Martin Waxman Discusses New Chair Appointment to PRSA’s Counselors Academy

The new Chair of the Counselors Academy counsels us for a moment.

Martin Waxman, APR, is a decorated PR practitioner based in Toronto.

He is principal and founder of his own agency, lead instructor in a Digital Strategy and Communications Management Certificate at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, a member of the South by Southwest Interactive Programming Committee; and past-president of CPRS Toronto.

And now, he is chair of the PRSA’s Counselors Academy, which is a national professional interest section of PRSA that focuses on the business of agency PR. Its members are owners or senior managers of leading independent firms in the U.S. and Canada.

As he prepares to lead the 15 executives on the board, we asked Waxman a few questions about his appointment and vision for growth in this challenging new role.

1. As chair of this influential industry organization, what will be the focus for the coming year for the PRSA? How do you hope to influence PR as a whole?

First of all, I want to say I’m speaking on behalf of Counselors Academy, a section of the PRSA made up of of savvy, independent PR agency owners and leaders and focused on the business of agency PR. Most PR people who start agencies understand communications but don’t have a business background.

And Counselors is a bit like getting a business degree in agency PR. Our primary goal is to make sure we’re offering our members programming that enhances their knowledge of the industry and best practices, helps them get a handle on trends and offers practical advice on how to better run their firms. This year we’re focused on content and how we can become a valuable repository and distributor of the thought-leadership pieces our members create that will spark a discussion on innovation, fresh thinking and successfully navigating in our ever-changing communications landscape. 

2. What are the top 3 things causing obstacles for growth in the industry, and how will the PRSA look to address those issues?

Again, I can’t speak for the Public Relations Society of America, but I can speak on behalf of Counselors Academy. From an independent PR agency perspective, I believe three challenges we face are: The continued shrinking of the traditional media landscape; the importance of digital and mobile communications; and a lack of understanding of what PR can do in this new environment. I’d like to add a fourth challenge and that is moving beyond the word and learning how to tell stories using multimedia.

Now I call these challenges, but they are also opportunities to redefine the profession and the value we offer clients. And we can address them by loosening our grasp on the tried-and-true ways we use to communicate. That doesn’t mean throwing everything away. It means opening our minds, listening to millennials and watching how they discover news and information. I also believe we need to embrace lifelong learning, formal and DIY training and a commitment to test and evaluate new communication platforms.

3. Leading a board to counsel others must be a daunting task. How will you approach this important post, and what will differ from others in the past who have held this distinction?

I intend to follow in the footsteps of the other talented leaders who’ve preceded me as chair and who have been mentors to the industry and to me personally. Also, because each board member is a leader and entrepreneur in her or his own right, we have an overabundance of energy and amazing ideas to draw on. I’m a bit like a conductor standing in front of an orchestra of great musicians who are also great conductors. When I lift my baton, it will be to  encourage our members to adopt a digital-first approach to communications.

4. Lastly, counsel us all for a moment: What can we all as public relations professionals do to help the PR industry progress?

That’s a great question and I’m glad you mentioned moment. Google has been talking a lot about moments lately or, more specifically, how to reach people in the micro-moment. Those are all those times during the day when we want to know/go/do or buy something and we instinctively turn to our smartphones when we’re in the middle of something else. I believe there’s an enormous opportunity for the PR industry to master mobile communications by stepping into the audience’s shoes and figuring out how to create the kind of content they’re looking for when they’re in the moment.