As On 3 Public Relations celebrates its 15th anniversary, Florida Politics spoke with founder and President Christina Johnson about how the firm has managed to survive and thrive in the competitive and rapidly evolving PR industry, and what advice she has for the next generation of political communications pros.
Q: How has Florida’s communications industry changed since On3PR opened its doors?
Johnson: In 2008, the idea of using social media platforms to grow your business was new, and there was an abundance of tutorials on how to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms — but, with the fast-paced advancements in technology, these became obsolete by the time you completed the course or read the book. It all moved so quickly, and self-proclaimed experts were in the same boat as all of us were, muddling through by trial and error. Today, we’re still exploring ways social media platforms help tell our story, and with most people getting their daily news digitally, in real time, it has become an integral part of a comprehensive communications strategy. When asked to speak before groups about the industry, many have heard my favorite Rupert Murdoch quote, “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” I believe that is another way the industry has changed. Fifteen years ago, as a small boutique firm, we were able to move quickly on competitive bids, readily available for clients for immediate decisions, no layers of bureaucracy to get things approved as some of the larger firms faced. Rather, we could call the shots quickly and efficiently — the fast beating the slow. Those who are nimble, who can use every communications tool in their toolbox, are the ones who thrive. In fact, I find many smaller firms like mine have caught on to this business model and use it effectively. I am always thrilled to see other women colleagues open their own shop, remembering that butterfly in your stomach feeling (which I still have today)!
Q: What do you see as the key to your firm’s longevity?
Johnson: When On3PR first opened its doors, it was the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession and many businesses and organizations eliminated their public relations and communications internal and external teams. That’s when the opportunity arose to begin offering short-term contracts for specific projects (Session work, political campaigns, coalition building) — and at lower rates, to begin building the company. When the economy turned around, those short-term projects became long-term anchor clients, and colleagues who, in turn, gave us rave reviews to their peers looking to bring on a firm, or to complement their existing operations. Eighty percent of our business is by word-of-mouth referrals, with 20% actively bidding on projects. I’ve been blessed to have some incredibly talented professionals work for me at On3PR, many whom I’ve collaborated with in their current positions. The key is to work hard, plan for the lean times like a recession or a pandemic to keep the doors open and empower your team to lead.
Q: What advice would you give to students considering a career in political communications?
Johnson: On3PR is one of the few firms involved in the political process as well as traditional public relations and public affairs, having led communication efforts on local, state, and federal campaigns and causes. Political comms is a different animal altogether. In this fast-paced, 24/7 news cycle, it’s a mix of crisis comms, political and policy prose, with an appreciation of the ironic. The best advice in a non-election year is for students to pull case studies of recent winning, and losing, campaigns. What worked? What didn’t work? How did the candidate develop his or her messaging, and was it impactful, or did it fall flat under scrutiny? In an election year, start early by volunteering on a race to learn the district, the issues, and the candidate’s voice. Practice writing policy papers, speeches, releases, media Q&As, etc. It takes time honing one’s political skills, but plenty of examples are out there to glean best practices. While being part of a winning campaign is more satisfying, I’ve learned just as much, if not more, in a losing battle. It’s not for the faint of heart, but all said, it’s an exciting and rewarding career that only the strong survive!
For more information, go to Sixty Days for 3.16.23 — A prime-time look at the 2023 Legislative Regular Session