Bryan Brenner

Lessons from Entrepreneurial Leaders Featuring Karen Alter

Picture of Bryan Brenner

Bryan Brenner

Karen Alter is one of four “Boss Ladies” at Borshoff, the respected advertising and PR agency founded by Myra Borshoff in 1984. Karen majored in public and corporate communications at Butler University, and got her start in the advertising/PR business after graduation. She joined Borshoff in 1997, became a partner/owner in 2011, and rose to CEO in January 2019.

BKB:  I’m curious about the “Boss Ladies.” Four of you running the shop, right?

KA: Yes, the four of us have been with Borshoff for years, and now as partners, we combine a strong history with a new vision for the future. The local and national women-owned business certification is really important to us. Myra was one of a few women in PR when she got started in the early ‘80s. We’ve kept the legacy she began 35 years ago, yet we’re not the same agency today.

A woman-led business creates a level of distinction. We’re empathetic, nurturing, and likeable. We build our business around relationships, integrity and trust. This is what drives us internally and with our clients.

BKB: How do you attract people to your team?

KA: We have the great fortune of having strong brand recognition. Whenever PR or advertising comes up, we’re almost always in the conversation.

We use typical hiring strategies. We post positions on our website. We network. We talk about who we know, who could be a possible fit. We usually find people within the market; there’s a lot of talent in Indiana.

At the end of the day, it’s about finding people with the right chemistry. We recently restated our vision and values and use them in recruiting. Do we think this person can live them out? We look for people who are problem solvers. Curious thinkers who want to learn and grow. Of course, they need to have the skills and ability to do the job.

We often ask a candidate to tell us about an assignment that was a challenge – maybe a difficult situation that required them to adapt. We look for a willingness to take ideas one step further. To exhibit passion and care about the people and solution.

BKB: Tell me more about your restated values.

KA: In the past, our core values were very traditional ones for a business, but recently we challenged ourselves to go a bit deeper. Our four values today are humble, hungry/driven, people smart, and authentic. Humble is being prepared, respectful, and coachable. We think of hungry/driven as being motivated by challenges, having business savvy, and a desire for constant growth. People smart speaks to good judgment, perception, and being self-aware. Finally, authentic is being honest, truthful, having candor, and showing up consistently.

BKB: What challenges do you face as a leader?

KA: For me it goes back to being a different agency today than we were 35 years ago. Our industry has changed more in the past two years than in the past decade. The world of communication is so dynamic! I am constantly thinking about how we’re keeping up with technology, and how we’re making an impact on our clients’ business goals. It’s a high stress environment for our clients, and not only do we need to constantly innovate for successful results, we also need to help our clients so they and their companies are successful.

BKB: Yours is a fast-paced business, with high demand for continuous creativity. How do you keep your people fresh?

KA: Our executive team helps identify opportunities for professional development and inspiration, but we rely on our people to tell us what they need. It’s two-way. We also support important community initiatives and encourage our team members to get involved. We’re focused on giving back and when we do, we find it fuels us.

Implemented in 2000, Karen’s son Matthew was the second baby to participate. And join us next time for Perry Griffith’s take on leadership, the fourth generation of Griffith family ownership of Denison Parking.