How Nick Powills Created Disruption in Franchising
How Nick Powills Created Disruption in Franchising

The No Limit Agency CEO explains how thinking outside of the box got him to start the agency.

A rock journalist walks into a franchise PR firm wearing three hoop earrings and a leather jacket…

This may sound like the beginning of a joke, but it was actually the beginning of No Limit Agency CEO Nick Powills’ career in the franchising industry.

While studying journalism in college, Powills decided being a music reporter was the way to go. After scoring a coveted internship at Rolling Stone Magazine one summer he got his first taste of the industry, traveling with the Beach Boys, interviewing Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney along the way to name a few.

Alas summer came to a close and upon graduation he moved back to his hometown and began working as the music journalist for a newspaper, the Northwest Herald, in Crystal Lake, IL.

Whether it was fate or circumstance we’ll never know, but a rebellious Powills soon found himself accepting a position at Fishman PR, a large franchise public relations firm in the Chicago area. In a foreign industry (both franchising and PR) Powills thrived; he didn’t miss the glamour of the late nights on the road, because he found other exciting parts to his new career.

“I fell in love with the ability to help entrepreneurs who had invested their life savings into a business,” he said. “To me, that was just as sexy as the music stuff.”

After quickly rising to become the agency’s youngest senior executive, Powills was disappointed that he was unable to grow the company with inventive ideas of his own. He had an inclination to disrupt what traditional PR in franchising was.

“The reason that I’m able to see things a little bit differently is because I wasn’t taught PR. I was taught journalism and how to write and interview and story tell. My vision for PR is built from my understanding of journalism.”

This different perspective bore innovative ideas that often were cast aside by the agency in favor of best practices. Powills was more than frustrated, he had to walk away.

He packed his bags and moved to Atlanta. With most of his competitors in Chicago, and many franchise brands based in Atlanta, Powills was ready to make his mark with his own franchise public relations firm. Thus, on March 3, 2008 No Limit Agency was born.

It was a small operation, just Powills and an intern, but NLA was different and soon people took notice – including several who are still clients today. The agency offered public relations and social media services, nearly unheard of at the time, later expanding its services to include marketing, advertising and digital – both within and outside of franchising.

No Limit Agency was different in services and in culture, “I think our three main focuses are defining a culture of respect, building a team mentality and letting this team know that we do ‘give a shit,’ that everything is really personal for us and that makes a difference in what we can do, and finally, the belief that anything that can happen, because that is when disruption happens.”

Powills vows to never stifle innovation because that is how the agency has thrived. The agency offers unique and comprehensive services for its clients, including everything from PR to web design to this very franchising news magazine, 1851.

“I think that our vision of staying one inch ahead in strategy, relationships, service and results set us up to be successful.”

But how do you balance the desire to disrupt with the desire to implement best practices? To Powills, that’s the hardest part of his job.

“That’s the toughest thing to do as a leader. The majority of people dislike change and it causes uncomfortable situations, that’s why putting more leadership around me was essential,” he explained. “My brain looks at things differently, but I have people around me who can put it in plain text so my vision doesn’t become convoluted.”

Heading into 2016 Powills expects a lot more disruption from his team. 2015 saw a lot of change and growth, setting No Limit up for a big year, and Powills is excited that the environment created has led to so much success up until this point.

“I think it’s very important to embrace great ideas and to invest in them. I want to foster an environment that allows others to create great ideas and be a part of the mission to disrupt. If companies fail to listen to those in their business it’s a one way street company and the chances for greatness are limited.”

Limiting greatness? Not in this office.

While I don’t know if including this piece in the “Young Ones to Watch” issue is appropriate considering Powills has been described to this reporter as “closer to forty than thirty,” the passion of Powills and his team for disrupting the norm is something that’s definitely worth being watched in the New Year. “We’ve stayed under the radar thus far. Now it’s time to tell the story of our brand.”