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Trendsetters: Elise Mitchell, Dentsu’s New Global PR Champion, Shares a Vision for a New Collaborative Structure
Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and the Dentsu public relations network, has strong beliefs about the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. She started her PR agency from her home in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1995, and initially grew the company through a network of freelance “project” employees across the US. By 2006 the company began hiring fulltime professionals to manage its expanding client portfolio, and by 2010, Mitchell Communications was garnering national attention for its galloping rate of growth – 530% in five years. The following year, Inc. magazine cited the firm among its roster of fastest-growing companies. In 2011 the agency was named Small Agency of the Year at the annual PRWeek awards, and in 2012 it won the same award from The Holmes Report, both are sources of PR news and analysis.
Late last year, Elise Mitchell sold Mitchell Communications to Dentsu Network. An interesting development for a woman who spent part of her early adulthood living in Kamakura, Japan, while teaching English at a foreign language school in Chigasaki.
With her characteristic energy and sincerity, she sees her company’s acquisition as perhaps her most entrepreneurial venture yet. Not only is she now able to grow her own firm with its remarkable client roster (Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, Southwestern Energy, and Sam’s Club), but she is also charged with building a worldwide public relations brand for Dentsu. Her vision is to do so by attracting like-minded entrepreneurs who want to work together to serve clients better.
Mitchell Communications’ headquarters in Fayetteville-- in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas-- may be a long way from Madison Avenue or Ginza. The agency just announced the opening of new offices in New York and Chicago to meet the needs of existing and new clients in those markets. Nonetheless, Elise Mitchell advocates: “Clients are more interested in talent and the ability to solve business problems with communications solutions, rather than where are you located.”
Tim Andree, Dentsu Network’s CEO and the architect of this deal and the company’s string of spectacular acquisitions, would agree. He has repeatedly stated that “agencies are cultures, not assets,” and adds, “the roots of great agencies can come from anywhere.” Certainly these comments mark an evolution in how Dentsu had once managed their businesses outside of Japan. With Tim Andree’s leadership, there is a greater level of comfort in recognizing that acquired agencies should be left doing the things that made them successful. Elise Mitchell would describe this as allowing their entrepreneurial spirit to continue.
To ensure that the culture of Mitchell Communications remains strong, its headquarters will continue to be located in Fayetteville. As Mitchell offices grow nationally and internationally, its Arkansas home base will not change.
Elise Mitchell envisions Dentsu’s new global PR network as a collaboration of distinctive complementary public relations agencies that drive results for clients, the network and each other. In addition to both growing Mitchell organically and expanding its footprint into markets like New York and Chicago, both Elise and Tim recognize the benefit of acquiring other high-performing agencies to expand the network with new expertise, additional services and geographic reach.
As public relations grows in importance in a socially-transparent age, Elise Mitchell notes that its definition has not kept up with its expanding role within marketing. Last year, she served on an international task force created by the Public Relations Society of America to modernize the definition of public relations, which had not been updated since 1982.
Through a year-long, industry-wide effort, the group created a new definition: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
According to Ms. Mitchell, “The key is ‘mutually beneficial relationships.’ In public relations, we believe that relationships are the source of every possibility, and we help clients build relationships that matter with stakeholders of all kinds -- customers, employees, communities, opinion leaders, government officials and countless other groups. Increasingly, these relationships drive business success or failure, and they have global impact.”
We’ll be eager to follow Elise Mitchell as she now journeys on a new chapter to build a network with a collaborative global footprint. If past is prelude, she may soon be achieving some of her finest work yet.