by Maura Colleton Corbett

5 Lessons From 5 Years

The Glen Echo Group, our little strategic communications and public affairs firm based in Washington, DC, is growing up. We just celebrated our fifth anniversary, complete with feathered hair, polyester, sequined-filled disco (no reason, except that some of us really like disco) and a killer playlist. It made us consider that while we (happily) spend our days telling other people’s stories, this mile marker was a good opportunity for us to reflect on our own. We thought we’d share with you a few of the things we’ve learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Do what you believe in.

Back in early 2011, AT&T stunned the communications world with its intent to acquire competitor T-Mobile USA. The rest of the market, consumer advocates, trade organizations, investors and pretty much everyone predicted it would put the wireless communications industry “on the doorstep of duopoly.” The Glen Echo Group, of course, was a huge multinational conglomerate at the time, operating out of a tiny corner of a local Starbucks when the news broke, but there was no way we were going to shy away from a fight for competition and consumers. And the opportunity quickly made real our founding premise and underlying values: to support industry disrupters and champion openness and access to information and the Internet--without baggage and as little bureaucracy as humanly possible. That foundational campaign went on to win the Public Relations Society of America’s prestigious Silver Anvil Award for the 2012 Public Affairs Campaign of the Year, which about knocked us over since we were up against actual multinational conglomerates. But we didn’t do it alone - not by a longshot. Which brings me to Lesson 2.

Lesson 2: Work with people you like and respect.

To get to do what you believe in is a great gift (see Lesson 1). To get to do it with people you respect, admire and genuinely like is a great joy. To help tell their stories, talk about their work to make the Internet a better, more open and more accessible place, is a great privilege. We don’t get to do this by accident. We are here because of a wide, wonderful and merry band of friends and colleagues - and we never forget that. And besides, who actually wants to work with people that they don’t like and don’t respect? That’s just weird.

Lesson 3: Be nice.

We have a sign in our office: “Be nice or leave.” We mean that. Our operating principle is: “Don’t be an a**hole.” Seriously. The team (and my mother) wouldn’t let me hang that sign, so “Be nice or leave” is what we’ve working with. It doesn’t mean that we’re pushovers. Anyone who sits through one of our brainstorms or works in one of our coalitions learns that very quickly. What it does mean is that we have integrity, we do work we are proud to put on our website and we fight for issues we believe in. We also prefer to treat people like human beings, because most of the time they are.

Lesson 4: Grow smart.

We’re not in this for world domination. That’s overrated. We work hard instead to make the Glen Echo Group a platform for our people. It’s simple, actually: do great work, and be a great place to work. If we can do that, we’re pretty happy. Another way to look at it is like being a sound engineer, you have to figure out what to do to get the mix right. I mean, we’re not Beyonce but our sound is getting pretty good. And just over the past few months, we’ve added some really talented new band members to our mix:

Kris Carpenter, is our band's Agent, the chief executive in charge of all financial negotiations, contract, directions, and management. Prior to the Glen Echo Group, Kris consulted with other small-to-medium sized businesses in setting and achieving strategic financial goals for growth and profitability.

Aaron Alberico joins the ensemble as a Senior Associate. He provides communications support ranging from strategy development to media outreach. Prior to the Glen Echo Group, Aaron worked at Public Affairs Engagement on client teams that provided a full suite of communications, grassroots and earned media capabilities. Working with multiple clients in the Fortune 500, he specialized in campaign management, public relations, and grassroots mobilization.

And Cyrus Rassool rounds out the sound as a Senior Associate. He assists a range of clients with policy analysis, content creation, advocacy, and research. Before the Glen Echo Group, Cyrus worked at Freedom House on the Global Internet Freedom Program, where he worked with digital activists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and tech companies to promote and protect human rights online.

Lesson 5: Know your stuff.

It never works to be all things to all people. It’s also exhausting. So we focus instead on being really, really good at a few really, really important things that win campaigns and drive issues forward. Because you can’t communicate if you don’t know the issue, and you can’t move the issue forward if you don’t know how to communicate it. So we go deep on both. Oh, and the third thing: if you’re not creative enough to make that issue interesting to the public, the press, or to policymakers themselves, forget it. So that’s why we’re a little bit weird - sorry - I officially meant innovative.

And that’s part of the special mix that brings our clients to us. It’s not just the snacks.