By Natasha Janic
Todd Hansen, principal at O’Malley Hansen Communications discusses his career, starting his own agency, changes in the field of public relations, and how professionals can stay on top of it.
A Brief History
After graduating with an English composition major and journalism minor from Beloit College, Todd knew he wanted to write and applied for jobs in journalism, PR and advertising upon moving to Chicago. His first job was at Cates Public Relations where he worked on a 2-person team along with founder John Cates. This allowed Todd to learn on the job and tackle many projects without a template, teaching him how to approach public relations from a holistic point of view.
Following this, Todd went to FleishmanHillard where he worked on a variety of highly publicized business crises including the largest food recall in company history at Sara Lee, McDonald’s response to the Supersize Me documentary, and United Airlines following 9/11. When asked if it was difficult to work on a highly emotional crisis such as United Airlines, Todd responded, “When you work on crises regularly, you have a different perspective on it. You want to do the right thing as quickly as possible.”
It was Todd and Kelly O’Malley’s work on McDonald’s at FleishmanHillard that inspired them to open their own agency. Todd worked in the corporate practice and Kelly in the consumer practice. However, they saw the distinctions between the two fading very quickly and in 2006, O’Malley Hansen Communications was created. Todd also serves on the advisory board for ROI Influencer, working with founder Seth Kean, “one of the best Facebook marketers in the country.”
O’Malley Hansen Communications is Born
As Todd and Kelly saw the corporate and consumer practices begin to merge, they wanted to ensure that O’Malley Hansen operated on the notion of overall brand equity. As Todd described it, “You can’t have one face to your customers, one face to your business partner and one face to your employees.” This stemmed from the crisis work Todd did for Sara Lee in 1997-98, during which time he assisted in creating a brand restoration program after a major food recall. Corporate reputation, especially with Fortune 500 companies is all about trust. Therefore, O’Malley Hansen does not have separate consumer and corporate groups because they intentionally want employees working on both sides of the fence to ensure a cohesive brand story.
O’Malley Hansen focuses on hiring a range of professional credentials. Its staff includes individuals with backgrounds in agencies, non-profits, government, and journalists, which gives the agency greater capabilities, particularly as they compete against larger agencies. Todd describes the team as “entrepreneurial” and emphasized that they have built a staff that is naturally inquisitive and passionate about media and social media.
During the last two years, O’Malley Hansen acquired Blick&Staff and Alpaytac Communications, giving them a presence on both coasts.
On the State of PR Today and In the Future
One of O’Malley Hansen has been deeply involved with Hanes Brands for more than 10 years. One of the services they provide is corporate social responsibility. Their work for Hanes for Good has been an extremely successful CSR endeavor because it’s designed in a way that is consistent with their business, positioning Hanes as a social and economic driver in the communities they operate. Todd’s advice on effective CSR programs is two-fold. First, it cannot be peripheral to the business to ensure that the financial support remains available. Second, it must have senior level support.
Another major trend in public relations is how our channels of communication have drastically changed and that the old channels are broken. This was made apparent and played out dangerously throughout this year’s presidential campaign. Trust is gone. The notion that there is no longer a journalist to pitch has created a foundational shift and media relations is not a single core competency anymore. However, Todd believes that change has just begun and that the next 10 years will be extremely disruptive. With the amount of information people receive coming through mobile, public relations as a whole must make the effort to understand how these individuals are receiving information and who they trust. The process of introducing new channels and technologies to clients may be frustrating because it does not always happen quickly, but professionals must have a point of view and advocate for these changes.
Words of Wisdom to Newbies
After a wealth of success throughout his career, Todd had some words of advice to those who are just joining the field, as well as those who are still in the first leg of their careers: “To get really good at this, especially in the first 15-20 years, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. You have to be a great team player.” Todd identified two types of employees: one who asks what can the organization do for me, and the other who asks what can I do for the organization? People are most successful when they focus on the latter.
Todd has focused most of his career on corporate and crisis communication, but the field is so vast, it is difficult for those just entering to find their niche. Todd’s advice here is to gravitate toward something you’re genuinely interested in. However, you must conduct a very honest personal audit of yourself and your skills. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Take projects no one else wants. That’s how you become an expert. “If you get into the right environment, and you have the right kind of attitude, your career kind of directs itself.” Todd’s career certainly did.
Natasha Janic just completed her coursework for a master’s degree in public relations and advertising at DePaul University. This agency leader interview was her final project in Culpwrit’s Agency Management course.