Tom Eiland

Smooth Transition Fuels CFM Growth

Transitioning a personal services firm is a high-wire act. CFM managed to do it with minimal publicity and without losing legacy clients. It may have been one of the best PR moves the firm has made in its 28-year history.

The move from older to younger generation owners has proven a huge success. However, the transition didn’t always look so promising. “We started the transition discussion almost a decade ago,” recalls CFM co-founder Gary Conkling. “Every promising idea we had flopped.”

Transitions don’t occur in suspended reality. “Partners retired or left,” recalled Conkling. “Employees, including ones in line to become partners, peeled off.” Owning a personal services firm is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Senior CFM partners Norm Eder, Tom Eiland and Dave Fiskum got lots of advice, considered varied paths and lived through a series of failed opportunities. “We wound up,” Conkling said, “going back to basics.”

The goal was to enlist two to four young professionals who shared CFM’s vision for integrity and saw potential in a brand dedicated to results, not optics. Several candidates surfaced, but the two who stuck it out because they saw the potential for the firm and themselves were Joel Rubin and Dale Penn II. They made the transition possible and are now the owner-operators of CFM.

“Owning your own firm is an intriguing option,” Rubin says. “Owning a firm with a reputation for integrity and a commitment to client result is a dream come true.”

“From the beginning, CFM always felt like the right fit for my goals,” explains Penn. “Now Joel and I have a chance to build on past successes to scale new heights.”

Transitioning a 28-year-old personal services firm is not a small undertaking. However, the sellers and the buyers shared one important common goal – a transition that was seamless to clients. The sale date came and went with minimal notice. Clients were informed there would be no changes in their service. Yes, new people were in charge, but the old people were still at the wheel.

“We didn’t want the change of ownership to reflect a change in how we represent clients,” Rubin said. “Our priorities didn’t change and the way we advocate for our clients didn’t change,” Penn added.

Six months after the sale of CFM was consummated, the only noticeable change has been an increase in client work. “Whenever a firm with CFM's prestige transitions to new owners, there's sometimes the question of continuity,” Penn admitted. “But our senior partners have remained on the job and existing and prospective clients have responded positively.”

It may be too soon to judge the ultimate success of the CFM transition, but not too soon for this observation: “I have been impressed by how everyone in our organization has responded to the change in ownership,” says Rubin. “There is a feeling that if we can pull off a transition like this, we can do anything. That attitude is infectious and it is the attitude that is attracting clients.”



Audits Point to Smarter Communications

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Direct communications are the most important avenue to learn about what’s happening in schools. Communications audits can reveal whether your communications strategies and tools are clicking.

“If school districts don’t communicate effectively, others will fill the vacuum of describing what’s happening – and you may not like what they say,” says CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland, who presented the value of communications audits to the annual conference of the Washington Schools Public Relations Association on April 29 in Leavenworth, Wash.

David Beil, communications director for the Central Kitsap School District, provided specific before and after examples of e-letters, social media and the district’s website following a CFM-led communications audit. Beil said post-audit communications relied on stronger imagery, less text, a sharper audience focus and more links. 

The audit was invaluable, he said, in convincing school administrators why changes were needed and that additional resources were warranted.

Audits involve an inventory of print and digital communications, a battery of research and an analysis of actual communications, Eiland explained.

Results from a communications audit can shape a communications plan, clarify who manages communications, prioritize audiences and organize communications tools, he said. “You can make decisions based on data, not hunches,” Eiland indicated. “You can refresh or reboot websites, e-letters and intranets with greater confidence they will deliver more value for the people you need to reach. They also can help earn the resources you need for success." 

Beil and Eiland emphasized communications audits identify how “people communicate and where they get information,” as well as “what information people want and need.”

“This is a disciplined approach to decide what communications tools work or how they can be made to work better,” Eiland said. “It is also a way to measure actual results."

New CFM Expert Section

The CFM website now sports a new expert section showcasing the expertise of individual staff members.

"You can read our bio and blogs, but still not know on what subjects we're experts," explained CFM President Gary Conkling. "This section is organized to make that recognition easy."

The expert section offers a convenient package of staffer background, expertise, recent media mentions and selected blog posts.

"It is designed to help news media find a credible source for their stories," Conkling said. "But it also is for clients and prospective clients who want to know more about our team members."

"We intend to keep the section updated," says CFM Digital Specialist Hannah Smith, who designed the expert section and is featured herself. "As we develop new areas of expertise, we will add those."

"And we will share the passionate hobbies and avocations of our team members," Smith adds.

Eiland Evaluates UO PR Student Portfolios

CFM Partner Tom Eiland and University of Oregon professor Kelli Mathews and visiting professor Donna Davis huddle before the student portfolio evaluation in Portland, Oregon at the Turnbull Center.Public relations students about to graduate from the University of Oregon appear to be prepared for their first professional, entry-level experience, says Tom Eiland, a partner at CFM Strategic Communications, who evaluated work portfolios created by seniors from UO’s School of Journalism and Communications.

“The work was impressive, showing solid writing and strong public relations skills,” noted Eiland, one of 20 Portland-area public relations and marketing professionals to review the work product of 29 Oregon students. Student portfolios were assessed on a variety of characteristics ranging from professional appearance to effective use of traditional and social media tools.

Eiland, who has 30 years of marketing and communications experience, says, “The purpose of the session was to help students organize and present their portfolio in ways that highlight their individual skills, giving them the best opportunity for getting hired after graduation.”