An Interview with Karen Davis of Prosek Partners

September 30th, 2019

How Human Resources Became the “Heartbeat” of Prosek Partners

When Karen Niovitch Davis first heard about Prosek Partners in 2011, the financial communications firm had 50 employees. Surprisingly, what it didn’t have was a human resources chief. Davis was intrigued when she learned that Prosek was looking for someone to start up the HR function. She was particularly interested in meeting the firm’s CEO, Jennifer Prosek, a dynamo who had built the multi-million-dollar company of her dreams.

Davis, who had led HR for prominent financial services firms, admits she “didn’t know anything about public relations or communications.” But she knew a lot about the finance industry, which is Prosek’s specialty. Jen Prosek and Davis met, clicked and a partnership was born.

Almost seven years later, Prosek has increased its revenue from $10 million to more than $45 million and has 175 employees in the U.S. and abroad. Part of the reason for the firm’s growth and success, says Davis, is the CEO’s commitment to HR.

Reimagining PR as a Talent Business

“Jen is the CEO, but she was also the CHRO before I came aboard,” she says. “She understands this is not a PR business, it’s a talent business. Jen has made HR one of the most important parts of the business because she ‘gets it.’ Human Resources is the heartbeat of Prosek.”

In practice, that heartbeat means that Davis and her team are incredibly high touch with every single employee.

“I go to breakfast or lunch with an employee every single day. I want to know if they are getting opportunities to ‘punch above their weight’ and what’s on their wish list,” she says. “HR is at every performance review and we do them offsite, usually at a restaurant over breakfast or lunch, so the employee has our full attention.”

Davis adds that the HR team meets regularly with employees, not just when there’s a problem. “I pay particularly close attention to people’s body language, and if I sense something’s off, I’ll ask them what’s going on.”

Meaningful Work = Happier Life

That kind of nurturing is important at a company where 70 percent of the employees are millennials.

“We take chances on young people,” Davis says. “Our CEO always says that she was doing things in her 20s that she had no business doing, and we want our young people to have those kinds of opportunities. We focus on what people are capable of, not their age. Meaningful work leads to a happier life, and that’s what we want for our employees.”

Along with a high level of responsibilities, many millennials are not shy about wanting flexibility, the chance to work remotely, and extra time off.

“If we want to retain top talent, we need to continuously rethink our perks and benefits. Every Friday for the entire summer, employees can work remotely. These ‘summer Fridays’ have been a huge hit,” Davis says. “Employees can also work remotely one Friday a month year-round and they get their birthday off. These perks show our staff that we care about them and their well-being.”

Davis is always looking for ways to engage employees. Prosek has monthly forums where employees can talk about anything from the news of the day, to politics, pop culture and PR gaffes. There’s also a Culture Team that plans potlucks and happy hours.

“I’ll do fun ‘pop ups’ a lot,” Davis says. “I’ll send out an email: ‘Pop Up Frozen Yogurt! Who Wants it?’ If want frozen yogurt on a hot day, I am sure everyone else does, too. So why not use it as an opportunity to take a little break and we can all enjoy it together?”

HR as a True Strategic Partner

HR is so vital to Prosek that Davis is one of just seven partners.

“The last six years have been the most rewarding to me because, in Jen Prosek, I found a champion who empowered me to become a real business partner, learn a new industry, contribute to business development, become a thought leader, and help move the business forward. I jump out of bed so excited to go to work every day!”

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