Music to our Ears: Gathering in Nashville to Talk Agency Leadership

Each spring for several decades now, members of PRSA’s Counselors Academy (CAPRSA) — the Professional Interest Section designed by agency leaders for agency leaders — gathered for an annual conference to share best practices and talk shop.

We’d meet in May and discuss how to grow our PR agencies, build culture, retain clients, survive (and thrive) in agency ownership — and even discuss making that sought-after pivot later in life.

Like many other groups, the pandemic got in the way of what we’d always done so we took our 2020 conference virtual, successfully connecting and keeping the best parts of what CAPRSA is going strong until we could be together again. Continuing to adapt, we moved our 2021 conference to the fall for the first time ever and chose Nashville as the place to convene after far too long.

Counselors Academy

The theme — “Hitting a High Note in 2021… and Beyond” — struck the right chord. As visionaries for our companies, we owe it to ourselves and the teams and clients we lead to shoot for the best and to hold nothing back.

While it would be impossible to recap nearly three days of lofty learning and breakout sessions, action-packed agendas and on-the-fly peer exchanges in a short column, we wanted to share a few of our favorite soundbites of advice from our incredible line-up of keynote speakers, with a thank you to The CAPRSA 100, founded by CAPRSA member Chris Schroder, for capturing so many of them:

“Trust is the most important five-letter word in business — more important than asset, money or brand.” Glen Jackson, co-founder of Atlanta-based Jackson Spalding and author of “Preeminence: What It Means and How to Sustain It”

Jackson also reminded us: “When you are leading a business, you should focus on the five Fs: fun, fascinating, future, financial and freedom,” along with what he calls “the ‘-ates’ – celebrate, delegate, initiate and navigate.”

“If you’re in business long enough, you can expect change is coming. We don’t like change, but we have to thrive in it, in ambiguity.” — Gay Gaddis, founder of Austin-based digital and marketing agency T3 and author of “Cowgirl Power”

“Being the outlier is like the mouse and the elephant. The elephant doesn’t care about the mouse, but the mouse has to get a Ph.D. in elephant to survive in the same room.” — Drew McCaskill, LinkedIn career expert and culture and economics contributor at SiriusXM

“We’re all born writers.” —  Jodi Marr, Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer and professor of commercial songwriting at Belmont University

Marr, who helped write the hit song “Grace Kelly,” which began trending on TikTok with the help of Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds just a day before the Counselors Academy Conference, added: “Writing is a calling, not just a job. If you really want to stand out, have an opinion. Be brave. Tell the truth. Know who you are.”

If reading these short snippets gets you excited for what’s ahead in the year to come, then you’re not alone. If you feel like you’ve missed out, and you’re an agency owner or leader, then do yourself a favor and keep an eye out for more details about the next conference.

We’ll be back to a May meetup and ready to embrace all we’ve learned while also knowing how to adapt quickly. Plus, we’ll be back to our many traditions that make our group one of a kind — most notably, the way that we welcome and embrace newcomers into the fold. Come join us! You will be among friends who get it.


Natalie Ghidotti, APR, is owner and chief executive officer of Ghidotti in Little Rock, Ark., and chaired Counselor Academy’s 2021 conference.

 Filomena Fanelli is the founder and CEO of Impact PR & Communications in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and served as co-chair of this year’s conference. Both Ghidotti and Fanelli serve on the Counselors Academy’s Executive Committee.

[Photo credit: sean pavone]

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