Guru Interview

Brian Mefford – Founder of Wooden Horse Strategies

Brian Mefford is the founder of Wooden Horse Strategies, a consulting firm based in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Wooden Horse Strategies specializes in government relations, public affairs, and risk analysis for business/public officials. With over 20 years of experience, Mefford is able to have his firm help introduce Ukranian businesses to the Western Hemisphere.

Why did you choose a career in PR?

Brian Mefford: “I have been working in politics since I was 16 years old and public relations is always a key part of it. After 10 years of working on a US government democracy and governance project in Ukraine, I went into the private sector to use my public relations and government relations skills. I incorporated my consulting work into Wooden Horse Strategies LLC in 2016 and now operate boutique government relations and public relations firm in Kyiv, Ukraine.”

What are your company’s core values?

Brian Mefford: “We value personal relationships, hard work, and doing things the right way – even when they take longer. We bridge the gap between American methodology and Ukrainian realities to operate in both worlds effectively.”

How has your company responded to the Covid-19 pandemic?

Brian Mefford: “Like everyone else, we are doing more remote working, providing PPE in the office for employees and visitors, and avoiding unnecessary travel.  Strategically though, we adapted our business model to do more research work over the last six months since person to person contact is more complicated. Now we have a vibrant research and analysis department which has provides more opportunities and services for clients.”

What are 2-3 things about your company that differentiates you from other PR agencies?

Brian Mefford: “First, we are an American business working in Ukraine. We have our Ukrainian legal entity, but our philosophy, management and style is purely American. Second, regarding our company name, just as a wooden horse was the solution to overcoming a 10 year seize of Troy, we provide innovative solutions to our clients to solve their problems. Finally, our market niche in Ukraine is working with Western business to help them navigate the often murky waters of bureaucracy and business. We occasionally have Ukrainian clients, but 95% of work is with North American and European clients.”

How would your clients summarize your company?

Brian Mefford: “Pragmatic, effective, and genuine. Ultimately, they know we get results.”

Does your company prefer to work from home or work collaboratively in an office?

Brian Mefford: “We have a downtown Kyiv office headquarters, although due to covid out staff works from home at times. Our approach is a personal one, and the ‘old school’ office with face to face meetings is our preference.”

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in the world of PR?

Brian Mefford: “We worked for 3 years with Ukraine’s Health Minister to introduce and implement a new healthcare system which replaced the broken Soviet model. At the start of the effort, there was little confidence that the transformation would become law, let alone succeed in operating.  We not only conducted extensive sociological research in properly message the key elements of the transformation to the public, but we found the necessary votes in parliament to pass the law. Today the new system is working effectively with more than 30 million Ukrainians signed up, and family doctors which are the key component of the new system, having the confidence of more than 70% of the population.”

What are the biggest lessons you have learned since the start of your career?

Brian Mefford: “Always give clients an objective assessment of the situation, no matter how grim. Then figure out how to change the reality. Too often PR people try to sugar coat the situation which just leads to delayed disappointment and anger from the client.”

What are the most effective strategies you use to promote your business?

Brian Mefford: “Personal referrals are irreplaceable. Our strategy is to treat our client well, solve their problems, and have them refer us to their friends. It’s a time test formula that never fails.”

What has been your favorite memory working in the ecosystem?

Brian Mefford: “Nothing is ever better than seeing your clients win against the odds. Whether in elections, passing legislation, or shaping the frame of a public debate, winning never gets old.”

How would you measure your success?

Brian Mefford: “It’s simple: did the client achieve the results they want?”

Describe your ideal client.

Brian Mefford: “Our typical client is a Western business working in Ukraine and needing to navigate the murky waters of bureaucracy and business. This is where we can help the most.”

What tips would you provide a recent college graduate seeking a career in public relations?

Brian Mefford: “In a world where the goal is convincing people that white is black and vice versa, make sure you have a core set of principles.  If there is no client you won’t work for, then you have no soul. Your principles can be set low, but have some mark that you will not cross, otherwise you lose yourself as a person.”

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