Holmes Report 29 Nov 2010 // 12:00AM GMT
Dix & Eaton operates on the simple premise that communication can serve as a powerful engine to drive an organization’s performance and sees its mission as using the experience, foresight and creativity of its people to help clients realize the full power of communication to deliver business results. The firm’s services are structured around specializations in communicating with each of the stakeholder groups whose support is most crucial to an organization’s success—investors, employees, customers and the media—with additional expertise in crises and transactions.
With more than 50 years of experience under its belt, the Cleveland-based firm has arrived at a sound formula for success, one that involves matching experienced professionals with unusually challenging assignments—a formula that helps the firm attract smart, ambitious people and big name clients with high-stakes communications issues. The focus is on building strong client partnerships, as reflected by the fact that the firm is still retained by two-thirds of the clients it served in 1990, and on attracting and retaining the best talent: more than half of the firm’s professionals have at least 10 years of relevant experience and 40 percent have more than 20. Annual turnover is consistently below 10 percent, and one-third of the professional staff has been with D&E for 10 years or more. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the firm can also draw on the vast experience of an advisory board that consists of veteran leaders in management consulting, investment banking, accounting, executive search and organizational development.
Exceptional employee loyalty translates in exceptional client loyalty—the firm still serves two-thirds of the organizations that were on its roster a decade ago. One such client is Diebold, for which D&E has provided an array of investor relations, media relations, customer communications, employee communications and senior-level strategic counsel over the years. Says CEO Tom Swidarski: “In this very volatile environment, I and Diebold need counselors who have a deep, global knowledge of our business. I want to be assured our communications partner understands the importance of consistent messaging with all our audiences: employees/associates, customers, investors, suppliers, business partners, local communities and the media. I am pleased that Dix & Eaton is our strategic partner, as they complement our Diebold staff by bringing those skills along with a proactive, creative mindset! Lastly, we love their passion and willingness to roll up their sleeves and dig in to deliver the results at the end of the day.”
Other notable ongoing clients include McCormick & Company, UnitedHealth Group, Kelly Services, AkzoNobel US (formerly ICI Paints), Jones Day, Forest City, International Coal, Energizer Battery, Pinnacle Airlines, A. Schulman, Lubrizol, Lincoln Electric, Sherwin-Williams, DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse), KeyCorp, American Greetings, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. New additions in 2009 included St. Louis-based CPI and Atlanta-based Exide Technologies, both of which drew upon a wide range of the firm’s service offerings. CPI, which operates portrait studios in Sears and Walmart stores, employed a social media marketing strategy to engage customers, while D&E helped Exide chart a new and ambitious growth course with the launch of ReStore Energy Systems, a new division focused on the emerging advanced-energy market. Other new clients included MAPCO Express, Dolan Media, Timken, organizations in high-growth industries such as health care and life sciences (MetroHealth System, Forum Health, Mork Process and UnitedHealth Group’s Golden Rule unit) and alternative energy (Greater Cleveland Wind Network and NorTech Energy Enterprise), and in education (Case Western Reserve University School of Law and Cuyahoga Community College).
Drawing on its expertise in investor relations, media relations and crisis communi-cations, D&E was involved in several transactions, proxy battles, financial crises, managing an integrated communications program surrounding A. Schulman’s pending acquisition of ICO; providing disclosure counsel, messaging and both internal and external communications tools for OM Group’s acquisition of EaglePicher Technologies as well as Glatfelter’s proposed acquisition of Concert Industries; offering strategic counsel on proxy contests and governance issues to senior execs at Myers Industries, Agilysys and Forgent Networks; supporting the Chapter 11 filing of Forum Health; launching a major repositioning program to help Cleveland’s MetroHealth System define its niche in the marketplace; and working with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center after the bodies of 11 women were discovered in a local backyard.
Perhaps D&E’s most visible assignment, however, began in early February following the fatal crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside Buffalo, NY. The entire senior management team of the airline and its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines, had previously participated in the firm’s crisis communication training program, and after the crash senior D&E professionals provided on-the-ground crisis counsel, strategy development and messaging at Pinnacle’s Memphis headquarters.
On the thought leadership front, the firm developed a five-part “Emerging Trends” series to provide its perspective of the post-economic recovery environment, with specific emphasis on implications for corporate leaders, investor relations, customer communications, employee engagement and media relations.
A regular fixture on our Best Agencies to Work For list, Dix & Eaton has an ongoing relationship with Gallup, one of the world’s leading employee engagement and development firms, providing management with access to tools that help in measure engagement and employees with an assessment instrument that helps individuals focus on their areas of greatest talent to become more successful. In addition, nearly half of D&E employees have purchased shares in the company, and staff benefit from a profit-sharing formula and a professional program that includes roundtables with retired CEOs, mentoring by the firm’s advisory board members and luncheon seminars showcasing the expertise of each of the firm’s practice areas. New initiatives in 2008 included the HFE Fellowship, a program to identify future leaders and provide them with opportunities to accelerate the development of their leadership skills, and the D&E Mentoring Program, which provides opportunities for mid-level professionals to share their experience and insights of Dix & Eaton and the profession with newer members of the firm on a one-on-one basis.
After a 2008 restructuring during which president Keith Mabee assumed the new role of vice chairman and Chas Withers became president, there were few major personnel changes in 2009.