I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Darnell. A publisher, press agent, consultant, and writer-producer, Roger is the principal of The Darnell Works Agency, the go-to PR firm for creative agencies, brands and entertainment ventures. Leveraging more than 25 years of high-profile business, marketing and production experience, supervisory-level U.S. Air Force instructional systems design and photojournalism expertise and two B.A. Communications degrees, Roger develops highly successful marketing, PR and media strategies for a short list of phenomenally talented companies and artists, and their clients. His book “The Communication Consulting Career Guide” is due out worldwide in 2020.
Thank you so much for your time. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After earning my college degrees and beginning freelance work in Central Florida’s film and TV industry, I ran into a friend named Tom Oakes who had recently moved to LA. In a very authoritative way, he proceeded to explain how LA works, like so: “When you get to LA, whatever it is that you do becomes real obvious. So you go where they hire people that do that, and you either go straight to the top, or you get spit out and you have to start over.” I found out that he was essentially right, and that’s how my career in PR began.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I have had the good fortune of learning first-hand that, in the creative industry, the best work is largely divided up among a small number of elite players. During my ten years’ time handling LA visual effects company a52, the hits were non-stop. In 2002, Nike’s “Move” commercial from director Jake Scott earned the year’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial with their support. a52 itself won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design for their work on the HBO original series “Carnivale” in 2004. Supporting top-level directors in creating a mesmerizing array of stunning commercials, title design projects and star-studded Public Service Announcements, the company also delivered music videos for Coldplay, Mick Jagger, No Doubt, R.E.M., and The Wallflowers, to name but a few. Company founder and frequent collaborator Angus Wall — together with his colleague Kirk Baxter — was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Film Editing in 2008, and they won that Oscar in both 2011 and 2012.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first launched my agency in LA, I landed an assignment for Universal Music Group. One way of describing the situation I encountered there is saying I stepped into a hornet’s nest. On one hand, it was incredibly exciting to be brought into the fray with leading executives atop the music industry, and having the chance to contribute to their communications with their rock star clientele and business partners. However, I also had a strong sense that my liaison was swimming upstream. In hindsight, I would simply view all of that as being a very high-pressure environment. If UMG had been my only client at that time, maybe I would have been able to flow-with-the-go better to cement those relationships. As it happened, I flamed out quickly over my frustrations with the chaos. Since then, I have learned to vet potential clients better, and refer them to others when I feel I’m not in a good position to address their needs at that point in time.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
While based in LA, I had my own connections plus those of powerful evangelists, including creative industry rainmaker Lisa Cleff. So, the day I left the acclaimed PR firm The Terpin Group to launch The Darnell Works Agency, my income increased by about 150%. Within a year, we left that major market for the lovely small town of Boone, North Carolina, where both of our kids were born. Due to that move, the business really took a hit, but within five years, income came back to match what it had been in LA, and it has been climbing steadily ever since. The proactive steps were many during those years, but these are the main ones: First, I focused on providing extraordinary service to my clients; and second, when I did seek new clients, I enlisted my existing clients to help me find good fits. I remain very protective of my client roster, and generally opt to serve them over pursuing growth or new business.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My clients at specialized creative agency Leviathan struck gold in 2010 with their work for Amon Tobin’s ISAM Live extravaganza, and their pioneering work in experiential media continues to wow the masses. Cutters Studios out of Chicago — with offices in Detroit, LA, NYC and Tokyo — not only represents tremendous, widely sought-after creative craftsmanship, they are also highly inspirational people who constantly support uplifting projects. Erin Sarofsky is a design icon, and on her behalf, I regularly get to help promote Marvel Studios blockbuster films, TV series for every major network and other cool happenings as Erin conquers the world in her own lovely way. Also on my roster, Gentleman Scholar is one of the world’s most inventive creative production companies, and hybrid experiential agency MODE Studios keeps rolling out one jaw-dropping spectacular project after another.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
At this moment, I am a little over half-way through writing a book answering that question at length. One short answer is, be sure to read my book when it comes out. Here’s another: One skill that is sure to serve you well is to be able to position yourself confidently as a writer. To be clear, first you must become the very best writer you can be… and then, you must be able to convince others that you are highly skilled in that realm. Through academia, there are many ways to accomplish this, like getting good grades in writing classes, but also by writing for publications. Starting with things you can do in school and expanding as soon as you are ready into other media outlets where your interests lead, become a writer and promote your work. If you can establish yourself as an accomplished (and even better, an award-winning) writer, that will go a long way in helping you win clients.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
A few years ago, one of the bloggers I’ve built a long correspondence with — using LinkedIn, email and social media — called me out of the blue. During our chat, he made a big deal over the efforts I had sustained over time, which had won him over and set me apart as someone he wanted to get to know better. This experience and others like it have convinced me that the best networking is really relationship-building. I have not seen many people take great interest in networking for its own sake… but where they can get together or reconnect with friends, or share time with others whose interests overlap, that is considered time well spent. If I am ever in a situation that seems like pure networking, you can rest assured I am trying my best to build relationships with the most interesting people I meet, and then doing what friends do: providing helpful advice, encouragement and support, or just listening. If all goes well, what starts as networking will lead you to lifelong friendships.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Right out of high school, trying to achieve my ambitions, I found myself in one high-pressure sales job after another. Discovering and reading “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino helped me persevere and gain confidence in those difficult but pivotal efforts. Writing “The Communications Consulting Career Guide,” I found a more up-to-date book on that subject to be very helpful: Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human” is highly recommended for everyone, as it helps us all see the importance of moving others. I will also acknowledge “Mastery” by Robert Greene. This last book is a wonderful immersion into numerous fascinating human tales where readers come to understand the complicated string of phenomena that must align over time in order for a person to find his or her way in life and truly excel at something.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The environmental movement is one that I have embraced, along with my family, and it feels incredibly important. It’s easy to see all of those who oppose this movement as being evil or bad, but the hope is that educating them will win over enough of them that the tide will turn. So, the movement I want to inspire is to enlist everyone in educating themselves and others on the need for sustaining our healthy environment.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone had told me that being a PR professional was a viable career option — one that can be customized to personal tastes, preferences and passions over time. I really didn’t meet anyone who did anything like this until I was past age 30.
- In my opinion, the best way to prepare for an independent career as a PR professional is to get a related degree in college, and then go to work for a firm specializing in an area of your interest. From there, you’ll know when you are ready to launch on your own. I wish someone had told me that before I started.
- One of the most important aspects of successfully operating any business is closing sales. If someone had shown me a viable contract for a PR consulting business sooner in my life, maybe I would have been able to adopt this business model sooner.
- Also, having a month-to-month consulting relationship laid out, with a clear explanation of the business matters involved, would have potentially been life-changing for me, since it is essential to working as a PR consultant.
- Early in my career, I pitched a lot of my poetry to publications and collected probably 100 rejection slips. If someone had told me that was an excellent way to learn the ropes of media relations, I might have wept. Although I spent a lot of years thinking all of that was a waste of time, eventually I learned differently.