In this episode…
Join David Hernandez, host of There’s Always a Lyric, as he sits down with principal of Jacobs Consulting and Executive Coaching, Ken Jacobs. Speaking words of wisdom, Ken shares his unique entrance into the world of PR and how he created a new career vision for himself!
David Hernandez (0:00)
Welcome to another episode of There’s Always a Lyric. I’m your host, David Hernandez. Our sponsor again is lotus823 and full disclosure, I am a managing partner at Lotus823. And today I have a really special guest because he’s also a friend as well as a colleague, an esteemed colleague. And his name is Ken Jacobs. Hi Ken, how are you?
Ken Jacobs (0:22)
Welcome from esteemed land. I bid you welcome, I bid me welcome.
David Hernandez (0:26)
That’s right. Ken has quite a long career in the public relations space and communications. He is currently the principal of Jacobs Consulting and Executive Coaching, which helps empower Public Relations and Communications leaders and executives to become more effective leaders. It does so via executive coaching. His company also helps agencies grow business, manage for profitability, improve client service, and enhance team performance, communications, and leadership skills via training and consulting. Prior to launching his companies, Ken spent 25 years in management and leadership positions, with a number of PR agencies including Oglivy and Mather, Marina Maher Communications, Maloney and Fox, and then Liv Taylor. Ken discusses leadership with some of the PR and communications industry’s most respected leaders via quote, Taking the Lead. And if you haven’t checked that out, you should. His quarterly leadership columns in PRSA’s Strategies and Tactics, and the similarly named video podcasts on his website, and YouTube channel. A presenter at Public Relations Society of America’s Counselors Academy and various PRSA chapters, and on the board of PRSA tri-state district. Fun fact: Ken wants you all to know, he was a Public Relations Society Students Association, Central New York’s Outstanding Undergraduate Student of the Year before a number of you were born. That is a fact. And in full candor, he believes he was the only one nominated.
David Hernandez (0:28)
I kind of like to start in the present and what you’re doing in the consulting coaching space. Can you tell everybody a little bit about what that’s like? What was the impetus there and how you ended up there?
Ken Jacobs (2:12)
As you mentioned, I’m the principal of Jacobs Consulting and Executive Coaching and currently the only employee and I think that’s how it’s probably going to go. So, I guess you could say I’m a, let’s say, a musical term. I’m a soloist.
David Hernandez (2:25)
Ken Jacobs (2:25)
I’m a soloist, I was in an agency leadership management many, many years, I got into it early, I got into management early leadership early, that was good, and sometimes not so good. But in full candor, we’re going to go there. Towards the end of that career, a number of my positions ended, you know, shorter and shorter duration, and not always by my choice. So, I had to realize that even though PR agency life, management and leadership was really right for me for a number of years, towards the end, it wasn’t right for me. And I had to figure out what this chapter two was going to be thank God I did. Because I’ve just found this life of just tremendous satisfaction, fulfillment, and abundance. I liked my job in the agency days. And we had fun, and I have some other plaques and awards from that. But this is just so much more the career I was meant to do.
David Hernandez (3:30)
Ken Jacobs (3:31)
And I don’t have to retire because I’m just loving it beyond anything. So sometimes you kind of gotta get to the bottom a bit. And I got I did it.
David Hernandez (3:40)
It feels also, like a natural outcome, though. Or a natural evolution. Playing in some rough and tumble high stakes, high stress agencies.
Ken Jacobs (3:52)
It, it did require leadership. And some days, I really brought great leadership and in full candor, some days I didn’t. And I always think, “What an irony” because I had to get out of the business. I wasn’t leading effectively. And I use a lot of those lessons today to help my clients become better leaders. So even when you think you failed air quotes, you can use those lessons to fuel a second or third chapter and great success and great fulfillment.
David Hernandez (4:30)
At learning, right, that that that process is what led you to really be doing the most fulfilling work you’ve done in your entire career.
Ken Jacobs (4:38)
No question and I’m still related to the world of PR. I have to stay up on it. I have to stay knowledgeable, especially to do the consulting part. I mean, PR has changed so dramatically since I led in it. And my god it’s changed tremendously since three months ago. To a certain point you have to think of how much brainpower and time will you spend on professional development, leadership development? What do you want it to be about? And for me, understanding the neuroscience, understanding how our brains work and how they manifest success, and understanding how you can lead more effectively, by understanding the neuroscience and the neuroplasticity of the people you’re leading and coaching, that, to me is the most fascinating and the most interesting. I know, it will be more about that. And more about that in coaching, then, the consulting per se. When I think about keeping up with stuff you’re on top of like AI and ChatGPT and all that stuff, and, and thinking about what’s next. For me, that’s a little exhausting. But when I think, “Oh, next week, I can take a webinar on neuroplasticity, oh, Sign me up”.
David Hernandez (6:00)
Specialize in the tactical side of the business. And, and what you’re talking about is, is really the overarching piece of being a leader in an agency or even running an agency. And those things are not built on the tactics. It’s quite, it’s a quite different set of skills that you’re going to need in order to be effective leader.
Ken Jacobs (6:26)
Yeah, I think, you know, we go through that PR, or marketing or advertising career. And in my experience, we promote people into positions of leadership, just because they’ve been great PR people or marketers or digital people, or they’re great with clients or you know, and I’m not, they can run a budget, right? They can run a production schedule, all those tactical things. And I would never minimize that. But the skills to lead people to lead human beings, to inspire them. That’s really a different skill set. In the big PR or communications cemetery there’s no tombstone that says he doubled the budget. You know, it’s great if she or he doubled the budget. I’m not minimizing that. Go you double that budget. But when you look at you know, what’s your leadership legacy? How have you impacted people and changed their lives? That to me is the beginning of leadership.
David Hernandez (7:23)
Before we got all the way here. You had an origin story; you had a start? You, you won the RSS? Even though maybe you were the only nominee. What drew you to communications? What drew you to PR it? What was that initial spark or, or drive that that brought you into this world?
Ken Jacobs (7:44)
So, I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be an actor, a musical theater actor. And I applied to all these great schools that had great BFA programs, the real deal, Carnegie Mellon, I think, Ithaca, SUNY Purchase, Syracuse U, and I did all my auditions, and I got these lovely letters that said, uh just don’t have it for the BFA program. But based on your background and your grades, come to our college, you could do advertising, you could do journalism, you could do PR. Deep in the back of my mind. I knew at best, you know, I’d be a waiter and not always, not always an employed waiter. And so, I knew I needed a school I sensed that just had a great journalism, PR, etc. I was leaning towards Syracuse, towards New House, and my best friend in elementary school and junior high school, his dad was a PR guy for Tom Carvel, Fudgie the whale and all that. And he talked about all the PR events that he did. And I thought this could be a really fun way to make a living. So, I’m going to pick PR, that’s how scientific it was. When I was in the agency business, and you were pitching an account, I knew that only part of it where our great ideas and everything else. But the other part is working the room and involving your audience and see you know, and a big lesson like you’d have a few faces like smiling and nodding or whatever. And so many people would focus their pitch to them. Don’t focus your pitch on the people you already have on board, find the decision maker who’s sitting like this and a little grumpy and involve them one way or the other. So that’s something I definitely learned and then also the drama and the voice and the speech and when whispering can be very effective. And then when to boom to the back of the room. So, no I, I use a lot of those lessons.
David Hernandez (10:01)
Were there people that stood out that were either like you are now, coaches or mentors, that influenced you or impacted you in a significant way that you can recall them to this day?
Ken Jacobs (10:14)
Oh my god. Yeah. I have to say I worked for to glass ceiling breakers, agency owners Jean Way Schoonover and Barbara. And Barbara Way Hunter, they were obviously sisters. And my jeans story is we were pitching an account. I was like 24, because I was the young man. It was kind of reverse sexism and ageism, where I was given opportunity, you know, you know. And she put me in charge of a pitch. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And I just couldn’t write the plan. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know why I did this. I called; it was a record label. And I called the record label president. I wish I had those kinds of cojones today because like, I would never do that. But in those and I asked for an extension. What was I crazy? So of course, he “oh sure” and then he calls Jean, the owner, the president of the firm, she brings me up to her office and says “so um I understand you called the head the record label look like? Yes, I did Jean. I just didn’t feel ready to get it together. You know, she goes. Now at that point. She could have fired me. She could have screamed at me. She could have done both. She could have kicked me out. And she didn’t. She simply said, Huh. I wonder what your other options were. I should have asked him for help. I could have asked of the VP for help. I should have thought I should have asked you what to do. I could have asked you to make a, and she says goes, she says look we are all entitled to mistakes. We make them and as long as we don’t repeat them, you’re good. Now what was the learning for me? Is that by her grace, and her dignity, and her coaching me by asking me a question rather than doing all these other things. My loyalty to her. I mean, the proverbial you want me to jump Jean. Show me the cliff I’m jumping. The other lesson is her sister Barbara way Hunter. They eventually sold to Ogilvy and Mather. And Barbara at age 65 or so, went out and founded Hunter, a great thriving PR firm and let me tell you, when was that 25 years ago. So first of all, when they when they took over the agency in the late 60s, long before I was there, women did not own PR firms just women did not it just was not done. And when Barbara founded a PR firm 25 years ago, at age 65. Trust me 65-year-olds were not being entrepreneurs, then they were not founding agencies, certainly 65-year-old woman weren’t. So, her courage and her belief in her dream. And in her chapter three. So, to this day, both of them still inspire me.
David Hernandez (13:14)
Wow, what an impact on a 24-year-old by you telling the story in the kind of detail you just told it. It’s seared itself into you.
Ken Jacobs (13:22)
Oh god. Yeah. And I mentioned both stories when appropriate in training and coaching. When people say oh my god, it’s too late. I’m 55 I lost my job. What can I do? I say, Well, you know, here’s a choice Barbara Hunter made. People are rethinking what is the life of abundance really look like? What is the life of satisfaction look like? And you know, what is my purpose in life, because my purpose in life, I thought it was to be an agency leader and to do great events and to launch the one and only wonder bra. You know, I thought that was my purpose in life. Guess what? And I even remember now I mean, we had great events, we won silver anvil, they got we want everything that we won everything. And I remember being in a taxi going to it. And at one of our other events we were launching a big billboard in Times Square and the model was going to come out and you know, write something and my stomach was just in a knot and it’s like well wait, I you know, you’re a great strategist you’re great creative You really brought it this time. You got the best media team in New York bar none. You’ve got Marina Mar where if something goes wrong she’ll keep the clients happy till we figure it out. Because she did that she was she she’d be there like how can I help you Ken not on the boss not My name is on the door. How do I help you succeed? Leader has been a great leader and have you know unless there was going to be a major arson are a major, you know, shooting or something, we were going to get great media coverage nationwide, my client would be thrilled yada, yada, yada. But I just couldn’t savor the moment. So, with hindsight, that was my gut telling me, there’s something else for you, buddy.
David Hernandez (15:20)
Even though you didn’t realize that the moment it was a pivotal moment for you.
Ken Jacobs (15:25)
David Hernandez (15:27)
Understanding what you were feeling and that you shouldn’t be feeling that at this moment.
Ken Jacobs (15:33)
Yeah. But I didn’t know I thought that was just the stress of being however old I was PR guy. And that was just what life was going to be like.
David Hernandez (15:43)
You think about those kinds of moments and then working with the kind of people that you work with, and how all of that really was a lead up into being what you are now.
Ken Jacobs (15:54)
Every everything meant to be no coincidences, everything. It’s amazing to be Yeah. And even, you know, my last position in PR in agency life, which, for me, was miserable. But I had to experience that, to say you need something more, you need something different.
David Hernandez (16:17)
For the ones that want to evolve and wants to succeed in life and business. It really is about taking those failures and learning from them. Because there’s golden lessons in each and every one. And that sounds exactly those were the steppingstones that helps you find your way of I realized that that’s not for me. When space you love, you love communications, you love public relations.
Ken Jacobs (16:45)
But it wasn’t meant to be anymore. A different romantic. It’s interesting. So, my clients who are almost all from the space, I don’t coach them around PR ever, ever. We coach them around leadership, leading their teams leading their clients leading their business partners leading themselves, right. Yet they tell me I just feel a comfort with you. I feel I can use a shorthand. I feel like somehow because you’ve been there, you know, we use a real coaching method. We use questions we use neuroplasticity, you know, if I’m telling them what to do, based on my experience in the business that’s not coaching. That’s one-on-one consulting, and I’m going to use the coaching process, I’m going to use open ended empowering questions, to ignite their brains to ignite the front of their brains, where commitment and passion and collaboration and all those important things happen. So, my job is not to tell them what to do. My job is to coach them to light up the part of the brain where their answers are buried.
David Hernandez (17:57)
I was going to ask you about your why and about what makes what makes you unique as a consultant, but that you just spelled it out. Your guidance is helping them find the key.
Ken Jacobs (18:12)
We certified; we experienced coaches believe that our clients have everything they need already. Something might be getting in the way and energy blocks some experience from their past. Our job is not to tell them what to do. Our job is to help them unblock what’s getting in the way of their success. You can achieve whatever you want, if you’re willing to do the heavy lifting, you can coach or you can judge, can’t do both at the same time, you got to decide. And so they are at their pace, their speed, it is their journey, not mine.
David Hernandez (18:50)
The natural inclination for most of us would be to jump in the pool.
Ken Jacobs (18:56)
Well, many consultants, many PR people, many marketing people I observe leaders find coaching and go into coaching and you know if I see it, I say if I can give you any guidance from when I started not coaching, I will give you consultants for free. And I tell them the biggest challenge is going to be trust the coaching process. Don’t go into consulting, it should feel very different.
David Hernandez (19:25)
What you’re doing is all bound up together and who you are how do you find balance in your life?
Ken Jacobs (19:33)
The coaching we do is actually based on G leadership coaching. And so, I find coaching gives me such anabolic energy which is the kind you want to tap into more and more that I hang up from a call and I am uplifted. I’m just uplifted I’m full of energy. And there are times I think I get paid for this. You will hear something in a coaching session that’s meant for you. Interesting, and it’s not selfish to take to take it and learn from it. I have an ELIICF, International Coach, Federation Certified Energy leadership coach, I think to be good. If you want to be a great coach, you’ve got to have a great coach. And I do, I’ve really make some kind of Exercise and Movement. I strive for six days a week, that makes a huge difference. And I learned I you know; I don’t know if it’s meditation or mindfulness. But using something like calm or headspace or one of those, these 10 minutes a day, makes a very big difference. If I, if I do that, and, you know, 30 minutes of movement every morning, I have a very powerful, very positive day. And then I feel that brings me balance. My office hours are 10 to 6 Eastern. And I really try to keep to that. I find that gives me balance.
David Hernandez (21:11)
Do you have advice for folks, young people that may be listening that are thinking about coming into the into the space into the communications, and PR space? What would you say to them?
Ken Jacobs (21:23)
Look for the people who are leading who are using good energy, influence, right? Who serve others, whether they’re leading up, across or down, because you can start to observe what works with you what works with others. Observe that it’s not often about title. But it’s about being able to advocate for change, and bring change, and have positive outcomes. Look for people who just seem to be able to discuss anything with anyone. Think about how you use your day. Just because people can put 12 appointments on your calendar. And this is harder in the beginning. So, this is my this is more for, I think mid to senior. But to think about your day and think about when you are really good. When are you really good at thinking and doing complex work. For many people, it’s the morning, try to protect your morning, try to book appointments with yourself in the morning. Your job is not to attend 12 to 14 sessions a day. It’s to bring your brain, it’s to bring your listening skills. That’s right. And if you’re going to meeting, to meeting, to meeting, to meeting Yeah, you get you get the badge for most meetings attended. That’s not really much. But you know, our brains need rest. They need sleep, they need downtime, they need a cup of tea, they you know, they need all these things. So, stop, stop using technology to combat the state that the brain wants. The brain wants sleep. The brain wants focus, the brain wants a break. This is going to be good for everyone, every level stop multitasking. Multitasking is doing a lot of things at the same time. None of them well. Why would you want that? Instead spend 15-20 minutes deep discussion, no slack, no ping, turn notifications off, turn texting off, let your brain focus. You will be amazed at what you can really achieve. When you set your brain on it for 20 or 30 minutes.
David Hernandez (23:46)
You kind of nailed it when you said that’s at every level. It doesn’t matter. If there was a song tile or a song lyric that captures you or your journey, what would it be?
Ken Jacobs (23:56)
It’s Beatles and it is Let It Be. Just see what’s going on in life. Accept it. Learn from it. Don’t fight it. There is some good in everything going on.
David Hernandez (24:12)
Paul wrote that when he was a young man it’s a very, very insightful song and in terms of the meaning of that song and, and really acceptance, right.
Ken Jacobs (24:28)
Acceptance is such a powerful tool.
David Hernandez (24:31)
I do want to ask if people want to get in touch with you. How would they?
Ken Jacobs (24:34)
Of course! The best way is email at email@example.com. I’ll spell it again because it’s long firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find at jacobscomm.com. The website, our story, you can find our Taking the Lead video podcast there and these are all you know, we interview people as you said from the world of PR we don’t talk about PR. We talk leadership. We also have a Jacobs Consulting and Executive Coaching YouTube channel.
David Hernandez (25:15)
Thank you for today. This was so nice that you were able to make the time for this.
Ken Jacobs (25:19)
Ah, my pleasure.
Keep in touch with Ken: