Elizabeth L. Boineau, founder and owner of E. Boineau & Company, based in Charleston, S.C., is a 35 year+ veteran of the marketing communications and public relations industry. She offers extensive senior management experience in the public relations, marketing communications, media strategy and crisis communications for professional service firms, corporate entities, tourism/hospitality, cities/towns, chambers of commerce, non-profits and individuals. The agency also handles crisis communications challenges and Elizabeth routinely presents on that topic to national conferences. Before re-establishing E. Boineau & Company in Charleston in 2002 (she founded the firm originally on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston in 1990) Elizabeth served in senior management positions (1996-2002) with the three largest communications firms in the world – WPP for Hill & Knowlton in Los Angeles (managing director, marketing communications); Interpublic Group for Weber/Shandwick in Atlanta and Miami (EVP, corporate and energy); and Omnicom for Fleishman Hillard in Atlanta (SVP/healthcare). In these roles, she offered strategic communications planning, insight and counsel to develop and build the brand identity, awareness and reputation of leading companies and organizations.
How did you get into the industry?
I have always had a love of the English language and scored high on English achievement tests, was crazy about Latin and then later, French, and had an inquisitive mind when it came to our emotions and mental faculties, ergo, the degree in psychology, which included some formidable marketing research classes. I believe that a strong academic foundation, a love of words, an intrigue with how our minds work and how to influence opinions and attitude, plus a knack for business development helped to make the draw to the communications industry a natural one, even if I did “fall” into it via an entry level post at a large bank in Charleston (then C&S Bank, which became Bank of America). I was asked to move into the marketing department 10 months after joining the bank, and ultimately ran the department. I was there over five years in total, and one of a handful women in that office in any sort of management role. I was then recruited in 1984 to become director of communications (first female in that role) for Charleston County School District and stayed there the next five years until venturing out in 1990 to open the first PR firm in Charleston and the only female owned one at the time.
Any emerging industry trends?
Clearly we have seen such a tremendous shift to digital marketing and have witnessed how the “owned” media space of website, social media and even electronic newsletters have taken a large seat next to earned media, which we are veterans at garnering on behalf of our clients. These days, that editorial or earned media becomes a critical tool in advancing the position of our clients on their (and our) social media platforms and websites, where dynamic newsrooms add to their searchability. Watching social media firms crop up left and right makes me notice how important the balance is, as we’ll have prospects calling, concerned by an over emphasis on social media and less understanding of how to maximize the potential of traditional/earned/third party media coverage. For the third leg of the stool, we see see advertising, the paid media component, as a reinforcement to the brand message and meaning. These days, digital media is more than likely part of the ad buy and adds to the marketing mix. The core message is the same across all channels, and that’s still the key to clear brand definition, awareness and preference. Third party endorsement and “influencer marketing” are huge and we understand how to secure those parties and to speak and write in that third-party voice too.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
We feel that influencer marketing is at times underutilized and its power undervalued. We’re in an era where we trust our inner circle and established thought leaders to tell us their thoughts on the business/product/service. We’re tapping their commentary in case studies, press releases, media kits, social media content, ad copy and video production. The point is to make the content as credible and as objective as possible. We guide our clients daily on how that voice sounds and reads, and they get excited about it too. It’s not so much that it’s new, but that it’s a challenge to get the info from the right people and know how to use it in a variety of ways to make the message seamless and to amplify it with credibility and validity.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My inspiration was a passion for the industry and as a woman in a man’s world, I wanted the freedom to chart my own course and steer the ship, for better or worse. A serendipitous moment came when a highly respected friend and business leader in Atlanta suggested I capitalize on the rise in demand for professional service marketing (lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, to name a few). No one in Charleston was dong that at the time, and I ended up with two prominent corporate law firms bidding for my services (I did one for a year, moved to the next, then the next). It was a very heady time for professional service marketing/PR. Because of a love of wine and food, I added upscale hospitality and was fortunate to help open and work with some of the area’s finest establishments (SNOB, McCrady’s, Anson’s, Circa 1886) and later to move on to cities and chambers as clients as part of the hospitality angle.
What’s next for the Business in the near future?
I’ve recently brought a webmaster/digital marketing manager onto the team and it’s taken us into the arena of more direct involvement in web design and site management, plus more
In-house SEO, social media, digital newsletters, for example. We’ve always gone outside for that aspect of marketing and it’s nice to have it close at hand. If a client has a webmaster already, we’ll work with theirs. Past that, we have several new biz opportunities percolating right now- all from referrals, which we treasure. Most of all, we love seeing our clients thrive!
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
The addition of digital marketing expertise on the core team has been great. I really like having it built into our core team structure vs. an outside firm, since there’s more control of the outcome that way too, and good content is always part of the plan. But we’ll take on a client and work with their webmaster, if they prefer, and our digital marketing manager can also work with a company even if they aren’t tapping us for the PR or content side. Flexibility is key on so many fronts!
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The recession of 2008 was daunting since we found ourselves bound up with a lot of developer clients as real estate had been on fire, and we were working on projects all over the southeast. When the construction boom collapsed, it was awfully quiet for several months there, and very unsettling until we realized two things: 1) we were anything but alone since most everyone was affected by it and 2) we regrouped and went back to the basics- our generalist expertise plus heavy focus on professional service and hospitality, plus experience in crisis communications re-opened doors where we’d crossed the threshold before and had proven results. The demand for crisis communications really shot up in the 5-7 years post-recession, and we became widely known for that and not only got a lot of referrals but also were asked to present to national audiences coming through Charleston on that topic (media training and crisis communications preparation).
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The client (and we have testimonials from current and past clients supporting this, of course) witnesses a tangible amount of positive media coverage, stronger presence in social media, more dynamic website and newsroom, enhancing search, and it all started typically with developing or refining their core message and getting them ready to take their story to the media and their target audience. That heightened awareness, positive reputation and credibility of character led to more business and more profit. PR=ROI when you truly understand how to maximize its potential as a key element of the marketing mix.
How do you motivate others?
We are very connected, even more considering we are a “virtual” team (and have been since 2002). I have said our infrastructure surpasses a lot of bricks and mortar firms because we have a propriety process that is tried and true, and the team is not only very sharp, but they’re highly trained on that process before they start to work with clients. There’s a formidable team approach to everything we put out, and there’s a lot of support, respect and kinship between the team members. We genuinely like each other and want nothing but the best for the company, the team as a whole and each of its members. It’s so evident at team gatherings, where we include spouses and SO’s and they’re part of the energy too, and we thrive on it, our amazing clients and our shared success.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be sure you’re an excellent writer and editor, and keep an AP guide close-by. Show organizational and management skills in the way you approach even the mundane tasks (billing comes to mind). You can’t fake genuine passion and enthusiasm for this industry, and if you don’t have a relevant degree and/or experience in the field, you’re not going to be right for our team until you do. A lot of people seek out the field but don’t seem to understand it (you can tell from the questions and from the writing samples). This business, and certainly the entrepreneurial aspects of it too, require great vision and a critical eye for detail. Multi-task or die, basically😉 If you love pressure, you love writing, and media strategy and multi-tasking, you should be in this business! If you’ve never met a stranger, even better. I know I’m the chief rainmaker, and fortunately I thrive on it, but if you know the “sales” part is not for you, be frank and admit it up front.
Those traits may be more innate than learned, though I must admit doing Xerox Sales Training back in my bank marketing days has stuck with me all these years, and I am very grateful for that and so many more opportunities I have been afforded. Some I have fought hard for, others have surfaced and there’s nothing like that call where someone says they heard all about the firm from someone and they view us as top of our game in a very competitive town. That fuels the fire of passion and renews the decision I made back in 1990, when it seemed like a bit of a scary proposition, but a mentor pushed me off the cliff, as she likes to say, and there were a lot of parachutes packed in my chute waiting to catch me and carry me gently to the life I think I was always meant to have—in charge of my own destiny, yet “servant” to my team and clients, and very happily so.