Anne Green: PR Queen

...Talking with Anne Green (GSAS, '01), President and CEO of CooperKatz.



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In the early 2000's, after approximately a decade of working in the field of public relations, you entered into the American Literature PhD program at NYU's Graduate School of Arts and Science. Now, as a PR professional with over twenty years of experience, can you talk a little about your interest in English and how that education has tied into your profession?

It’s funny. When I was in graduate school, I was at the same time still working in public relations and helping Andy and Ralph build the company [CooperKatz]. This was a start-up, so I’ve been with them, really, fifteen years, but that was contiguous so there were times where I was part-time here at the office. But I was really focusing on graduate school as well. So I had a foot both in the professional world and in academia.

I think that one thing that was interesting from my perspective in graduate school and being in that program was the heavy duty theoretical orientation, the amount of information you’re trying to absorb, and trying to learn new things very quickly (say, a new theorist, a new work, or a new perspective). I always said that that kind of training was so well-suited for the agency and professional services life that I was also living in. Because, here, we are a generalist firm; we work across many industry centers. So I’m working in technology, health care, higher education—and within a day, I have fifteen or sixteen different subject matters. And the ability to ramp up that information and to quickly speak in that language is what you need to do when you’re in graduate school in the humanities. So I always used to tell my friends [at NYU], “hey if anyone wants to be in this field, in communications, you would be well-suited for that.” And I know a few people who have made that transition. The critical thinking, the ability to absorb so much information, and to see the connections between things—there’s so many connections now between industries—that’s what really what brings value to our clients. Someone who has a broad perspective and oversight, who can make connections and can give them higher-level counsel.


         As a leader in the field of organizational communications, what personal or professional qualities do you find most valuable in your role?

Definitely intellectual curiosity—and I say that when I interview people all the time. We’ve talked about this for a long time, so everyone here really knows this, but we look for renaissance  people. It sounds funny to say, but the types of people who truly do have interests in many different kinds of things: can ramp up different types of information, can get excited about it (that’s the curiosity piece), and can stretch themselves in various ways. Not everybody is perfectly good at everything. And some people that work in this field are better suited working with consumer clients than, say, technology or business-to-business. We want our people to be able to work in many fields.

We have a lot of people, here, who are coming from a liberal arts background, and some of them are coming from a bachelor’s where they studied public relations. But in terms of what we’re looking for intellectually, it’s still that broad, liberal arts orientation.

 

            According to your LinkedIn profile, you have worked your way up at CooperKatz from General Manager to COO, and most recently you’ve assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer. Along the way, how have you seen the company change, and what have been your proudest accomplishments thus far?

When I first started with them…I would show up and sit at a desk in the hallway in our old space, just kind of freelancing, writing bios for them. So, I really watched and helped the company grow into a real company—into a company that has won awards for the best agency of the year in our size category, number eleven in the best agencies to work for in North America [ranked by The Holmes Report], beating out a lot of huge firms, with thirty people, close to five-million in revenue, close to fifteen years-old. To me, that’s building it into a real company, and I’m really proud of that. And Andy Cooper and Ralph Katz are incredibly generous about sharing leadership. When they met me, I was right out of undergrad. For me to grow with them, and to help grow the company, it was exciting. I never thought I would be helping to run a small business.


            Your bio on Twitter states you as “a singer happily married to a drummer.” What kind of role does music play in your life? Do you have any other “hobbies” outside of your firm?

Huge, music’s been a huge part of my life. I’ve sung since I can remember, I’ve always been a singer. In high school I was in the choir, and in college I was in a cappella, I did classical vocal performances, I did musicals, and I was always in rock bands. You know, it’s funny. I diverted from that as a professional life, but to end up having my partner be a musician is something that is super natural for me. To share my life with someone who is a working musician—that’s the only thing he’s done his whole life, and that’s the only thing he would know to do—so he’s the artist, and I’m the corporate one.


            Speaking of LinkedIn and Twitter, have you seen social media impact the field of public relations in any way throughout your career?

Yes, massively. It’s seismic. I think the field of PR is exactly the same [as the field of social media] in that we have to connect to the different audiences of our clients in meaningful ways, in authentic ways, that are relevant to them—and hopefully influence thinking. So digital channels are completely an organic extension of that, right? So I think that for PR, since we’ve always been very good at reaching out to different constituencies with the message that’s right for them, it’s really adaptable to social media. You have to understand who you’re talking to and why you’re talking to them. You have to be able to listen to them.

But it’s challenged the field too. There are a lot of folks in this industry who want to push out the information and want to control it. So it’s been hard for this industry to understand that we’re not controlling the message; we need to work with and understand the fact that we’re getting talked back to—people are talking back to us.

And another challenge is that there are a lot of types of marketing. There’s advertising, there’s interactive agencies, so there’s a sense of “who owns social media?” which is a weird, interesting question.

It’s interesting, and I’ll tell you one thing—keeping up with technology is a full-time job. And, you know, there’s a lot of firms that have a social media specialist. But I really feel strongly that everyone in our whole firm has to stay up-to-date with it and we have to educate each other. So whatever level we’re at, we all really have to stay connected. We all have to be sharing knowledge.

And the hard thing too is that, you know, no one had any cognitive dissonance about using an excel spreadsheet to record data, right? But with Facebook, Twitter, Google +, they’re personal tools too. So it all kind of gets wound up in how you feel, personally, as a human being, about using those tools, and how exposed you want to feel. So people sometimes have a lot more angst about these channels. Everyone has a lot of different feelings about privacy and about access, so when these things are also business tools, it gets a lot more messy. And we used to talk in academia about the personal versus the public, and I really see that now in the business world. So that’s another way that my academic background informs me.

 

            Back in 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations defined PR as “the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest.” In your opinion, should this definition be amended in any way for 2012?

I have always said that PR is both art and science, and that media relations is an art—it’s a dance, it’s a two-way street, whatever metaphor you want to use. I think one of the things you might add to that is the question of conversation. What discussions are being had and where are they being held? I mean as an individual, but also society as a whole. What are people talking about and how are they understanding things? That is probably the thing that’s missing. But the counseling, and the looking at trends, and the planning and being strategic…and I do think that serving both the organization and the public interest is important. There are people with many different perspectives on what PR is. Some of them are informed by pop-culture, like Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, right? And a lot of people have a sense that it’s just about spin or control. I think, though, that if you actually survey the industry, it’s a highly ethical industry, and very focused on transparency.


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         According to PRNewser, Penn State’s Board of Trustees has hired Ketchum to handle their crisis communications. What is your opinion of this situation from a PR perspective?  

It’s a very difficult situation, and it’s really hard to play backseat driver on this one. I think that everyone agrees that, coming right out of the gate, they were not in a very good place in how they reacted to it. They needed to have more thoughtful counsel right from the beginning. They made some very serious missteps, including the former president’s comments the next day of full support for the two individuals who had then resigned. When I heard that statement, I couldn’t believe it—I mean how could you possibly come out and say you fully support them when you don’t know the facts? But Ketchum is an excellent firm. I think with this there’s legal implications, there’s law enforcement. They have to keep people informed at appropriate times, but they have to be respectful to the legal process too. It’s very difficult to comment on that one, and I understand why you asked. They have a lot of healing to do, and I think Ketchum will be very focused on how they interact with their community.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

You know, I think what’s interesting, and what I was reflecting on before, is that the humanities PhD context is challenging because of the diminishing amount of tenure track positions. And it’s so funny, I just saw an article online by a history professor at a college in California titled, “No You will not be a Tenure Track History Professor.” There are a lot of messages of doom and gloom regarding that, and I understand why—there’s a sense of realism. But one thing that I would really encourage is that, that kind of studying in an advanced degree in the humanities, whether one does a whole PhD, or whether they do what I did—which is say,” hey you know what, I’m going to take another turn here and re-focus on my other career.” I really do think that that kind of thinking can set you up in so many different directions. It’s good for students to be open to that. There are a lot of different pathways you can take. I would never regret that experience—it was such a fantastic time, and I was able to do it in a way that worked for me.

Updated on 03/02/2012