NEW YORK CITY, NY: Right from the onset of my interview with Nancy Behrman, she was enthusiastically vocal, intelligently insightful and factually, downright sassy. That which is a positively flattering trait, when developing the thick skin necessary to take the risks of playing to win on Madison Avenue.
Nancy is most passionate about her love of building brands, and having the opportunity to do so, by creating and following her own rules. She's lived and breathed PR as a pioneering woman in the industry for thirty-plus years. Behrman Communications has not just survived but thrived from their first and perennial marquee client Kiehl's (which began as a hip downtown apothecary on 13th Street in NYC) to their current roster of the world's top beauty and lifestyle brands.
Proudly, she's staked her claim as an industry innovator by refusing to be risk adverse. The love and creativity of her craft always stems from a strong belief in the project, and the new strategies and creative activations that they forge in collaboration. Nancy glows about her inherent "love for the brands that come to us with just an idea. I most enjoy working on projects in a white space -- the in-between brands with the creative vision, stamina, and the chutzpah to transform their categories."
Most fun you've had along the way? "Just being free to be as creative as possible - and scrappy - through on-the-ground tactics, like sampling products at no-charge to hairdressers, make-up artists, and personal assistants. Operating around no advertising budget to start a trend, taking risks - it's what we like to do best."
What's been the toughest part of it all? "A lot of blood (laughing) - but really there was plenty of sweat and tears, going out on my own, it's lonely out there; starting at 26 out of a studio apartment, with only one incredible client, trying to meet payroll. I did PR by day and cocktail waitressed at night. I didn't understand the unusual work ethic I had until I had begun. Those early years were exhilarating, though scary. Working here now, there is a much greater sense of work-life balance; entirely different than 30 years ago."
Challenges of choosing clients? "We do not like to take on potential clients with unrealistic visions, the success overnight seekers. We point them in a new direction (to other firms). We have to give very realistic expectations upfront or we're not set up for success. It's a challenge to be willing to say 'No thank you; best of luck.' However, we want a synergy with our clients - yes, I am very particular, as is my Managing Director. We are both very thoughtful about what brands, partnerships and colleagues we want working with/at the agency."
Tell me about your team. "The vast majority have worked here for years. They are smart, strategic, wonderful mentors, and they're damn sharp; qualities that I most admire - and recall a younger version of myself."
And selecting your key players? "I seek-out people that are smarter than I am. I'm looking for people where PR is going to be part of their lifestyle; you don't have the ability to tune out nowadays. That awareness and dedication is incredibly valuable, although rare- when I hire I can just feel it emotionally, spiritually, it's truly a gut-feeling."
It obvious with a survey of the key players in the industry that many have sprouted their wings under Nancy's tutelage, and then flown-off to succeed by building their own names and firms. And when I asked her point-blank if there was a feeling of animosity or accomplishment in that regard?
"I've got pride and admiration for the majority of the women, who have moved on from Behrman PR and have helped redefine the landscape of this field." Hmm, sounds like not all of the wunderkinds left with an appreciation for what they learned. How's that for sassy?
Interview by David Lee Jensen