New Media Strategies has seen a talent exodus since founder and CEO Pete Snyder departed in December, raising questions on K Street about whether the pioneering social media marketing firm's public affairs practice is tanking.
More than half of the firm's public affairs staff has turned over, with more than a dozen NMS staffers leaving since Snyder's departure, according news accounts, LinkedIn profiles and a half dozen sources who have worked with and for the firm. Several former employees said the public affairs staff numbered roughly 20 at the beginning of the year.
NMS head Jack Macleod acknowledged there has been turnover, but argued it's a common consequence of new leadership. He said it was inaccurate to suggest that the firm had about 20 public affairs employees at the beginning of the year. Asked what the correct number was, Macleod declined to provide an accounting, saying that there are two fewer employees dedicated to public affairs work now than in January.
The attrition has people buzzing.
"Their public affairs practice is imploding," said a public affairs executive for whom NMS has done client work.
Over the course of the year, the firm has lost a number of top Republican public affairs operatives, including: communications strategist Matt DeLuca; senior strategist Phillip Herndon; senior communications strategist Matt Moon and many others.
"It's a question mark as to whether or not they really have an understanding of what it takes to be in the public affairs business," said a former NMS employee. "And if there's a question mark to that, then who would want to hire them?"
The firm has also lost public affairs clients, said former employees. And indeed Macleod said the firm has parted ways with some clients but has replaced them with others who "are a better fit for us."
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity remains a client. Asked about NMS' current public affairs work, ACCCE media affairs vice president Lisa Camooso Miller said her group remains "pleased." But, she said, the brain drain "is certainly regrettable for us because they did do extraordinary work for the account."
Several people who have worked with the firm, including former employees, say it's suffering a public affairs identity crisis. They say that when NMS lost Snyder, it also lost its command of Washington's relationship-based culture and an understanding of public affairs work that ebbs and flows, a cycle that doesn't always hit regular earnings' goals.
As NMS general manager and senior vice president, Macleod said he is building a company that is different from its Washington competitors.
Founded as one of the first social media marketing firms in Washington, NMS was acquired in 2007 by publicly traded, Iowa-based Meredith, a more than 100-year-old publishing firm specializing in women's marketing. (Think: Better Homes and Gardens). And under Meredith, public affairs work remains just a piece of NMS' portfolio of work, which includes entertainment and corporate clients.
When Snyder left the firm, Meredith replaced the marketing and political veteran with sales executive Macleod. He took NMS' separate public affairs, corporate and entertainment practices and reorganized them into function-based groups that can serve various clients. The integrated approach, Macleod says, has made the firm more effective and innovative.
Macleod said he's not interested in the "same old" solutions offered by his Washington competition. NMS' advantage, he said, is applying outside-the-Beltway lessons to its public affairs work.
Still, Macleod insists he understands that D.C. is town built on relationships, which is why he recently hired former CQ Roll Call product development director Tom Donnelly as the firm's vice president of public affairs.
"He brings great relationships from a very extensive career," he said.
Macleod isn't the only one making new hires.
Peter Corbett, head of iStrategyLabs, saw a recent spike in NMS resumes coming across his desk and poached a couple of people for his firm.
"I credit New Media Strategies for nurturing very smart people," he said.