By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press Business Writer
Mark Winter has spent 20 years in Detroit-area public relations, and started his own integrated PR firm called Identity in 1998. Based in Bingham Farms, Identity works with dozens of clients across several fields, such as real estate, manufacturing, health care and professional services. With his business partner, Andrea Trapani, Mark offers traditional PR and media relations plus social media, creative services and brand identity consulting. He is also chapter president of EO Detroit, a community of 125 entrepreneurs with combined revenue of US$1.4 billion and 7,000 employees.
Q: Why did you decide to start your own PR firm instead of working for somebody else?
A: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bug. I grew up selling stuff. I love sales. I grew up on a golf course. I used to collect golf balls and sell them back to golfers who shanked them into the woods. From that I went to starting a lawn-mowing business. I couldn’t sit still. To this day I’m the same way. I wanted to create a company that was different, ensuring that business needs and communications goals were aligned. I’m just driven by continual change and advancement.
Q: What are the toughest assignments for a PR firm?
A: I think any assignment that has a very defined beginning and end provides for complexities to make sure you’re hitting time lines and deadlines. There are lots of moving parts and pieces to that. It takes patience and a certain amount of expertise that comes with experience to really know where the pitfalls and opportunities are. We don’t say “No.” Our goal in every client relationship is to not say “No.” There’s always a solution. We just have to figure out creatively how to get there. There’s no off-the-shelf solutions to situations we see every day.
Q: As the owner, how do you divide your time among dozens of clients?
A: My role is really to inspire our folks to be great and the best professionals they can be. Secondary to that is I have a role as an operations person to make sure the company continues to run efficiently and effectively. The third is business development , and I still have some of my own clients because this is my passion.My role is to build great leaders. My job is to inspire our 26 people to be the best they can be, and if I can, our clients will have a great experience. When people come in every day they know their goal is to change the course of history for our clients. We have very high expectations.
Q: How did the Great Recession change things for you and your clients?
A: Our clients, like every other business, came out of the recession with heads spinning trying to figure out who they were. They did whatever they needed to do to survive, but they were still using the same messaging as they had pre-recession. So we created a foundation for them to reflect who they were coming out of the recession rather than who they were going into it. We’ve taken almost 40 companies through that process as part of our integrated communications process, and it has been extremely successful. Our evolution really was market driven. We had to look at how the world was changing. We didn’t fight it. We embraced it.