens more.

Many leading large agencies on the Boston PR scene contracted Mills’ to help meet their clients’ needs, including Elevate Communications, Marlo Marketing, Denterlein Worldwide, and Schneider Associates. These relationships were truly invaluable. It’s transformative to see, first-hand, the tremendous level of professionalism and focus that other Boston PR pros bring to their work, not to mention learn and share best practices. The tremendously talented Keith Gainsboro, the precociously perceptive John Gates, the hard-charging Marlo Fogelman, and the worldly sophisticate Geri Denterlein — all taught Mills so much.

A special thank you is reserved for Nancy Sterling at ML Strategies. Nancy is known as a crisis counselor extraordinaire, but she also should be known for the support, guidance and insight she provides to many PR pros across the country. She is not alone. Talented leaders in PR, government affairs, marketing and advertising such as Paul Trane, Frank Perullo, AJ Gerritson, Tom Lee, Andrew Graff, Joe Baerlein, Lauren Clifford Knudsen, Jan Saragoni, Ashley McCown and Tina Cassidy have provided invaluable mentoring and advice. Only in Boston do PR competitors share insight! We’re so grateful for your friendship.

In closing, Mills would not have succeeded without the help of many student interns who earned course credits and valuable real-world experience at our agency. From ‘blocking and tackling’ work to advanced research and in some cases, participation in the strategy development process, so many talented “rockstars in training” played an important part in our success. Starting with our very first student recruit (Joel Whipple at Bentley, now an Associate at BlackRock in San Francisco!), we’ve been fortunate to work with some great young people. These include Julie Gurrette, Virginia Sotile, Casey Nulph, Lauren Petrin, Stephanie Fortin, Erica Roux, Amy Driscoll, Stephanie Brown, Brianna Quinn, Lenora Fleming, Lucia Marconi, Nick Morgan, Kristin Xiarhos, Rachel Eides, D’Andre Young, Doug Oliviera, Lindsay St. Jean, Ryan Lilly, Eric Leist, Darcy Keane, Bridgit Shaefer, Maria Mayer, Nikki Ippolito Hill, Bijal Patel, Emily Kirluik, Chelsea Brown, Brigid Sweeney, Nick Holt and Shannon Kirk.

As we start the next decade of Mills’ growth, we find ourselves truly excited about what lies ahead. Like anything in life, the passage of time has changed the PR industry. The emergence of Digital PR in the social media and search marketing spaces has provided a new, powerful way to leverage the ‘content’ that lies at the core of the industry—great stories. Moreover, the ability to share a powerful, moving, compelling, incisive narrative about a brand, an issue or a controversy no longer means having to ‘control the conversation.’

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By using proven and emerging digital tools, agencies like Mills PR can directly interact and engage with consumers via conversations focused on stories and experiences. PR agencies also create virtual ‘events’ that allow target audiences to participate as enthusiastic virtual brand ambassadors.
The new world of Digital PR even combines the traditional PR role of ‘newsmaking’ with customer service and support, which allows any organization to address any situation, no matter how challenging.

Mills PR at 10? Well, life does move pretty fast! It’s gratifying to stop, look back and share it.  And to thank all who’ve come along for the ride.

-Scott Farmelant

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