Recap: Sterling’s Agency Summit

One of the best traditions at Sterling Communications is our annual Agency Summit. For two full days, all hands gather to attend a corporate culture check-in led by our CEO, Marianne, learn more about each client’s business and technology from account leads, and partake in creative writing workshops and mission alignment seminars. Oh, and of course, we let our hair down with the shockingly competitive Sterling Challenge scavenger hunt. This year’s event, skillfully coordinated by our VP of Operations, Tiffany, did not disappoint.

Marianne opened this year’s summit by sharing her projections for the company in 2017, along with the results of an employee survey identifying Sterling’s seven core values:

  • Passion
  • Curiosity
  • Helpfulness
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • Teamwork
  • Fun

After we heard a little bit about why each of these values made the list, we broke into groups to identify tangible examples of how we demonstrate each value in our work, the challenges each poses, and solutions for overcoming those challenges. Groups then presented their findings to the agency, allowing the whole team to see exactly how our core values inform our day-to-day lives at Sterling, and how we can continue to apply them effectively for ourselves and our clients.

Note: We’re still trying to think of a helpful acronym to describe the seven values, so feel free to send us your suggestions!

Having provided PR and communications services to Silicon Valley’s tech industry for more than 27 years, we’ve learned to take our own advice: We regularly update our messaging and realign our strategy to best reach and serve both current and prospective clients. Our executive team presented the annual results of this effort and our expanding services menu, which in addition to traditional public relations, now includes marketing and demand generation support, infographics and video production, web development and SEO. With Sterling, our clients get that all from one nimble team as opposed to having to contract and onboard multiple vendors. Our VP of Creative, Kawika, recently wrote a blog post on the diversity of modern communications needs and how PR isn’t just about press releases anymore. It’s definitely worth the read.

In the afternoon, appointed presenters shared in-depth analysis on their respective accounts, so every Sterlinger could learn more about each client’s staff, technology, and vision. As we have an open office and celebrate each account’s successes as a team, it was great to get more context on the various businesses we represent, put faces to names, and match concepts to products.

At the end of Day 1, the Sterling Challenge saw our crew divided into teams of four and given a mind-boggling list of items to find and activities to complete — all of which had to be recorded with a camera phone. Task scoring was weighted on level of difficulty (like sitting in the back of a police car or convincing strangers to share food in a restaurant!). Gloria, our finance manager and reigning Challenge champion of many years, was relegated to the role of host and judge, thus putting an end to her streak of dominance.

This year’s winners (dubbed the Fighting Amish) were announced at our holiday party the following night: Kawika, Madeline, Lloyd, and first-time combatant Jennine. Can you tell from the photos below that they were just a little excited to have won?


Day 2 kicked off with an informative (and very entertaining) briefing with Scott McGrew, tech reporter from KNTV NBC Bay Area News and host of Press: Here. Scott shared his insight on what makes for a great story. His best tip for PR pros: Does your pitch immediately trigger a slew of additional questions? If it doesn’t strike curiosity, it’s either not a good story or it needs a different approach.

For the rest of the afternoon, our senior content manager, Deirdre, led the company through a series of professional development sessions on sourcing content and creative writing. The writing exercises provided an opportunity to stretch our skills beyond the standard press release format on topics outside our B2B/enterprise comfort zone. There were some folks (*cough*VP of PR Lisa*cough*) who couldn’t resist displaying their mastery — in Lisa’s case, producing what may be the most creative press release ever written from a random prompt.

In her closing remarks, Marianne announced the winners of the Sterling Star awards, where everyone votes to recognize exceptional and inspirational performance over the course of the year. The two 2016 Stars are the extraordinary Lloyd Berry and Madeline Mains (both also anchors on this year’s Challenge-winning team. Coincidence? I think not!)

We also celebrated Pouneh Lechner, who had been named PR News’ 2016 Account Supervisor of the Year at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, earlier in the week. The cherry on top: Our client, Greenwave Systems, had nominated her for the award!

Day 2 wrapped with our holiday party at Marianne’s house, where we enjoyed amazing food by chef Lynne Howell, delicious wine, and general end-of-year silliness. During the white elephant gift exchange, our newest account coordinator, Jennine, scored a giant flask before it was stolen; account exec Josh picked an aromatic combination of oregano, rosemary, and thyme, which was also stolen; and someone stealthily slipped away with a whole pound of chocolate. I personally received a “Pull my finger” Santa, whose finger has now been pulled too many times to count (thank you, Deirdre!).

I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of why I love Sterling’s annual Agency Summit. It reinforces all the reasons I’m proud to be a part of the Sterling team. We’re fun, passionate, and curious people who cherish our esprit de corps, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

Rosie Brown is Creative Project Manager at Sterling Communications. You can follow her on Twitter at @lilmsrosieposie.