We just returned from Counselors Academy,  a PRSA conference for PR firm leaders. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I can hardly believe it’s been two years since I was the newbie there.

Back then, I was intimidated as hell to go. As a small PR practitioner based in Sandpoint, Idaho, I assumed everyone would wonder what I was doing there.

I was there because, when I started my business, I had no idea what I was doing. I needed to learn the business side of running an agency. I arrived and discovered that everyone was excited I was there. I have since met and made some of my closest friends and confidants (Gini Dietrich as one perfect example). I learned a ton about the business, and in general, simply raised the bar in my professional life.

This year, as always, I packed my brain with thoughts and ideas in the almost three days full of breakout sessions, keynotes and round tables.

One overarching theme I wanted to share with you is this: Take money out of the equation. By doing what you love, with a staff  with whom  you enjoy working, and clients you enjoy, in a field that you enjoy, you will become a prosperous agency.

Some additional takeaways:

  1. Hire people you want to work with and who fit the culture: Jen Prosek, of CJP Communications, and author of Army of Entrepreneurs, said you can find plenty of people with the right experience and resume, but discussed the importance of hiring for culture. Hiring those with an entrepreneurial spirit and nurturing a culture of ideas and growth helped her firm reach its goals.
  2. Work with clients that make you an exceptional agency: Elise Mitchell of Mitchell Communications Group in Fayetteville, Ark., recently won PR Week 2011 Small Agency of the Year. Elise stressed the importance of selecting clients that fit your organization’s culture.  Don’t think about growth, think about being an exceptional agency. In order to become one, you need clients that will help get you there; clients with whom you make a cultural fit and treat with mutual respect. Those who allow you to do good work for them and get them the results they need.
  3. Choose a niche that is something you are passionate about: In the same vein, Bret Werner of Catalyst Public Relations emphasized the importance of choosing your area of expertise. If you become a specialist at one thing, and “own that niche,” you can command top dollar. This becomes more efficient for you and your firm. Be selective in your new business pursuits. Only go after business you know you can win. Leave the time and energy to put into getting big ideas for the clients you love. Get rid of the clients that are a drag on your time, energy, and morale.

Of course, the end game here is growth, but I was enlightened to hear many of these leaders talk about concepts that don’t focus too heavily on the financials. The idea of doing good work, with good people, for good people can translate into a healthy bottom line was a refreshing thought.

Oh, and I won second place in the grammar, pronunciation, and usage contest. I did not get nearly enough pomp and circumstance for that, nor have I had enough validation in the past week.

To learn more about the discussions and sessions, follow #CAPRSA for tweets and other wrap-up blog posts.