FOUNDER & OWNER, E. BOINEAU & COMPANY
Public relations and marketing communications.
Elizabeth L. Boineau, founder and owner of E. Boineau & Company, based in Charleston, S.C., is a 35 year+ veteran of the marketing communications and public relations industry. She offers extensive senior management experience in the public relations, marketing communications, media strategy and crisis communications for professional service firms, corporate entities, tourism/hospitality, cities/towns, chambers of commerce, non-profits and individuals. The agency also handles crisis communications challenges and Elizabeth routinely presents on that topic to national conferences. Before re-establishing E. Boineau & Company in Charleston in 2002 (she founded the firm originally on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston in 1990) Elizabeth served in senior management positions (1996-2002) with the three largest communications firms in the world – WPP for Hill & Knowlton in Los Angeles (managing director, marketing communications); Interpublic Group for Weber/Shandwick in Atlanta and Miami (EVP, corporate and energy); and Omnicom for Fleishman Hillard in Atlanta (SVP/healthcare). In these roles, she offered strategic communications planning, insight and counsel to develop and build the brand identity, awareness and reputation of leading companies and organizations.
I have always had a love of the English language and scored high on English achievement tests, was crazy about Latin and then later, French, and had an inquisitive mind when it came to our emotions and mental faculties, ergo, the degree in psychology, which included some formidable marketing research classes. I believe that a strong academic foundation, a love of words, an intrigue with how our minds work and how to influence opinions and attitude, plus a knack for business development helped to make the draw to the communications industry a natural one, even if I did “fall” into it via an entry level post at a large bank in Charleston (then C&S Bank, which became Bank of America). I was asked to move into the marketing department 10 months after joining the bank, and ultimately ran the department. I was there over five years in total, and one of a handful women in that office in any sort of management role. I was then recruited in 1984 to become director of communications (first female in that role) for Charleston County School District and stayed there the next five years until venturing out in 1990 to open the first PR firm in Charleston and the only female owned one at the time.
Clearly we have seen such a tremendous shift to digital marketing and have witnessed how the “owned” media space of website, social media and even electronic newsletters have taken a large seat next to earned media, which we are veterans at garnering on behalf of our clients. These days, that editorial or earned media becomes a critical tool in advancing the position of our clients on their (and our) social media platforms and websites, where dynamic newsrooms add to their searchability. Watching social media firms crop up left and right makes me notice how important the balance is, as we’ll have prospects calling, concerned by an over emphasis on social media and less understanding of how to maximize the potential of traditional/earned/third party media coverage. For the third leg of the stool, we see advertising, the paid media component, as a reinforcement to the brand message and meaning. These days, digital media is more than likely part of the ad buy and adds to the marketing mix. The core message is the same across all channels, and that’s still the key to clear brand definition, awareness and preference. Third party endorsement and “influencer marketing” are huge and we understand how to secure those parties and to speak and write in that third-party voice too.
We feel that influencer marketing is at times underutilized and its power undervalued. We’re in an era where we trust our inner circle and established thought leaders to tell us their thoughts on the business/product/service. We’re tapping their commentary in case studies, press releases, media kits, social media content, ad copy and video production. The point is to make the content as credible and as objective as possible. We guide our clients daily on how that voice sounds and reads, and they get excited about it too. It’s not so much that it’s new, but that it’s a challenge to get the info from the right people and know how to use it in a variety of ways to make the message seamless and to amplify it with credibility and validity.
My inspiration was a passion for the industry and as a woman in a man’s world, I wanted the freedom to chart my own course and steer the ship, for better or worse. A serendipitous moment came when a highly respected friend and business leader in Atlanta suggested I capitalize on the rise in demand for professional service marketing (lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, to name a few). No one in Charleston was dong that at the time, and I ended up with two prominent corporate law firms bidding for my services (I did one for a year, moved to the next, then the next). It was a very heady time for professional service marketing/PR. Because of a love of wine and food, I added upscale hospitality and was fortunate to help open and work with some of the area’s finest establishments (SNOB, McCrady’s, Anson’s, Circa 1886) and later to move on to cities and chambers as clients as part of the hospitality angle.
I’ve recently brought a webmaster/digital media manager onto the team and it’s taken us into the arena of more direct involvement in web design and site management, plus more in-house SEO, social media, digital newsletters, for example. We’ve always gone outside for that aspect of marketing and it’s nice to have it close at hand. If a client has a webmaster already, we’ll work with theirs. Past that, we have several new biz opportunities percolating right now- all from referrals, which we treasure. Most of all, we love seeing our clients thrive!
The addition of digital marketing expertise on the core team has been great. I really like having it built into our core team structure vs. an outside firm, since there’s more control of the outcome that way too, and good content is always part of the plan. But we’ll take on a client and work with their webmaster, if they prefer, and our digital media manager can also work with a company even if they aren’t tapping us for the PR or content side. Flexibility is key on so many fronts!
The recession of 2008 was daunting since we found ourselves bound up with a lot of developer clients as real estate had been on fire, and we were working on projects all over the southeast. When the construction boom collapsed, it was awfully quiet for several months there, and very unsettling until we realized two things: 1) we were anything but alone since most everyone was affected by it and 2) we regrouped and went back to the basics- our generalist expertise plus heavy focus on professional service and hospitality, plus experience in crisis communications re-opened doors where we’d crossed the threshold before and had proven results. The demand for crisis communications really shot up in the 5-7 years post-recession, and we became widely known for that and not only got a lot of referrals but also were asked to present to national audiences coming through Charleston on that topic (media training and crisis communications preparation).
The client (and we have testimonials from current and past clients supporting this, of course) witnesses a tangible amount of positive media coverage, stronger presence in social media, more dynamic website and newsroom, enhancing search, and it all started typically with developing or refining their core message and getting them ready to take their story to the media and their target audience. That heightened awareness, positive reputation and credibility of character led to more business and more profit. PR=ROI when you truly understand how to maximize its potential as a key element of the marketing mix.
We are very connected, even more considering we are a “virtual” team (and have been since 2002). I have said our infrastructure surpasses a lot of bricks and mortar firms because we have a propriety process that is tried and true, and the team is not only very sharp, but they’re highly trained on that process before they start to work with clients. There’s a formidable team approach to everything we put out, and there’s a lot of support, respect and kinship between the team members. We genuinely like each other and want nothing but the best for the company, the team as a whole and each of its members. It’s so evident at team gatherings, where we include spouses and SO’s and they’re part of the energy too, and we thrive on it, our amazing clients and our shared success.
Be sure you’re an excellent writer and editor, and keep an AP guide close-by. Show organizational and management skills in the way you approach even the mundane tasks (billing comes to mind). You can’t fake genuine passion and enthusiasm for this industry, and if you don’t have a relevant degree and/or experience in the field, you’re not going to be right for our team until you do. A lot of people seek out the field but don’t seem to understand it (you can tell from the questions and from the writing samples). This business, and certainly the entrepreneurial aspects of it too, require great vision and a critical eye for detail. Multi-task or die, basically😉 If you love pressure, you love writing, and media strategy and multi-tasking, you should be in this business! If you’ve never met a stranger, even better. I know I’m the chief rainmaker, and fortunately I thrive on it, but if you know the “sales” part is not for you, be frank and admit it up front.
Those traits may be more innate than learned, though I must admit doing Xerox Sales Training back in my bank marketing days has stuck with me all these years, and I am very grateful for that and so many more opportunities I have been afforded. Some I have fought hard for, others have surfaced and there’s nothing like that call where someone says they heard all about the firm from someone and they view us as top of our game in a very competitive town. That fuels the fire of passion and renews the decision I made back in 1990, when it seemed like a bit of a scary proposition, but a mentor pushed me off the cliff, as she likes to say, and there were a lot of parachutes packed in my chute waiting to catch me and carry me gently to the life I think I was always meant to have—in charge of my own destiny, yet “servant” to my team and clients, and very happily so.
Being a “visionary with an eye for detail” is how management tests identified my management style early in my career, so I would say that helps on the entrepreneurial side of things. Writing well definitely helps too, and being able to articulate your point/position (or that of a client) and be genuinely convincing and persuasive because you have passion for it- that’s been helpful personally and professionally, I believe.
I have been at this business for a long time, and I love it. Being confident in your abilities, surrounding yourself with smart colleagues always and mentors early on who were in the forefront of their field, and never really thinking about gender stereotypes in the career setting- I just pretended they didn’t exist and chose to work through and around them if ever I sensed discrimination. I am sure I did early on- it was “that” era. I was working full time in a man’s world here in Charleston, S.C., back in the late 70s, early 80s. Also, working for “big agencies” around the country from 1996-2002 clearly gave me a depth of experience not that common in this market. That, and being organized, professional, determined and having the “killer instinct” gene, as my dad labels it, to win the deal/sale/account helps when it comes to new business development. Being fearless about the next challenge comes from confidence in your abilities, yet humble and grateful for every single opportunity you’re blessed to have.
I would like to do more speaking/presenting to large groups coming through town and/or around the country. I have done a good bit of that but have not formally marketed it- they seem to find me, and I’m always grateful and enjoy the opportunity to train and inspire, motivate and inform on topics very familiar to me. The most frequent topic is crisis communications and media preparedness-it’s like a group media training that you can do in an hour or two. I’d like to write a book too- haven’t decided if it’s a PR/branding and/or crisis communications how-to or a romance novel (as a widow 20+years, that could be a “how to” or “how not to” as well😉).
Probably winning Addy Awards early in my career (local, regional, and national), early 80s and several National School PRSA awards mid-80s, then receiving the Ad Federation’s Silver Medal Award in 2012 are the most memorable. The national Addy Award for the campaign I chaired for Ad Fed of Charleston’s public service committee (Come See a Class Act) took me to the White House, and led me to being asked to take the post of director of communications for Charleston Country School District in 1984. I was the first woman in that role, in fact. There were 200 applicants, and I was personally recruited for it by then Superintendent Ron McWhirt, and even given a gentle shove in that direction by former Governor Dick Riley, who had just led the initiative to pass the extra penny tax for schools. That was a big career turning point for me and I was there until 1990, when I left to start E. Boineau & Company, which just marked 27 years this spring.
I am sure it was agreeing to close my firm and move to LA to join my late husband in 1996. I said goodbye to amazing clients, wonderful team members and my life as an entrepreneur to take a big job with Hill & Knowlton and share a home with my husband, a native Californian, whom I was sure I could have convinced to move to Charleston. Alas, he went from being a consultant to buying a company and becoming its CEO. That was March, 1996. I started my new job April 6, 1996 and he died unexpectedly July 6, 1996. We had been married 19 months, lived together just three months. My move there and his sudden death took life and my career in a totally different direction than I had planned when I established my firm in 1990. The experience at the three big agencies (WPP, Weber Shandwick, Omnicom) was formidable but the stress of working in those settings and big clients, big budgets was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. At the last big agency of that six year “career adventure,” I started with a negative billing amount (a past due invoice in the six figures) and was sent to collect and renew the account, which I did. Over 2.5 years, I grew the healthcare billings to over two million and watched my team shrink from 12 to 8 due to cutbacks. Stress and exhaustion took on a new meaning. It was past time to get my life back and return to Charleston and start my own firm again. Best thing I ever did!
Two of my favorite quotes come from Mario Andretti:
“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
But I also cherish:
“Something to do, someone to love, something to hope for…”
I followed and read a lot of Tom Peters’ books- In Search of Excellence, Thriving on Chaos were some of my favorites; Al Ries and Martin Lindstrom come to mind in the branding world. I admire Sally Krawcheck tremendously, and I have known her father here in Charleston for years. She broke a lot of glass ceilings for women, and grew up in the deep South!
Take me to France, preferably Provence or Bordeaux, or the Rhone region, or to Italy- Tuscany region, any day. Domestically speaking, Yountville, CA, since I have partial ownership (due to my late husband) in The French Laundry, and have loved travelling to Napa and Sonoma for decades. I feel very fortunate to have a home on Edisto Island, an hour south of Charleston, and that’s a great getaway too, very close by.
Life without an I phone and I pad would be tough to handle- but imagine life without technology, the internet and social media. Still, if you take away books, I would be heart- broken for sure. Oh, and the news!
I am excited about a couple of national prospects who found us recently, and about seeing our clients experience incredible success—nothing could make me happier than seeing them and my team thrive professionally and personally.