Be Different: The Result May Surprise You

Posted on May 11, 2016

By Joanna Kulesa

As a seasoned PR person, I seldom become nervous when talking to a reporter, analyst or client. Energized, yes, but not nervous. However, I had butterflies that day around 10 years ago when I did something that seemed really unorthodox: I decided to reach out to competitor agencies and invite them to coffee.

Would they be suspicious of my intentions? Would they find it creepy? Would they simply blow me off?

I proceeded anyway, for the simple reason that I couldn’t stop wondering if camaraderie among competitors was not only possible, but also a good thing. If we could learn from each other. If, following the coopetition example of many of our high-tech clients, we could beat each other up in the marketplace during the day but be friends with mutual interests at night.

After years of demonizing my competitors (as people in rough-and-tumble industries are sometimes prone to do), I wanted to know if we were more alike than I realized.

So I systematically emailed the owners of about a dozen agencies, large and small, with Silicon Valley presences and asked: “Are you open to having coffee with me?”

The reaction was amazing. Almost everyone responded very positively and my calendar soon started filling up with these meetings. (I really knew my outreach had gotten attention when one of the few agency owners who didn’t initially respond wrote me two years later to say she wanted to get together.)

The conversations flowed effortlessly. We explored our common issues, from navigating the business environment to operational matters to HR topics.

And we got to know each other better as people.

This experience has taught many of us that no man or woman needs to be an island in this business, that so much good can come if we’re generous to each other with our spirits.

In fact, these little coffee meetings have grown into a larger ad-hoc group the last few years that I co-chair with another agency principal. Some 30 Silicon Valley agency owners and partners are members and we meet every so often for lunch or dinner.

Going out on a limb can produce such unexpectedly wonderful results, and I’m hoping for the same with the Kulesa Faul quarterly newsletter – Think: Musings on Business and Life – that we are launching today.

The newsletter, like pretty much all newsletters of its kind, is another way for us to stay in touch with our clients and friends. But we intend to make it a little different from others you may receive by aiming to entertain and inform. We’ll take a chance here and there, in keeping with KF’s core values: “Integrity First. Be Bold. All in.”

Think of it as a digital coffee klatch. Much like the one that started when I nervously contacted fellow agency owners a decade ago, who knows where it will lead?

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