Brownstein Group announced the elevation of long-time Managing Director, Erin Allsman, to the role of president on January 18th. In the days since, Erin has been covered in AdAge and Ad Week, and seen an outpouring of congratulations on social media. We took a moment to sit down with our new president to learn more about her perspective on Brownstein, her career to this point and what the future holds.
Having started at Brownstein 16 years ago, what’s been the most significant change in the agency world during your tenure?
Ironically the agency world has boomeranged in a way. When I came into the business, our model as a full-service agency was in question as many clients were opting for specialty shops and project-based engagements over strategic AOR relationships. Now, after managing rosters of disparate agencies became unwieldy and inefficient, and in-house agencies proved to have their own limitations, clients once again value AOR relationships and are reverting back to that model. We were fortunate to have maintained a stable of AOR clients through the project trend, and now this is once again the engagement of choice for many marketers, who are opting to have consistency across all channels.
And the biggest change at Brownstein?
So many changes, it’s hard to name just one! Overall, the quality of the work, our talent and the level at which we operate have all elevated tremendously. When I joined, the agency was good for Philadelphia. Now, we’re among the top in the country! In addition, our current structure as a network of specialist agencies under the Brownstein Group umbrella was a critical change that has helped accelerate our growth over the past 6 months.
What do you see as the most important change coming to Brownstein in the future?
Calculated scale and continued evolution of our employee value proposition are the most critical next steps in our trajectory. We have an incredible brand platform and a clear purpose, we’ve solidified processes and built out our teams, we have satisfied clients and nationally-recognized work. We’ve got the infrastructure down, and now we need to replicate that for more heritage brands without losing the qualities that make us special and maintaining our ability to deliver on our brand promise. Internally, happy people do better work. So, we must always look for new ways to improve the employee experience. That work is never done!
As managing director, you guided Brownstein through the pandemic. What was your biggest challenge during that time? And what was your biggest takeaway?
The obvious answer would be transitioning the team to a virtual environment while keeping our creative capabilities flourishing, but that piece actually came much easier than expected for our team after the initial adjustment period. I believe the hardest part, but perhaps the most important, was managing the emotional weight we all carried through that time and making sure we were giving our team grace, acting with empathy and doing what we could to provide support all while ensuring our business remained in good health. That in and of itself is part of our DNA – but each individual’s reactions and needs were so different and changed so frequently that it was hard to find solutions that could be consistent and beneficial to everyone.
My biggest takeaway from that time is that work can happen anywhere – and should – based on the improved quality of life and the broadened talent pool that can be gained from a hybrid location approach.
In what ways did your career in PR prepare you for the challenges of this role that more traditional paths probably wouldn’t have?
PR professionals not only understand the importance of communication, but they prioritize it too. This business moves so fast, it’s very easy to just complete a project and move to the next thing that needs your attention. But a good leader keeps her team connected and informed. We over-emphasize internal communications, so we never have anyone feel as though they aren’t aware – or can’t quickly become aware – of what’s happening at the agency.
Second, in PR you are often the steady head in the room in times of crisis or significant challenge when others may become emotional or reactionary. Working closely with clients on countless critical matters, I was exposed to many challenges executives and business leaders face on a regular basis and from an early stage in my career. So, I felt ready for what was to come. “Grace under pressure” comes easily for me.
Do you have a resolution for 2023?
No real resolution, but I plan to do big things in this new role! For all my fellow yogis out there, I’m also working hard on perfecting my chaturanga.
What is one thing you wish you had known earlier in your career?
I wish I had known more about the agency world in my early days out of college. I had no one to advise me toward this field, so I may have made different choices if I had understood the landscape a bit better as I entered the workforce.
Who were the most important mentors in your early career?
My father has always been my biggest career mentor, although he is in a much different line of work. In my early days at Brownstein we had a Brand Strategy Director named Joe Weinlick who was a great mentor and helped me gain the confidence to go after the PR Director role after just one year in the agency.
Are there parallels between your professional and personal life?
Absolutely! I frequently say that once I became a parent, everything at work got easier. We make thousands of decisions a day that impact our teams and the agency’s performance, but nothing compares to the decisions you make raising children. I believe I bring a balance to my team with this perspective; being a mom makes me a better boss.
What does it mean to you to be the first non-family member to become president of Brownstein? What does it mean for the future of Brownstein?
To me it means that Marc and Berny have a great deal of trust in my ability to take the agency forward. I can imagine it is very hard to let go of control when your name is on the door! I believe it is a great signal for the future of Brownstein, as it shows to our team that there is upward mobility potential for anyone who merits it, all the way to the highest level. It also shows our clients and the industry that Brownstein is a true example of an unstoppable brand. We stand proudly on our legacy but are not afraid to make bold pivots that will accelerate growth.
Where do you find inspiration for work?
It’s easy to be inspired when the people around me are so talented. I want to be at my best so I can do right by them.
What is your go-to snack during the work day?
Peanuts regularly, gummy worms as a special treat. Also love a good afternoon tea and biscuit (cookie), a nod to my time living in the UK.