How was the agency born?
I was working at Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, CT, as director of communications at a time when public relations was run out of a box of 3 x 5 cards, and we made mechanicals with a mat knife, Rapidograph pens and waxer. After four years on the job, the shop was running fine. I saw there were lots of other schools and nonprofits without internal p.r. capabilities, so I decided to start Cheney & Company to help them become more professional. That was 1983.
Why do clients hire you and not another agency?
We consistently deliver award-winning work that yields results in student recruitment, philanthropy and good community relations. They like the fact we are well established and have a lot of experience with nonprofit organizations. The center of our universe is the project, not the profit. We’re smart, and we’re fun.
What makes your process unique?
Lots of listening and discovery. We are a bridge between our clients and their intended constituencies; we advocate on behalf of the target audience to open up a dialog that makes clients look fabulous and gets their point across in print and electronic communications that mirror their cultures.
My ancestry. I am the 11th generation Cheney to live and work in the state. Our clientele is national, well actually, international (if you count Bangkok, Tokyo, Copenhagen and London). I moved to New Haven from Houston as the perfect equidistant spot between Boston and New York, and I have never regretted that decision.
Describe your ideal client.
A discerning, well organized, realistic, collaborative, friendly strategist who likewise is smart, fun and a good listener. Staying on schedule is a noble quality, too, along with viewing us as allies.
Describe your ideal employee/team member.
My entire crew is awesome — all self-starters with complementary and overlapping skill sets and lots of integrity. What they can do so well is zero in on and tell stories that illuminate the distinctiveness of our client institutions through imaginative presentations of editorial and visual content. These qualities and attributes are largely intangible, presenting a major creative challenge. They understand how to balance pure out-of-the-box and the practical limitations of budget and deadlines.
How do you “give back?”
I teach, present, mentor, coach, write books and articles, critique, network and serve on committees. Lately my biggest commitments have been to the National Association of Independent Schools, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. I served three terms as a trustee of my college and two terms as president of the Alumni Association.
Who are your favorite partners/vendors?
Mohawk Papers, and our competitors — there’s room in the field for everyone, and it’s a generous profession, lots of sharing.
Our favorite venue is The Study at Yale, where we hold our annual summer conference Aim High. We’re nuts about Tom Ahern and his online branding newsletter.
And both how-to and inspirational resources include MarketingProfs, A List Apart, UMagazinology, Cram Quarterly — newsletter of GCF (Greatest Creative Factor), Draft — a NYTimes series about the art and craft of writing, and Future Fundraising Now.
Where would you like your agency to be in five years?
Celebrating our 34th birthday having survived several revolutions in the industry and signaling the fact that the nation’s independent schools are still in business and turning out amazing generations of great leaders.
What is unique about the “culture” of the agency? The physical space?
We are a team of women juggling work and home. Cooking, gardening, volunteering, hiking and reading are favorite avocations. We like having our pets in the office. We love occasional silliness and a good laugh. We inhabit a landmark historic building dating to 1816 on the west bank of the Quinnipiac River in old New Haven. What’s not to love about a combination of hand-hewn beams and new HVAC with a beautiful river view? If you want to see King’s Block and learn more about it, read the incredible history written by one of our college interns.
To add your spiffy picture or avatar to your comments
(for this and many other blogs), visit gravatar.com.