Perfect partners: Thomas/Boyd Communications celebrates 25th anniversary

Liz Thomas, Pam Boyd have led top PR firm in South Jersey for a generation

Pam Boyd remembers the time Liz Thomas first mentioned they should start a firm together.

They were at dinner, shortly after a merger of PR firms had brought them together — and shortly after Thomas realized Boyd was the real deal.

“Liz was telling me that she had been thinking about starting her own business, and then she said, ‘Would you like to join me — not as my employee, but as my business partner?’” Boyd recalled.

What she did next is legendary.

“I wanted to say, ‘Oh, my God, yes,’ but I kept it really cool,” Boyd said. “I said, ‘That sounds really interesting, let me think it through.’”

The two have been inseparable since.

This year, they celebrated 25 years of Thomas/Boyd Communications, a full-service public relations, strategic and crisis communications, content development, marketing and advertising firm.

The Moorestown-based firm, which has clients throughout the state and even outside the borders, is best known in southern New Jersey, where it has been a go-to firm for decades.

The reason is simple: The two are a perfect fit.

“We not only have lasted 25 years, we’ve done it while still really liking each other, which is incredible,” Thomas said. “We might have slight differences in opinions on how to tackle something related to the business, but it always turns out fine.”

“The fact that we can now finish each other’s sentences is a good thing.”

Boyd agreed.

“We always talk things through — and it almost always ends up that we’re on the same page,” she said. “When we’re trying to figure out the answer to something, I’ll say, ‘My gut is telling me this.’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what I was thinking, too.’

“We have a lot of synergy.”

Making a business work is hard work. And the first part is actually running the business. Boyd takes the lead on that.

“Pam really has her eye on the business of the business — and all of the aspects of compliance and HR and taxes and paperwork and 401(k) and payroll,” Thomas said. “I could go on and on. Pam makes all that work and I’m grateful for that.”

But this is not the case of one partner being behind the scenes and the other in front: Both work to get new clients — and keep clients. One or the other is involved in every client. That has been one of the secrets to their 25 years of success.

“We complement each other perfectly,” they both said.

And they both complemented their team of eight associates.

“It’s an incredible team of professionals who have a never-say-never attitude,” Thomas said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”

ROI-NJ recently spent time with both Thomas and Boyd. Here’s more of the conversation, edited for readability.

ROI-NJ: You both mentioned how you complement each other — but that can’t be the only secret to your success. Give us some other examples.

Liz Thomas: I’ll start with our connectivity. Here’s what I mean by that: Through our network of people that we’ve met over the years, whether it’s in business or on a board, our network continues to refer work to us. As a small business owner who doesn’t always have the enormous amount of time that is needed to chase business, having this network is incredibly special — and something that not all businesses can brag about.

And, this goes both ways. Once we get a client through the door, we like to connect them to other clients. It happened earlier this month. We got a call about doing public relations work for the commissioning of the newest submarine in the Naval fleet, the USS New Jersey, which will have its commissioning ceremony on April 6 in Monmouth County. When we were talking to them about the work, they expressed interest in a potential visit to a local food bank. And we suggested our client Fulfill.

Pam Boyd: Another point I want to make is our resiliency. We feel that’s an important factor. Over the course of 25 years, we’ve weathered the ups and downs of the economy. The recession in 2008 was pretty scary, but we figured it out. COVID, of course, was scary, but we figured that out as well — and came back stronger. And then, there’s the hiring and retaining proper staff levels along the way, which can be tricky for a small business, we’ve been able to figure out, too.

Then, there’s being able to handle the changing landscape for the PR industry over the years. There have been lots of changes, including finding new and unique ways to generate news and tell our clients’ stories in the face of declining newsrooms. We’ve had to reevaluate and reassess how we’re doing things all the time.

LT: Having a great team matters, too. Lauren Schiavo and Caitlin Latko came to TBC as interns more than 15 years ago and they’ve never left. They are incredible in all that they do. We are so lucky to have them — and everyone else who has worked with us over the years.

ROI: Talk more about the changes in your industry.

Their first client

Liz Thomas and Pam Boyd would love to say their first client was Verizon Wireless. And it kind of was. There’s just one problem. When Thomas/Boyd Communications was founded 25 years ago, Verizon Wireless did not exist yet. Thomas/Boyd got the company that eventually became Verizon. And it truly was the early days of the industry.

“It was called Bell Atlantic Mobile,” Thomas said. “We lived through four name changes.”

And technology changes.

“My first cell phone was $2,000 and it was installed in my car,” she said “And I had to pay for it. They didn’t give us a discount or anything. But we had to walk the walk, so I got one.”

PB: The biggest change over 25 years is how PR and marketing and advertising are now all interconnected. Years ago, it was PR here, marketing here. That never really made sense to me, because everything is so interconnected. Now, it’s a lot more interesting — and there are a lot more ways to tell our stories through content development, through social media, through marketing. I embrace that.

ROI: It must be tough to stay on top of all of these areas, including crisis communications, with such a small team. How do you that?

LT: First of all, we love to do it all, because we like to be in the center spoke of the wheel or the quarterback of the team. And, if we have our hand in each one of those elements of marketing, PR, crisis, advertising, digital, whatever, I think that we can provide the very best service because the buck stops with us.

But, we may not be experts in everything. We’ll bring in people who are, but we stay very involved. We call ourselves full-service and we are. But we do have a network of partners who are at the top of their game and love to bring them along when we need to add to what we do.

ROI: And there’s ChatGPT. How has that changed your business? Some feel it could replace it. What say you?

PB: ChatGPT offers inspiration, but it’s missing the human touch and the human element. So, if you’re writing and you want to make your headline better or your lead better, it could be helpful to see what ChatGPT comes up with. But, regardless, you always have to look at the message and make sure it’s speaking to your audience — and make sure it does not sound like a robot. Nothing that sounds like a robot will come out of this office.

ROI: So, ChatGPT won’t put you out of business, but, to stay in business, you have to keep getting business. As you said, a lot of your business comes from your networks; talk about how you decide what boards or nonprofits you will join — and do you ever join together?

So, you want to get a job in PR

Liz Thomas and Pam Boyd, co-founders of Thomas/Boyd Communications, offer their insights on what they look for when hiring. Click here to read more.

PB: Liz and I will not serve on the same board together or do significant pro bono work for the same organization. That way, we can focus on what we’re passionate about — which also enables us to increase our reach in the community.

Boyd currently serves on the board for LUCY Outreach, a Camden nonprofit that offers services to at-risk and low-income Camden youth, young adults and their families, and the Southern New Jersey Development Council. She just rotated off the board of the Food Bank of South Jersey after serving a nine-year term. Boyd also provides pro bono services for Voorhees Animal Orphanage and NJ Aid for Animals.

Thomas currently serves on the NJPBS board (mixing her love of PBS/news/public affairs with her profession), serves as the chair of the 10th Anniversary Committee for the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Camden, and is a board member of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.

ROI: These connections mostly will be local, but you have business throughout the state — and out of state. Talk about that balance?

LT: We do have statewide work. And we do have work that goes outside of the borders. We just finished an incredible assignment in Baltimore, Maryland.

But, a lot of times, PR firms are hired for their knowledge of a particular geographic area. That makes some sense, because, when you’re trying to run a ground game with stakeholders and community relations leaders and local elected officials, it does make sense to know someone who knows the lay of the land.

ROI: Most small businesses are lucky to make it 25 months; TBC has lasted 25 years. For readers out there thinking about going out on their own, give them a few words of advice.

PB: When building a business, it’s challenging to do everything by yourself. Finding the right person to go into business with is so key, because you’re always dividing and conquering tasks. And it never gets easier.

A business is a living, breathing, 24/7 thing. You can’t get complacent. You can’t take a step back. You always have to have your foot on the gas. You always have to pay attention and nurture and grow the business. It’s not for everyone. Luckily, it’s been for us.

Thomas/Boyd: The dream moment from the 1st 25 years

Thomas/Boyd Communications has represented hundreds of clients and organized hundreds of events during its 25-year history. One moment, however, stands out: When the Battleship New Jersey returned home in 2000. Co-founder Liz Thomas called it the firm’s most memorable client.

The ship’s trip started in Bremerton, Washington, before it went through the Panama Canal, before arriving at its final home on the Camden Waterfront. There was work to do throughout the journey, Thomas said.

“The logistics were massive — media relations in Bremerton, Washington, for the launch of the battleship’s journey home via tugboat; the trips to Panama to visit the embassy to assure a successful prelaunch event and a successful passage through the Panama Canal; riding with about 300 other supportive New Jerseyans on the deck of the battleship (with Gov. Christie Whitman, John Whitman and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg); high-fiving the line handlers while giving them ‘NJ and You: Perfect Together’ pins,” she said.

The TBC team then rode with the tug to the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia, where the ship was prepped for its return to New Jersey — and then rode on the tug ride to bring the battleship to the shoreline of the Delaware River, which was lined with supporters waving American flags.

“Talk about a PR person’s dream,” Thomas said. “And, now, we get to do public relations work for the commissioning of the USS New Jersey Naval submarine. Wow. We can’t wait.”