Anniversary Edition: The Media Landscape


In celebration of our 25th year in publication, we are kicking off an editorial series that will share reflections from other design industry insiders who are also celebrating anniversaries, on how the business has changed over the years. In the first installment we spoke with Karen Murphy O’Brien, chairman and CEO of Murphy O’Brien, a multi-media and public relations company that specializes in travel, lifestyle and real estate. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Karen and her team have a dynamic perspective on print media and how the digital revolution has changed the landscape.

Karen with her partner and co-founder Brett O’Brien in 1998.

How has your business changed over the decades since you founded Murphy O’Brien with just a single client?

When we launched Murphy O’Brien in May of 1989, there was no internet as we know it today.  In fact, that was also the year the world wide web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee!  Business was conducted nearly 100% in person and our newly launched Macintosh IIcx computers were merely used for creating presentations and generating monthly reports to clients.  There was no email, no texting, no Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.   It was another lifetime, indeed.

At the time, our business was powered by relationships – with the media, our clients and our team.   And, interestingly enough, although fueled by next generation communications technologies, that holds true today.

Brett O’Brien, my partner at the time and now husband, and I started the agency in a one-bedroom apartment with a single client, the Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas.  Combining my industry reputation and experience working with high end hotel companies and also in-house at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, with Brett’s entrepreneurial and finance background from the Wharton School of Business, proved to be a powerful combination.  30 years later, we now represent legacy clients like Peninsula Hotels and Auberge Resorts, and over 100 clients, the crème de la crème in the travel, lifestyle and real estate sectors. 

We built our business predominantly by word of mouth and, to this day, our significant growth emanates from client referrals. 

Of course, the secret to our 30-year success lies in the depth and breadth of our management team.  Allyson Rener, MO president, has been with the company for 25 years and leads a team of seasoned professionals, many of whom have also been with the company for 15+ years.  We have expanded our suite of services over the years; however, we have never lost touch with what makes Murphy O’Brien the best in the business . . . Our results driven approach, combined with the unmatched creativity by our talented team members and continued personal relationships with the media and influencers that matter most, not to mention our roster of A list clients, sets us apart from the rest. 

Murphy O’Brien team members visiting The Peninsula Hong Kong, Murphy O’Brien legacy client of 15 years.

How has the technology within your business changed?

Innovations with technology have created many new opportunities for our business.  Of course, data and insights are at the core of the PR, social media and influencer campaigns Murphy O’Brien executes.  We continue to broaden our data capabilities to be aligned with the changing digital and social platforms and ensure that business goals are supported with social listening, SEO analysis, competitor analysis, back-end platform data, social advertising ROI, influencer identification and campaign analysis, PR attribution, article impact, web traffic and more. 

We are able to showcase the value and ROI of our campaigns, whether they be in traditional or digital form. We also have a commitment to the continuous training and development of our team and provide cutting edge digital and PR reporting technologies such as Tagger and Trendkite to help them be successful. 

How has the media changed and why is print media still relevant?

What hasn’t changed over the years is the need for high touch to accompany the “high tech.” While we are in many ways a digital first agency and leverage technology advancements and innovations to power our agency and our client campaigns, our success is a result of the relationship centric culture that is in our DNA.

Even though many of the tools and content distribution platforms have changed with the advent of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, the heart of our business has stayed the same. It is really all about creating and packaging compelling ideas and breaking through the clutter to connect with consumers – wherever they enjoy their content.

In fact, many of the companies we serve see great benefit in being featured in glossy magazines and national newspapers.  In a byte sized world fueled by digital content, a brand can gain attention and mind share with high impact print media coverage.  Consumers really resonate with the tactile experience of reading a magazine or newspaper, and print placements are often shared and even re-purposed as sales collateral to build credibility.

Karen and Brett at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Murphy O’Brien legacy client of 15 years.

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