Sandy Harbrecht has applied her teaching skills to the business world by incorporating a lesson plan that brings out the best in other people.
The strategy has proven remarkably successful. Paul Werth Associates, the public relations firm she took over from her father in 1985, is one of the largest firms in the Columbus area, and during her tenure, the shop has won eight Silver Anvil awards -- the Public Relations Society of America's highest award.
You are a former banker and educator who made the switch to public relations. Was it a difficult transition?
It happened such a long time ago, it seems like it was a natural thing. My father owned and operated this business, so he really was a huge help in training me, coaching me, encouraging me.
He was my mentor and he also introduced me to other good mentors early in my career with the company. I felt that the transition was made easier by people I had the opportunity to work with, who had the experience, who wanted to see me be successful.
What strategies do you use in managing your employees?
We have a philosophy, or set of values, that really underpins everything that I try to do in working with my colleagues, and that is we try to be a learning organization and we try to be an organization that brings out the best in others.
We try to keep things interesting for people that work here, keep it challenging, encourage them to stretch and to do things that might be a little bit out of their comfort zone, and provide lots of opportunities for them to work on interesting assignments.
We also encourage them to take some risks; not wild risks, but calculated risks with their abilities, and provide a work environment that is pleasant and comfortable.
How do you foster creativity within the company?
It starts by trying to recruit people who are creative or enjoy the creative process. The other piece is encouraging them to collaborate with each other.
I think the best ideas don't come from sitting in your office all by yourself all the time. You can meet with clients who value your creativity, as well as colleagues who are also creative, like the creative process and want to be in an environment where ideas are stimulated by each other.
You recently acquired the Haunty Agency. How do you position this acquisition when pitching new business?
It's helped us because the people who came with the Haunty Agency are very much aligned with our business philosophy, which is that communication is about integrating and aligning everything you do. It starts there.
From that, I think it is important for our clients to understand the quality of work that they bring to the table is on par with the quality of work that people have come to expect from our firm.
That quality message is important. If people understand that what the advertising agency brings to the table is very much in sync with what they have always valued in Paul Werth Associates, then that's the best place to start. From there, they have to get comfortable with the creative side on the Haunty agency.
Once they have the opportunity to interact with those people, they see it, believe it and get excited about it.
What is your strategy for continued growth?
We have taken on more and more national clients over the last five years. We want to keep and grow the national clients that we have. The second part is we want to selectively add national clients that are a good fit with our company.
It can be in the kind of work that they require, it can be in the way they value public relations from a strategy perspective. It's several things that make a national client a good fit for us. We don't want to add hundreds of clients, we just want to add really great clients.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is using my business and my teaching skills to help bring out the best in other people. To see organizations succeed and have a belief that you contributed even a small part to their success is extremely gratifying, and to see people grow and flourish and prosper in our client organizations or in our company is a tremendously rewarding experience.
How to reach: Paul Werth Associates, (614) 224-8114 or www.paulwerth.com