Great people: a key to 25 years of success

December 20, 2012

By Mark McNeely

MP&F Senior Partner Mark McNeely


We’ve been including in our blog posts this year an occasional feature on the 25 questions most frequently asked of us as part of a yearlong celebration of McNeely Pigott & Fox’s 25th anniversary. That celebration officially ends Jan. 1.

I planned on closing out the year pointing to some of the highlights of our agency’s existence. Then I started trying to figure out which I should feature. There were tons of milestones, points of pride, specific successful assignments, and, along the way, many other challenges and disappointments.

So rather than pick a few successes or things that we could have done better, I wanted to hail the culture of our company and its people and talk in broad terms about why both have made a profound difference.

The principals here all come from backgrounds that include journalism, politics and public service. We’ve been around plenty of newsrooms and campaigns where some of the worst working conditions imaginable are experienced. We’ve seen plenty of negative energy expended guarding turf, jockeying for position, playing petty office politics and the like.

From the get-go, we’ve tried hard to minimize these energy drains and to focus relentlessly on doing the very best job we can on behalf of our clients, emphasizing teamwork and being a great place to work, and focusing our competitive nature outward – to our competitors, and not inward.

Our vision statement is still as valid today as it was when we developed it almost 20 years ago – Do great work for our clients, be a great place to work, and be successful enough as a business to share those financial successes with every single member of our team. The shorthand version is “Do Great Work. Have Fun. Make Money.”

For me, the idea of being in business this long has taken awhile to sink in. And it brings an incredible feeling of good fortune and appreciation to all 406 souls – 268 employees and 138 interns – who have been a part of MP&F for the past quarter-century.

So in the spirit that surrounds our traditional holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, allow me to publicly and humbly thank everyone who has contributed to our success and helped build MP&F into the largest PR firm in the state and keep it there for many years, including these tough, recessionary and weak economic times.

MP&F partners

Mark McNeely and MP&F Partners, courtesy of Larry McCormack from The Tennessean.

Every one of my fellow partners is talented, experienced and strategic. Alice Chapman and Andrew Maraniss, who became our newest partners earlier this year, had spent a good deal of their professional lives working here. Over the past 18 years, Alice has managed many successful public information and education campaigns, including the introduction of the ubiquitous “Curby” recycling program a few years ago. She excels in our many grassroots- issues assignments. Andrew cut his teeth doing sports information for his alma mater, Vanderbilt University, where he was a Fred Russell-Grantland Rice scholar, and then was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ first media relations staffer. He has led many sports and automotive endeavors since. Both have young families and continually do that work/life balancing act. It sure has worked well. Thanks, guys. Your fresh insights and perspectives have been extremely valuable this year.

Katy Varney, who joined David Fox and Mike Pigott and me as a partner in 1993, exemplifies a rare blend of energy, confidence and optimism that continues to buoy our work product and our spirits. Her one condition of employment (from a job requiring her to take a huge pay cut from her previous employer) was that MP&F conduct annual staff retreats. Mike, David and I said “sure,” even though we weren’t sure what that meant. We have had annual off-site retreats every year since then, and just when we think we’ve done all, seen all and heard all, there’s something new to spice up the planning and bonding experience each year. If Katy has a weakness, it is that she refuses to say no or be daunted by long odds. Therefore, she has served on more volunteer boards and has been involved in more “extracurricular” activities than anyone I’ve ever known. Thank you, Katy, for everything through the years.

MP&F retreat photo

MP&F’s first company retreat in 1993.

Keith Miles has been a partner since 1997. He’s tech-savvy, an expert in new media, and a talented singer/songwriter. He’s low-key and steady and very involved in the foodie scene here. My guess is that we’ve really stymied a promising professional music career because of the time and effort required to manage clients and people here. Keith maintains and uncanny closeness and trust level with many of his clients; some like him because he’s Keith, and some, perhaps, because he golfs and fly-fishes with of them. And if they are ever looking for recommendations for fine food, wine or cigars, he’s the go-to guy. Bravo.

MP&F's Mark McNeely, Mike Pigott and David Fox

MP&F’s Men In Black

Then there’s Mike, David and me. Reporter friends always trying to figure out some way to turn our love of news and writing into something more personally rewarding. It took a few years of trying to figure it out; but eventually, in 1987, I started the predecessor firm, McNeely & Associates, after I couldn’t figure out how in the world we could generate enough revenue to pay for all three of us. Who would have thought three old (well, actually, pretty young) newspaper reporters could start a business they didn’t know much about, navigate the rocky waters of several recessions and 9/11, struggle through several very lean years at the first and then emerge as a successful enterprise?

My theory has always been because of attitude, hard work, stubbornness and the ability to attract very talented people into the fold. Oh, and luck.

Pigott joined me at the end of 1988, and Fox came into the fold on Jan. 1, 1990. It was very, very tough at first; but things really started to take off when we changed the name from McNeely & Associates to McNeely Pigott & Fox.

And because of Mike and David…

Mike is one of the most talented information gatherers and writers I have ever known. He is gentle and comforting and has a world-class sense of humor. I used to resent him when we were both reporters because of his great source network. He has a beautiful, talented family to whom he is totally dedicated. Like Keith, he is cool, calm and collected, and has been through it all. His advice during times of duress has saved many clients from the brink over the years. And his relationships with reporters far and wide continue to impress. Thank you, Mike, for helping this venture make it.

David is the consummate family man – husband, like Mike, father of three girls, and school and community leader. But he is one of the most competitive, intense, detail-oriented, goal-driven people I have ever known. He is revered by the staff as a teacher and mentor and trainer and is admired by everyone he comes in contact with because of his twinkle and his smile and pleasant demeanor. He’s a great writer, to boot. Just don’t get on the wrong side of him in a basketball game, or a softball game, or a handball match, on the golf course, or doing an egg and spoon competition. Thanks, David, for making us all better every day.

Of course, there are many, many other current and former staff members who have played pivotal roles here; but we are out of time and space for today.

Our 26th year begins Jan. 1. We’ll begin thanking them then.


2 Responses to “Great people: a key to 25 years of success”

  1. I’ve been here for 16 of the 25 years, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. What a great place full of great, talented people. Here’s to the next 25 years!

  2. Mike Pigott Says:

    Mark: Congrats on starting and growing such a special place. All of of your kind words for so many of us are greatly appreciated, but you only need a mirror to find the one who bound it all together for so many great years. Thank you!

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