Rick Segal, gyro’s worldwide president and chief practice officer, is leaving one calling to accept a higher one.
In a stunning piece of news today, he announced he will be transitioning this fall from gyro and the b2b agency business in which he has been a fixture for more than three decades to the Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, where he will become and serve as an administrator, writer and lecturer.
Gifted with and renowned for an engaging professorial tone and manner, Rick will be a superb feeder and leader of young minds, as he’s demonstrated throughout his career and most recently in spearheading the creation of the Business Marketing Association’s “Gen C” board.
Highly fortunate are the students who will get to learn about business and commerce and more from Rick and even, presumably, have a special shot at some choice internships at his old agency.
While we all wish Rick well and, literally, “God speed,” the fact remains that our profession and the agency world will soon be minus one of their giants.
Rick and the agencies he helped build—HSR for many years, then gyroHSR for two years after gyro acquired HSR and now just plain gyro—are some of the most reputable, capable and envied in our field, world and marketing history.
For our 25 years, they have been some of our chief rivals–and have made us better (and we hopefully them). We have batted about .500 against each other in pitches. While, thankfully, our overall batting average is higher, the USG loss five years ago, Rick, will never stop hurting. But I like to think we have had a couple of wins of our own that maybe eat at you, too!
Few people know this, but HSR and my firm (then known as Slack Barshinger) came close to merging around 18 years ago. Who knows where we would be today if we had? This was before HSR had a Chicago presence, and Rick and I saw combining forces as a way to increase our mutual national presence, a key to attracting larger and more national/global clients.
The merger did not go forward, and we went our separate ways, both knowing the other eventually would find a path to national and global reach. Rick and HSR got there first by aligning with former True North CEO David Bell and private equity firm Pegasus to merge with Europe-based gyro. A few years later, it was our turn, and we went down a different but equally viable path, joining Worldwide Partners, the largest independent agency network in the world.
While I probably should not try to speak for my very good friend Tom Stein, who runs SteinIAS, I think the gyro-HSR deal ultimately may have influenced his decision to merge with UK-based IAS, a world-class b2b agency, and become one of the principal agency members of BBN, the Business Branding Network, a very fine global b2b agency network.
In fact, our three networks—gyro, BBN and Worldwide Partners—have become the consideration set for many b2b marketers looking for global agency coverage. It may not seem intuitive but in b2b, it is more common for clients to want to work with agencies with global capabilities.
For many years, I have had this business fantasy of Rick, Tom and yours truly combining forces to create a super b2b agency with a moniker like “Stein Slack Segal” or “Segal Slack Stein.” While I am very happy where I am, I will still have this dream for years after Rick is well-ensconced in upper Midwest academia.
Compared to the calling he has accepted, there is no way any mortal could compete.
But, Rick, with Tom we could have built—and can still build!—an amazing entity: nothing less than the first b2b agency brand to truly rival and even exceed the ethereal position Marsteller held in the b2b agency business and world in the 1960s and 1970s. It was the IBM or Leo Burnett of b2b—and it would still be if Burson, which bought it, had not squandered the brand and let its clients and reputation leak out over 10-20 years.
Well, enough daydreaming. Besides being a huge loss to gyro, Rick’s leaving will be a big loss to the b2b marketing profession, to the Business Marketing Association (whose national board I as the then chair in 2009 invited him to join) and to b2b thought leadership. He forged gyro’s relationship with Forbes and by all accounts has leveraged that relationship for gyro in many positive ways.
I really hope, and am sure many others do, too, that Rick will maintain his thought leadership position in our field by writing a book or two—about b2b marketing, how to build a successful b2b agency and maybe even how to comport one’s self ethically in a complex business world full of temptations to do others wrong.
Over the years, Rick has enjoyed tweaking me, and I him—always (well, almost always) in a convivial manner.
Our latest tweaking moment has come over his contention that “b2b is dead” or “b2b has ceased to be.”
There are so many reasons why I believe his contention is wrong, but I will let my reader response at the end of a Forbes.com blog post he recently penned speak for itself: “Rick, I will start to believe that you really and truly may believe and mean what you say about b2b marketing ceasing to be when you drop your Twitter handle, MrBtoB. Until then, I will continue to fervently believe you are an agent provocateur par excellence.”
He is still @MrBtoB, so some may be wondering if he will keep that handle or bequeath it to someone else. Or maybe our profession should retire it, as he so richly deserves a lifetime achievement award—maybe one of the very next G.D. Crain, Jr., Awards from BMA and Crain Communications.
Viewing Rick, as I do, as a very effective agent provocateur, I invited him (in my role as BMA’s annual global conference organizer) to give a 15-minute TED-like talk at BLAZE, our 2013 conference, on provocation as a selling strategy and tool. To view his masterful performance that late spring day in downtown Chicago, go here.
As intense competitors will do, we have had fun with his agency’s name—occasionally referring to gyro as the middle east seasoned meat people. I know, a bit juvenile. OK, a lot juvenile. With their “Ignite something” call-to-action line, we sometimes call them “pyro.” We also have chuckled plenty about Rick’s natty wardrobe—his penchant for bow ties and circular, owl-like glasses—and his stick figure email signature line. Always in good-natured jest.
God knows the chuckles he and gyro—and myriad others—have had with my firm’s name!
In the midst of all the gamesmanship, though, we have always deeply respected Rick’s profound intellect, his business acumen and success (even when it was at our expense), his competitive zeal, his business partners (Mike and Tom, take a bow), his industry leadership and even his Republican (though non-Tea-Party) leanings.
It is not hard at all for me to say this, but I and many in my firm—not to mention hundreds if not thousands in this “nichy” profession of b2b marketing, which is far better understood and respected because of Rick—will miss him.
And I, especially, will miss the chance to ever work with him, even if I might have insisted on “Slack Segal Stein”!