Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a full-service advertising agency with offices in Seattle and Washington D.C. The agency focuses on working with clients in the health and wellness, transportation, environment and sustainability, and planning and development sectors to "improve the quality of all our lives"
Tell us a little about yourself. Describe your job, how long you’ve been doing it, and how you got into advertising.
My personal story has focused on advancing social and environmental health. I got my start in 1960s and 1970s social activism, fighting for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, and for issues such as the rights of immigrant women.
In 1977, I was appointed by President Carter to the National Commission for the Observance of International Women’s Year, where I had the opportunity to work with significant figures in the fight for sex equality like Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, Ellie Smeal, and Liz Carpenter on the first national conference for women. There I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my life about inclusive and compassionate leadership.
I have applied these lessons to my life. When purchasing PRR in 1989, my vision was simple: Do good. Have fun. Make money. Unlike traditional single-service communication firms of that era, I wanted to deploy a more integrated communications approach: harnessing the tools of public policy, community outreach, advertising, public relations, and social science to serve the greater good.
Today, PRR is one of the largest independent PR firms in the region, the 23rd largest woman-owned business in Washington State, and the 67th largest PR company in the U.S.
What differentiates PRR from other firms?
Let me begin by telling you what was going through my head when I launched PRR: I had been the superintendent of public transportation development at a major metro transit service. During this time, I became increasingly troubled by the growing disconnect in our civic environment between the public and decision-makers, which was fueled by a quickly changing environment where news and current events have become more a matter of entertainment rather than information and empowerment. And that is why PRR was created – with the objective of providing residents with information and tools that help them create a future of their choice, and providing decision-makers with information and tools to make better, more informed, and responsive decisions.
So, it should be no surprise that PRR pioneered social marketing (or what we call human-powered change. We were one of the first and I believe we still do it best. We’ve set the standard for interdisciplinary solutions to address social marketing challenges. We are full-service, we are mission driven, we’ve been around over 25 years, and we have about 70 people on our payroll, in three states and Washington, D.C. I’ll admit there are probably easier ways to make money, but we’ve shown you can succeed working for the greater good.
Over the last 25 years, every PRR engagement has focused in some way on community-building, human health or the environment — advocating for air quality, waste reduction, disease prevention, transit, or community involvement. PRR’s client list includes Fortune 500 companies, federal and local government agencies, small businesses, hospitals, legislative bodies, developers, manufacturers and non-profits — in short, those in a position to change minds and behaviors.
Seattle Department of Transportation - “Be Super Safe”
How do you avoid the mediocre in advertising?
Bigger picture, I believe we avoid the mediocre by keeping a laser-like focus on what the client has hired us to do. It’s not about having the flashiest creative or the biggest celebrity (although we have worked with some great ones in PSAs, like Macklemore who spoke to the dangers of prescription drug abuse/misuse); it’s about adhering to the goals of the campaign and not being distracted by anything off-target. We like to start by asking “What is success? And, how will you know when you get there?” That answer steers a lot of the creative decisions that follow.
What do you look for in a relationship with a client? How do you turn a good relationship into a great one?
An ideal client relationship is one of mutual trust and respect, and a shared understanding that we are all pulling in the same direction. I work to create great client relationships by demonstrating my personal and professional commitment to the success of my clients, maintaining positive energy, and helping them solve knotty problems in ways that do not always serve my financial self-interest.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Here is my schedule for today. It is pretty typical:
8:00 -- Welcome everyone to a new work week with goodies from Specialties bakery
8:15 -- Personnel issues
8:30 -- Meet with Jeanne A. on Washington State Public Transportation Planning Council Agenda
8:45 -- Develop draft goals for Washington State Public Transportation Plan
9:30 -- Company-wide weekly “huddle”
10:00 -- Management Team meeting
11:00 -- Chat with Vice Provost of Seattle Colleges about project
11:15 -- Start to respond to The Agency Post questionnaire
11:30 -- Meet about Commute Seattle’s 10th Anniversary
12:00 -- Lunch with Director of Community Police Commission
1:15 -- Work on The Agency Post questionnaire some more
1:45 -- Doctor’s appointment
Call attorney while in the waiting room about a pro bono project
3:00 -- Teleconference with Project Team about Washington State Public Transportation Plan
4:00 -- Finalize documents for Washington State Public Transportation Plan
5:30 Get on a ferry and go to lovely Vashon Island; get caught up on emails
5:45 -- Gardening and cooking
Pike Place Market Foundation - “Announcing Pike Place Market’s New Waterfront Entrance”
What is one of your favorite campaigns PRR has worked on?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’ll say kids.health.2001.
When the kids.health.2001 campaign began, there were about 34,000 children and teenagers in King County who did not have health insurance. Even more troubling was the fact that about 20,000 of these uninsured children were eligible for free health insurance. Often minor and preventable illnesses develop into serious medical problems with lifelong health consequences for uninsured children. Uninsured kids frequently also require treatment in hospital emergency rooms where costs are the highest. The social and economic costs of this situation are staggering and the Washington State Hospital Association contacted PRR to do something about it.
kids.health.2001 was an unprecedented partnership of King County’s eight largest hospital/health care systems, along with 15 key organizations such as the Seattle Public Schools and Public Health–Seattle & King County. PRR developed and implemented a comprehensive public relations and marketing campaign to boost enrollment of eligible children in health insurance programs. Based on results from focus groups, existing research and executive interviews, a list of 31 potential barriers including language and culture, confusion over eligibility requirements and mistrust or fear of government was adopted. Because of the very personal nature of many of these barriers, we created a two-part strategy. PRR used traditional marketing strategies such as broadcast and TV advertising, retail partnerships and media relations to educate and create a favorable environment. Then we used “trusted advocates” to make the one-on-one contact to enroll children. Trusted advocates are individuals in our targeted communities who are known and trusted for advice and guidance—people such as a family support worker in the local school district or an outreach worker helping homeless teens.
As for results, most importantly, kids.health.2001 and partnering Medicaid outreach teams helped enroll more than 15,107 King County youth in free or low-cost health insurance, creating healthier lives and brighter futures. This resulted in an increase in preventative care visits to local physicians and decreased the number of uninsured children taken to emergency rooms, freeing up emergency facilities for more urgent situations and improved healthcare for children.
Aside from this significant achievement, the communications industry recognized kids.health.2001’s brilliance by awarding it three Public Relations Society of America Totem Awards of Excellence, two Telly Finalist Awards, and an award for social responsibility from Women Executives in Public Relations.
What advertising trend do you find most interesting and why?
I am thrilled to see an increase in attention to measurable results – not just advertising or PR metrics like how many people consumed a piece of content, but true measures of how that content drove them to change their behavior as a result. At PRR, we are experts in human-powered change. It’s not just a tagline — it’s an approach that’s all about reaching people at the right time with the right messages, in a culturally-resonant and emotional way, so they stop doing one thing and start doing something else. Sometimes, it’s cutting-edge digital. Sometimes, it’s traditional print. Sometimes, it’s face to face. Sometimes, it’s in a language other than English, with a “trusted advocate” from the ethnic community.
I truly believe that most people want to make the right choice for themselves, their family, their community, and their environment. First, they need to see the options and feel empowered to make the right choices.
What one skill should advertising professionals should have?
No advertising professional could survive with only one skill. But, if I had to pick one, it would be the ability to tell a good story.
What is one thing you wish people understood about the advertising profession/industry?
I wish more people understood all the analytical work that goes into a great campaign.