PMI’s people and diversification help it stand the test of time

 

Over his 32 years running PMI, President and CEO David Case’s philosophy has grown to be: Surround yourself with the best people; then give them free rein and get out of their way.

But the broadcasting and media production company deals with a different competitive landscape today. As the only full-service one-stop shop in town, advertising agencies brought PMI concepts and PMI would use its cameras, studios, editorial, audio and music suites, computer graphics with animation, etc., to bring them to life.

“Through the democratization of technology, more and more people have been able to enter into our world. Now, it seems just because someone can pick up an iPhone and take a video with it, they feel that they know how to create a program or a commercial as well as we do,” Case says.

More important than technology, though, are the people who create the imagery, tell the stories and do the special effects, he says. Talent is the differentiator.

PMI’s full-time workforce ranges from 40 to 60, depending on the long-term projects in the works. The company produces commercials, is the largest distributor of off-network television shows in the country and recently began producing feature films.

Personality fits

With an emphasis on people, Case says finding talent isn’t the challenge. PMI knows where to look and people reach out regularly. The challenge is finding people who have the PMI personality.

Most job applicants have the needed technological skills, and a missing area can be trained. What you can’t change is personality. So, PMI spends a lot of time trying to get to heart of the personality of job applicants to see if they’ll fit in.

“If you don’t fit in, the current staff will cut you out of the herd in a heartbeat, and you will not be successful,” Case says.

An adverse fit can be apparent in just a few days, he says. PMI’s Executive Vice President David Hartman calls it PURE, a previously undetected recruitment error.

That’s why Case likes the saying: Be slow to hire and fast to fire.

PMI has a relaxed culture, where employees really enjoy their jobs. People wear jeans and many bring their dogs to work. Case started bringing his dog to the office the day after 9/11 — his wife thought PMI could use a morale boost and protection from terrorists.

Today, he uses people’s reactions to the office dogs to gauge whether they’ll fit at PMI.

“If people do not like animals and cannot get along with animals, then I don’t think I want them around me and the rest of the staff,” he says.

Plus, Case knows when you’re taxed creatively, it’s a different world when you come back from taking a dog for a walk.

Diversify for success

Another reason why PMI is still around 30 years later is Case hasn’t been afraid to diversify, whether through its client base or types of projects.

The company recently started PMI Films. PMI has been dabbling in feature films for years, but Case didn’t jump in wholeheartedly until he found the right partner. A long-time producer, Brian Hartman understands how the industry works, who you work with, who you don’t work with and how to monetize it.

“It was a slow process. It was a long dating process to see how well we worked with him, how well he worked with us,” he says.

Currently, PMI Films has three projects in different stages of production. But with PMI Films, PMI is its own client. Sometimes that’s harder and sometimes it’s easier, such as flexible deadlines.

“It’s actually a great deal of fun, but it comes with its set of problems, too, because you’re sitting around with people you work with all the time. We all know that our opinion is the best. Sometimes we have a tough time expressing that to the rest of the group, and sometimes your opinion is overruled,” he says.

Diversification is critical for long-term success. It also can mean walking away from what’s not successful or spinning off a company, Case says.

PMI, for example, started a business in Phoenix because clients wanted a warm weather resort location. It was successful for eight years, but Case sold it because his daughter kept asking why he had to travel again.

“I realized that my personal life and my family life was much more important than my business life,” he says.

Something that wasn’t as successful was PMI Digital, which created online advertising.

The division lost its leader and PMI couldn’t find a suitable replacement. Also, PMI Digital alienated some clients who saw PMI as a competitor, not a vendor. Eventually, Case pulled the plug.

It’s not an easy decision because you’re affecting people’s lives, but it’s often a matter of economics, he says. You only have so much money to invest.

“If they’re not performing to the anticipated level, then it’s incumbent on the individual running the company — in this case, me — to say, ‘We’re not going to do it anymore. We’re going to stop.’ Because what will end up happening is we will end up harming the ability of the other divisions to be successful,” he says.