Lou Rena Hammond

Over the past three decades, Lou Rena Hammond has transformed a three-employee, three-client company into an award-winning, independent marketing communications agency with 40 employees and more than 40 prestigious travel, home décor, retail and lifestyle clients with offices in New York, Miami and Charleston, South Carolina. Years living in Beirut and 10 years serving as lobbyist and director of publicity and public affairs with Pan American World Airways earned Lou global experience and fueled the international focus she would later instill when founding Lou Hammond & Associates. Extensive international travel has provided her with firsthand knowledge of worldwide markets, contacts on six continents and relationships with government agencies. A fifth-generation Texan, Lou resides in New York and Charleston.

What are the defining elements of Lou Hammond & Associates that have allowed the agency to not only survive but thrive for the past 30 years?
The hallmarks of Lou Hammond & Associates have remained constant throughout our 30 years as an agency: Doing things right and with style; setting the standard for our industry; and being passionate about the world and how it “turns,” not only in terms of how we’re all connected but exploring avenues of how we can all connect better. That’s really what communications is all about. I like being a part of an industry that constantly strives to discover ways we can understand each other better, because I believe that makes the world a better place.

You use the word “style”. How do you define the word?
Style is not a superficial attribute, although I do believe that presenting yourself well and making a good first impression is important. Style is having lasting values and staying committed to them. I define style as doing things the right way, being honest, having good manners and integrity, and treating people courteously. Tools change, but style is a constant. The emergence of digital has transformed our industry, just like it’s revolutionized the world. Just like any tool, technology can be used the right or wrong way. So when I say style, I’m talking about timeless principles. That’s why I credit the agency’s longevity and growth with the fact that we’ve always maintained a commitment to doing things with style.
You’ve witnessed a lot of change over the course of your career, how has the digital age changed the industry and how it operates?
The rise of digital media, driven by technology, means a renewed importance of being nimble, well-organized, well-read, up-to-the-minute, and having a savvy knowledge of the world. Those abilities and talents permeate the agency from top to bottom. We’ve always hired bright people who are curious about the world. A number of our associates were educated abroad or have worked abroad. We’re multilingual. My outlook when I founded the agency 30 years ago was global, and that’s remained part of the agency’s ethos. I like being a part of an industry dedicated to understanding each other on an international scale. Part of that is having an acute awareness that what works well in the U.S. might not in Italy, Morocco or Thailand. The real talent comes in being able to translate and bridge those differences in order to make our communications and the way we communicate our clients’ brands global. But as with all else, there’s a danger in the emergence of digital communications. The Web has enabled anyone in the world to become a “journalist” (with a small j) and it’s also driven the demand for instant information, which in turn drives the temptation to report before having all the facts. Our philosophy is that it’s better to be a little late with news than to risk getting it wrong. We take seriously our responsibility to guard a client’s reputation and brand, especially during a crisis situation. We release information in a timely manner, but not before we know for certain what we’re releasing is factual. By doing this, we also guard our reputation and our agency brand, and we assert our bond of authority, which earns respect. This demonstrates why we focus so much on relationships and carefully partner with clients who share our values.

You’ve talked at length about the agency ethos of Lou Hammond & Associates, but from a practical perspective, what are some of the traits that make a good PR professional?
Enthusiasm is indispensable in our industry. We do not hire people who do not bring a level of genuine enthusiasm to the job for what they do and for the clients they represent. That’s another reason it’s critical that we chose our partners carefully, because it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm for something you don’t believe in. It’s important to note that enthusiasm is not a superficial exuberance. It’s a discipline, not personality trait. That’s why public relations isn’t for everybody. Good, successful PR professionals are driven to serve. If we lose sight of our clients’ best interests, we’ve failed. Our clients’ success is what motivates us, and that’s how I define enthusiasm. It trickles down from the top and permeates the agency. Again, it goes back to partnering with the right clients and hiring the right professionals to represent them.

Lou Hammond & Associates is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. How does that milestone help you as an agency?
Experience is one of our strongest tools. Our clients know that. They may not always take our advice, but they always listen to it because our experience has earned that kind of respect. A hallmark of the agency is client retention. Client retention is based on loyalty, and loyalty is earned through respect. We’ve earned that respect through our absolute dedication to service, shared goals and producing results. Although we like growth, it isn’t our biggest indicator of success; it’s a byproduct of success. Client retention is, for us, the biggest indicator of success. Our track record for client retention is our biggest source of pride, and that demonstrates the experience we bring to the table. We’ve retained eight of our clients for more than 10 years, two for more than 26 years and the bulk of our clients longer than 5 years. That’s a remarkable track record in our industry, and it’s a sign of mutual loyalty earned by experience.

How has social media transformed the industry, and how has Lou Hammond & Associates embraced it?
It’s an understatement to say that everything is much more rapid than it was 10 years ago, much less than when I started out. What social media has provided, as a communication platform, is immediacy and authenticity a real-time way for consumers to share messages and connect on a global scale. Pioneering brands are realizing that the power of social media is in a consumer’s network. When you look at the impact of one follower sharing a message with their network, whether positive or negative, the influence is profound. We’ve all seen how quickly something can go “viral.” With the help of the news, that message gets disseminated even further. That is why it is important for a brand to invest in its social presence, both from a customer service and a brand-building perspective. Digital marketing can’t be an afterthought. With the rise of mobile and social media, marketers have to take an online-first approach. We have a dedicated team, Hammond Digital +, in place to support clients’ integrated marketing efforts.

What is the future of the public relations industry?
It will continue the healthy growth it’s experienced over the past five to ten years. It is an ideal vehicle for brand building. We can respond in so many ways to a client’s needs. This is nothing against advertising it has its place but in today’s climate, PR and communications can adapt more rapidly to a dizzying pace. That adaptability, particularly via the Internet, gives us immediate reach for our clients. We don’t have to develop a campaign with four-color ads. We’re nimble, and that provides us a great climate for continued growth.

Comments are closed.

0 %