Skilled, Savvy Communicator Debbie Harvey Charges Ahead with New Integrated Marketing Agency

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the modern business world today, and that includes the integrated marketing communications arena. Our subject for today’s Q&A post is a prime example. Debbie Harvey, MS, APR, recently decided to transition from a senior position with the American Medical Association to form a boutique Chicago-headquartered business, DHW Executive Consulting, LLC. In this engaging conversation, Debbie shares thoughts on what prompted her decision to launch a new company, the state of communications in 2018 and a subject dear to her heart — domestic and international travel.  For the record: I have known and worked with Debbie for nearly a decade through our volunteer participation in PRSA Chicago.

Entrepreneur and savvy communicator Debbie Harvey.

1. The first and most pressing question: What were the factor(s) that compelled you to leave the association management world to start your own business?

After nearly 20 years leading brand strategy and corporate communications both in-house and on the agency side in healthcare, I founded DHW Executive Consulting LLC based on the concept that businesses and brands need smart, experienced integrated marketing and communications executive support often without the hassle and expense of big agency commitments. At DHW Executive Consulting LLC, you’ll get breakthrough integrated marketing communications solutions through executive level insights. I have the savvy know how and creative chops to help build brands winning strategies – and then make them happen!

My focus is on brand/rebranding strategy and campaigns, marketing and communications planning, executive/leadership communications, event marketing, internal communications, product launches, and corporate communications.

I’m building a company that is dynamic, thoughtful, experienced…and fun! That’s what an ideal partner brings to the table, and that’s what you’ll get if you partner with me. So, let’s pull up some chairs to this proverbial table and chat!

2. You have an impressive curriculum vitae, including leadership positions with a global public relations firm and marketing leadership at the largest national physician association. How will you transfer skills and experience cultivated in these larger environments to the new consultancy? 

Currently I’m helping select organizations with leveling up their brand strategy and storytelling, and others with their integrated marketing and communications planning, both in the healthcare space and beyond. Launching a consultancy is something that has been intriguing, exciting and scary all at the same time. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Do something that scares you every day.”

My background is in integrated marketing communications, which, for the early to mid-2000s, this kind of approach felt like screaming into a hurricane. There were so many silos among communications and marketing ownership, really to a client’s detriment. Times are finally evolving, and it’s critical for successful C-suite executives to bring a holistic perspective to the marcom landscape. I believe successful integrated marketing communications professionals can help pull back the lens on brand planning and ensure channels work more seamlessly together for greater impact and success.

3. Now, let’s explore the state of public relations and communications. What are the greatest challenges facing the profession today, given the continual claims of “fake news,” unceasing amount of uncontrolled and unregulated digital messages, and gradual decline of traditional news sources? 

You’ve hit the nail on the head with some of the biggest challenges in the communications world today. With an attack on the entire public relations profession given today’s political environment, to an attack on data security and how people engage with social media given the Cambridge Analytica crisis, PR/comms professionals face an uphill battle in effecting positive change – for themselves and the brands they represent. That said, it is still an exciting time for those professionals who commit to this profession – and commit to doing it well. A recent Sprout Social study revealed that two-thirds of consumers now expect brands to have a stance on political and social issues, making it all the more critical for communications professionals to guide and develop a brand and/or corporation’s story and how it shows up, where it shows up and what it means to its stakeholders.

4. We met through our involvement with the Chicago Chapter of PRSA, where you served as President in 2012. How did your participation in PRSA (and other volunteer activities) contribute to your growth and development as a modern communications professional?

I have been a member of PRSA and its Chicago Chapter for more than a decade, and was first attracted to joining the Chicago Chapter board due to its board members’ passion and dedication to advancing the profession and helping local practitioners. I began as the sponsorship chair, and after increasing sponsorship revenue for the chapter 25 percent in a year, became the president elect and subsequently, the president. During my tenure, I had the privilege of leading both seasoned and mid-career professionals and together we developed and launched the first-ever PRSA Midwest Conference, which included 13 regions.

The PRSA experience gave me a platform to hone my leadership skills, business acumen, and energy and drive to “get things done efficiently.” There’s a great Forbes article on entrepreneurship and increasing productivity.

This experience catapulted the progression of both my career and confidence to launch a business, and I am thrilled that many of my former PRSA colleagues and friends have reached out. It is a true community.

5. Okay, time to lighten things up. You and your husband are avid travelers. (Note: I appreciate your sage insight on Charleston, SC.) What destinations are on the proverbial horizon for 2018 and beyond?

I get the travel bug fairly often, whether it be jaunts to our favorite U.S. city (Charleston) or back to my hometown in NYC, but we also look to have an international adventure once a year. Traveling to new places is a great reminder that life is more than your job and your city (or country) – it’s important to continuously learn about other cultures, history and customs to be a well-rounded person.

I’m heading to the Amalfi Coast and Montenegro to celebrate a milestone birthday in a few weeks, and excited about experiencing each country’s personality…and food, of course! Beyond this year, I’ve been reading more and more about Latvia and its fascinating culture. Latvia is known as “the singing nation,” singing being the country’s most unifying force. As a lover of music (and food), it’s climbing higher and higher on my “must do” near term list.

But for now, arrivederci!

 

 

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Masi Brothers Guide Creative Agency Torque Digital to 25th Anniversary

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

What’s stronger than one outstanding creative communications professional? Well, how about two?

That’s the case at Torque Digital, a Chicago-based integrated marketing agency that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a summertime-themed party at the company’s way-cool loft style offices in Chicago’s rapidly evolving West Loop Fulton Market neighborhood.

Torque was founded by brothers Eric Masi and Kevin Masi, creative guys steeped in the fine arts and balanced by strong business skills and dedication to their wide roster of clients.

This Q&A conversation, edited slightly, was conducted earlier this month. A short disclaimer: While managing marketing and communications for a Chicago-based association, I worked with the Torque team and was very pleased with the quality and caliber of the work produced, as well as the dedication of the account staff.

So, let’s get started.

Here are thoughts from Co-Founder and President Eric, and Co-Founder and CMO Kevin.

1. What was the impetus behind the formation of Torque?

Eric: Kevin and I went through the same fine arts training at the University of Illinois; we’ve been artists since we were toddlers. After we graduated, Kevin went into real estate and I ended up at an agency. But we are artists at heart. That was the catalyst. We are visual artists, marketing thinkers and designers. This compelled us to start an agency that embraced all three disciplines.

Kevin: Eric and I started Torque when we were young enough to still be casting about to decide what direction to take in life, in terms of profession and gainful pursuit. We were inspired by the vastness of the marketing and advertising world and the access to business in general. We were inspired by the chance to build our creative skills, critical thinking and craftsmanship. Knowing as little as we did back then, we were industrious and undaunted enough to plunge in and work diligently.

2. After 25 years, what is the most significant change in the marketing industry?  (Besides the rise of digital, of course.)

Torque Co-Founder and President Eric Masi

Eric: Digital is an easy thing to point to in terms of change in the marketplace. The outcome that is more interesting is the decentralization of small agencies, these micro agencies of two and three people. These firms are able to manage large accounts by putting together virtual teams. Another change that we’re seeing now: Digital and the web has democratized creative and facilitated a lot of services. You can buy a logo by posting a request and ask designers to bid on the project. You can hire a photographer anywhere in the world.  This is really changing delivery and capacity costs. And now, Google is digitizing its algorithm and programs, so you can almost remove the strategist.

Kevin: So much has changed in the way we all live. We started the business on the basis of being able to buy a Macintosh computer and learn “desktop publishing” as a lightweight way to start a business in an otherwise more capital and material intensive industry. The biggest thing to change is the increase of complexity. You can see this in three big areas: 1) Mature business and product categories need to work much harder to compete and grow. This is both an opportunity as companies need more help and also a challenge as the problems also increase exponentially. 2) The second consequence of complexity is the opposite, in the form of an exploding niche marketplace. We are constantly taking a deep dive into some subtle, detailed business model that must be decoded for the world to understand. It’s often hard to tell if they are brilliant or wacky. 3) Lastly, complexity has driven us to diversify our offerings and to be constantly learning about new aspects of technology, marking channels and more. And of course hiring a wider array of people and skills to do the work. And with talent has come a steady rise in labor cost as well as honing of skills to manage and lead Millennials.

3. Torque has a specialty in real estate marketing. And, you’re located in the on-fire Fulton Market District. What strategies and tactics are real estate companies employing to remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving market?

Eric: It’s almost more fun to talk about what’s not working. In many cases, real estate is 10 to 15 years behind the curve in terms of marketing, and the industry is now starting to wake up. Developers are now renovating old warehouse spaces.  And, with all the space available, the big difference in marketing is how well it connects to the brokerage world. The point of difference often is the marketing. With all this massive renovation, the developer wants to appeal to Millennials and convey a lifestyle. This has to be communicated in a compelling way. It’s not enough to say, “Our property has a tenant lounge and a rooftop deck.” There’s all kinds of shades of grey in this type of promotion. It clutters the experience. We’re in the middle and help articulate what’s unique about the property. One way we do this is through a process called Brand Bedrock®, which allows us to help build a brand around a property. It’s a fairly involved process, but it’s at the core of what we do.

Torque Co-Founder and CMO Kevin Masi

Kevin: We love real estate! Yes, we live in an exploding market which doesn’t seem to need much help to lease, sell or otherwise deploy and stabilize assets. However, in mature markets, the ones being bled dry by new exciting developments, companies are working hard to remain competitive first through the usual means of making capital improvements to their properties and of course taking marketing more seriously. For new and exiting properties we know its an amenity war. The developers and owners who are succeeding are doing so by dialing into the building experience and needs of potential leasing companies (for commercial properties). This comes down to digging deep to understand what users want and showing companies how they can attract and retain talent as well as support their productivity within the given property. This happens when owners can bring to life the right qualities of a property experience: Health, transit, education, collaboration, aesthetic, entertainment, discovery, status. And so on. Another emerging approach is to develop brand meaning and purpose for the company, as well as for their individual properties. It’s an exciting time for marketing to be able to develop strategy and insight for companies going through this process.

4. Other brothers have been successful in the advertising/marketing industry. Saatchi and Saatchi come to mind. What are the benefits and challenges of working with a sibling?

Eric: It works both ways. There’s lots of challenges, and a lot that we’re not entirely conscious of. The classic model of good business partners for entrepreneurs is that one has the vision and is the creative person, while the other manages implementation and logistics and is grounded in the reality side of the business. Kevin and I are both visionaries. But when it gets down to it, he is more of the implementer than I am. Recently, we brought my wife, Jennifer into the business and the three of us are partners, and the three of us implement our visions.

Kevin: The biggest benefit we’ve enjoyed is the ability to exchange and build ideas quickly because we have such a long shared past and a way of communicating. Trust has been an enormous benefit as well. The challenge with both of these is to translate our qualities to a broader team so they can participate as well. Intuitive and innate skills are hard to pinpoint and teach.

5. Torque is know for outstanding strategic communications campaigns. But it’s also known for  hosting outstanding themed holiday parties. Who handles the creative side, and who handles the logistics?

Eric:  Our staff actually does most of the work. They just tackle the planning and joke and aspire to host the craziest parties. We’ve hosted tropical goth, medieval Christmas, white trash on the farm — all kinds of parties. If the theme is politically incorrect and crosses the line, we’ll say no to a concept. Otherwise, we give them a budget and we let them make it happen. For us, it’s great to watch them enjoy themselves. It’s as much for them as it is for us.

Kevin: Well we used to say that I lead strategy and Eric lead creative. We definitely both delegate logistics! But really it doesn’t separate that cleanly as we see a great deal of creative thinking in our strategic process so really we are always applying creativity and strategic rigor. For sure the era of arbitrary creative ideas is gone and the creative must service the business in specific ways…while also entertaining or creating sensation and engagement.