Like every other high-profile industry, public relations has its phenoms -- you know, those hungry, hard-working kids who, through sheer talent and tenacity, manage -- like cream -- to rise to the top with a little shaking. In determining the 2005 class of up-and-coming PR thought leaders, PR News drilled down into a staggering number of nominations to choose the winners of its annual "15 To Watch," those PR professionals 35 years old and younger who are making names for themselves and their clients coast to coast. All our winners come to the table with accolades from management and co-workers, with solid campaign histories that equal (and sometime surpass) those we've seen from more well-seasoned PR players, and with can-do attitudes that leave their rivals wondering "how did he/she pull that off?" Crisis management? Got it. One message, several messengers? Got that, too. Media massaging? Masters of the game - without playing fast and loose with the press. Take a quick look over your shoulder, because here they come: the 2005 PR News "15 To Watch." Name: Christopher Ian Bennett Age: 27 Title/Company: Public Relations Director, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (Vancouver, British Columbia) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Bennett already has shaped public opinion on many issues. He was a key architect in helping long-shot Canadian political candidate Blair Wilson defy the odds and gain a record number of votes to win a seat in Parliament. He propelled 1-800-GOT-JUNK to the No. 1 spot in British Columbia's "Best Companies To Work For," in BC Business magazine while also raising the profile of his CEO Brian Scudamore via profiles on "The CBS Early Show," MTV, and Country Living, among other media outlets. Bennett, who also oversees all media and Web communications as chief of communications for Wilson's office, recently was written up in North Shore Newspaper as founder of an Amnesty International chapter in West Vancouver. Eye-opening experience? My first major political campaign. I was 24 and had worked in corporate PR for several years, but I was also very involved politically. There's nothing like your first chance to step up with the big guns. Working on our deputy prime minister's leadership campaign, I saw just how cutthroat political PR and communications really is compared to the business world. That's where I met my mentor: journalist, broadcaster and political speechwriter Bill Kurchak, and I learned from the best. Best PR advice you've gotten? First, from my father: 'The toes you step on today could one day be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.' He said everyone counts, no matter where they sit on the totem pole. The second piece of advice came from Bill Kurchak. He taught me that if you're not passionate about what you're doing, you're in the wrong place, and you'll never make it. Worst PR advice you've gotten? I try not to focus on bad advice. I discard it very quickly and move on. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Some PR people say 'there's no such thing as bad press.' I disagree. Bad press can kill an organization, and great PR directors need to be well-versed in crisis-management theory and communications. Also challenging is gaining access to the journalists we're targeting. They're bombarded with information everyday -- how do you get noticed? I study their work and immerse myself in their material. This allows me to better tailor my story ideas and pitches. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? PR needs a revolution. We're losing sight of what's relevant, becoming too reactive to the news cycle and not pro-active enough in leading it. PR needs to focus more on 'predictive forecasting,' news-cycle trending and 'writer's rhythm,' and not worry about yesterday's news. Name: Ted Birkhahn Age: 30 Title/Company: Senior Director/Partner, Peppercom Inc. (New York City) E-mail: email@example.com In a relatively short period, Birkhahn has climbed to the upper echelons of PR, working closely with blue-chip account General Electric as well as with such corporate heavyweights as ITT Industries and Steelcase. Birkhahn, who joined Peppercom Inc. in 1998 and was made a partner in 2002, brings a businesslike approach to PR. For example, on behalf of GE's "Imagination at Work" campaign, Birkhahn managed a multi-campus college tour that consisted of live events and discussions plugging GE as an innovator among students at top universities throughout the country. Eye-opening experience? The market nosedive in 2000 taught us that idea creation, product development and being opportunistic must be an indispensable part of our approach to business. One result was a new service, called Pain-Based Selling (PBS), which helps sales professionals use communications tools to go beyond the traditional sells of price, features and benefits. Best PR advice you've gotten? If you don't get that wonderful feeling when you help to solidify a new business win or create an opportunity that delights your client, then your work, career and life will lack passion and happiness. Worst PR advice you've gotten? That you should change jobs every few years to gain new experience and to show that you can handle multiple environments and situations. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Working directly with clients to figure out how and if they should be leveraging blogs. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? We have to move away from the blocking and tackling (new business announcements, awards publicity) and focus more on discussing how PR plays a key role in helping companies align communications and business goals. If we stick only to the basic methods of talking about our industry in the context of traditional PR, we position ourselves as vendors (dispensable) rather than as strategic business partners (indispensable). Name: Amanda Chaborek Age: 26 Title/Company: Marketing/Communications Manager, MGH Institute of Health Professions (Boston) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Since joining the MGH Institute of Health Professionals in October 2004, Chaborek has given the physicians' group a much-needed shot in the arm. She landed the first-ever mention of the Institute in the Boston Globe sports section through her pitch about a physical-therapy graduate student who worked with veterans disabled by the war in Iraq and whose family started a rehabilitation/ski center. She's also helped to educate local health and medical reporters about the Institute; before she started, most reporters hadn't even heard of it or (wrongly) thought it was part of Massachusetts General Hospital. Now, the center is getting a growing number of media calls for quotes from current faculty members. Eye-opening experience? To promote a nonprofit event, I used the group's beneficiaries and their family members as unofficial spokespeople. After the event, a mother of a beneficiary said to me, 'Thank you so much for what you have done for us and for the organization. You truly helped make a positive difference in our lives.' That's when I realized that PR can be an effective tool for educating and informing the public about truly important causes. Best PR advice you've gotten? Think outside the box for every possible angle. I used these tactics while working on a nonprofit fundraiser, collecting information on people participating in the event, and pitching each and every person's hometown paper individually. Worst PR advice you've gotten? Call the reporter's boss and complain that the reporter mentioned a competitor in a story but didn't include us. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Getting a reporter to cover your company, organization or event. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? PR pros need to use their talents to volunteer for smaller nonprofits that need our guidance. Writing just one press release a year pro bono can help promote the positive side of our profession. Name: Julie Crabill Age: 28 Title/Company: Manager/Industry Relations, Edelman (Mountain View, Calif.) E-mail: Julie.email@example.com Armed with her planner, a notebook, a pen and a document-stuffed binder, Crabill "fills every minute with 60 seconds-worth of distance run," as Rudyard Kipling put it. Crabill, who was recently promoted to manager of industry relations at Edelman's Silicon Valley office, is a dedicated volunteer (and vocal member) of the Public Relations Society of America's Silicon Valley chapter, and she has helped to boost Edelman's role within the organization. Crabill immediately brought some goods to the table when she started at Edelman through her a relationship with the nonprofit Churchill Club, Silicon Valley's premier business and technology forum, whose account team she now runs. She also has managed to place Edelman clients on panels at Club events, and she personally secured Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, as a Churchill Club annual dinner guest. Eye-opening experience? Thinking locally and globally. The global market requires a fine balancing act to understand the cultural and societal differences. Best PR advice you've gotten? PR is bigger than just media relations. It is integral to the success of a business, and it can bolster all of an organization's goals. Through furthering this understanding, PR can increase its role in developing a business strategy. Everyone says you need to balance work with life but, in PR, this is particularly true. Worst PR advice you've gotten? Quantity over quality. Many people think that if they call 50 members of the media, they can get better results than if they only call five. When I first started out in PR, it was a numbers game. Take your 75-person media list and send a canned pitch with minor alterations. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? People know advertising when they see it, and it's the same with PR. With corporate scandals rocking the global marketplace, consumers are weary of corporate communications. PR needs to adapt and engage anyone who wants to participate in the discussion. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? PR as we know it must evolve or die. We have to embrace new media. Everyone has the technology to make life difficult or to help your company flourish by way of blogs and social networking sites. Two years ago, I never thought about blogs. But we now realize our clients' consumers are reading, writing and listening to Internet conversations, which has forced PR professionals to recognize blogs as direct outlets to their end consumers. Name: Marina Rosales Greenwood Age: 30 Title/Company: Principal & Founder, Activa PR (San Francisco) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be one thing to start a PR agency amid the dot-com meltdown, but how about one that strictly targeted the tech space? That's exactly what Rosales Greenwood did in 2001, leaving Fleishman-Hillard's renowned tech practice UpStart Communications to launch her own tech PR firm despite serious odds. Yet she bucked the traditional agency mold, starting Activa as a virtual agency and also cultivating non-tech markets including financial services and management consulting. Four years later, the agency has grown from a one-person consultancy to a boutique with several senior-level execs serving a burgeoning list of clients including GoCar Rentals Inc. and Valley Consulting Services. Eye-opening experience? A great example is long-time client Advantage Performance Group (APG), which provides sales and leadership training to a veritable corporate 'who's who.' From APG, we have learned the best practices and proved methodologies it uses to help businesses strengthen their games. In turn, we are also able to strengthen ours while helping APG extend its visibility. It's like a one-on-one strategy with a sales and leadership guru. Best PR advice you've gotten? Be tenacious. When Activa PR launched in 2001 at the height of the dot-com debacle, we had an exclusive focus on technology. So, after the tech wreck we began to focus on two additional areas in which we saw strong growth potential: the management-consulting and the financial-services industries. The strategy paid off. We weathered the downturn, and we've kept a steady portfolio of clients comprising technology, management-consulting and financial-services firms. Worst PR advice you've gotten? When I started Activa PR in my mid-20s, many people advised me to wait until I was older to form my own company. [But] age should never be seen as a disadvantage. My mantra is to hire people smarter than me. I have a brilliant team - all with unique backgrounds. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Proving the value of PR. There is so much potential with sales divisions because sales managers can benefit quickly from the credibility tools that PR can provide them. I've found there to be enormous synergy between PR and sales when the two disciplines work together. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? We need to ask for a seat at the weekly sales or executive meetings and demonstrate just how powerful the role of PR is for executing business strategies. PR is part of the whole business strategy - business and industry magazines, and newspapers print stories that, in most cases, are the result of a PR pitch, a news release, a phone call. Name: Bradford Horn Age: 29 Title: Company Communications Director, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Cooperstown, N.Y.) E-mail: email@example.com Talk about a diamond in the rough. Promoted to director of communications in January after joining the PR staff in early 2002, Horn has boosted the exposure of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum both at the local and national levels. Through his media outreach efforts, stories about the Hall are up 50% since 2002 (particularly during the off-season, when baseball stories are tough to pitch). Horn, who is also director for the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, transformed the Hall's in-house publication from a newsletter into a quarterly magazine that's generating new sales. He's also re-jiggered the Hall's online line-up, creating a new 'Digital News Room' for 500 members of the media and 'Inside Pitch', an e-newsletter that so far has won 60,000 subscribers. Eye-opening experience? In 1999, my first season as assistant PR director for the Texas Rangers, a fan in San Diego believed that one of our highest-profile players had a vendetta against her, and she thought she was proved correct when he tossed a baseball to her in the stands. But the tossed ball was part of the shenanigans by members of our team-support staff playing on the field before the game. Still, the recognition of crisis-management to avert a much larger problem showed me that PR is more than just disseminating information or promoting a cause. Best PR advice you've gotten? The more tools you can have in your toolbox, the better chance you have at developing a variety of solutions -- or one essential solution -- that helps fulfill your mission, either for a project or within your organization. Worst PR advice you've gotten? Even the asinine advice -- that PR is just writing press releases or that the industry lacks substance -- can be used in a positive way to prove to those short-sighted thinkers that the industry is far more mature and capable of being an agent of influence. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? PR needs to find ways to show impact in 'small victories' on a regular basis. I don't believe that media measurement or tactical roles of tracking public-relations activities solves the issue. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? By offering solutions rather than rhetoric. As other disciplines search for solutions, PR pros should be providing a clear, communicative voice while working toward filling the gaps, because they should be the ones the most aware of the issue at hand. Name: Eric Kushner Age: 30 Title/Company: VP, Airfoil Public Relations (Detroit) E-mail: Kushner@airfoilpr.com While studying Asian history at Tufts University and mastering the art of rock-climbing along the way, a career in public relations was the last thing on Kushner's mind. But luckily for the PR profession, Kushner changed his focus and now, as leader of Airfoil's B2B sector, his most notable accomplishments have been on software giant Microsoft's account. He helped restructure the company's public-relations initiatives in the field via a five-month pilot program that demonstrated the business value of centralized program design and execution -- a program that became the model Microsoft followed for its integrated PR approach in the United States. Meanwhile, he and partner Tracey Parry have upped account services and agency growth 30%. Eye-opening experience? Early in my career, I was the first responder to a client site where a suicide had taken place. Medical/mortuary teams and law enforcement were onsite, and the media were close on my heels. Management milled about, considering how to proceed along with the impact of this on business. All eyes turned to me. I realized that all our crisis-communications training was only as strong as the leader's ability to recall and adhere to it in a crisis. I had to shake off the grisly reality and do what needed to be done from a communications standpoint. Our team arrived soon after and we got through it, but it opened my eyes to the remarkable ways people react in trying times, and the value of cool thinking and a methodical approach. Best PR advice you've gotten? Reading author Jim Collins' 'Good to Great' book. Level 5 leaders look outward to assign credit and inward to find fault. Worst PR advice you've gotten? 'Transparency is the objective of public relations and corporate communications.' I've heard it so many times: Organizations do not undertake PR for the purpose of being transparent. Even campaigns espousing corporate social responsibility, diversity or social reform are funded because it is in someone's best interest to address the situation proactively and to ensure that the organization is perceived in a favorable light. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Fragmentation and the disappearance of the mainstream. Narrow-interest communities and outlets have become the norm. The audiences are still out there--but not where they used to be. We have to be more agile to get to where they're headed before they even arrive. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? By measurement and reporting. I look forward to the day that I can reply with a dollar figure to the question posed to me by prospects and clients alike: 'What will I get for my money?' Name: Tim Marklein Age: 35 Title/Company: Executive VP/General Manager of Northern California for Weber Shandwick Worldwide (Sunnyvale, Calif.) E-mail: tmarklein@WeberShandwick.com With 15 years experience in technology PR, Marklein knows full well how to make communications click on both sides of the table -- corporate and agency. He joined Weber Shandwick late last year from Hewlett-Packard, where he most recently led PR for HP's $30 billion enterprise business. Marklein has hit the ground running at Weber Shandwick (Northern California), increasing the agency's Bay Area revenue 22% via landing such mega accounts as software giant BEA Systems as well as significant consumer wins with The Clorox Company's Glad brands, Cypress Semiconductor and videoconferencing startup Lifesize Communications. Add it all up and you have the fastest-growing region within the Weber Shandwick family. But Marklein's been down this road before. During an eight-year stint with Applied Communications, he helped to grow the business from $1 million to $12 million in annual revenues. Eye-opening experience? I learned during my stint at HP how deeply rooted and instinctive it is for the typical corporation to 'blame the media' when stories go negative. The conservative culture of most businesses today steer companies and executives to a media-sensitive zone rather than to a media-savvy zone. Add in some lawyers and opinionated consultants, and it's the reason you see companies make easy PR mistakes and ignore well-worn best practices in crisis communications. Best PR advice you've gotten? 'PR is a competitive weapon - it's all about relative position.' We need to take PR beyond a nice-nice value proposition focused on information delivery and apply it as a true business weapon to help companies win in their markets. Worst PR advice you've gotten? The false debates between content-driven PR and relationship-driven PR; strategy versus tactics, in-house versus agency and big versus boutique. While most of the debate lines focus on the 'or' between two sides, the reality is more of an 'and.' The best PR requires a great blend of content and relationships, strategy and tactics, and in-house and agency teams. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Unfortunately, because PR is an intangible discipline and hard for many executives to understand, it becomes an easy and early target for budget cuts. We need to help clients and organizations recognize not only PR's value, but also the market and reputation risks due to under-investment. How the PR profession can improve its overall image? Until the majority of PR pros can talk about the value of mind share, media share and market share -- and then translate that into a discussion of business outcomes -- we won't deserve the proverbial seat at the table. Name: Kat McAndrew Age: 27 Title/Company: Senior Account Executive, FCF Schmidt Public Relations (Philadelphia) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org McAndrew somehow escaped from the University of North Carolina without a single PR credit to her name. Yet, due to her combination of pure PR instinct and a desire to share that with all around plus dollops of intellect and passion, she has still ended up as a rising star at FCF Schmidt Public Relations. The brainchild behind such national PR campaigns as BASF's "Towering Termite Tour," which involved a 20-ft.-tall, 60-ft.-long inflatable termite, McAndrew directs PR for BASF's professional pest-control division. She also directs PR on behalf of FCF, which has recently gotton some ink in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer (leading directly to new business opportunities). McAndrew, who also does pro bono PR for idealist.org., came to FCF after doing freelance PR for Mother's Work, a corporate name for popular retail outlets such as Mini Maternity, Pea in the Pod and Motherhood Maternity. Eye-opening experience? Starting out in PR, I was stunned by how the right photograph could get picked up in places not on my media list. From then on, I have never underestimated the importance of collateral. Best PR advice you've gotten? Maribeth Roman Schmidt, president of Schmidt, is fond of saying, 'The harder you work, the luckier you get.' Until I heard this, I struggled with how to describe the undeniable role good fortune plays in this business. Worst PR advice you've gotten? One of the worst scenarios I've witnessed is when creativity gets hemmed in by slow corporate approval processes or clients who don't get it, and PR people give up. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Finding the right reporter to pitch. Newsrooms are leanly staffed and, often, the reporter you thought perfect for your business pitch may be editing the home-and-garden section by the time you follow up. All of this is compounded by the never-ending debate about the best way to contact that editor in the first place. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? Have a moratorium on all non-newsworthy press releases and pitching. Don't get me wrong - a great lip gloss or a new luxury hotel has its rightful place in the media, as do Deep Throat and the residential housing market. But one reason journalists don't respond is because we're overwhelming them with irrelevant and un-newsworthy information. Name: Ryan McCormick Age: 27 Title/Company: Communications Manager, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Long Island chapter (Hauppauge, N.Y.) E-mail: email@example.com When he's not moonlighting as a stand-up comedian (or contributing articles to the New York Post), McCormick helps get the message out for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Long Island chapter. McCormick, who started with the Society in July 2004, has in less than a year spearheaded a surge in publicity for the group's events, ranging from a piece in the New York Times to placements in all local television outlets. A former newspaper editor, television producer and radio production assistant, McCormick created the Web-based 'NMSSLI Media Comfort Center,' which enables reporters, et al., to download information about the Long Island chapter's events and programs. The site has been so successful that other society chapters across the country plan to follow suit. Eye-opening experience? Realizing what a pivotal role my previous experience in television, radio and newsprint would play as PR executive. When I pitch media, I ask myself, 'What would convince me to cover this? Why should I give this PR executive my time?' The answer is always the same: Good angle, complete information, enthusiasm and sincerity on behalf of the executive. Best PR advice you've gotten? My mentors Lucy Rosen and Val Zurblis from the Business Development Group told me to constantly increase my knowledge about the industry by joining PR associations and reading books about PR, particularly those by Michael Levine, who taught me to always send thank-you notes. Believe me, it will drastically change people's perception of you for the better. Worst PR advice you've gotten? That every release be editorialized and filled with fluff, including words like 'great,' 'fantastic,' 'prodigious' and the blatantly misused 'synergy.' If you're writing your own in-house literature, fluff all you want, but don't do it to the press. Don't give reporters a reason to toss the information. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Everyone knows what cancer and heart disease are but not MS. One of my strategies has been to spotlight our people with MS in online media and to use their quotes in canned features. Through making our messages more personal, we continue to make progress in increasing public awareness about this devastating disease. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? The PR profession can improve its image by spotlighting successful executives who embody all the wonderful characteristics their ideal PR professional should have. Use those executives as ambassadors to the media, to the public and to corporations. Have those executives speak to college students majoring in PR/Media Relations. Name: Darin Oduyoye Age: 27 Title/Company: VP/Public Relations, JP Morgan Chase (New York City) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org In fewer than five years, Oduyoye rose from being an intern to adding "vice president" to his resume with sole responsibility for media relations for the JP Morgan private bank in the United States. During that half-decade, he increased JP Morgan's leadership position by raising the profile of the private bank; case in point: when given the task of turning a research-orientated white paper into a high-profile story, Oduyoye arranged for the bank's CEO to write a bylined column for Forbes--one of the very few times the magazine has run such a column. "Words can decorate, elevate and encourage, and I think this is what we should promote when we are grooming high-school and college students and educating the public about PR," he says. Eye-opening experience? Two years ago, I had to develop the first-ever PR campaign for BrownCo, JP Morgan's $24 billion online brokerage. Facing stiff competition, I had to raise visibility, which involved media training, developing core messages, arranging interviews and creating press materials. The business' management team had lackluster views of PR but, within one year, we achieved a profile in Barron's, A-1 coverage in the Wall Street Journal, two CNBC segments plus we were named a "Forbes Best of the Web" pick for 2004. Best PR advice you've gotten? During my internship, my manager told me that if I didn't love PR, then I should leave it, because it can either overwhelm you like a bad habit or consume you like a springtime romance. Worst PR advice you've gotten? 'Skip the bylined request; it'll never happen at Forbes. You might get a mention in an article,' I was told as I pitched the "Forbes 400 Richest Americans" issue. The bank had completed a study examining the 400 on the inaugural list in 1982 and then looking at who remained 22 years later--fewer than 15%. I kept pitching tenaciously, and we got the CEO's byline in Forbes. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? In financial services, I do outreach for our investments specialists, and the regulatory environment has changed dramatically in the last five years. Strategists are refraining from discussing stocks unless they give 5,000 disclaimers. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? We're called spin doctors, but that can be a good thing. We are good listeners, counselors and communicators. There is as much power in the pen of a PR professional as there is in a surgeon's knife. Words can give and restore life. Name: Guillermo (Billy) Sanez Age: 31 Title/Company: Manager/Corporate Communications, American Airlines (Ft. Worth, Texas) E-mail: email@example.com At American Airlines, Sanez is known for his ability to think quickly and to improvise on the spot, transforming unexpected situations into positive stories. Sanez, who speaks six languages, has multiple roles, including supporting the IT department, AA.com, international initiatives and Latin America. He also serves as the technology guru within the communications department. His efforts range from launched an online discount program to creating a Spanish-language version of Self-Service Check-In machines. "Lots of people have technical knowledge or business acumen or they are good with the media," says Mary Sanderson, director of communications at American Airlines. "But the combination of the three is rare and gives American a real competitive advantage in Billy." Eye-opening experience? Working with American Airlines, I've been able to support various noteworthy, service-oriented organizations. In 2004, American sponsored a team of Afghani girls who participated in the World Youth Games in Cleveland. Our efforts, though small, contributed to make a dream come true for a group of exceptional young women who, in the past, would never have had the chance to participate in organized sports. Their appreciation, and the opportunity to share their experiences, has been one of the most memorable experiences. Best PR advice you've gotten? When sharing the news, always apply the 'Law of Candor.' By taking a sincere and factual approach to communications, I have been able to avoid the complexity of uncertainties. As a communicator, I must know and share the entire message, adapting, with sincerity, all of its attributes to create the best picture possible. Worst PR advice you've gotten? When in doubt, avoid the facts. I actually got this bit of advice from a senior executive, who thought spin was the best tactic in sticky situations. Obviously, taking this route can get anyone in a tailspin. I took the advice and deposited it in my File 13, labeled 'basura.' Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? The airline industry is going through some major challenges; fuel prices, low fares and fierce competition are only some of them. Yet they all create opportunities to share the story of American Airlines and its employees. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? Public relations should be considered an integral part of business and not as an addition or luxury. As professionals, we must continue to strategically position our work as part of the integrated business plan and not as an afterthought. Name: Jessica Spitz Age: 27 Title/Company: Account Supervisor, Porter Novelli (Sacramento) E-mail: Jessica.Spitz@porternovelli.com For Spitz, the writing was on the wall from a fairly young age. When she was a student at St. Francis High School in Sacramento, she was nominated by her teacher to become the school's ambassador to promote the private parochial school's program for up-and-coming elementary schoolchildren. Once Spitz got involved, the school's enrollment soared. With a penchant for issues advocacy, Spitz has taken the PR chops she apparently learned early on, and she's brought them to bear for Porter Novelli Sacramento -- with stellar results. She recently scored a major victory by successfully managing the earned media and grass-roots development to defeat Proposition 72 -- a healthcare-insurance mandate on California's November 2004 ballot. But Spitz does her fair share of PR work that is non-partisan, such as coordinating the "4-A-Cure" AIDS Research license-plate kickoff campaign with the San Francisco Mayor's Office and the San Francisco Giants. Eye-opening experience? I was working the press at an event for a high-ranking state official. Next thing I knew, my colleagues and I were surrounded by tens of thousands of angry protesters hurling verbal attacks at us. It was tough to swallow, but I learned quickly that this is the nature of the beast. Best PR advice you've gotten? First, always stay positive. In hostile situations, you need to stick to your guns, stay on message and take the high road. If you falter, then your opponents have won. Second, the press can only use what you give them. If you don't want it printed or on the evening news, then don't say it. Worst PR advice you've gotten? During a campaign, one of the top strategists asked me to execute a tactic that, while it would make the client look good at the time, I was certain it went against the overall strategy and could end up hurting us later. 'The Art of War' notes that the greatest leaders do not fight to build a reputation, but to win. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Knowledge, indeed, is power. The more you know, the more successful you become at positioning your clients. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? By demonstrating that PR professionals are not 'flacks.' The skills, knowledge and issues required in PR are far more complex than ever. Our job goes beyond pitching the press; we need to think strategically because our clients want us to help them find the missing piece of the puzzle and to anticipate what's on the horizon. Name: David Warschawski Age: 34 Title/Company: President, Warschawski Public Relations (Baltimore) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org After spending a few years with two large global PR agencies, Warschawski was thinking in more nimble terms when he launched his own firm in 1997. To wit: under-promise and over-deliver, aspire to greatness, not mediocrity. The philosophy has attracted some of the world's biggest brands, including Adidas, Black & Decker and Penguin Books, as revenue for the agency jumped 45% in 2004 compared with 2003. (More than 100 industry awards in the last five years is a testament to Warschawski's winning ways.) A big believer in rewarding a job well done--last year, all staff members got a promotion and a 15% raise in a still-slackening economy--Warschawski is frequently sought out as a commentator on PR-related news, and has been quoted in the Boston Globe and the Washington Business Journal, among others, and he has also appeared on CNBC. Eye-opening experience? We need to understand the business problem clients are hiring us to solve, not the PR problem, and then figure out how to use our unique skill set to solve the problem and help them achieve their business goals. Best PR advice you've gotten? Don't limit your thinking to working with what is there. Ask yourself what is the goal you are trying to accomplish for the client? If the infrastructure or programs are already in place, great; if not, help the client create the infrastructure or the program to enable them to achieve their goal. Whether it is creating 'Baseball Forever' day for Ripken Baseball to help grow youth baseball at the grassroots level or creating a national water-safety pledge for USA Swimming, we love to work with our clients to develop something that previously did not exist to help them achieve their goals. Worst PR advice you've gotten? 'You are crazy to start your own agency. Don't do it!' That is what many of my friends told me before I started Warschawski. But with a clear vision of how to create a different type of PR agency than what I was seeing, I knew that I had to start my own firm. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Finding great people. We put far more emphasis on finding and hiring the total package, and less emphasis on the specific PR experience. How can the PR profession improve its overall image? For a bunch of communicators, we seem to do a fairly poor job of explaining what we do and why it is valuable. Too many young people don't see or understand how we affect major institutional decisions, business wins and losses, and public policy. All they know is 'PoweR Girls' on MTV and Lizzie Grubman. As a result, the most talented youth tend not to consider PR as a profession. Name: Kerry Anne Watson Age: 29 Title/Company: PR Account Supervisor, the Zimmerman Agency (Tallahassee, Fla.) E-mail: email@example.com Watson is going places for this marketing-communications firm specializing in premier travel-related companies, and upscale hotels and resorts. In fewer than five years, she's been promoted from account coordinator to account manager to her current gig: account supervisor. Her secret for success? Tying her clients' brands to companies with a lot of legs, such as the strategic partnerships she has developed between the The MUSE Hotel (New York) and the American Ballet Theatre, the Broadway Dance Center, the Juilliard School and the Rockettes, in which guests have the chance to live out their artistic fantasies. Those partnerships garnered features in the Wall Street Journal and in USA Today as well as broadcast segments on the Travel Channel. She also tied the hot trend of "girlfriend getaways" to the award-winning TV shows "Desperate Housewives" and "Sex and the City." The "desperate" measure got wall-to-wall coverage ranging from "The CBS Early Show" to Cosmopolitan to the New York Post. Eye-opening experience? The Zimmerman Agency was responsible for diffusing a crisis and the national media frenzy in which the late Johnnie Cochran battled our client, Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort, on behalf of a guest who had been attacked by a shark. It was eye-opening to see how PR and law run parallel, with part of our role meshing with the legal team. Best PR advice you've gotten? 'Make sure there is always a smart strategy behind the tactic.' No matter how creative your idea is, if it doesn't relate back to the overall strategy you've developed for your client, it won't work. Worst PR advice you've gotten? 'Always call the journalists to make sure they got your news release,' but I never do that. It is important that you develop relationships with them, and tailor your pitch to what they are interested in, rather than just 'blanket calling' on behalf of every program for every client. Most challenging aspect of PR in the current climate? Credibility. Sometimes it is hard to be taken seriously in an industry where turnover is high, and 'green' people are handling accounts in which they are not entrenched. It is a challenge to prove you that you do not just practice 'surface PR.' How can the PR profession improve its overall image? The industry needs to continue to establish itself as a boardroom position, not as a tactical approach spot. The viability of companies that build their brands with strategic PR integrated into the top-tier decision-making is more successful in reaching their goals.
15 To Watch
You might also be interested in: