Sachs Media is Prepared for The Long Run
Despite a changing media landscape, the agency remains
The Florida Department of Children and Families turned to Sachs Media with a challenge. Officials there wanted to increase the number of foster children moving into permanent homes.
More particularly, they wanted to focus on those children who spend the greatest lengths of time in foster care: older children, children with disabilities and sibling groups.
Michelle Ubben, Sachs Media’s president, recalls an initial meeting in which officials said they did not want healthy babies used in any campaign materials that the agency might develop.
The Sachs team set about conducting interviews with stakeholders, including adoptive parents, in working to precisely identify who the target for their messaging would be, that is, who would be a candidate to adopt a child lingering in foster care.
“We found that there was no more trusted messenger for that campaign than someone who had already adopted a child and who could speak to the positive parts of the experience and the challenges,” Ubben said.
“This project is a good example of our secret sauce as an agency. We conduct upfront research that uncovers insights that drive strategy. We craft good stories that are compelling and generate interest. And we efficiently reach the target audience.”
The firm’s design team created a variety of award-winning elements to support the campaign, including billboards, posters, direct mail pieces, newspaper advertisements and digital banner ads. Broadcast elements included public service announcements, a 30-minute television special, local broadcast features on children awaiting adoption, and an audio news release in English and Spanish for radio stations. Sachs Media developed a media kit that included brochures, pins, fact sheets and other items that highlighted the importance of adopting.
Florida saw back-to-back record years for finalized adoptions, earning the state millions in federal bonus dollars. Calls to the Adoption Information Center increased immediately by almost 400 per month, and visits to the Explore Adoption website rose to more than 7,400 per month.
An important lesson, Ubben said, was the realization that it was important to tell the adoption story, “warts and all.”
“Adoption is hard,” she said. “We had to deliver the message that it is a challenge, but one whose rewards make it worthwhile.”
Research has informed numerous campaigns and projects at Sachs Media, including:
- Healthy Pools. Annual campaign about pool hygiene created with and for the Water Quality & Health Council and the Centers for Disease Control.
- Rebuild Florida. Created for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to link Floridians with home damage from Hurricane Irma to sources of federal aid.
- Protect Florida Democracy: Our Constitution. Our Rights. Our Courts. Created for The Florida Bar; generated 68 million media impressions to educate voters about Florida’s Constitutional Revision process and the importance of maintaining the balance of power among the three branches of government.
- Fight Cancer: YES on 6. Created for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network; research-informed messaging and outreach strategy to win legislative approval to put this referendum on the ballot and then to encourage voter approval for a measure that will provide $3 billion for cancer research.
- Don’t Miss the Signs. Created for the Florida Department of Children and Families and Lauren’s Kids to promote child abuse reporting; bright, non-threatening campaign educated people on signs of child abuse that are often missed.
Ubben said Sachs Media “runs on talent” in working with clients evenly distributed among the private, public and nonprofit sectors. It has invested in people of various specialties to provide clients with a full range of marketing, messaging and communication services.
People like Ryan Cohn.
Nine years ago, Sachs Media founder and CEO Ron Sachs approached Cohn with an interest in acquiring his 4-year-old digital and social media marketing agency. Cohn politely declined. He was pleased with where he perceived his business, with ı4 employees and offices in Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale, was headed.
Circumstances changed, however, and six months later, Cohn reconsidered.
Terms of the deal specified that Sachs would serve Cohn as a mentor, teaching him about becoming a skilled communicator, leader and outstanding corporate citizen.
“He has done that ıı0 percent,” said Cohn who today is an agency partner and its executive vice president and chief strategist. “Ron is a father figure and a role model who does so much in the community. It’s great to watch him and learn from him every day.”
Sachs said he and Ubben have worked to “youthanize” Sachs Media — he credits fellow communicator Rick Oppenheim with coming up with the clever homonym.
“We are in a field where people can be so smart and talented at the very beginning of their career,” Sachs said. “They should not have to wait to be in a leadership position.”
Indeed, among five employees made partners by Sachs Media in recent years only one is more than 40 years old.
“We are geared up for the next 25 years,” Sachs said.
Leap of faith
In ı995, Sachs was serving as communications director for Gov. Lawton Chiles but had begun thinking about starting a business, a desire he told his mother about.
Mom was incredulous.
“She said, ‘You don’t know anything about running a business. You never even had a paper route,’ ” Sachs recalls.
Still, Sachs moved ahead with his crazy idea, secure in the knowledge that he had “saved enough money from unused state vacation time to afford to be a complete failure for four months.”
Soon, operating from a 600-square-foot office, he acquired three clients: the Florida League of Cities, the public hospital system in South Broward County and the state teacher’s union. He had a toehold.
Ubben, who had known Sachs when both were doing state communication work, joined him full time about three years later. She was a part-timer when she and Sachs landed an Eli Lilly account. The pharmaceutical giant was focused at the time on access to mental health medications and post-menopausal women’s health.
Sachs Media now has 30+ employees and offices in Tallahassee, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Washington, D.C. In recent years, it has racked up an impressive list of honors: 202ı America’s Best PR Agencies (Forbes magazine); 2020 Agency File Elite Top ı00/National (PR News); 20ı9 Dick Pope All Florida Golden Image Award (Florida Public Relations Association). The agency has won three Top Florida Campaign Awards in the last ı0 years, and Sachs has made appearances on the Influence ı00 and Florida Trend 500 lists.
The nature of news
The media landscape has changed dramatically in the 25 years that Sachs Media has been in business.
“When I was a reporter for the Miami Herald,” Sachs said, “I’d file a late story, go home and get a few hours of sleep and then head out to the driveway in my bathrobe to get that day’s edition. That was the news cycle back then.”
The arrival of the continuous news cycle has made the type of work his agency does all the more important.
“Many times, you can’t afford to wait until tomorrow to figure out what you’re going to say,” Sachs said.
“Executives in crisis situations can become frozen and not know what to do because, many times, they are emotionally involved. It’s a terrible thing when your brand is in the crosshairs of a controversy. The damage can be devastating over the course of a single day. The crisis before the crisis is not being prepared to handle one. Mishandling one is the crisis after the crisis. We train our clients to be prepared.”
In those trainings, Sachs cites some of the worst statements he has heard made by company spokespeople. Among them is, “This is not the worst accident in our company’s history,” a statement that invited the media to explore multiple bad events.
The majority of work done by Sachs Media, of course, is not accomplished under duress and much of it begins with the research step.
“In the old days, you might just assume you knew what the client should do,” Sachs said. “What they should say, who should say it, which media to use and in what frequency. We have learned that science resulting from contacts with a thousand people can really inform messaging and strategy and enhances the likelihood of terrific outcomes.”
Karen Cyphers, who holds a doctorate in public policy from FSU, is the research chief at Sachs Media and a partner.
“Very few firms such as ours have in-house research divisions, and I’m grateful to be in this role at Sachs,” she said. “It’s a privilege, every day, to use these capabilities to benefit and advance the important work our clients bring to us.
“At its core, I see our team as expert storytellers. This means developing a deep, intimate understanding of who our clients are and what their challenges are, and then communicating clear messages that resonate strongly. Whether through offering clarity on the facts or using experiments or survey methods to test messages, our research division complements this process and makes it stronger.”
Sachs, Ubben, Cohn and Cyphers are united in their belief in the consequentialness of their agency’s work, and each has a bright outlook on the future.
“We are engaged in the relentless pursuit of results for clients, and we believe in the power of communication to do extraordinary things,” Ubben said.
That “we” encompasses people who are closely knit.
Sachs partners, in addition to Ubben, Cohn and Cyphers, are:
- Lisa Garcia, chief operating officer. She has led the firm’s hurricane relief work, including Rebuild Florida after Irma and Rebuild 850 after Michael, as well as an annual education initiative, “Get Ready, Florida!” and considerable work with state government.
Herbie Thiele, director of public affairs. He guides the firm’s legislative session accounts and provides strategic counsel for public affairs issues at local, state and federal levels.
- Drew Piers, director of campaigns. He leads strategy for the firm’s public policy campaigns and ballot initiatives, including recent successful ballot initiatives in Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. Those initiatives benefited millions of people by prioritizing access to health care, providing $3 billion in funds for cancer research and protecting the environment.
“Our team members are so talented, and perhaps most importantly, we like each other and work cohesively,” Cyphers said. “Never has this been tested as much as it has in the past year, and I see us growing only stronger from here.”