March 1, 2016 – Marshall Consultants, a public relations-focused search firm, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Founded in New York City in 1966 by CEO Larry Marshall, the firm was the first national retainer-based executive search to specialize in the public relations, corporate & marketing communications and investor relations functions.
Marshall Consultants has represented over half of the Fortune 500, as well as evolving companies, most major and growing PR, advertising and marketing communications firms, and leading non-profit organizations and associations. Currently based in Ashland, Oregon, the firm had its headquarters in New York for over 35 years, with additional offices in Seattle and Los Angeles.
“When I first started the firm, there was a vacuum in the public relations / communications / investor relations specialized executive search field,” said Mr. Marshall. “No one else was doing it then. So, when I decided to open up Marshall Consultants, several of the more established firms, including Russell Reynolds Associates, referred some of their clients to us for specialized assignments, which they didn’t want to handle or didn’t have the capacity,” he said. Today, by contrast, Mr. Marshall said all of the large generalists now serve every imaginable industry and functional specialty, including PR, IR and communications.
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Over the past half-century, Mr. Marshall has observed a number of changes in the PR and corporate communications profession. Here are a few he shared:
- In the late ’60’s, most communications practitioners, especially at the senior-level, were male — and many of them former journalists. Fast-forward to today: Most are female and come from a broad variety of disciplines;
- There were few women in senior-level communications management roles back then. Now, well-respected women are seen as commonplace in the field, many serving as high-profile, top-level executives;
- PR, corporate & marketing communications and investor relations were relatively minor corporate functions 50 years ago, often seen as ‘window-dressing’ for growing companies looking to manage their brands. Today, these functions are seen as equally important to other senior management corporate functions, including finance, legal, marketing and HR;
- Compensation a half century ago for positions in the function were usually in the $25,000 to $50,000 range. Now, mid to senior level PR executives easily earn in the $125,000 to $250,000 pay bracket, with some compensation packages exceeding $500,000 annually;
- Most PR programs decades ago primarily focused on marketing publicity. Nowadays, according to Mr. Marshall, public relations covers the gambit, from corporate media relations and internal communications to public affairs, crisis communications, and corporate social responsibility, among a host of others;
- Annual fee income at PR counseling firms rarely reached $10 million. Today, some firms report fee income exceeding $500 million;
- The PR and communications function 50 years ago was often seen as the stepchild of advertising agency add-on marketing services. Now, there are numerous sizable independent PR firms owned by entrepreneurial communicators as well as major, foreign-owned, global advertising agency-oriented conglomerates;
- PR agency executives’ success was often measured by how much ‘ink’ they could secure in publicity for their clients a half century ago. Today, message-targeted, strategic media PR programs, counseling prowess, media training, relationship-building and business acumen are often keys to success;
- Fifty years ago, print & broadcast communications were the exclusive media formats in play. Now, the emphasis is entirely focused on digital and social media;
- Communications practitioners had little job security 50 years ago, often being ‘last to know, first to go,’ according to Mr. Marshall. Now, these same practitioners are viewed as more essential to corporate growth and survival than nearly anyone else — “and they’re the ones turning off the lights in failing companies!,” said Mr. Marshall.
Still going strong, Mr. Marshall has recently completed a number of searches, including a crisis communications head for Smuckers; a PR communications head at Fender Instruments; and a public affairs chief for Sasol, NA.
Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media