Interview with 2016 Crystal Bell Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Phil Nardone

2016 Crystal Bell Lifetime Achievement Award Winner  – Phil Nardone

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Congratulations! As the winner of the John J. Molloy Crystal Bell Lifetime Achievement Award last year, what did this award win mean to you personally?

When you’ve been in the PR industry for as long as I have, it’s extremely touching to be recognized by peers for a lifetime of work. While standing on stage at the Bell Ringers, I was overwhelmed to see the number of people in the room whose lives I had impacted in some way – as an employer, a professor, or most importantly, as a mentor. I was most grateful for the fact that I was being honored for what I did beyond my work at PAN. After 15 years of teaching, mentoring, building and creating opportunities, being recognized with the Crystal Bell was a privilege. Additionally, the Crystal Bell has always held a special place as I listen intently each year to what the winner has to say; they are recognized at the pinnacle of their career, and I’m thrilled to be in such esteemed company.

How has the PR industry evolved since you founded PAN over 20 years ago?

The biggest change came with the evolving customer journey and onset of social media platforms. Parallel to social media, the convergence of digital as an element of PR is responsible for many of the recent evolutions. In the 80’s, PR was an isolated function within the marketing arena. Today, there isn’t a program we do at PAN that doesn’t touch social or digital activities. Frankly, I’m pleased that our industry has adjusted as technology has progressed.

Beyond evolving with the increased prevalence of social media and digital, there has also been a change in the way PR is viewed. When I started, I remember struggling with the fact that experienced PR executives had not earned a seat at the table in a boardroom. This has changed in a substantial way. It’s great to see CMOs and other marketing executives, who came up through the ranks by working in PR, have a strong voice and sit at the table with the rest of the board and C-suite.

What characteristics do you look for when bringing new talent into PAN?

I always say that if I weren’t in PR, I would be in HR. If you have ever worked for me, then you know culture is everything. Since I put such a priority on culture, I expect every employee at PAN, regardless of office, to participate in building & creating a great environment. I look for people that are excited about challenging the process and suggesting new ideas, all with the hopes of making PAN (and our industry) a better place to work.

What makes New England, and Boston specifically, unique in the PR industry?

As the CEO of a mid-sized PR firm, I’m excited that we are in a city that is so collaborative and innovative. I regularly meet with the CEOs of other agencies. We’re constantly having lunch meetings, getting together for dinner, or even just grabbing a coffee to share and help each other as a sounding board. The PR community in Boston is relatively small, even though we reach a global scale. But the fact that we are so collaborative and supportive of one another is really special and unique.

Also, we have such unbelievable innovation that is driven in our backyard – coupled with emerging businesses and established brands that continue to push the envelope on creating the “next great thing.” Round that out with some of the best VCs and universities in the country, and you have a formula for long-term success.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants a lasting career in PR, like yours, what would it be?

It’s all about three things: listening to your inner voice, being honest, and loving where you are (and making the most of it). I subscribe to these principle in everything I do.

It’s important to take the time to listen to the voice inside. If you’re being asked to do something that isn’t right, don’t do it.

Be honest, because if you don’t have your integrity, then you don’t have anything. That’s important in your PR career, but also important in your day-to-day life. I tell my sons every day to make good decisions, because you need to live by your choices.

I can’t overstate how important it is to love where you are, whether it’s a large corporate company, a mid-sized non-profit, or a small boutique agency. And if you don’t love it, move on. This industry is too robust and there are too many opportunities available for someone to sit at a job where they aren’t happy.

Every May, I share tips with the graduating seniors in my class at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Let me share them with you, as they are just as relevant for students entering the workforce for the first time as they are for PR professionals with a decade of experience under their belts: ‘Cuse Chronicles by a CEO – Before We Say Goodbye.

What advice would you have for the selection committee in identifying the 2018 John J. Molloy Crystal Bell Lifetime Achievement Award winner?

I’d like to pass the baton to someone who motivates people, is approachable and thoughtful, and cares about their community, environment, and country. The recipient of this award shouldn’t be someone that is selected solely because of what they do from 9 – 5. By the time someone at this point in their career is eligible for this award, they should be influencing and helping people in all aspects of their life.  It’s important to recognize individuals who impact people’s lives – not just in an office, but in a personal way.

The winners before me are all well-known in our field, and always someone I was proud to watch receive the award. This is the most meaningful award from the Publicity Club in my opinion, because they’re recognizing someone who took their role and their experience, and have done things beyond their title and career with that position. They made a difference!!


Nominate a candidate for the Crystal Bell Award today. (Deadline: April 24, 2017)

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