It started with an email.
Erin Foster, who was a public relations director at Eastman Kodak Co. for more than a decade, received a message in her inbox that asked, "Would you like to talk?"
The email was from Raymond Martino, partner at Martino Flynn LLC, who was looking to hire a director of public relations. Within a few weeks, Foster had met with Martino and agreed to join the Pittsford-based agency, becoming its director of public relations late last month.
Foster will lead Martino Flynn's fastest-growing department, which has doubled its billings since the start of 2010. Three years ago, public relations was responsible for 7 percent of Martino Flynn's overall billings. Last year, public relations made up 15 percent, slightly less than $800,000.
Martino said the company is on pace to reach a goal of more than $1.1 million in public relations billings by the end of 2013. With Foster, Martino said, the agency is well-positioned to increase its public relations billings by 30 percent to 40 percent by 2015.
Martino Flynn had been searching for someone to lead the department for two years, he said. The firm placed national recruitment ads and hired search consultants with no results. Then, late last year, Martino heard through word-of-mouth that Foster might consider a job change if the right opportunity presented itself.
"We wanted to make sure that we found someone who had the expertise to serve a national and international client base," he said. "Beyond Erin's capabilities, the most important thing was her passion for the business and that she agrees with our philosophy that public relations is best implemented as part of an integrated offering."
Joining Martino Flynn brings Foster back to her roots, in a way. Earlier in her career, she was public relations director for Eric Mower and Associates Inc. She left that post in 2000 to join Kodak.
Foster led public relations and marketing initiatives for various departments at Kodak. She served as public relations director for the global consumer and commercial groups, global director of the company's brand strategy and standards, and director of global advertising and marketing communications for its consumer products division.
"I wouldn't trade my time at Kodak for anything," Foster said. "I was able to hold a number of positions there, work in commercial and consumer products, launch new products, and travel all over the world.
"But you're also working with a massive global company, which requires a lot of meetings and a lot of steps in the process. With an agency like Martino Flynn, there is quick decision-making. It's a fast and nimble team in an environment focused on growth."
The public relations team will work with Martino Flynn's other departments-brand strategy, digital marketing and advertising-to offer an integrated marketing approach to national clients such as Windstream Corp., MetLife Inc. and Dick's Sporting Goods Inc.
Martino said growth in all of the firm's departments, especially public relations, has been driven by a shift in a global marketing industry focused on areas such as social media and mobile technology.
"The whole communications industry is changing dramatically," he said. "Content marketing and social media are two ends of our business that are expanding greatly.
"In the past, clients could take a traditional business-to-consumer approach to advertising. However, you can't ignore social marketing these days. Creating great content and monitoring feedback has become more important than ever."
A recent communications industry report by global private-equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson supports Martino Flynn's strategy. The report forecasts that public relations spending by U.S. companies will exceed $8 billion by the end of 2013, up 55 percent from 2008. The growth has been driven by companies wanting to keep up with online chatter generated by social media, the report says.
Other Rochester-based firms also have taken note of the changes. Dixon Schwabl Inc. recently moved Public Relations Supervisor Jon Alhart to director of social and digital media, which oversees the integration of social media into marketing campaigns. In 2011, Barbara Pierce, a former strategic communication director at Kodak, joined Tipping Point Media Inc. to create a public relations department at the marketing agency.
Data released last year from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow 23 percent from 2010 to 2020, with the employment of public relations managers, such as Foster, expected to grow 16 percent during that time.
"I don't think you can separate PR out of the mix anymore," said Foster. "Now, when people come and ask you for marketing and advertising, it's including more and more about social media and mobile strategies, which are becoming PR channels. More and more agencies are recognizing PR as a discipline important to accelerating growth."
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