FHA Veterans Dagny Ellenberg, Kendall Klingler and Rebecca Nicholas Join Fiona Hutton in Leading the Firm’s West Coast Expansion
It’s been twenty years of steady growth for Fiona Hutton & Associates (FHA) as we’ve arguably grown to one of the West Coast’s most respected communications and public affairs firms. An important new chapter starts today as I announce that Dagny Ellenberg, Kendall Klingler and Rebecca Nicholas have been promoted to partner, and I am elevating my role to Founder and CEO.
The “company” is the people – a statement that couldn’t be more accurate when describing an agency. I’m immensely proud of the evolution of our firm and the exceptional reputation we have steadily built with the collaboration and commitment of Dagny, Kendall and Rebecca – joined with an incredible roster of existing FHA team members and past alumni. Outstanding practitioners, brilliant strategists and fiercely loyal, each have been with the company for nearly 10 years. Their rise over the last decade is a testament to FHA’s investment in young, talented leaders, providing not only the tools, but also the opportunity for significant professional growth. If you have the right aptitude and attitude, you can truly soar at FHA.
FHA has firmly established itself as a bespoke agency for clients seeking the highest quality strategic communications and attracting the most talented professionals in the industry. The high expectations of our clients, much sought-after issue expertise, sophisticated engagements and consistent growth of the firm required an experienced, committed and united leadership team. This new partnership solidly sets our agency up for future success.
The partners will focus on driving the firm’s high-quality client results, creating additional proprietary products, grooming and growing talent and business development. I will lean into strategic vision for the agency (including issue sectors and specialized service offerings), high-level client strategy, scaling operations for further growth, advancing the agency’s acclaimed culture and recruiting senior-level talent.
In thinking about this announcement, I wanted to capture what makes us unique. How we think and approach our work. Again, it comes back to the people. FHA is an unparalleled teaching institution for PR practitioners – with a culture centered on inclusion, trust and collaboration. Investing in our people ultimately empowers their professional growth and concurrently supports them personally. That’s our secret sauce… it’s really not a complicated recipe but it demands consistency.
There is certainly an effervescent energy within FHA – having passionate, motivated and engaged employees ultimately translates to exceptional client service and outcomes. Today’s announcement is a true demonstration of our purpose, approach and model – attract top talent, invest in them unequivocally, support them through the highs and the lows and ultimately you build a unified team that is focused on great work.
This announcement comes on the heels of the company’s 20-year anniversary. From health equity to the digital divide, police reform and climate resiliency, FHA has worked on California’s toughest issues for two decades, providing innovative, reputable and results-driven service. The firm’s clients reflect a blue-chip roster ranging from private and nonprofit organizations to large government agencies and trade associations, including Comcast, Sutter Health, AT&T, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Health Net, California Department of Cannabis Control, NextEra, OneLegacy, State Water Contractors, California State Parks Foundation, Personal Care Products Council, and more. Engagements focus on reputation management, corporate PR, litigation support, issue and policy advocacy, legislative campaigns, regulatory challenges and crisis communications.
Under the expanded leadership, we’ll set our sights on new service offerings, including a specialized owned content/research division and enhanced regional footprints in 2022.
If you’d like to learn more about FHA’s services, issue expertise, example engagements and career opportunities, I invite you to visit www.fionahuttonassoc.com.
Congratulations to Dagny, Kendall and Rebecca. It’s well-earned recognition!
Advising Clients with Best Practices for 2022 Planning
Published November, 2021
By Fiona Hutton
In Q4, we inevitably get the question from colleagues inquiring whether our business is slowing down and if we’re enjoying the holidays. It’s rather quite the opposite. Our clients, especially corporate and trade associations, are busy assessing their political landscape, mapping objectives, carefully identifying key audiences and decision-makers, and then building strategies, plans, and budgets for the coming year – ultimately setting a well-organized, forward-looking, and goal-oriented plan.
Here are a few of FHA’s top recommendations that we’re deploying for our clients:
Determine core objectives with your client team – it should be specific, goal and action-oriented
Integrate GR, operations, and legal strategies early in the process for alignment and sign-off on approach
Invest in foundational insights and research to drive planning
Carefully map and expand all communications channels
Drive more online vehicles including microsites and dedicated webpages
Generate more creative, owned content that is memorable and shareable – “own” your story
Create/commission and package unique, propriety data, research, and reports – what we call “dynamic content”
Leverage thought leadership tracks by populating into the exploding network of webinars, podcasts, and virtual panels/conferences
Implement more direct stakeholder outreach, including e-newsletters and customized databases
Enhance executive visibility on social media and engage directly with key influencers
Invest in strategic and targeted paid digital strategies
Pursue sponsored or contributed content package opportunities with key outlets
Adopt scalable and tiered budgets that can ramp up/down based off shifting business operations, political landscape changes, and finances
Ultimately, weaving all these elements together creates our proprietary “FHA Surround Sound” campaigns – educating and influencing audiences when and where they receive or seek information.
Pro Tip: Measure and assess progress and effectiveness quarterly. Your communications/public affairs budget should be a significant investment, but a good portion of this work is often qualitative and not always quantitative. Ensure you establish front-end expectations with your executive team or funders and assess efficacy and results together regularly.
Good luck with your own planning and consult with a FHA representative if you’d like to explore opportunities to collaborate. Visit our site for more information: www.fionahuttonassoc.com.
Protecting Culture & People – Our Return to the Workspace
Published October, 2021
By Fiona Hutton
Everyone’s talking about return to offices, including how to reflect new models and adjust to varying employee desires, the economy opening and changing business and consumer landscapes. As a mid-sized public affairs firm, we have a unique perspective, unique client base and unique workforce.
With a mandatory vaccination policy in-place, our offices are now back open and we have implemented a new hybrid work model that seems to be working well. It took time, investment, and a willingness to listen to bring people along the journey and understand what was best for our team, but also our clients and work products.
Our process was spread over several months and included:
Analysis of industry trends and invaluable conversations with peer CEOs
Roundtable employee team meetings
Consultation with legal and HR
Careful adherence to local and state safety guidelines
For us, we learned that returning to the office environment was important for several key reasons:
Team building and creative collaboration
Allowing for better mentoring, teaching and onboarding new employees
Ensuring we have a space (physically and mentally) to be creative and strategic – without the (let’s be honest) distractions of home
Preventing us from becoming stale and isolated
Providing better work/life balance (the pandemic clearly blurred the lines of work and homelife)
Offering important human interaction – we’re a company and industry built on human interaction. Lockdown is just not in our DNA
Renewing our sense of energy, curiosity and creativity (and hope for the future!) We are looking forward to growing, learning and leaning in as a united team
Booking a solid base of important work
Sharing an excitement to see our clients, friends and colleagues in-person again
Ultimately, we settled on an updated flexible model, offering two days of work from home and three days in the office. Some functions (such as bookkeeping) are permanently at home and visiting the office once a week or so. Recognizing that this is unique to each office culture and that each team member approaches their individual needs differently, our team is clearly happy to be together again. They missed the camaraderie. I see young staffers stretching and growing faster with the direct and quick interaction with senior leaders – all supported by a level of trust and flexibility for their personal time and balance.
It’s a work in progress. We’re constantly assessing, but I’m pleased with where we are today and how we’ve held firm as a team through the past 18+ months with grit and grace.
Onward to 2022!
President’s Corner Protecting Culture & People – Our Return to the Workspaceandrev@veryperceptiv.com2021-10-08T16:55:25-07:00
Welcome to the inaugural President’s Corner. As you all know too well, the COVID landscape is profoundly impacting how we interact as business professionals. The very foundation of business is being interrupted — personal networks that foster trusted relationships with industry partners and ultimately help build sustainable businesses are missing that intangible factor born from interpersonal connections. Basic foundational approaches to running a healthy PR agency are being rethought as California shifts back into a more restrictive shelter in place order.
Our employees here at FHA are textbook extroverts and thrive on personal connections. We’ve enjoyed building meaningful relationships across a statewide network of political and communications professionals working in some of the most high-profile and complex issue areas. We thrive off the camaraderie, collaboration and find genuine pleasure in meeting new people with similar values and missions.
But, with today’s new world, FHA is increasingly focused on expanding our digital footprint and virtual outreach for the near future – at least until we can safely attend all those in-person opportunities we love so much, including the classic Monday morning Southwest flight to our State Capitol. I’m hopeful doing so will help us continue to forge relationships and expand our network.
In the editions that follow, we’ll plan to share observations on industry trends in public affairs and my personal passion for leadership and teaching team management skills, highlight recent communications and advocacy work and issue expertise, recognize team accomplishments and showcase some fun elements that pull the layers back a little on FHA and help illustrate who we really are. Because at the end of the day, this business really is all about personal relationships.
For the past decade, I’ve developed some very meaningful relationships with the gate agents at Burbank Airport and flight attendants on Southwest Airlines during my travels to and from our State Capitol. Add to that the merry band of electeds, lobbyists and political consultants that make this weekly journey. I’ve flown the spine of California countless times, marveling at the golden hills, patchwork quilt of agricultural lands, the engineering marvel of the State Water Project and Yosemite’s famed Half Dome. It’s a fun ride with some really smart colleagues. Now, they’re going to see more of me.
I started my career in public affairs in Sacramento and am very excited to announce that FHA is now growing our footprint in the State Capitol and Sacramento market.
It has been a vision of mine for many years, but I waited to find the right talent. When hiring senior leaders for our agency, we’re incredibly particular. Looking for that special someone that blends issue expertise, a proven track record in execution, a commitment to first-class client service, and, most importantly, an individual that will support and build upon the culture we’ve instilled at FHA.
For these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to announce that Rebecca Nicholas has joined FHA as Vice President and Managing Director of our Sacramento office. Rebecca has worked with our firm in a contractor capacity for many years, collaborating alongside our team on some incredibly challenging assignments. She embodies our core philosophy: think smart, work hard and interface positively with clients, partners, colleagues and competitors alike. It isn’t a secret sauce. The core to business success can be distilled down to these simple values.
Born and raised in Northern California, Rebecca has spent the last 17 years working in some of California’s most important sectors, including infrastructure development, natural resources and water, climate change, energy, transportation, local government, technology and the cannabis market. Her deep experience in the state’s regulatory and political landscape will position FHA well as we tackle Sacramento’s most challenging and emerging issues.
Interested in some of her cool projects? Here’s a snapshot:
Designed a compelling brand and narrative for California WaterFix and supported statewide outreach efforts for more than a decade.
Spearheaded public outreach for the state’s cannabis licensing authorities in the development and implementation of statewide commercial cannabis regulations.
Established a brand and managed communications and stakeholder engagement for the proposed Sites Reservoir Project in Northern California.
Developed an integrated communications plan for the City of Sacramento designed to showcase the city’s commitment to economic development, sustainability and quality of life.
Worked with the City of Oakland Fire Department and Bay Area residents to develop a new approach to managing wildfire risk.
And the really special one…Embedded herself with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to rescue, rehabilitate and release endangered southern sea otters.
As the agency’s leader, I’m humbled and honored when talented professionals select FHA as a partner in their career development. We’re incredibly lucky to have recruited Rebecca to join FHA. Our team is truly our intellectual property, and, from that perspective, the company’s valuation just jumped in incalculable ways with Rebecca.
We’re excited to build upon our legislative, regulatory and policy advocacy campaigns. In the past year, we’ve designed and executed some of the most high-profile issue advocacy campaigns, including high-priced drugs, Governor Brown’s Delta tunnels project, public safety, consumer products and animal welfare, parks and conservation and manufacturing regulations, among others.
As we look towards 2019, we’re excited at the potential for growth and opportunity to expand our footprint in the State Capitol and new issue areas. We look forward to partnering with you in the coming months.
We. Won. For our pack of competitive doers here at FHA, these are two of the most exciting words we get to say. And, last Tuesday, we won in a BIG way.
Over the course of the past few months, our team has been diligently working — early mornings, late nights, last-minute press conferences, the whole nine yards — to pass Proposition 68. Our hard work paid off when Californians turned out to vote and said “YES” to Prop. 68.
The ballot measure itself is historic, marking the first combined parks and water bond California has passed in more than 10 years. For our team, the victory adds to our growing roster of campaigns, which now includes more than 25 ballot measures on issues ranging from water, natural resources and clean energy to healthcare, Indian gaming, stem cell research and beyond.
Over the course of the campaign, we had the good fortune of working with a superstar battalion of environmental and natural resource leaders who fought to get Prop. 68 on the ballot and worked hard to fund and support the campaign through election day. With their support, we assembled a coalition of more than 700 organizations across the state and earned the endorsement of nearly every major California newspaper.
While the results speak for themselves, the work our team put in to get us here is a lesson of its own.
Campaigns are some of the most simultaneously rewarding and challenging work that we can undertake. Time is not on our side, mistakes can make or break the election, and every move is scrutinized in the pressure cooker environment of a campaign.
For our team members who are starting out their professional careers and building their public affairs experience, campaigns also present the unique opportunity to learn everything from the basics to the most advanced levels of our craft while working alongside some of the best in the business. Every day, our team was on the phone — calling through major organizations statewide, knocking down the doors of key reporters and editorial writers at every end of the spectrum, and organizing events that brought all our work into the spotlight. When the results rolled in and we pulled away with a decisive victory, it was a validation of our team’s tenacity and a taste of how sweet it is to win.
With a high-profile campaign like Prop. 68 under their belts, our junior team members went from being curious and capable newbies to knowing and experienced professionals overnight. Under normal circumstances, gaining this kind of exposure and experience plays out over the course of months or years. During a campaign, the learning is intense and accelerated —condensed into a crash course of integrated communications 101.
And this is how our team is made. We walk through the fire together, learning and growing, so that when we come out on the other side, each and every one of us is more committed, passionate and able to lead our awesome roster of clients to future victories. For that, I want to thank the FHA team that led the charge on Prop. 68 with me here at FHA — Ian Anderson, Sarah Melbostad and our fearless leader, Fiona Hutton — and the larger FHA team that supported us through the fight. Now, we move on to reach for our next win with new skills, new perspective and a hunger for victory.
We have some great news to share! Fiona Hutton & Associates (FHA), recently ranked sixth on PRWeek’s list of public affairs agencies in the United States. What does that mean? For those of you who don’t typically study the publication of industry rankings, it means we’re on the right track.
We’ve been steadily building our practice with purpose, focusing on some of California’s most complex and controversial issues, including water and natural resources, healthcare, land use and development, infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing, among others. Each client engagement brings new insights, an opportunity to learn, and another landscape marker to apply.
To say it’s a labor of love is an understatement, but it’s clearly paying off. Every single day that I get to walk into our (very hip) offices, I feel energized and excited. We have an amazing team of professionals, interesting and forward-thinking clients and challenging daily issues. I feel blessed to still have this passion for my craft after 20 years in this industry.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a few core principles have been instrumental to our agency’s success. Hire smart, driven individuals who wake up each day with the natural desire to drive the boulder up the hill. Make time to teach them. They are truly our greatest asset. Work incredibly hard, innovate and anticipate around corners for our clients. And, act with integrity and compassion. It’s a small world in California’s public affairs circles. As a business owner, I have always believed that how you conduct yourself with peers, colleagues and competitors has a direct correlation to your bottom line. When you combine these elements, it ladders up to great accomplishments for clients, empowered employees and a financially healthy agency.
We are beyond proud to be part of the vibrant and fast-moving California public affairs landscape, where our government, business leaders, and opinion leaders are tackling dynamic, high-profile issues and driving innovative solutions through policymaking and advocacy.
The strong ranking in our industry reflects FHA’s culture and the blood, sweat and tears that pour in day in and day out by my team. I want to thank the entire staff for its dedication and commitment to client service. I also want to thank all of you for your continued support and business over the years. We couldn’t do what we do without you — and we wouldn’t want to.
But that kind of bullying is just one obstacle that prevents women from realizing their full potential. Just as insidious and omnipresent – and deserving of our collective attention – is the internal lack of confidence that I see among young professional women every single day.
Girls are taught at an early age they can do anything. Kindergarteners are told they can become an astronaut or doctor. In high school, they’re taught self-empowerment on social media. In college, they live in a rarefied bubble of gender equality.
They graduate and step into entry-level positions and are thrilled with newfound independence. Then they hit what I think of as the “middle years” in the workplace.
Young professional women often hit a wall in their early 30s, and don’t get appropriate support – a missing link that can make or break a career. I’ve spent nearly two decades running a public relations and political consulting agency in California’s highly competitive market, managing some amazing women. I’ve learned that a support system, often so present in the early years, is paramount for young professional women ready to jump to the next level.
Culturally, men have it reinforced every day that it’s natural to be ambitious, and appropriate to seek recognition. But that reinforcement too often drops off for women just as they hit a make-or-break point in their professional development and career trajectory.
Here in the “ideologically advanced” Golden State, I have a handful of female colleagues who own or are CEOs of agencies, and who understand both dynamic politics and communications and the scary bottom line of a P&L. I actively seek out their guidance. I also have spent countless hours mentoring young women.
I want the capable women around me to succeed in ways they always wanted or perhaps hadn’t even envisioned. They are incredibly smart and work so very hard. But, they often need encouragement to lead, negotiate, decide and challenge with confidence – skill sets sometimes outside their comfort zone but necessary in order to take that crucial step into positions of senior leadership.
How to speak confidently in a meeting and drive decisions forward. How to present publicly. How to negotiate a financial deal or a pay raise. How to lead a team.
How to proactively advance your ideas and celebrate your successes. How to give frank feedback or criticism. These skills may seem simple, but poor execution can have devastating consequences as competition increases for senior level positions and higher pay.
Sheryl Sandberg arguably set the dialogue moving. But all of us should be thinking about how we can help promote and groom talented, well-qualified women. Leadership isn’t an inherited trait. We have to identify talent and propel it forward. It has to be cultivated and nurtured.
I had some early mentors – male and female – who provided invaluable feedback during my career, both in how I conducted myself as a young career woman and in how I learned to physically run my business. They are now a treasured “kitchen cabinet,” and I seek their guidance every day.
What I learned from them was that it’s not enough to just “do.” You have to “drive.” You have to take ownership of your path. I challenge the talented young women I know to do that. And, concurrently, I challenge all of you in leadership positions to think about the young women working in your organizations.
Seek talent. Talk frankly. Provide these young professionals a platform to rise and flourish.
The conversation about leadership can’t stop in high school and college or reside just in professional publications. And the role of confidence and its development shouldn’t be sidelined as we grapple with the other cultural factors underlying the shortage of women in positions of power.
Workplace atrocities like Weinstein’s aside, it’s in this day-to-day struggle for inner empowerment that the rubber meets the road in the real world. Sexual harassment in Hollywood is far from the whole story, grateful though we are that it is finally making some meaningful headlines.
FIONA HUTTON IS PRESIDENT OF FIONA HUTTON & ASSOCIATES PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AND SERVES ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE LOS ANGELES AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND OPEN CALIFORNIA. SHE IS AN AVID SUPPORTER OF #WINLIKEAGIRL.
If you’re seeing this, than you know that at Fiona Hutton & Associates (FHA) we like to challenge the status quo, do big things and keep climbing. This year, we’ve done many big things — and we’re more excited than ever about what’s in store for 2018 and beyond. As expert communicators, we know it’s our job to share the news and celebrate our success with those who make it possible: all of you.
Today, we launched a new FHA website. It’s bold, dynamic and showcases the expertise and services that set our team apart from the pack. Our new web presence is a mirror of our philosophy to get into the trenches with our clients on high-profile challenges and controversial issues, bringing fresh ideas and the best strategies, so we can win. Whether we’re taking on ballot measures, legislative efforts, advocacy campaigns or public awareness programs, we’re bringing our A game.
We’re partnering with clients and stakeholders to provide integrated communication strategies and solutions on a range of politically-charged issues that are defining California’s future. Two recent campaigns that stand out as shining examples of our approach: RunawayRX, a legislative coalition effort that led to the landmark passage of SB17 to rein in spiraling prescription drug prices, and WaterNext, a targeted education and outreach campaign designed to support Governor Brown’s CA WaterFix or “twin tunnels” project. These efforts demonstrate how we lean in with elevated thinking, breakthrough creative and the ability to mobilize movers and shakers to shape policy and drive positive change for Californians.
I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing and how we’re showing up for our clients each and every day. Our new website, growing team of superstars and swank new office space are a reflection of the trust that has been built with all of you over nearly 20 years. For that, I am most grateful. The future is bright, friends, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Mistrust and uncertainty are palpable around the country. Depending on where you sit, the news is fake or the facts are fake or—maybe a little bit of both. The need for trusted leaders is greater than ever as the public and policymakers wade through complex issues, trying to distinguish fact from fiction.
Whatever your industry, now is the time to own your expertise.
Expertise STILL Equals Opportunity
As trust of traditional leadership and long-standing institutions dwindles, there is an opportunity for experts—from engineers to C-suite executives—to become known, respected voices. Leaders in their fields can fill a void while raising awareness, strengthening credibility and building their brand.
I’ve worked with clients across dozens of industries, campaigns and causes. The issues aren’t always sexy, but there’s no better time than now—in this crisis of trust—to own your expertise and set the pace for your industry. The nation needs a broad spectrum of people who know what they’re talking about to come to the table with a strong voice to inform the conversation. The trust vacuum won’t stay empty for long, and we can’t assume it will be filled by responsible, credible leaders.
Facts STILL matter
The New Yorker published an article recently about how facts—categorically true facts—do not change minds. As it turns out, pesky facts have nothing on long-held beliefs (researchers have actually known this for some time). Studies show that people tend to dig in their heels a little bit deeper when presented with information that irrefutably disproves their point.
For the record, we at FHA strongly believe facts do matter. While they may not trigger a sea change of tightly held beliefs, their role in establishing credibility and shaping thoughtful policy shouldn’t be underestimated. The expectation of truth and accuracy creates the opportunities for leadership and conversation we’re seeing in this moment. Trust is held at a premium and, when millions of Twitter users have you under a microscope, you have to get it right.
Thought Leadership STILL Demands Credibility
In the public affairs world, where the messiest parts of policy, politics, business and media intermingle, owning your message and establishing credibility with your audiences is crucial. Thought leadership—serving as the go-to source in your field, informing public dialogue and contributing to solutions—is a great strategy for organizations, companies and causes trying make an impact and meet broader objectives. It’s also an integral part of reputation management. To be effective, you can’t just pop up when they disagree with an editorial or worse, when under attack. Establishing credibility during or after a crisis is, after all, often a bit like trying to fix the roof after it caves in.
Thought leadership isn’t a one hit wonder. It takes vision, endurance and some gumption, but the dividends are rich.
The rallying cry for truth and transparency is loud and clear as can be—now is the time to step up, speak up and set the pace in your industry.