Tag Archives: Dan Ponder

A bittersweet departure from a happy home

We talk a lot in public relations and marketing about “third-party validation,” the idea that what somebody else says about you is more trustworthy than what you say about yourself. You trust the restaurant reviewer more than the restaurant’s advertisements, your friend who hated the movie more than the actor praising it on the talk show couch.

I’m becoming that third party when it comes to Franco. Tomorrow , I’ll be turning in my office key and GMRENCEN tenant ID badge as I follow my passions into policy and politics as the new vice president for marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan’s leading voice for free-market economic policies.

John Mozena

John Mozena, APR

So, now that the only remaining question for me here at Franco is whether or not there’s cake on my last day, I wanted to share some newly “third-party” thoughts on what makes this place special. Nobody asked me to write this, and whether you’re a potential client, employee or just somebody interested in the agency, I hope you’ll take these as the sincere thoughts of someone who’s going through a bittersweet departure from a happy home.


You probably skimmed over the part of the Franco website that lists mission, vision, values  and the like. I know I usually would, since that’s an area in which companies are all too often noteworthy when they do live up to their statements rather than when they fall short.

But I’ve been working professionally as a reporter and PR/marketing professional for two decades in a variety of different environments, and I’ve never been anywhere that the values are meaningfully engrained in day-to-day operations the way Franco’s “Courage. Integrity. Balance.” are. I don’t want to belabor the point – to paraphrase Chris Rock, “You’re not supposed to do bad things. What do you want, a cookie?”—but I can say that I never for one instant here questioned or doubted what was expected of me when any sort of ethical issue came up. You tell the truth, you do what’s right and you stand by it. You don’t represent or work with people who try to get you to function otherwise, regardless of the consequences. Period.

Too often, “values statements” are aspirational. At Franco, they’re simply descriptive.


It’s telling that when I sat down with Franco President Tina Kozak and gave her my notice that I was moving on, her first unfiltered reaction was to be happy for me. My talk with our CEO Dan Ponder was in a similar vein, and evolved into a discussion of civility in political and policy discourse and how I’d have an opportunity in my new role to model polite respect for opposing viewpoints, rather than the ad hominem attacks that have become far too common on our airwaves and in our Facebook feeds. In both cases, their instinctive and genuine reaction was to be happy for me as a friend and someone about whom they cared as a person, rather than an employee whose departure would create inevitable short-term challenges and workload. It’s a rare privilege to work for people like Dan and Tina who so genuinely value their employees rather than mouth the empty HR platitudes common throughout American business, and whose example challenges the rest of their leadership team to follow suit.

When I joined Franco, one of the things that first hinted what kind of place this was going to be was my breakfast with Dan. It wasn’t an “interview” in the traditional sense, but rather a wide-ranging discussion on life, family, philosophy, history and more at the Detroit Athletic Club where we ended up the last table as they cleared breakfast service. Having come to know him better, it no longer surprises me that an agency leader would take hours out of his morning to get to know me well enough to decide whether or not I’d be the kind of person he’d want on his team, leading his people and representing the agency to his clients. Our discussion had very little to do with what I could do, and far more with who I was and what kind of environment I’d be joining. It went beyond due diligence or simple chemistry, and it’s a lesson that I’ll take with me into my new role.

It’s this kind of care that Dan and Tina and the rest of the leadership team takes in finding good people that shows through not only for those of us who’ve had the privilege of working here, but also for the clients they serve and the partners with whom they work.


No, not Vice President Pat Joy, although she is certainly wonderful and I’d happily talk about how much I’ve enjoyed working with her after having been professional acquaintances for years. The “joy” I experienced at Franco is the all-too-rare professional joy of doing good work for good clients with good people by your side. It’s the culmination of capable and caring people given values-based guidance and then trusted and supported to do great work. It’s knowing that “team” isn’t just an empty word, and that anyone and everyone will pitch in as needed to meet commitments. (I’ll never forget our Senior Vice President Tina Sullivan volunteering shortly after dawn to find balloons somewhere just off Eight Mile Road in Detroit, when we realized that the unexpected pouring rain made our existing event wayfinding signage difficult for attendees to see. I have no idea how she found balloons at that time of the morning in that neighborhood, but she did.)

We hope for and hopefully can even expect joy in our private lives, maybe as a spouse or parent or friend. We seek it out through hobbies, sports, entertainment and more, and can plan and spend huge amounts of money to have that perfect joyful moment at a favorite band’s concert or Disneyland or celebrating stadium. That’s why finding moments of personal and professional joy in work – in doing the things you have to do – is a powerful gift. Franco’s not the only place I’ve had that privilege, and I expect to continue in my new role, but I can’t overstate how much easier it is to have the passion that’s required to truly do this job well when the potential for that personal and professional joy is nurtured by your leaders and colleagues.

Franco Team

Being a part of the team is important at Franco! Team Franco comes together for a little fun to enjoy Greenfield Village Holiday Nights this past December.


I told Tina and Dan that I honestly couldn’t picture another job that would have enticed me to leave Franco, but that this role at the Mackinac Center is simply the perfect fit between my professional experience and my personal passions. (I also joked with Tina that it’s slightly disconcerting when your current employer says, “Oh, that’s the perfect job for you” when you tell her about your new job…) It’s bittersweet to have been given the opportunity to move to a “more perfect” role when I’d considered myself to be in a perfect place already, but I wouldn’t have traded my time at Franco for the world.

My thanks and best wishes to everyone here at Franco, all of my clients and the great partners with whom I’ve worked. And if you’re a potential client or employee reading this because you’re wondering if Franco is right for you…well, I can unreservedly give you that third-party validation that it’s worth your while to try to find out.

John C. Mozena, APR is an account director (for the next few moments) at Franco Public Relations Group, after which he will be joining the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as its vice president for marketing and communications. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter @johnmoz. Connect with Franco PR Group on Facebook and Twitter @FrancoPRGroup.


Franco Specialties – PR and Pumpkins

As the wind ripples the Detroit River outside our windows and the leaves turn on the Riverwalk, the Franco team prepares for one of their favorite fall pastimes – the annual pumpkin carving competition.

Since this is my first Franco Halloween, I wanted to see just how fierce the competition is – so I dusted off the archive hard drive and did a little digging.

I found lots of Detroit-inspired pumpkins.

Eastern Market

Joe Louis Fist

Uniroyal TireWhich makes sense considering Franco is the oldest PR firm in the D.

Pumpkins that brought me back to my childhood.



Masterpieces that may be more relevant today, than they were when they were created.

Donald Trump

Pumpkins celebrating Franco clients.

TSA Kick-Off

Famous pumpkins.

Stephen Colbert

50 Cent

Martha Stewart

Learned that we have some serious Tom Hanks fans in the office.

Forrest Gump

Cast Away

Pumpkins fit for a princess.




Hunting Pumpkin

And even a Dan Ponder pumpkin.

Dan PonderBecause what better way to honor the CEO of Franco than by carving his face into an orange gourd?


Lesson learned – I better bring my A game.

Help me! Share some trophy-worthy pumpkin carving ideas in the comments (please)!

Alex Fulbright is a digital marketing specialist at Franco Public Relations Group. You can reach her at 313-567-5085 or fulbright@franco.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AlexandriaFul and connect on LinkedIn.

Building Relationships through Community Involvement: Tips from Franco CEO Dan Ponder

Celebrating 30 years with Franco Public Relations Group, our CEO Dan Ponder has cemented himself as a business leader in Detroit. But Franco is far from his only commitment in the region. Ponder is also an active member of the community, serving in leadership positions for organizations throughout the state, including the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, St. John Providence Health System, The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division, Crime Stoppers of Michigan and the United States Army.

As public relations professionals, our careers are based on building strong relationships, whether they are with the media, clients and their audiences or the community as a whole. I sat down with Dan to gain a better understanding of how his leadership positions have shaped his career.

Ponder has selected the organizations that he serves in the community based on topics that he is passionate about: promotion of business in the community, creating a connected regional community for businesses of all sizes and giving a voice to those in need.

With Crime Stoppers and The Salvation Army, Ponder works with other board members to improve services for those in need in Detroit and the surrounding communities. These organizations improve our region by addressing key concerns of crime, safety and poverty in Metro Detroit by providing a support system to those who need it – an objective that Ponder is passionate about addressing.

2012: Franco CEO, Dan Ponder named to the Metropolitan Detroit Advisory Board of The Salvation Army.

2012: Franco CEO, Dan Ponder named to the Metropolitan Detroit Advisory Board of The Salvation Army.

With organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Ponder works to build relationships between Michigan businesses of all sizes.

“Michigan’s businesses depend on one another to share their skill sets and work toward shared missions,” said Ponder. “It is important that businesses of all sizes get involved in the community to work together and ensure our collective voice is heard by policy-makers and community leaders.”

This regional view of the business community has changed the way that Ponder views the community. The business and community decisions made in Detroit have an important impact throughout the state and region, and through his community involvement, Ponder has applied this knowledge to all aspects of his work, whether that means daily operations at Franco, or his work to build a healthy community in our region.

Dan Ponder’s involvement includes a wide range of organizations working to improve the regional community and business climate.

Dan Ponder’s involvement includes a wide range of organizations working to improve the regional community and business climate.

Ponder also shared his advice for those interested in becoming more involved in their community through leadership roles:

“Make sure the organization is something you’re passionate about that can also tie to your own career and organizational goals. I believe actively participating in all of the organizations I work with, and it helps to engage when the organization is working toward similar goals to your own.”

Ultimately, community involvement is a win-win-win for public relations professionals. Engaging with other leaders in the region leads to an improved community, stronger relationships and increased cooperation between businesses for a strong regional business climate.

Dan Horn is a senior account executive at Franco Public Relations Group. You can reach him at (313) 567-5008 or horn@franco.com.

CEO Dan Ponder honored by Michigan State University as Alumni of the Decade

Franco’s CEO Dan Ponder’s wealth of business experience has led to many recent honors. Let me tell you what makes Dan such an amazing business person and mentor.

In addition to celebrating his 30th anniversary with Franco earlier this year, Dan was recently recognized as Michigan State University Broad College of Business Executive MBA Program’s Alumni of the Decade. An honor bestowed upon distinguished alumni who have made a significant and lasting impact on the program, their industry or in their communities, Dan was one of ten alumni recognized throughout the MBA program’s 50-year history.

Dan Ponder MSU Alumni of the Decade

Dan Ponder accepts the Alumni of the Decade award from Dean Sanjay Gupta. In a recent interview with The Detroit Free Press, Dan gives a detailed look at Franco’s past, present and future, as well as his role in the agency.

Dan Ponder has also recently been honored by the Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation with the Corporate Hero Award for his support of Metro Detroit Youth Day and was named one of 2015’s Most Valuable Professionals by Corp! Magazine for his leading work at Franco Public Relations Group and in the city of Detroit.

Dan exemplifies Franco’s commitment to the community and leads by example serving on many nonprofit boards and committees, including serving as vice chairman of the St. John Providence Health System Board of Trustees including Human Resource and Physician Compensation Committee Chair; Executive Committee member, treasurer and finance committee chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors including serving on its Foundation Board and Audit Committee;  past chairman of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, inaugural chairman of its Energy, Telecommunications & Technology Committee, currently serving as treasurer of the MCC Foundation; past chairman of Crime Stoppers of Michigan Board of Directors, currently serving as Executive and Nominating Committee member; Salvation Army Metro Advisory Board; U.S. Army-SE MI Advisory Council; Ecumenical Theological Seminary Board of Directors; and member of the Detroit Athletic Club Audit Committee.

A modest leader, Ponder would much rather utilize his relationships to promote the news of his clients or employees than focus on his own accomplishments. But, behind the scenes Ponder is a driving force of Franco’s business development and operations.

Back at the Franco office located in the GM Renaissance Center, Dan is hands-on leader and can often be found working in his office with a door that’s always open.

If you’re so inclined, please take to Franco’s Facebook and Twitter and join me in congratulating Dan Ponder for his recent accomplishments!

Dan Stocking is an account executive at Franco Public Relations Group. You can reach him at (313) 567-5094 or stocking@franco.com. Follow him on Twitter @danielstocking.

50 in the D: The Glory Days

V150130 Tamagotchi

I’m a 90s kid. I spent arguably the best decade of my life rocking pink and yellow overalls with scrunchies and Tamagotchi in hand. It’s safe to say I had no idea 25 years ago, that I’d be sitting at a desk inside Detroit’s most iconic building today, working with some of the Motor City’s most well-regarded brands and for the state’s oldest independent public relations firm. Long before I could fathom what the words public relations meant, the team at Anthony M. Franco, Inc. was committed to excellence and offering clients the most strategic and innovative services in communications.

While a lot has changed in those 25 years, public relations remains a powerful tool for building your brand, raising awareness and connecting with your audiences. So, let’s take a look at how the legacy Franco Public Relations Group developed while my Tamagotchi slowly turned into an iPhone.

As in our last “50 in the D” entry, I’ve included pop culture and historical events to provide perspective on the timeline:

  • 1990 – Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and Anthony M. Franco, Inc. became a subsidiary of Ross Roy Communications, bringing the agency into a new era.
  • 1993 – Bill Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd president of the United States of America, and Dan Ponder joined by colleagues Chuck Regan, George Sepetys and Stephen Friedman, lead the management buyout of Anthony M. Franco, Inc. from Ross Roy Group.
  • 1997 – Everyone’s favorite baby face Beatle was knighted Sir Paul McCartney, and Lisa Vallee-Smith became a partial owner of Franco Public Relations Group. Vallee-Smith later left Franco to open the Airfoil Group.
  • 2000 – While the rest of the world was living in the shadow of Y2K, Dan Ponder became a full owner of Franco Public Relations Group.
  • 2000 – Franco Public Relations Group played an extra-large role in winning the bid for Super Bowl XL.
  • 2002 –Nickelback topped the charts with “How you remind me” and Franco Public Relations Group acquired PR Associates.
  • 2007 – Tina Kozak joined the Franco Public Relations Group team as account manager, and Carrie Underwood won a Grammy for best new artist. Plus, Apple revolutionized the cell phone industry with the introduction of the original iPhone.
  • 2013 – NBC announced TV Hall of Famer Jay Leno would be leaving the Tonight Show. Meanwhile, Maria Leonhauser retired and Tina Kozak became Franco’s youngest president.
  • 2014 – Ellen DeGeneres stirred up a selfie phenomenon with the infamous impromptu group photo at The Oscars, and Franco Public Relations Group celebrated 50 years of business in Detroit with 20 percent revenue and  employment growth.
  • 2015 – Franco Public Relations Group kicked off the start of a new half-century and look forward to reaching 100.

Have a Franco memory from the 90s and millennium you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below, and stay tuned for another “50 in the D” entry highlighting Franco today.

Marie Stawasz is an account executive at Franco Public Relations Group. You can reach her at (313) 567-5201 or stawasz@franco.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarieStawasz.

Leonhauser to Retire in December, Kozak to Succeed Her as President

Franco President Maria Leonhauser will retire at the end of 2013.

I am pleased to announce that after more than a year of planning and transition, Franco President Maria Leonhauser will retire at the end of this year. Franco Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer Tina Kozak will succeed Maria as president effective January 1. Maria will continue as a consultant with Franco, as well as take her words and ideas in another direction—writing mysteries.

Maria joined Franco as president in 2000 after 25 years in journalism and corporate communications.  During her tenure, she focused on diversifying Franco’s client base and imbuing its culture with creativity and passion. She also championed Franco’s social media discipline. Among her awards, Maria was named one of Detroit’s 100 Most Influential Women by Crain’s Detroit Business and a Leader and Innovator by Lawrence Technological University and Grant Thornton.

Tina Kozak, executive vice president and COO for Franco, will succeed Leonhauser as president effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Tina joined Franco in 2007 as an account manager overseeing the firm’s automotive practice. In her most recent role as executive vice president and chief operating officer, she has led client service, talent retention and business development. She counsels a range of clients in the auto/tech, healthcare and professional service industries in areas including corporate positioning, community relations and reputation management. She also consults on brand development, crisis communications and strategic planning.

Franco’s priority has always been service excellence. Maria instilled a new energy and enthusiasm into its delivery. I’m confident that Tina will not only advance our commitment to service excellence, but also identify other relevant initiatives to better serve our clients and employees.

It’s an exciting time at Franco. Please join me in congratulating Tina and in wishing Maria all the best in our comments section below.

Dan Ponder is the CEO at Franco Public Relations Group.