A Note from Carreen Winters: From time to time we feature guest posts from clients, industry experts and other MWW leaders. Today, we feature a post from Joe Cohen – who is a legitimate leader — of our firm, and our industry (he’s the National Chair of the PRSA). I remember Joe when he joined us – an eager, earnest high energy Account Coordinator. I was lucky enough to have Joe as a direct member of my team for more than ten years. And I am so proud of all he has accomplished, and thankful for all he has contributed to MWW over the past 15 years. As Joe gets ready to begin a new chapter in his professional life, he offered to provide his advice to PR professionals, from the hardest working man in PR. Sometimes the student becomes the teacher. And there is no better teacher of professionalism, passion and integrity than Joe Cohen. I feel lucky to call him my colleague, and my friend. I hope KIND knows how lucky they are to have Joe on their team. Joe, MWW is a better agency because of you.
“Our careers, like our lives, somehow divide themselves into eras, into distinct periods involving distinct kinds of experiences. People come and go and are identified with these periods. And the success of the enterprise frequently rides on the ability of the people to create a community of effort within each era.” – James A. Autry, author, poet and businessman (excerpt taken from “Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership”)
On August 25, 1999, a new era began in my life when I walked through the doors at One Meadowlands Plaza and started my public relations career at MWW. It was my first “grown up” job following a stint as an on-air jock at a radio station in Syracuse, NY. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would also mark the beginning of an incredible 15 year journey.
Michael Carroll, a Wall Street executive turned Buddhist meditation teacher, once wrote, “work becomes our spiritual journey.” These words resonate very deeply with me. My time at MWW has been a lesson in life and business and a period of tremendous self-discovery. In the coming days I will depart MWW, a company that has been much more to me than a place of work. It’s been my home.
As you might expect, the past few weeks have been a time of deep reflection and I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I’m excited to take on the new challenge of becoming SVP of communications at KIND Healthy Snacks, but I will miss my team, my clients, my mentors… My family. During my time at MWW, I’ve benefitted enormously from both the experiences gained and the individuals that I’ve worked alongside. As I prepare for a new era in my personal journey, my intention is to impart some of the values that have been engrained within me during my years with the firm:
Professionalism – during my first month on the job at MWW, I missed the new hire breakfast, and came dangerously close to ending my career before it began. One of my early learnings at MWW was developing an understanding of what it means to carry the mark of a professional. Discipline, reliability, accountability, personal presentation, organization. I was fortunate to have great mentors who schooled me in these areas – sometimes in the form of painful learning experiences. To this point, a very simple piece of advice I once received about being a professional: if you say you’re going to do something, do it.
Relationships – early in my career, I learned that when it comes to relationship-building, it pays on both a business and a personal level to go the extra mile. People will recognize and remember when you cared enough to take the extra step to show support, provide help or go just a bit further than what is expected. This should extend beyond managers and clients and should apply to all of your relationships. There’s the philosophy that treating all people with respect will one day benefit you unexpectedly (and it may), but it’s also just a good way to live.
Directness – when I first became a manager, I found it very difficult to provide counsel to my clients when I knew that it was something that they didn’t want to hear, and offering constructive criticism to staff was a struggle as well. Developing the courage to be direct made me a better professional and counselor, and a much stronger person as well. It’s also worth noting that when delivering difficult messages, it is important to do so in a productive, professional, respectful and compassionate manner.
Self-Improvement and Humility – my greatest learnings at MWW have come during times when I’ve failed. Forcing yourself to look in the mirror and admit failure – but never accept it – is what will help you grow. It is also important to identify and understand your strengths and weaknesses, and to surround yourself with teammates who balance you out. Better to work alongside people who can be your professional foils rather than your duplicates.
Identifying Your Motivations – when I learned to identify my personal and professional motivations, my career instantly became more fulfilling. This begins by thinking hard about the aspects of your job that you find to be the most deeply rewarding (for me it’s managing people and the creative process). Of course, you need to still give your all across all of your assignments – this is part of being a professional.
Humor – we work in a profession that at times can be intense, demanding and downright grueling. But it can also be a lot of fun and it’s often humor that brings teams together, cements relationships and helps to carry you through the tough times (this also applies to client relationships). The personal chemistry and shared sense of humor that I have enjoyed with my team has helped us endure very challenging periods and helped make us more than co-workers but a family.
Seizing Opportunities – critical to professional advancement is identifying when the door of opportunity has swung open and then seizing the moment with both hands. Many of these opportunities opened up for me when managers left, “step up moments” when I was able to show that I was capable of helping to fill the void.My own departure creates this same opportunity for a number of my teammates, individuals who are extremely talented, capable and very deserving of having – and seizing – this opportunity to shine.
One of the great gifts from my experience at MWW is tremendous personal and professional fulfillment in my work. I have also benefited significantly as a person and a professional as a result of the people who have invested in me – my managers, colleagues, clients and my team. I would be remiss (a massive understatement) if I failed to express my appreciation for all that I have learned from Michael Kempner. Michael – you have been a personal and professional role model, an adopted parent, a friend, and a guiding force in my life for more than 15 years. It is a debt that I can never come close to repaying.
In the coming days one era in my personal journey will close and another will begin. For the emerging generation of leaders at MWW, it is my hope that these learnings that I’ve shared will be of value to you as you continue on the path that is your own personal journey.