A principal and co-founder at BerlinRosen, Jonathan Rosen heads strategic communications, crisis management and media relations across the firm’s offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. With extensive experience leading communications strategy for major global initiatives and sensitive high-profile matters, he is a trusted advisor to CEOs, presidents of organizations and elected officials across the country. A graduate of NYU School of Law, Jonathan has been recognized by the likes of PRWeek and Crain’s NY Business—named to both publications’ 40 Under 40 lists. He is also a board member of the Brooklyn Museum, Congregation Beth Elohim and the Federal Defenders of New York.
In an interview with PR Net, he talks about his journey from being a law school student to owning one of the most successful agencies around, what his predictions for the PR industry’s continued evolution are, plus tips from his greatest entrepreneurial learnings:
“You graduated NYU School of Law. How did you find yourself in the comms space?
I was a political junkie growing up and worked on campaigns from a young age. At the end of college, I knew two things—I wanted to be in New York City and I wanted to do something that would bring me somehow closer to city politics (in that order)—so my college roommate and I applied to law school. Pretty soon at NYU, I realized I liked politics more than the law and began to look for a campaign to jump on. At the beginning of my 2L year, I joined a candidate for Mayor’s campaign staff in the wake of 9/11 and while I finished law school by the skin of my teeth, I never truly went back. One of my first professors at NYU had a saying: “good lawyering is knowing how complicated your client’s story is and telling it simply.” Politics is the same way. And so is comms. I started gravitating more to the storytelling side of politics which led me straight into communications. It’s the same skill set—being an active and deeply engaged listener.
How did you meet your co-founder Valerie Berlin and how did the agency get its start?
Like every other good thing in life—it was totally unplanned. During my first summer in law school, I was interning at a law firm. Our co-counsel on a case was a New York state senator. Valerie (Berlin, co-founder of BerlinRosen) was his Chief of Staff. I met her at a meeting of our mutual client. I told her and the Senator that studying law was not for me, that I desperately missed politics and if they had any work for me to give me a call. Four weeks later on the first day of my 2L year, she called me and offered me a job on Mark Green’s campaign for Mayor. I walked out of class and showed up at the office. We worked together on campaigns for the next four years—eventually running the New York Senate Democrats campaign operation. One day in the office, we looked at each other and decided we could have more fun if we did this—building campaigns—on our own and not just for politicians. We had a hunch that running campaigns in the most cutthroat media market in the country would have applicability to all sorts of clients—corporate, nonprofit, political. We made a list of everyone we knew, told them we were in business, asked them for a meeting and when they asked: “Can you do this kind of PR (for whatever it was)?” We would look at each other and say yes. Then we would walk out the door—look at each other and ask each other in a worried voice “Can we really do that?” We just started our 16th year so our hunch has panned out.
BR employs over 200 people. What are your tips for successfully scaling and managing a large PR firm?
Hire the best people you can, trust them, empower them and let them do their thing. The best decision we ever made was about five years in when we were an 8-10 person firm and we had the opportunity to hire some senior people that we honestly couldn’t afford without major growth. We swallowed hard and decided we couldn’t really grow unless we took a leap and hired the kind of people who could really help lead and grow a business. It was the single best decision we ever made. Our management team continues to be led by the people we hired in those early years and trusting them to have real ownership over their practice areas and lines of business has been the single greatest lever to our growth.
In terms of management – we’re constantly learning and evolving – but our main focus is instilling culture and an approach to the work that is consistent with our values and campaign approach. We want every single person in our agency to wake up every morning wanting to win the day for their client – not to look at the to-do list and check things off, but to step back and think proactively about where their client could be going next. It’s on us to pick up the phone and call our clients before they ask and to fight for our client’s success as if it’s our own.”
Check out the full interview with BerlinRosen’s Principal & Co-Founder Jonathan Rosen here.