When the partners at Carter Ryley Thomas start to talk about their commitment to nine shared values—what’s best for the group comes first, always be open and honest, work for and trust each other, deliver more than promised, and so on—their firm sounds more like a benevolent cult than a traditional public relations agency. The fact is that it’s easier to inspire people around a set of values than it is to get them excited about a business proposition, and CRT has succeeded in building an unusually close-knit team of young professionals dedicated to the idea that a public relations firm can treat both people and clients ethically and still produce great results.
From a client perspective, the values-driven approach results in an unusual level of passion and commitment (“have a passion for unsurpassed quality”), and genuine counseling (“always be open and honest”) even when the advice may not be what the client wants to hear. It also means a lot to clients that senior executives are involved in the day-to-day management of accounts. The agency even earned a Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics last year.
From an employee perspective, the values-driven approach is reflected in 100 percent employee ownership, generous performance-based bonuses and stock options, a family-friendly atmosphere and an open-book management style. That has helped CRT attract bright and talented young people, keep turnover to a minimum, and this year bring in some senior talent, such as Debbie Myers, general manager of the Norfolk office and former director of corporate communications for Sentara Healthcare, and Lucy Thompson, GM of the Charleston office and former director of communications for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
While clients span a variety of industries, from healthcare to consumer products to business-to-business, the firm’s fastest growth has come in the technology sector, with revenues up to $3 million, or about 40 percent of the agency’s business, in 2000. New business has included assignments from Experient Technologies, 1800wedding.com, VHA, and Dominion Resources. Overall, revenues are expected to be up around 20 percent this year, with income hitting $7.5 million. The firm is also expanding its geographic reach, opening five satellite offices (two in Virgnia, the others in Los Angeles, Portland, and Charleston) over the past 18 months.