Please welcome Matt Cookson of Cookson Communications to the hot seat today. He’ll share a bit about his agency and the lessons he has learned along the way.
I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Matt for many years, and he has some great perspective to offer.
So without further ado…
Tell us about yourself and your agency.
I’m Matt Cookson and I founded our firm, Cookson Communications, in 2010. I double-majored at the University of Connecticut in English and Journalism with the intent to become a journalist. However, a sessional job right out of college to serve as assistant press secretary in the Connecticut House of Representatives was too good to turn down. That began my career in communications positions many years ago that has taken me to Washington DC, Virginia, Connecticut, and New Hampshire since 1994. I have worked in senior level capacities in government, higher education and business for many years before going off on my own.
Our company, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, specializes in public relations, content creation, creative design and branding, digital services and custom consulting services. Our approach is deeply rooted in finding and telling our clients’ stories, redefining, updating and elevating their brands and building connections that create better opportunities to be seen by their target audiences.
How did you end up in your current role?
I was tired of a long commute and ready for something new. Then I get a random call from someone I knew who owned an ad agency and was approaching retirement. She wanted to know if I might be interested in taking the company over. We ended up developing a transition strategy over 18 months that made mutual sense and I started with about five clients and three staff people and transitioned the firm to focus on communications. I have cut my commute by two-thirds, wear jeans to work, and have a great team that really enjoys each other. Who could ask for more!
How has your agency changed over the years?
We have matured and grown and made some great hires that have enables to become more full service. We’ve built up our expertise in social media, blogging and content creation, while adding in high-end design and branding staff. In an industry that has seen so much change over the years, we have worked to keep pace and aligned our skill-sets to what our clients need most. While communications channels have changed drastically, being a partner to our clients is a constant for us.
What is the biggest challenge your agency has ever faced?
We had a large client early on that needed high level leadership on a substantial, multi-year project. We knew it would take significant staff time and would eventually go away. At one point, it was over half of our revenue. When we knew we were getting close to completion, we had to plan and grow elsewhere to ensure that the team could be kept in place and that we could re-align revenue with expenses. We created a solid nest egg prior to wrapping up the project and were able to switch to business development mode, attract new clients and work to ensure that we were more balanced in the future in terms of not being so reliant on one client.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am very team-oriented and work to empower my employees to think and work independently, but rely on each other for ideas and as sounding boards. I don’t like to be micro-managed, so I in turn do not micro-manage. I work to put ethics and respect first and hire with an eye towards the person and fit first, and alignment to needs a close second.
What was one of your jobs while you were still in school and what did you learn from it?
Great question – I grew into being a waiter at the nicest restaurant in our small town. I worked with a great group of people and learned a ton about interacting with people and teams, multi-tasking and working through challenges. Additionally, I expanded my food repertoire and reduced my grocery bill!
Where did you grow up?
In Storrs, Connecticut, 1.3 miles from the campus. This created a huge and fun back yard for me growing up. It also led me to get interested in higher education, which has been a major focus for me over my career. I worked in universities and public university systems for many years and learned the complexities of this world. Through my company, I have now had the fortune of working with at least a dozen universities for a wide range of projects – from presidential searches to communicating about closing campuses.
Where can people find you online?
Primarily on LinkedIn.