RICHMOND—The first thing the five founding partners want you to know about Lumin is that it’s not a network, at least not in the conventional sense. The term they prefer is “collaborative,” but as they discuss the purpose of their partnership, they focus on several benefits: the sharing of best practices, professional development opportunities, and—perhaps most intriguing—a research and development lab for advanced public relations ideas.
Lumin was launched this week by five of the nations’s leading mid-sized public relations firms: Carter Ryley Thomas of Richmond, Va.; PainePR of Los Angeles and Orange County; Padilla Speer Beardsley of Minneapolis; Patrice Tanaka & Company, of New York; and Peppercom, also of New York. Between them, the firms have nearly 300 employees, 11 offices and approximately $35 million in fees.
Each of the five firms bring distinctive strengths to the table: CRT is a generalist, but probably best known for its work in life sciences; Padilla has strong business-to-business expertise and an investor relations capability; Paine is known for creative consumer campaigns, with strength in the consumer technology sector; Peppercom is best known for its business-to-business and tech practices but is building an impressive corporate capability; and PT&Co is known as a creative boutique with expertise in cause-related marketing.
But the collaborative is more about cultural compatibility than about building critical mass or extending geographic reach. All five firms have been recognized for creating progressive workplaces, with CRT being named the Best Agency to Work For in two of the previous three years.
“Culture is clearly one of the things that connects us,” says Mark Raper, president of Carter Ryley Thomas. “That’s more important than any other factor. It’s not about creating a national network.” Indeed, PSB is a member of the Worldcom network and PT&Co is in Pinnacle. Both will continue to work through their respective networks.
Adds David Paine, president of PainePR, “This business is not about geography any more. Intellectual property now transcends geography, and we aim to develop some of the industry’s most exciting intellectual property.”
The firms conducted research among clients and other industry experts to learn what clients wanted from their agencies, and came up with four major areas for improvement. Says Raper, “They wanted someone who understood their business and could help them understand their business problems. They wanted access to greater brainpower. They wanted help understanding the next issues impacting their business. And they wanted innovation.”
That innovation will take the form of products that are developed jointly—three are expected to rollout within the next couple of months. Without discussing the specifics of those products, Raper says they will all address specific client needs and will include some offerings that go beyond traditional public relations.
“Where innovation is concerned, we think we have a real competitive advantage over traditionally structured agencies that hinder the sharing of information and talent because of antiquated cultures, profit center mentalities and rigid practice areas,” said Raper. “We intend to rely on a very strong understanding of core business issues—something we as entrepreneurial firms bring to the table—and apply that knowledge to clients’ communications needs.”
In addition to developing new products, the firms will work together to achieve efficiencies in the purchasing arena, pitch together on occasion (although they will still compete when appropriate), and join forces on professional development—something that has already begun with the creation of a new “MBA” training program that will help employees better understand the business of their clients.
Says Ed Moed, a partner at Peppercom, “One of the things we were most interested in was the staff development side of this. We can pool our resources to create more opportunities for our staff, and we can learn from each other’s best practices.”
Each of the five firms will have an equal share in Lumin, which will be governed by a board of directors that includes two representatives from each member firm, as well as consultant Darryl Salerno, former president of Creamer Dickson Basford and its successor firm Magnet Communications, who worked with the firms to set up the new collaborative.
The firms say they are open to accepting new members, if the culture and quality fit is right, and that new members may include not only public relations firms but agencies in related disciplines, including possibly market research.
“We see ourselves as business problem solvers who can find communications solutions to those problems,” says David Paine. “We are interested in partners who can help us develop new solutions.”