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S4 E1: The Value of Joining a Global PR Network with Gábor Jelinek of PRGN
Episode 111th January 2024 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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Gábor Jelinek, Executive Director of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), and Abbie Fink, a founding member of PRGN, discuss the value proposition of joining a global PR network. They highlight the importance of building relationships and friendships within the network, the opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing, and the unique insights and perspectives that come from working with PR professionals from different cultures and markets.

Gábor and Abbie also discuss the benefits of being part of a close-knit community of agency owners who understand the challenges and opportunities of running a PR firm. They emphasize the importance of trust, camaraderie, and peer support in the network, and how these factors contribute to the success of PRGN members.

Key Takeaways

  • Joining a global PR network like PRGN offers agencies the opportunity to expand their reach and collaborate with colleagues from around the world.
  • The value of a network lies not only in the potential for new business opportunities but also in the friendships and support system it provides.
  • PRGN's emphasis on bringing people together through in-person meetings fosters a close-knit community where members can openly discuss their challenges and seek advice from peers.
  • Collaboration between PRGN members has led to successful initiatives, such as the Global ESG Monitor, that would not have been possible without the network's support.

About the Guest

Gábor Jelinek is the Executive Director of the Public Relations Global Network. Based in Budapest, Gábor has been involved with PRGN for over five years. Gábor worked as an editor for the Budapest Business Journal before transitioning into the agency business. He brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the PR industry to his role as Executive Director of PRGN. In that capacity, Gábor is the center of action, supporting the work of the President and the Executive Committee to grow and develop the global communications network. Working closely with PRGN’s Business, Marketing and Membership committees, Gábor is the driver of global business development, self-marketing, and membership retention and recruitment.

More than 1,000 clients across six continents depend on the combined resources of the Public Relations Global Network to deliver targeted public relations campaigns in more than 80 markets around the world. With revenues of more than $100 million (U.S.), PRGN is among the world’s top five public relations networks. PRGN harnesses the resources of 40 independent public relations firms, 50 offices and more than 800 communications professionals to connect international companies and organizations with individual and culturally diverse markets globally.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Gábor Jelinek:

This is Gábor Jelinek, the Executive Director of the Public Relations Global Network. I’m based in Budapest, working out of Central Europe. I started my relationship with the PRGN network as a network member from my country, Hungary. And in the past five years, I’ve had the luck of serving this network and these wonderful people in this network.

Abbie Fink:

I have had the opportunity to be part of the network for 30 plus years now with our agency here in Arizona out of the United States. And I can remember the conversation that happened when a small group of public relations agency owners in the United States who had created, that were a part of a network, and the network was changing and the individual offices were no longer required, and the agency owner said, but we like this idea of having colleagues across the country—at that time it was just the US—that could help us out if we need it. This was long before we had the ability to do work in other markets easily. You really had to have boots on the ground to be able to do that.

And out of that conversation grew a network that now has 55 plus agencies around the world and an executive director that keeps us all in line. So I often talk about when I’m meeting with clients and sharing the information about our agency, but talk about our global reach. And it’s a real interesting conversation. And I know you have this opportunity when you are speaking with all of us as agency owners, but really when you’re speaking with prospective members that might be considering joining a network. So talk a little bit about, you know, really what the value proposition is to an agency for considering joining a network—we’re one of the top five in the world—and why would they consider linking in with their colleagues from around the world?

Gábor Jelinek:

That’s a very good question, Abbie. And obviously I’m playing an important role in the recruitment of new members, and then onboarding the new members once they once they get admitted to the network, and frankly, when they decide to leave for whatever reason, I speak with them very often and very deeply about the reasons of being in a network and the benefits of a network. And I must say, over the past few years I’ve realized that this is kind of a journey. Every agency comes to a network like this with the dollar sign, you know, with business in mind, saying, “Okay, I’m joining this network, and I’m going to get a lot of business out of this.” And it may, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because our members refer about $5 million worth of business every year. That’s a good chunk of money. So I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. It just happens lower. Because for good business, to be able to do good business, you need to have friends. And this network is represented in more than 30 countries, through our members we’re present in more than 70 cities and locations.

To be able to work with somebody on a different continent in a totally different time zone, sitting in a totally different climate on the same day, with a totally different cultural background, you have to have the peace of mind that that person is sort of a friend, or as close as you can get to that. And that’s the journey that the members and the prospective members go through. First, they come with the business expectations and they realize that they can achieve those goals if they make friends in this network. And that is especially true about PRGN because this is a network based on exclusivity, which means that we only recruit and keep one agency from a firm and market at the same time, meaning that there are no competitors in the room. We have multiple agencies from the US, but they all are in different markets. They don’t get to compete with each other. And in the other markets, it’s basically per country, one agency per country. That creates a very close and I must say an intimate atmosphere where members talk very freely about their business, about their headaches, about things that they are tired of, and things that they see as possibilities and can’t tell if it’s a real possibility. This is a community where they can openly talk about that. But again you can only do that with friends.

Another aspect that I really like about PRGN is that is that we put a big emphasis on bringing people together. As you were talking about the start of the network, Abbie, you know that the whole thing started with these people just getting together for in-person meetings. And still those in-person meetings are the backbone of our network. Our members come together twice a year. Now these are more like conferences, but the real purpose is to spend a couple of days together so that people can become friends, can share intimate information and sensitive information. They get to know each other’s spouses and children. And this means that if any of them have an issue, or a problem, they can they can pick up the phone and call each other and ask for help.

And one more thing—and I think this is probably the most valuable aspect of becoming a member of a network like PRGN—is, as they say, it gets lonely at the top. Even the savviest entrepreneur needs from time to time to have peers to talk to, to share second thoughts and feelings of insecurity or hopelessness, or sometimes just vent, which we often see at the meetings that, you know, our members just take the moment to vent to somebody who understands because that person is from the same business. And that is very valuable for business owners, I must say. I’ve seen this over the years.

Abbie Fink:

And I was going to say the same thing. We went into public relations to be a practitioner. We got very good at what we do as PR counselors and practitioners, and as a result, have worked our way into this role as an owner, a business owner, and to have a group of individuals that have shared a similar journey. And I think no matter where you are in the world, there are the same kinds of challenges that happen. And to have, as you said, this very close-knit group of individuals that understand it, have probably gone through something similar, or will be going through it eventually. And so to have this conversation with people that will understand it, but really have your best interest at heart, and because there’s not a competitive nature there, they’re willing to share those things and really open up and offer advice and recommendations and such that come from a place of not only the experience, but because they honestly care about the success of their colleagues in the network. And it’s a very valuable component.

And I think, at least for me, I actually put that above the potential new business opportunities, because you can’t get those if you don’t have this other trust factor up at the top. It’s much easier, as you said, to refer business when you already know the ins and outs of those organizations that you’re talking about. And you’ve met them and you’ve interacted perhaps with their extended leadership team and such. And it’s a very simple thing to say, I have a colleague in fill-in-the-blank market that I’d be happy to share those resources with. And I often talk about that this becomes my board of directors, right? These are the people that I can rely on that are really vested in my success in a different way than maybe my friends here locally that, you know, still want me to be successful, but may not have the same kind of insider knowledge that our colleagues do.

So how does someone that might be interested in becoming a member of a network, how do they prepare themselves for that conversation? What makes a good member? When are they ready to engage in a conversation to join a network like PRGN, if they’re sitting and considering the options for what that might look like for their own agency?

Gábor Jelinek:

I could be citing metrics and numbers and size that might make an agency eligible for being a member, and obviously we have those as expectations and criteria. But I think it’s really on the mental side where this is decided. And that’s an openness to other cultures, openness to understand other people. Frankly, I think PR people talk more than they listen. And I think in a group like this, you can be successful only if you can also listen and understand the other party. Because as I said, our members come from more than 30 countries, more than 70 cities, six continents, very different cultures and languages and cultural backgrounds. And everybody obviously speaks English in this network, but the culture in the background really interferes into how people say things or express themselves. And you have to be open and you have to be listening and you have to be understandable to those people and try and understand where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to do and they’re trying to say.

Adrian McIntyre:

Gábor, it occurs to me that one of the unique and wonderful things about a network like this is something listeners can actually experience through the episodes of this very podcast. I mean, we’re featuring members from around the world, and you can hear the nuance of their insights into PR and marketing communication in their different markets. And the camaraderie that you’re talking about, I simply want to say, as the owner of a communications firm who’s not in PR, but who has worked closely with many PR agencies, it’s been fascinating for me to see that play out as I’ve been at some of your events and interacted with many PRGN members. But it’s the unique insights and opportunities that I want to hone in on. Imagine for a second that you’re a public relations agency owner who now has as part of your close-knit network, both for the kind of business advice that you’re talking about, but also for collaboration on client projects. Imagine you have a Gilbert Manirakiza in East Africa, an Andy See in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an Alison King in Toronto, an Alexandra Danita in Romania, a Hanan Kamir in Israel, a Dominique Biquard in Argentina, a Michael Diegelmann in Germany, and so many others that you can hear in the episodes of this podcast. What would be possible in terms of the type of campaigns that you could deliver, the level of client service and impact that you could have? Do you have some examples that you might share of some of the interesting collaborations that have happened between PRGN members that simply could not have been done if they were only separate independent agencies?

Gábor Jelinek:

Absolutely. I was going to say when I said that the new members go through a journey of understanding, that for them to get to the business part they first have to make friends and first have to understand their partners in this network. There’s another journey, and again it’s a mental journey of not just sitting and waiting for business and waiting for opportunities but actually building them, and this is what a network like this is great for. It’s like a little lab, and you can go into an experiment with friends. And that should give you some kind of security. You know, even as an entrepreneur, you start new things, but it’s good to have that little cushion. And good to have those friends who tell you what’s nuts and what may be a crazy idea, but still might be able to work.

And a great example of that, what I very often cite, is the Global ESG Monitor that was started by our member Michael Diegelmann, based in Germany. He’s the owner of cometis, an IR agency. And they started this monitor, this comparison of ESG metrics of the largest companies in the globe. And I think Michael was partly able to succeed because he had many members in our network that he could talk about this experiment with, the idea together with. These other business owners in other markets were able to give him feedback, and some of them even joined him, we have now about a handful agencies participating with him in this in this global effort to compare the largest companies on their ESG performance. I know Michael very well, and he’s a very talented entrepreneur, and I’m sure he would have succeeded alone. But I think his success with this initiative is really great, because he had many, many members that he had a chance to speak with, get some peer feedback, and even get some partners in the end.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and that speaks well for that, the understanding of your colleagues around the world and what, where their interests lie and where they would be willing to partner and participate together and share information, share resources, support the effort. And I think that becomes part of the conversation we have when we’re talking with clients that are looking to grow and expand, and we can share that we have resources for them wherever they might happen to go. Or if we’re having that conversation with a prospect that we identify there’s opportunities for them, we say we have colleagues anywhere you need to be and they’re like us, only there. And that opens up an awful lot of opportunity for creativity and conversation and really helps an individual agency talking with their individual client understand the global world we operate in and that we have access to this really powerful group of individuals and information and resources and knowledge. Whether or not it’s a formalized partnership with one of our network partners somewhere, we have access to information that is valuable to the clients and the prospects that we’re talking to.

Adrian McIntyre:

If I’m the marketing or communications director, VP, or CMO of a brand or a corporation looking for outside support with a campaign or looking for a new agency of record for certain things, is there a difference between me considering to hire an independent PR firm who’s part of a network like PRGN versus hiring a PR firm that may be part of one of the large holding companies? Is there an experiential difference in the relationship, in the quality of work, or anything that I might need to be thinking about as I’m looking for outside PR counsel?

Gábor Jelinek:

Would you be needing that in your local market or in multiple markets?

Adrian McIntyre:

Well, I mean, local for sure. I think that’s where most of the clients are in fact searching. But I imagine that with the global reach of PRGN, there’s going to be a multinational dimension to this as well.

Gábor Jelinek:

Yeah, because I was going to say, if it’s an outreach that is across borders, then a huge differentiator is that when you bring together these independent agencies under one network, and then the work involves multiple markets, you can always be sure that the first person to pick up that assignment in another market will be the principal or one of the partners in the firm. So you’ll be treated at the highest level because this is how the network works. The members in this network are the agency principals and the partners in the firms. So these friendships and relationships are made at a very high level. When I worked at a multinational agency, things were much more practical there, which meant that the top talent was not always involved in deploying the campaigns or planning them or localizing them. So I would say that that’s definitely a big differentiator between network members and multinational agencies.

Abbie Fink:

You’ve mentioned the journey a couple times as it relates to being in the network, but you had your own journey and were part of an agency, as you mentioned, that was a member of the network and then took on this opportunity to wrangle us all together and work with us individually. Talk a little bit about how you ended up here in the public relations industry and eventually serving in this very important role for our network.

Gábor Jelinek:

Well, it was a couple of transitions, and we can call it a journey as well. I was an English major, and basically, I was interested in the English language and whatever may come out of that. And in a month or two I found myself at the editorial desk of the Budapest Business Journal. I got into journalism without any formal degree in journalism, and I got into a business journal without any formal education in business. So I learned how to be a journalist first of all, then I learned about business over the years. I never studied it in university or school at all. Doing it in a hard way. Doing interviews with CEOs of large companies or banks or even a couple of the secretaries or ministers of the government at the time. So that was a strong transition, and I enjoyed it so much. And I thought, “Okay, business is much more interesting than I thought when I was younger. Why don’t we get a step closer to it?” And that’s how I went into the agency business.

And I have to say, the agency business is really a hardcore, Wild West type of business environment. Because you’re the small firm. Most of the PR firms are small in size and even revenues. One of my former bosses used to say … I was working in a multinational agency group, which had advertising, media buying and PR, and other types of communications agencies under one umbrella. And he used to say, “We admire the ad guys for their sales, they admire us for the profits.” Small is beautiful in the PR business. You’re a small business, but you’re much more in control of what you’re doing. Your profits could be higher, but always you’re the small guy. Going to the big guys, obviously, the PR services are mostly used by the top companies of every of every country or market. So it’s always this unproportional relationship.

And I think that’s very, very exciting. It was just as exciting for me as being a journalist, being on a different story every day or every week, or being able to look into different industries. The same happens at the agency side. You serve multiple clients at the same time. You have to keep up with different industries at the same time, because your clients come from those industries, and they expect you to understand not just their business, but the broader environment. It may be an F&B company, and the next day it’s an energy firm, or utility, or a telecoms firm. And sometimes it’s a consumer-facing project. Other days, it’s more like coaching the CEO on how to go on an interview. So that was really interesting and exciting. And as a part of that, that agency came into PRGN now more than 10 years ago. And I was the one bringing the agency to the network. And I just loved PRGN from the first moment. And when there was an opportunity that I could apply for being the executive director, it was not a second wasted to think about it, because I just love the idea of this network, the spirit of this network, and most importantly the people in this network.