The art of winning new business and crisis management: A Q&A with Clyde Group Partner Aubrey Quinn
Partner and Managing Director
Two years ago NewsWhip was fortunate enough to add Clyde Group as a new client. Clyde Group is a high-growth, PR & Public Affairs firm with a tremendous track record of success in Washington. After racking up a litany of industry awards and nominations in such a short period of time, we wanted to check in with Aubrey Quinn, Partner and Managing Director, to learn more.
Brett Lofgren (President, NewsWhip): It’s been impressive to read about all of the company’s accomplishments: best new agency, small agency, boutique agency, the list goes on. What makes working for and working with the Clyde Group unique?
Aubrey Quinn (Partner & Managing Director, Clyde Group): Thanks for connecting with me today! In this work-from-home world, I find myself really craving conversations like these.
Right from the beginning, Alex [Slater, Founding Partner] defined our mission as “the best agency to work for; the best agency to work with.” We’ve prioritized work-life balance for the staff, at the expense of profits for the owners. We invite the staff to be a part of culture and benefits conversations multiple times each year. We’ve expanded benefits every year to stay competitive. We really care about our staff, and I think—I hope—they feel that.
And as our mission is two-pronged, it’s equally important that our clients feel like they have the best agency partner in us. An executive team member is involved in every account, which has consistently been a Clyde Group differentiator. We offer high level strategy, boots-on-the-ground tactical execution, and over-service the heck out of our accounts.
BL: As a partner at the firm, winning new business is critical for a growing agency. Your organization has been operating at light speed in this function, what is the secret to your success?
AQ: Clyde Group started five years ago with just two clients, and both of those clients are still with us today with expanded scopes. That’s really the key to our success—we tend to keep and grow our clients, because we outperform their other vendors and partners.
A good portion of our growth is organic, from referrals, happy clients, increased scopes, and clients who move to new opportunities—when our client contacts leave and go to new organizations, they often bring us with them.
The rest comes from the fact we’ve put together an incredibly strategic, talented team from diverse backgrounds. We have also invested in more services, including NewsWhip Spike, that really make us stand out when we deliver our business development presentations. When we pitch a client or industry, we make sure we know the space they work in so that they trust that they’re getting a true strategic partner if they hire us.
BL: With technologies like NewsWhip are you taking on new problems, or solving old problems in new ways?
AQ: Clyde Group is run conservatively from a financial standpoint, so we’re very selective about the services and vendors that we invest in. But it is easy to justify NewsWhip Spike because of the value it provides us as consultants and advisors to our clients.
Clyde Group does a fair amount of crisis work. Before we used Spike, we’d often see clients wanting to respond or react to a negative blog or an ugly social post. Usually we’d advise them to stand down and not feed the story, but there often wasn’t strong data to back that recommendation. Sometimes clients would listen, sometimes they wouldn’t. Now, we point to the velocity and metrics provided by Spike, and it’s difficult to argue with the numbers. Why draw attention to a negative story that isn’t resonating?
We’ve also incorporated the metrics we get from technologies like Spike into almost all our business development proposals. We can speak to stories that resonate, and those that don’t. What is connecting with the social audience, and what isn’t. What competitors are doing that is working well. How the media is covering their industry. We always want to be informed and prepared going into a new business presentation, and data gives us a competitive edge.
BL: The Clyde Group does a great deal of work in healthcare, education, finance, and technology sectors. Success metrics can be a sensitive topic in times of crisis. What are the performance indicators that are most relevant in conversations now? And how does data shape these?
AQ: Our work is pretty evenly split between corporate communications, public affairs, and crisis communications, and I would argue that data and metrics are equally important in all of them. The desired results and the overall campaign goals might be different, but our clients all look to numbers and metrics as key indicators of success.
Crisis differs the most from proactive campaigns, because smaller metrics and less conversation are usually the signs of the biggest victories. I’ve always said that my most impressive crisis projects are the ones you’ve never heard of. Data matters there as well. Let’s say a negative story runs on an evening news show. Spike will tell us what the velocity of that story was, and if it’s getting shared across social platforms. It used to be that the story alone was the worst-case scenario. But now there’s a ripple effect to consider as well, because the social sharing of the story after it’s aired is what can end up being the most damaging. Using Spike, we know pretty quickly whether or not something is going to take off across social media. We can also compare the impact of our story to other stories in the same media outlet (or in similar outlets) over the past few months to show success.
Data is also a great way to learn about our clients’ competitors and how their campaigns are resonating with consumers, or how their crisis response worked.
BL: Leveraging my investigation chops on LinkedIn, I discovered that you moonlight as a Soccer Coach and Girl Scout Cookie mom. I appreciate you highlighting these dual roles as it demonstrates that community is important for you and the Clyde Group. Can you talk a bit about the “Clyde Impact Initiative” and what it means to you?
AQ: First off, being a Girl Scout cookie mom is no joke. It takes a ton of time, a lot of coordination, and the patience of a saint. The 2020 season will be my first and last year in that role (and a huge thank you in advance to whoever ends up taking over for me next year).
Community has always been important to Clyde Group. Last year we formalized our CSR statement with a firm commitment to three pillars: community, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability.
To bring the community pillar to life, we launched Clyde Group Impact, which is our pro bono effort. For the first half of 2020, we have worked to rebrand the Asylum Seeker Assistance Project (ASAP). In the second half of 2020, we will be supporting the House of Ruth, a DC-based shelter helping survivors of domestic violence and homelessness. For Mother’s Day this year, we made a donation to House of Ruth in the name of every single client of ours who is a mother. The outpouring of gratitude from our clients was overwhelming. During this time when so many are struggling, it’s a privilege to be in a position to give back to our community, and I’m so proud to be at a company that prioritizes values and purpose. It’s just another reminder of why Clyde Group is my dream job.
We’d like to thank Aubrey for taking the time to sit down and talk with us, as well as for the Clyde Group’s continued partnership. It’s been fascinating to learn how data plays a role in her team’s workflow and how they are supporting and empowering their clients, from the everyday work to helping in times of crisis.
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Benedict Nicholson is the Head of Research and Editorial at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.
Email Benedict via firstname.lastname@example.org.