Fred Wellman is the founder of ScoutComms, a niche agency in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He specializes in public relations and marketing efforts in support of corporations and nonprofits focused on veteran and military family support, as well as veteran-owned and focused businesses. In this episode, he explains why he started his own PR agency that focuses on service and why running a B Corp (a mission-driven benefit corporation) can create a competitive edge in attracting top quality clients and employees. He also explains the importance of serving pro bono clients and why we should hire against our weaknesses. As the hardest working man in public relations, Fred Wellman is the James Brown of PR.
As the hardest working man in public relations, Fred Wellman is the James Brown of PR. A graduate of West Point and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, he ran for mayor in Georgia, served as an Army Scout and Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq, worked for Generals David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey (later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). General Petraeus selected him to become an Army public affairs officer.
Fred started his own agency at the bottom of the last recession. He found a niche that focuses on veterans’ issues. His business, ScoutComms, is based on one simple idea: There are very few veterans in the agency world, so ScoutComms would serve as the expert in that niche for larger PR agencies initially and, eventually, for corporate clients directly.
There is a bias against hiring senior practitioners who have not previously worked in agencies. This seems to be based on the assumption that it’s difficult or impossible to learn how to manage client relationships and develop new business. This bias precludes hiring talented communication professionals with deep experience, rich insight, and a robust network in a particular sector.
It is important to integrate all communications (PR, marketing, internal, executive, digital, etc.) across an organization.
Know your clients. Bring on experts who know the client’s business, culture, sensitivities, language, and how they communicate.
It’s important to know how your organization is different. What is your competitive advantage or secret sauce?
Forming a B Corp can cost more money, but also can be a good fit if your business is founded on more than making money. Much of ScoutComms’ business is in corporate social responsibility, so having an organizational framework that reinforces that social good creates a strategic, competitive advantage. The B Corp certification process can serve as a coaching tool.
Fred refers to his former employees as “graduates” and he is very proud of what they have gone on to do. One runs a USO center in North Carolina, one is running an environmental organization in northern Virginia, and one works for Dr. Jill Biden.
Specific Lessons from ScoutComms:
- Define your core services and strengths.
- Hire against your weaknesses. This takes honest self-reflection, but it’s how he hired Lauren Jenkins and Brian Wagner, ScoutComms COO.
- Fred was fortunate to have the mentorship of large agencies, especially when starting.
- It was difficult to operate as a cash-based company, rather than take on investors or debt to build the team. Fred learned that the team brings in and sustains a growing business. He believes he might have been a little too conservative when starting his business. If starting over, he would hire more people sooner, more aggressively seek business, and seek partners and investors.
- Don’t get too full of yourself; if you need help (partners, investors, etc.), bring them in.
- Your business is not your baby. Your business supports your baby, so keep things in perspective.
- ScoutComms’ unique value proposition is that they have deep knowledge in the veteran space, so clients don’t have to pay for the agency to learn about the sector; they already know the space and have relationships with key journalists covering that space.
- ScoutComms focuses on relationships. Part of their secret sauce is finding the sweet spot where corporations can make meaningful contributions to non-profits’ missions.
- Fred and the ScoutComms team have worked with many
military orientednon-profits, including Team Rubicon, Semper Fi Fund, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
- ScoutComms’ clients, including Home Depot, USAA, BP, GORUCK, and General Electric, have invested more than $400 million in veteran support initiatives.
- ScoutComms ideal client is a company that really wants to make a difference.
- ScoutComms is a niche agency in that they focus on one sector and develop deep understanding and relationships with all the key players in that sector. By contrast, “boutique” agencies can be a codeword for small or locally focused agencies.
Overrated or Underrated:
- Military public affairs: Underrated, because their mission is so important to telling the American story. Accurate reporting is more important to positive reporting.
- Independent PR agencies: Underrated, because (1) they have a well-developed niche, and (2) they are nimble and not hidebound by their corporate systems. They never say, “We’ve always done it that way.”
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs: Underrated, because the reputational impact on properly investing in CSR programs can be massive.
- Blockchain: Currently overrated, because it’s not yet mature and there are security concerns.
- West Point football: Underrated!
The best compliment someone could give Fred? When others in the veterans space recommend ScoutComms; having a reputation for being a straight-shooting, ethical company that makes a difference for its clients.
ScoutComms works with corporations, veteran-owned businesses, and nonprofits in the veteran and military space. In fact, their fastest-growing client base has been veteran-owned businesses. If you are looking for a solid, innovative partner in this area, give Fred a call!
521 Sophia Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Thanks to Brad Markham for his kind message of support from New Zealand! Brad is a former @abcnews political reporter who is doing a 50:50 share-milking venture with 215 cows in South Taranaki, New Zealand. Check them out at @nzyoungfarmers.
Thanks, also, to Matt Scherer for sharing his new book, “LinkedIn for Military: Your Interactive Transition Networking Guide.” Connect with Matt on LinkedIn.