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February 28th, 2011

Perspective on the Porter Novelli Acquisition

Voce Communications Timeline

It has been a few days since we announced the sale of Voce Communications to Porter Novelli. We have received so many more well wishers than we could have anticipated and we are grateful to our community of friends and colleagues and family for taking time to give us a shout.

I know what some of you are thinking: Almost 12 years ago we left a global PR firm to create a company that was in many ways built as the opposite of that global PR firm, and now we have announced we are joining Porter Novelli, a different global PR firm. Full circle, right? If you will let me, I want to explain over the next day or two how we arrived here and provide a little insight into how Voce came to be here in this place.

We created Voce to be a new type of consulting firm, not an anti-agency. We have always believed that communications encompasses much more than just PR and press releases and media relations, and that the very nature of the relationship between PR firms and clients was one that was never on par with other consultancies. Law firms get well-earned access and respect. Business consultants get the same. So we thought we would try to change that. We also felt that the relationship between the employee and the agency was one that required more care, more effort and a more unique blend of camraderie.

What were the key decisions in our history that led us here? Out of the gate, we offered ownership to our employees. Ownership does not just mean money or shares. It means the ability to participate in the strategic planning and execution of the company. We promised transparency and inclusiveness. To this day we have people of all levels working on key parts of the business.

We made it our creed that our core focus is people, not publicity. Our people make up our offering, as our people go, so do we. When we are working with clients, we are working with people, not companies. When we communicate for our clients, we are communicating to people, not segments or audiences or demographics. It is all about people.

We never took ourselves too seriously. We are doing communications, not brain surgery. Keep the highs and lows in the ballpark.

These seemingly simple core values saved us a few times in our history.

In 2001, the dotcom bust and 9/11 put a thick layer of ice across the entire technology PR industry. There was no market for technology PR for almost a year or more. Voce management took big cuts and asked if the company wanted to take a volunteer pay cut or layoff people. People return loyalty and they chose to take paycuts and we didn’t layoff a single person. When the market returned, we had more than just a lot of people around to work on business. We had proven that our people and our culture was our top priority in our most challenging time. Rarely do you get a chance to prove your values in good times, but in bad times the true character comes out.

In 2004, we had an employee test our business plan and ask to launch a social media marketing arm for Voce. We said all along we would invest into ideas of our people and this was our first request. We required a business plan and some basic strategic direction, and we put our money and our effort behind it. This is now the Voce Connect team, a group of more than 30+ consultants and developers doing extraordinary work in the market. This has been a major strategic differentiator for Voce and for our clients. Most importantly, it was another chance for us to fulfill our pledge to our people.

In 2008, as part of our growing social media services, we started working with a small development shop in Florida. A group of five talented developers who were starting to do some very cool project work for our clients. We wanted to bring them into our company because we could see great opportunities ahead for the team. When we met with them they had one prerequisite, culture and work environment. If we did not have the culture we do, that team would have never joined our company in 2009. This is another seminal moment in our history and one we never could have predicted.

In 2009, the ass dropped out of the market and the economic drop made the dotcom bust look like a cute market correction. Once again, the belts tightened and the market slowed. Having survived one nuclear business winter, we weren’t about to be surprised this time. We offered salary cuts across the board to all of our employees as an alternative to potential layoffs. Our staff, again true to form, agreed to salary reductions. No one lost their job.

In more than 11 years we have had less than 7% attrition annually. We have had only one person go to a competing agency in that entire time. Some of our clients have had the same folks on their team for ten years.

What we did right in the past years was put the company in the hands of our people. We made some bonehead decisions over time like opening a Boston office in 2000 (not enough words of thanks for our Boston alum) right before the world stopped. But we were always honest with our people and we made decision in the light of day for our company.

I think some people will say that this is the end of Voce Communications. I get that, but it is flat out wrong. We selected Porter Novelli for many reasons.

Take a look at a graphical timeline of the past 11 years.

About the Author
Rich Cline is president of Voce Communications, a Porter Novelli company. One of the original three founders, Cline has been involved in the PR and communications industry for over two decades.

Filed in Voce News

Add Your Comment1 Response to “Perspective on the Porter Novelli Acquisition”

R Inocencio on March 1st, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hi Rich & Beverly, great story & perspective. good decent inspiring. Viva VOCE!