CEO Corner: Peter Finn Plays Long Ball

New PF Photo
Peter Finn

Since its 2011 launch Finn Partners has grown from $25 million in revenue to nearly $72 million, fueled by a string of strategic acquisitions. “I am finding there is a flood of acquisition opportunities, more than I have ever seen before,” said Peter Finn, founder and managing partner, who steers the firm’s M&A efforts. “And there are many more where I’ve said, ‘No, thanks.’”

In the last five years, Finn has made eight acquisitions, with two additional transactions in the pipeline. “Each time we close on an acquisition we strengthen our team and then we go out to the marketplace and pitch accounts as a better competitor than we were before,” Finn said. “My goal is to turn Finn Partners into a world-class global agency that any potential clients, in any major market, would say, ‘Finn Partners is one of the firms we have to talk to,’ but we’re not there yet.”

Finn recently spoke with Gould+Partners about his business strategy and the larger challenges facing PR firms and agencies.

Gould+Partners: What are the top challenges to boosting profitability and utilization for PR agencies?

Peter Finn: PR agencies must invest in the whole Digital/Creative sector, and those investments put pressure on profit margins. The question we asked ourselves is whether it makes sense to develop a digital team in every office? (Finn has 12 offices throughout the world.) There are many aspects of Digital and many different talents are needed, so we decided to create an agency-wide Digital/Creative team that services all our offices and clients, rather than to try to build this capability in each office.

Our Digital/Creative team is dispersed throughout all our offices, so most of our offices have a piece of what is needed, but the staff operates as a centralized resources for the entire agency. When account execs need help they go to the head of the digital team and he figures out who has the right  skills for that particular assignment and who has availability. Right now, we have about 70 people in our Digital/Creative team and it’ll probably be 100 by the end of 2017. This is the best way to balance the shift to the digital world and manage the many different resources within digital that an agency has to have, and yet also make those resources available to every client without negatively impacting the agency’s profitability.

Gould+Partners: Where are the opportunities right now in digital PR when you consider all the upheaval in the marketplace?

Finn: Digital work and digital analytics have made a huge difference in our industry. I think what’s coming next is marketing automation, which is the use of technology and content to drive leads for our clients. Most PR agencies do not offer marketing automation for clients and it’s something we’ll be offering in the near future. Everybody is providing content for their clients, but they’re not necessarily taking software tools and combining them with content to drive leads for clients. Over the next five years, marketing automation will become an essential component of what every successful PR agency offers.

Gould+PartnersWhat are the biggest challenges in monetizing social media channels?

Finn: First of all, many of our clients do provide us with additional budget for social media work. For example, we started with a client four years ago with a social media project; the budget was somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000. The work quickly grew and over the course of two years Finn Partners became the social media agency of record for this client  (we were not their PR firm) and they became one of our largest clients.  Subsequently, the client put its PR account out to bid, and hired us for that, too.

Gould+Partners: What are some of the strategies you deploy to enhance retention among your senior managers?

Finn: Every new hire gets a letter that talks about our core values, and that’s very important in terms of keeping our senior people but is also important to employees at more junior levels. We live by our core values  and they set us apart in the industry from other agencies…We have a group of founding managing partners, most of whom have worked together for close to 20 years. They all completely buy-in to our core values. Sometimes, we have a problem with a member of our staff who doesn’t necessarily always operate in a way that’s consistent with our core values and, in those cases, we have a conversation; I need to remind that individual about the letter on our values he or she received from me when the person joined the agency. It’s an ongoing process.

There are many other things we do as part of our “best place to work” program, which is designed to help us retain our best talent. That includes profit sharing bonuses that every staff member participates in, team building retreats, enhanced leave for new parents, and more.

Gould+Partners: What about employee retention among account executives, particularly among millennials? How do you incentivize them?

Finn: I think our core values are most important. We have a long list of elements in our “best place to work program,” which runs two pages long. We recently increased our new-parent benefits to three months of paid leave for the primary-care giver and a gradual return and two weeks of paid leave for secondary-care giver (plus flexibility on the time of return). We also have a lot days off beyond what most agencies do; we have the standard holidays and vacation days. On top of those days, employees get five extra days off between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day, and we’re closed between Christmas and New Year’s. We’re also in process of replacing all desktops with laptops to give employees increasing mobility and the ability to work from home.

Peter Finn: At a Glance  

Favorite book: “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot
Favorite websites: Crain’s New York Business, The Holmes Report, PR Week,
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal
Favorite social media channel: LinkedIn
If not PR, which career would you choose? Academia/literature (University level)

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