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August 9th, 2011 / 4:02 am

The communications community lost one of its true greats last week with the death of Clive Hobson, a long-time client and dear friend of mine going back almost 20 years.

We met during the early 1990s, when he was in charge of public relations at the now defunct Tee-Comm Electronics, which was an early pioneer of direct-to-home satellite television in my native Canada. I was then working at Hill & Knowlton in Toronto, and he was one of the friendliest and most considerate customers I’ve ever worked with. It was then that I learned of his contagious mirth, a field of gravity that attracted people to him as a vital centre of social attention.

Indeed, even though he was earlier a journalist (in my favourite medium of radio), it was in meeting and greeting the public that I saw him truly excel. Clive was a networker extraordinaire: not the kind who coldly connects their contacts because they want something, but the sort of fellow who enjoyed the spontaneous warmth of friends just for the sheer pleasure of it all.

This is not to say that he liked everyone equally.

His spot-on critiques of the imperfections of others could be very funny and devastatingly accurate. His sense of the absurd was second to none, and he loved laughing with and at friends whom he would lampoon good-naturedly (in my case it was an alleged penchant for what he termed “shameless self-promotion”).

Nobody would tar Clive with that brush.

Quite the contrary, he was more modest than most in our profession and never took himself too seriously. Sometimes I feared if he didn’t sell himself more aggressively when he was looking for new career opportunities, he might limit his chances, but in business he kept pulling rabbits out of the hat over the years.

Certainly he helped do that for Environics Communications when, in August 1994, I was one of the co-founders of this North American PR agency. The high-flying Tee-Comm became among our first clients and soon our largest source of revenue at a critical juncture in the young life of the fledgling firm.

Clive was an unflagging champion of Environics from that point forward, and he helped grow the relationship with Tee-Comm’s Expressvu in Canada and its AlphaStar subsidiary in the United States. Inasmuch as his client-side support helped power the old firm forward, I think it’s safe to say — and I’m forever grateful for it — that his confidence and encouragement played a critical role in my career advance, especially my first international role in the New York area from 1995.

Despite his British accent and love for the rugged Canadian outdoors, Clive admired the success of America and thoroughly enjoyed his time in the United States. We travelled together to several events in the U.S. (“boondoggles” he called some of these), most memorably trade shows at Las Vegas, where the extent of his love for branded merchandise and PR tsotchkes was on ample display. Pens, coats, flashing buttons, USB keys, hats, mugs, T-shirts, and even snow globes…you name it, and he branded them with the logo of the day.

While he was no self-promoter, he excelled in the promotion of others, and of course that’s what we corporate communicators are supposed to be fundamentally good at in the first place.

Every company he served got great media coverage. His experience as a journalist going back to covering the Munich Olympics in 1972 gave him gravitas as an old pro. He lived in the present moment with an open mind and a youthful vigor; this gave him excellent connectivity with young media and he kept relentlessly up-to-date.

Despite Clive’s skepticism concerning digital media, he was appointed communications chief at Yahoo! Canada (not an easy feat for someone born in 1948) and I used to quite enjoy his boasting that he was the oldest employee in the company.

I’ve commented about Clive a lot professionally, but personally I also owe him a debt of gratitude. My life has not been without its complications and challenges, and he was always a trusted source of big brotherly advice and supportive counsel over the years at moments when it mattered most.

I’m going to miss Clive and his fire…not just for life, but actually the massive bonfires we used to build on his beloved five acres in Milton, Ontario. He called these mighty blazes “conflagrations,” and we always looked forward to these with relish.

Four seasons of the year, including on sub-zero winter nights, igniting one of these fires in the fresh Canadian air gave us pure joy and now, for me, the signature memory of our friendship.

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Steve Bowen of Burson-Marsteller

June 21st, 2010 / 1:00 pm

One of the key influences in my recent PR life is Steve Bowen, who joins Burson-Marsteller on July 1st [from Edelman] as our new regional Managing Director for Marketing & Training in Asia-Pacific.

I first met Steve in 2002, when he was the head of international public relations at Kia Motors Corporation (KMC)  in Seoul, Korea. At that time, Kia was looking for its very first global PR agency, and as the brand new Managing Director of Edelman Korea, I was keen to put a few wins on the board.

For all the credit I’ve received in my career for building PR businesses in some very challenging circumstances, I always remind myself of the people who helped create the winning conditions along the way. It was Kia’s confidence in selecting my old firm — when the great Mark Juhn was KMC’s COO — that really jump-started the rise of “The New Edelman Korea,” and Steve was the best kind of client whose support and encouragement I will always well remember.

As my customer, Steve provided thoughtful and clear feedback and well educated the agency about his company’s business. He was the exemplar of excellence, a champion of quality, and a factory of new ideas. Better yet, he valued listening and thinking before just talking and doing.

Today international PR for the rising Asian multinationals is becoming an important part of our business, and Steve’s pioneering experience and track record in this area from his Kia years will help take our game to the next level.

I’ve blogged about the benefits of working with friends before, but in Steve’s case the new wrinkle is that while many people think of him as an Edelman guy, in fact he is a ‘Burson Person’ who is now returning to the consultancy where he first cut his teeth in the PR business.

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Here’s to working with friends

March 13th, 2010 / 6:00 am

Yesterday Burson-Marsteller announced that my former colleague and good friend of many years Margaret Key* will become our new Market Leader in Korea. PR Week in London ran a story with the headline: “Burson-Marsteller lures Edelman Japan MD Margaret Key to take charge of Korea

Especially knowing the British journalistic sensibility and personal style of the fellow who wrote that story, I found the choice of words apropos to the situation. Just for fun, I then looked up the word ‘lure’ in the dictionary, and noted that it is defined as “the power of attracting or enticing.”

In the small town of the global PR industry, when you’ve been living there for a decade (as Margaret has) or for two decades (as I have), you get to know all the local notables of the trade. You find out who has a reputation:

  • for quality work or for mediocrity
  • for being trustworthy or for being duplicitous
  • for fair play or for doing whatever it takes to win
  • for keeping confidences well or for being indiscreet
  • for actually being a thought leader or for just claiming to be one
  • for heralding the accomplishments of others or taking credit themselves
  • for inspiring the loyalty of direct reports or for suffering constant turnover
  • for embracing diversity or for wanting to work with people just like themselves
  • for knowing how to actually do things or for just how to be a cheerleader for others
  • for supporting employees to improve their lives or for exploiting them for personal gain
  • for reliably delivering on commitments or for making promises that never seem to be kept

Most people fall between these polarities, but the point is that every industry has its stars and its scoundrels, its utility players and everyday people. Lately there has been a lot of research about how birds of a feather flock together on social networks. Check out this study on homophily (i.e. the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others).

In my case, getting back to the point of this post, I don’t think I ‘lured’ my new colleague so much as I feel we were both attracted by the idea of working together again because we are friends who share in common a trust in each other, a respect for each other, and confidence in always being there for the other while constantly having fun as colleagues.

I’m 45 years old now. The other day we did a demographic study of B-M’s predominantly young and majority female staff of approximately 600 people in Asia, and I was stunned to discover that we have only 14 people who are my age or above. PR is indeed a younger person’s game.

So, for me as I get older, the journey is becoming much more important than the destination. Some people are willing to put up with a lot of work unhappiness hoping to get some big payday in the future, but I’m with Eckhart Tolle when it comes to ‘the power of now,’ focusing on the possibilities of the present moment. Thus when I saw a chance to work again every day with someone who is such a fine friend, I was immediately convinced that this would be a good idea.


Because one thing I know over a long PR life is that as careers evolve, the friends you work with during special and formative phases of your career scatter to the winds, so if those winds should ‘lure’ those friends together again, then life is pretty good.

* Margaret is one of Asia’s foremost public relations professionals and one of the region’s great healthcare communicators. Korea is a key strategic growth market for us in Asia and she has a proven track record of business success in Seoul. I worked with her for years at Edelman and experienced first-hand how Margaret inspires colleagues, clients and communities by setting the standard for PR excellence. She is emblematic of the entrepreneurial, digital, and ambitious new generation of diverse talent we are now rallying in Asia.

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