The oldest of 10 children, Maura FitzGerald has never been shy about saying what she thinks. And she's not about to change, even though she now runs a fast-growing company in an industry that's known for its "yes men" mentality. "It's a blessing and a curse," she says of her own straightforwardness. "CEOs often have people around them who perform like the Nixon cabinet - they applaud everything the boss does." She sells the opposite: "I've found that people appreciate honesty and forthrightness. Companies that aren't interested in that kind of feedback won't like working with me or my company."
Straight talk is a core principle at FitzGerald Communications Inc., a four-year-old, $7 million PR shop based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with offices in San Francisco as well. All of the company's 75 employees agree to work by that principle, and a wallet-sized card helps them remember it: "Be a true partner - push back on clients when necessary," the card reads. "Never compromise our integrity - this is our hallmark." "Be direct in communicating successes and failures." By adhering to these values, FitzGerald has won such clients as Bay Networks Inc., GTE Internetworking, Monorail Inc., and Price Waterhouse.
Twice a year, the company honors employees who have best exemplified these values. People throughout the agency make nominations, and former winners bestow the awards. But the commitment goes beyond feel-good awards: Performance reviews measure employees by their adherence to core values. Even prospective clients must measure up.
The firm has grown fast in a field where the biggest inhibitor to growth isn't finding clients, but finding people to work on your team. FitzGerald Communications appeals to recruits in part because it has a corporate culture based on self-awareness: The firm knows what it does and doesn't do - and why. This approach has also turned into a source of profit: FitzGerald teaches talent-starved clients how to find the right people and how to keep their businesses coherent as they grow. "We don't do product programs unless we're involved in corporate image and branding work with the client," FitzGerald says. "Companies need both types of programs to develop the credibility and the pride of association that goes with being a great competitor and a good partner."
You can reach Maura FitzGerald through her company's Web site http://www.fitzgerald.com
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.