Dear Mr Koof, 20 years ago you founded SKM Consultants together with your then business partner. Do you still remember what the step into self-employment felt like?
Well, we actually founded a company with a different name: SK medienconsult. My business partner and I were both journalists in public broadcasting at a time when classical media took on a much greater significance than today. Hence the emphasis on media in the company name. This meant mainly newspapers, television and radio. Now, there are a multitude of channels and agenda setters who shape public discourse. In light of this, we have significantly expanded our service portfolio. We started in 2000 with Media Training, but today our services range from different training formats to consulting fields such as Stakeholder Engagement, Crisis Management and Public Affairs. To better reflect these developments, we changed our name this year.
And to answer your question: I would be lying if I said the step into self-employment felt very secure. Starting your own company is always a risk. As full-time, contracted editors before that, we naturally felt the fears associated with it. But it was worth it.
Mr Deuster, seven years later you joined SKM Consultants as managing partner. How did the decision come about? What was particularly appealing to you about this new challenge?
The opportunity to join SKM was tailor-made for me: because I had first worked as a journalist at a public broadcaster and later as a press spokesperson at three large companies, I was able to perfectly combine my two professional worlds of experience at SKM. My background as a journalist provided the necessary skills for media training, while my corporate experience was and still is very helpful for our consulting business. And there was another thing: after getting to know large organisations from the inside – with all their advantages and disadvantages – self-employment with a small, very flexible company was very appealing to me.
Originally established as a two-man company with a focus on media training, SKM now has 14 permanent employees and two freelancers, while the range of advisory services has also expanded significantly. What do you see as the decisive milestones over the years?
Christian Koof: We quickly realised that we were not always able to keep our opinions to ourselves. What I mean by this is that we not only taught our clients how to present their messages confidently in front of the camera during media training, but we also told them what we would change in terms of content. So this is how the training business automatically grew into consulting. And in my view, that was the decisive step in shifting from two trainers to one company.
Carsten Deuster: Because of this development, growth just seemed to “happen” in the first few years. Then in 2014, as part of a strategic workshop, we set out for the first time to approach the topic of growth in a more targeted way. At the time we were already thinking about opening a Berlin office and expanding our services in the area of public affairs, and in 2020 we put this plan into action, despite the Corona pandemic.
In your experience, to what extent has public discourse changed in recent years? And does this also give rise to new challenges for advising our clients?
Carsten Deuster: The rise of online communication and social media has of course completely changed public discourse in recent years. While it used to be crucial to appear in the major daily newspapers and public media organisations, both social media and in-house communication channels have now increased massively in importance. Journalists have lost their gatekeeper function to a certain extent. Today, companies have to deal with the increased diversity of different people and companies who set the agenda, whether they like it or not.
Christian Koof: Perhaps that is why the rather old-fashioned term “public relations” might be about to experience a renaissance. Because THE press and, as a result, the classic press spokesperson, no longer exist. There is a pluralistic public with which companies and associations have to communicate. At SKM, we call this Stakeholder Engagement. These stakeholders still include journalists, but they are now just one group among many.
Of course, the anniversary is also a good moment to look ahead. Where will SKM Consultants be in another 20 years?
Carsten Deuster: Where SKM will be in 20 years’ time is a question for our successors to answer later on. However, we do have clear ideas for the next 10 years. We want to ensure that potential new clients always have us on their mind when they need communicative support to deal with difficult and controversial issues. Or to put it more formally: we want to be the advisor of choice for value-creating communication that sits at the interface of corporate objectives and social perception. To this end, we will continue to invest in the growth of our SKM team. And, of course, we would also like to set the course for a new generation of partners in the future.
Christian Koof: Like Carsten, I also do not know what SKM will look like in 20 years, but I do have one wish. The more employees our still small company takes on, the more difficult it will be over time to maintain a common attitude and a common aspiration for our work. My wish is that in 20 years we will still be providing high-quality, customised and innovative guidance to our clients. But that, of course, is the challenge for the partners who will come after us.