To tell Tom Madden to stop spinning and inventing is like telling the Federal Government to stop spending. He is the quintessential “Spin Man,” the title of his engaging memoir recounting his rise from a harrowing career as a newspaper reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer to the pinnacle of the PR world. One of his latest inventions, The Knife and Forklift™, is making the media rounds and gobbling up air time almost as fast as his drag racer client Alexis Dejoria drives her Alcohol Funny Car.
How did you get into the industry?
I was punched into it. Literally! I was a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer covering a black protest rally on angry night. I was the only white guy in a room where tempers we flaring, speakers were incensing the crowd and someone came up to me and coldcocked me like I was protester at a Trump rally. The punch broke two my teeth and put me on the ground. That’s it,” I told my wife when I got home that night. “We’re changing careers.” Eventually I landed a job in PR.
Any emerging industry trends?
The trend I see is worrisome. We’re not communicating effectively. Young people are tweeting nonsensical, spur of the moment, off the cuff messages that masquerade as intelligent or insightful thought. What’s happening to writing, to expressing an idea? We’re all too hooked up on the medium instead of the message. We’re too quick on the draw. And I see ideas getting shot down. The good ones along with the bad.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
If practiced right, public relations can save the soul of our society from falling into the abyss of clutter, into the cacophony of political propaganda, righteous rhetoric and political correctness that’s confusing the hell out of people. Good PR presents ideas clearly and responsibly, factually and effectively. It helps people make good impressions and sound decisions. It builds a reputation that’s deserved and helps a brand stand for something noteworthy, that means something and stays true to something longer than a commercial.
Inspiration for TransMedia Group, and your vision for it?
The thing that attracted me to PR was crisis. I found I had a talent for helping clients steer and navigate through rough waters. They call it crisis management. I call it fighting off an unfair attack, rising to the occasion and I’ve helped some of the largest corporations in America to vanquish enemies and in the process regain respect and customer confidence. Something the process requires is media training, teaching executives how to come off the floor as I did one day in Philadelphia and tell it like it is or how it’s going to be from this time forward.
What's next for TransMedia Group in the near future?
I believe we’re going to see more strategic partnerships among PR firms, ad agencies and digital marketing. Our firm has just established Lois TransMedia in New York City by teaming up with advertising icon George Lois, who heads the creative wing of TransMedia Group and extends our communications capabilities enormously. George is a legendary adman who created brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Lean Cuisine and I Want My MTV. We are working together right now on Fashion Week Brooklyn, which we’re going to make the biggest fashion event of the year.
Your key initiatives for the success of TransMedia Group?
I’m a believer in globalism. Today PR firms must be multi-lingual and able to serve clients worldwide, which is where we see the growth. Based in Florida, the key languages are English, Spanish and Portuguese, but we also have staff who speak Russian, German, Italian and Hebrew. Two years ago, I traveled to Moscow and brought back business and we have served many international clients from Israel to Latin America. Ole!
Your most difficult moment at TransMedia Group? (and what did you learn?)
Two years ago, we lost a key executive. Glen was president of our firm. Both clients and media liked and respected him. He was resourceful. Productive. Then after 14 years with our firm, he walked into my office and said he was leaving. It felt like a punch in my gut. With Glen gone, I knew we’d lose some big clients and later I found out he took one of them with him. This hurt for a while, but I never said anything, despite the non-compete agreement he had signed. Today these non-competes are under attack and probably rightfully so. Employers get to comfortable with them. So then I began to think of all great work Glen had done for us over the years, the revenues he generated and the accounts he had brought in and served well. My initial dismay turned to gratitude. I felt better. I promoted my daughter Adrienne to President and she has turned out to be many times more productive then Glen ever was, so these setbacks are really steps forward. They are the creative crossroads when change requires us to be more creative and resourceful ourselves, to pause and reflect and then excel with even greater force. So today I say thank you Glen. And good luck.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The ultimate benefit from our service is our client’s bottom line. If our PR services don’t positively affect that bottom line, we’re not earning our fee and we’re skating on thin ice. Sure publicity is impressive and ego stroking, but is it driving sales? That’s the ultimate barometer, my friend.
How do you motivate others?
Want to motivate others, let them see you motivated. Motivate by example.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Over the years I’ve found that being creative yourself makes others creative. Often I volunteer to write a news release and work hard to craft it, to make it effective and engaging as possible. I do this not just for the client. In fact, to me the real source of pleasure comes from my own staff whose admiration and approval I cherish more than even from our clients, for they are the ones I want to inspire, they are the ones who’ll come after me and carry our flag.