“I’m really not good at math,” said the head of communications at a major financial institution to me once. My internal thought was, “OK — well then, how do you understand what the people you represent do and how to best represent them?”
Majoring in public relations for undergrad, every single student sang the same song whenever questioned; “Oh my gosh, yeah, I’m just really bad at math, so I thought maybe I’ll major in p.r.?” Like a broken record, that conversation played out again, and I remember dreading the industry I was readying to enter.
After undergrad, I decided I was going to get my master of business administration in finance and enter the two-year investment banking program like everyone I knew who I respected at the time. I was accepted into the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and the Simon School at the University of Rochester with total tuition costing upward of $100,000 — even with the Early Leaders scholarship of $5,000 a year, it was high.
At the time, early 2008, I was interning at a financial p.r. agency that offered me a job and also offered to pay for my MBA. The only program I had applied to that was close enough for me to attend was the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch. My mother — who owns a small certified public accounting firm in upstate New York (who to this day looks at every receipt to make sure the bill is accurate, and off-the-record catches people’s mistakes at least 30 percent of the time) — decided for me that I had to take the job in Fairfield, Conn., and commute into the city three days a week. It was hell.
I took a variety of courses at night: Options, Investment Analysis, Equity Markets: Trading and Structure, Econometrics: Theory and Applications; and during the day, I ran around with the co-head of Jefferies Financial Group’s asset-backed security and mortgage-backed security divisions, and the chief executive officers of deep financial institutions such as: First New York Securities, Sterling National Bank, Oppenheimer Funds, RBC and RBS, advising them on what to say and how to say it. If I didn’t understand math, especially during the financial crisis, which is when I started my career in communications, I have no idea how I would have advised anyone.
Fast-forward to now, having successfully led communications for Moody’s and Point 72, I couldn’t imagine working with quantitative analysts, project managers, analysts and economists, who base their careers on numbers and results, without understanding math.
At Bevel, we all majored in subject areas outside of p.r., marketing or communications, and many of us have advanced degrees or licenses. We are a results-oriented firm that doesn’t believe in charging high, hourly fees with zero results.
Our formula for success is not “B.S. x B.S. = Famedom,” as some p.r. agencies inadvertently tout. It is calculated and strategic. You cannot work with mathematically minded people and not provide them with quantifiable success metrics. You will be fired. Much like every p.r. firm that our clients have fired. Each conversation with a prospective client sent our way starts the same: “Our agency just didn’t understand what we did or who our customers were. They didn’t deliver. I have no idea what I just paid for, but it was a waste of money.” Or the most offensive being, “What is with your industry? It just attracts idiots.”
For every client, we first ask who their customers are and then decide what is the best way to communicate with them. How do we communicate with them? What frequency makes sense? How many articles, press releases, events, keynotes, pop-ups should we do a quarter? And then, we map out a strategy for the year, charging a monthly retainer, not an hourly fee.
We work with tech ceo’s and venture capitalists who are under a lot of pressure to break-even and produce high rates of return for investors. Every single thing they’re spending their money on matters.
I hear my mom’s voice in the back of my mind when I decide how we charge for our p.r. services. And in likeness to restaurants charging for a refill on iced tea, at the end of the day — it’s about where you are getting the most value for your money, not simply paying to refill a cup if it didn’t quench your thirst.
Jessica Schaefer is founder and chief executive officer of Bevel, a public relations consultancy driving quantifiable results for clients in fintech, hedge funds and more.