James Boyle is a Communications strategist and co-founder of BOYLE PUBLIC AFFAIRS, a fast growing public relations firm based in Arlington, Virginia. He has a 35-year track record of success in political and corporate messaging, trade association positioning, investor and government relations and integrated consumer marketing communications. Jim began his career as a press secretary on Capitol Hill as chief spokesperson for two members of Congress. In the 1980’s, during the early days of cable television, Jim headed the corporate communications and community relations function for NBC’s first venture into cable television, CNBC. Throughout the 90s, Jim served as Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Discovery Communications, Inc. This was during a time of rapid domestic and international growth for what was becoming the world’s most respected media brand, Discovery Channel.
How did you get into the industry?
After earning my B.S. in Communication Studies from Northwestern University, I moved to Northern California to work as Deputy Campaign Manager in the congressional campaign of Donald Clausen. I did everything from going door to door to being Clausen’s personal driver. After his victory in 1981, I was invited to move with him to Washington, D.C. as Press Secretary, later serving in the same position for Rep. Frank Wolf of Northern Virginia. After five years on the Hill, I moved to a job with the news arm of NBC-TV until I was invited to join a startup cable business network called CNBC as its first Communications Director. Continuing to explore the world of cable television, I accepted a position which became Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications for Discovery Communications. I headed both internal and external communications for ten years, during which the company became the world’s most respected media brand, Discovery Channel. Later, I had the opportunity to transition into the DC-area’s business and financial world as the vice president of brand marketing and corporate communications at Sallie Mae and afterward, at media agency, LM&O Advertising, Inc. Here I oversaw the mid-Atlantic region’s biggest advertising account: the $90 million per year National Guard recruitment contract. My team pioneered advertising through then-innovative channels such as text messages, mobile apps, online search, music videos and short-film movie theater promotions. Through LM&O, I worked at and later assumed the presidency of College Parents of America, where I was able to bring together my skills in education technology, communications, finance, and politics. And now, through Boyle Public Affairs, my co-founder Kellie Boyle and I can serve our clients by making use of our combined experience with government affairs, for-profit and non- profit organizations, and with the use of new concepts such as Inbound Marketing and the Hubspot marketing platform.
Any emerging industry trends?
Today there is a new way for organizations and their customers and potential customers to communicate directly without the filter of the media. The media still has a function, of course, but is no longer the gatekeeper of information. That allows us, as a public affairs firm, to change our direction from providing strictly media relations to content marketing, no matter what means it is communicated through. The standard tactics of a PR or media company, such as email blasts, direct mail, and cold calls just aren’t effective anymore. We have chosen to be an Inbound Marketing Company using the Hubspot platform, which provides tools for social media marketing, content management, web analytics and search engine optimization to better serve our clients and the audiences they want to reach. Because we are a Hubspot partner agency, we better serve our clients by creating content that follows a strict methodology aimed at the particular customers our clients seek to bring to their businesses. We can also adapt that content to be easily found on the internet and then measure the effectiveness of that communication through the Hubspot platform that tracks every single communication.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Many of our clients are greatly affected by what goes on in the Capitol, on the legislative and/or the regulatory front. While we do only limited lobbying for our clients, we do work with lobbying firms as partners while servicing our clients, and often do messaging on behalf of our clients that are intending to reach Capitol Hill, or one or more state capitals. With any change in a Presidential administration, there’s always a new cast of people who are working in various cabinet agencies that are of interest to our clients, such as the Departments of Education and Labor. In the first year of a Presidential term there is a natural opening to reassess the communication opportunities for our clients and revisit some relevant issues. So for a public affairs firm like ours, based close to the Hill, it creates both new challenges and new opportunities for us and our clients.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
For my wife and co-partner Kellie Boyle, starting our own business gave us the chance to leverage our expertise in communications while at the same time exposing us to various types of clients and industries. We are able to choose projects that serve our interests, experiences and passions. We are curious people that love to learn about new industries and new trends. So every client experience we’ve had thus far has taught us something that’s valuable for serving our other clients. For example, our work with LM&O on the National Guard recruitment contract led our team to pioneer new methods of communication; our experiences with Sallie Mae and College Parents of America gave us the ability to operate with clients in both the K12 and higher education spheres; and our early work on the Hill brought us into close contact with members of Congress and the inner workings of Washington, D.C.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’ll continue to evolve into a content marketing firm. We are well set up to help clients who aren’t yet equipped to follow an Inbound Marketing approach. Recently several new clients involved in government agencies and non-profits came to us for increased visibility in the corporate and non-profit sectors.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Inbound Marketing and Hubspot are differentiators for us in what we can offer our clients. Our agency is now at the confluence of our subject matter expertise in the area of education and the use of the Hubspot tool. For example, through Inbound marketing and Hubspot, we can give college and university admissions offices and K12 private schools a great way to connect with and stay in touch with potential students and their parents. We want to be a helpful and trustworthy source for parents and teachers by bringing more attention to those colleges and universities that don’t always get noticed, thus attracting more applicants.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
We started working with one client who, it turned out, was not able to pay us. We had done a great deal of work for their business, which eventually went bankrupt. We received pennies on the dollar. But then a new company that took over for them wanted to use us for PR and we agreed, but lo and behold, this company left us high and dry! We now look more closely into every aspect of businesses and check more deeply into their sources of funding.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We work with one client called Penn Foster, a leading skills solution organization for a new evolving workforce. Penn Foster had previously gone through a series of PR agencies that had, in their view, overcharged them and under delivered services. We took over this client in 2015 for six months and they have renewed us for an entire school year. We have become essentially a virtual team member for them, answering outside queries and becoming involved in various key decisions. It’s fulfilling to work with people with whom we have that degree of trust.
How do you motivate others?
Do as I do, not as I say. One of my most rewarding roles at Discovery was my ability to work with a wide range of staffers; not to micro manage but be there to work with them with full support. Working with the growing number of young people on our team who are servicing our clients, I encourage them to learn about the competitive landscape, support one another and connect with businesses in a personal and meaningful way.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Pursuing a college degree is important. I encourage people to make the most of their college education whether it’s a community college or four-year university. I also encourage them to take risks by moving into jobs that stretch their abilities, and learning how the world of communication works. I also want people who want to be in our business, to understand the ways of inbound marketing, rather than just traditional ways of outbound marketing. They should strive to produce strong web content and make sure that their content is developed in a strategic way. But whatever their career field may be, they should learn how to communicate their interests in a meaningful way.