Sean F. Cassidy is President of DKC, one of the leading independently owned public relations agencies in the country. Joining the company in 1992, Sean's extensive experience includes corporate, media, health care and legal public relations as well as crisis management. Named a Partner in 1996, Sean built DKC's health care practice into one of the largest and most reputable providers of public relations services to hospitals and health related not-for-profit organizations.
Sean assumed the role of President in January 2004, overseeing the company's day-to-day client service operations and senior management teams, while leading several of the company's largest accounts. During his tenure as President, the firm has been named the Holmes Report's "Consumer Agency of the Year" and The New York Observer’s “Second Most Powerful Public Relations Agency” while experiencing a 300 percent growth in overall revenue. Named one of the "Most Influential New Yorkers" by New York Magazine, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in American history from Tufts University. Sean is on the board of directors of the Children’s Health Fund, and resides in New York City with his wife and two children.
1) How did you get into the PR industry and why?
I really fell into it. I graduated from Tufts University in 1990 and returned to New York City – where I grew up – shortly thereafter. The job market was terrible so I was unable to line something up prior to receiving my degree even though I did very well academically. Interestingly, while I was at Tufts, I had interned for a few weeks at the American Red Cross (I represented them 25 years later). They needed help with some writing and my first assignment was a media advisory on how a typical bran muffin has more fat and cholesterol than a 10-ounce steak. After I turned it in to my boss, I kept a copy and placed it in my relevant experience file. Upon graduation, I poured through the job listings section of the New York Times sending out dozens of resumes and relevant materials. I got two callbacks. One was to be assistant editor for a Swiss pharmaceutical text book company and the other a small PR firm called Renee Sacks Associates. As it turns out, Renee stopped eating bran muffins when she received my resume and clip pack. I was hired and that was the start of my career. The profession fit nicely with my academic background. I received a degree in American History from Tufts with a focus on Cold War foreign policy. So, basically I spent most of my college life developing theses on world events and the impact of certain policies on geo-political relationships. I would support those theses by assembling facts drawn from primary source materials. In very simple terms, espousing a point of view and supporting it with the appropriate facts is the foundation of public relations.
2) How does DKC utilize social media and stay ahead of competitors?
First of all, social media is really in everything we do as a communications company and has fueled exponential business growth in recent years. We have grown 50 percent over the last 3 ½ years, opening offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Albany and launching new practice areas including an event marketing & production company as well as an original digital content division.
Over these last few years, the public relations industry has taken a sizable piece of the social media playing field away from the advertising industry and digital-only agencies. This has given us access to much greater budgets, particularly in the tech sector. Additionally, as we are now heavily involved in the creation of original content, it really gives us the opportunity to do really creative, fun stuff.
As far as how we use it to promote ourselves, we tend to use social media to 1) identify trends in the communications and digital space and then disseminate advice and information on these trends to clients, the media, influencers, etc. and 2) let the world see and experience the culture of DKC. We have a fabulous digital content group that came up with a series called “5 Questions.” Once every 10 or so days, we put out a short, sharply edited video featuring five questions with a staff member, providing fun and personal look at their lives, talents and personalities. I find we get a much better reaction internally and externally than we would if I were out there talking about “the industry.”
3) What is a great night out like to you?
It’s very simple -- and possibly boring to some readers. I have an awesome wife of 19 years whom I adore. We have two kids but every Friday night we go out by ourselves to a cozy restaurant like Sfoglia on the East Side. Often that night will include a movie or a Broadway show. We’ll walk home if we can. Pretty straight up but I start looking forward to Friday night on Monday morning.
4) What brands do you rep and what is the niftiest PR move you have implemented for them?
We have a very diverse practice that ranges from representing major brands such as Delta Air Lines, LinkedIn, Jaguar/Land-Rover, Avenues: The World School, Citi, the Plaza Hotel and New Balance to work with big-time LA talent agencies, career rehabilitation for celebrities and interesting not-for-profit work such as Christy Turlington Burns' organization Every Mother Counts.
It's hard to pick just one “nifty” PR move but a number of years ago we brokered a relationship between the celebrity designer Kate Spade and Delta Air Lines, whereby Spade – a client at the time -- developed flight attendant uniforms and some cool accessories for one of Delta’s subsidiaries. We followed this up with Richard Tyler who designed the mainline uniforms worn by the entire in-flight team today. Each partnership garnered about a year’s worth of great publicity. More importantly, they were critical steps towards the transformation of Delta into a fabulous lifestyle brand. Moreover, we think these “nifty” PR moves helped shift consumer focus back towards the glamour and excitement of air travel.
5) What is your life motto/quote?
Until I lost my wallet, I would carry around a quote from Tony Randall that read: “A gentleman never says or does anything that would unnecessarily hurt someone else’s feelings – ever.”
6) What would you say are the top two personality traits someone needs to do a PR job well?
You must know how to quickly organize your thoughts so that you can think strategically and succinctly – often on your feet and often in tense situations. Communications is a field that moves faster and faster every day; so you need to be a quick study. The great practitioners of this field are thorough listeners who can comprehend a client’s business needs and then see the next five steps and the consequences of each of those steps right away. You need to have a great understanding of news and the media landscape. Especially in this era of original content creation – where public relations firms are not just pitching stories but producing them – you need to have a sense of what will bounce, what will be shared, and what will generate word of mouth. That’s news. Lastly, you need to write well. This is under-represented as a critical skill but good writing is, in my experience, demonstrative of an organized mind. You have to have an organized mind to do this at a high-level.
7) Who is your mentor and how do you stay so successful in the PR industry?
I have had the benefit of exposure to some incredibly smart practitioners across many fields. Clive Davis has taught me how to hold steady and trust my instincts as he does. Clive is someone who always sees all the moves ahead of anyone else in the room. He has a real gift, plus he is the most organized human being ever. My friend, Jim Bell who runs the Olympics for NBC, has a great way of managing lots of high-profile responsibility and personalities but he never seems to lose his cool. I admire that. Chuck Ortner, the legendary entertainment litigator, taught me how to keep my mouth shut and not advise until I had mastered all of the facts. Paramedics I met while representing hospitals had an uncanny ability to cut to the most important points in any situation. But, frankly, I learn most stuff these days from the people who work with me, the people on the line dealing with the latest trends and technological developments. I stay successful by admitting what I don’t know and learning from those around me. The downfall of most senior PR executives is that they think they have to be the smartest person in the room all the time. I hate that.