Austin & Williams, the advertising, branding and digital marketing agency has recently tapped Jody Fisher, a NYC PR veteran, to head up its new in- house PR practice. Jody joins the agency with an extensive background in communications. He began as a radio reporter before transitioning to PR in 1999. Since then, he has provided guidance to a variety of clients from Fortune 500 companies, to tourist attractions, to private individuals.
This week, this award-winning professional sat down with me to discuss his new PR role, a specific definition of success and how to create results that don’t always translate to a number, as well as the importance of truth and kindness in a difficult industry.
Congratulations on your new role with Austin & Williams heading up its new in-house PR practice! What are you most excited for in your new role?
I’m most excited by the prospect of building our new PR practice from the ground up. I’ve known (Austin & Williams President & CEO) Eva LaMere and Rick Chiorando for several years — we’ve talked about working together for a while. So it’s gratifying to get to dig in with them now, side-by-side every day, to create something special. There’s a sense of coming home — of being in the right place at the right time. I have immensely talented colleagues at Austin & Williams: Madison Avenue veterans and young, inspirational creatives. That combination enables us to best serve our clients with coordinated paid, owned and earned campaigns, which helps our clients achieve their goals and makes our firm stronger.
What are the main components of a successful PR strategy?
Every great story is about people, whether it’s the president or the person next door. If you find the compelling human story in what you’re pitching, you’ll be successful. Also, nothing can replace teamwork — both among the people supporting the campaign and between the agency and the client. Good clients are always forthcoming with information; good agencies take that information and fashion it into actionable ideas. Finally, having patience is a must. We live in a world of instant gratification — with digital media teaching us to expect everything, right now — and so we have to counsel clients to understand that success doesn’t mean pushing a button and getting a result; that getting to their goal may take more than a news cycle or two.
How do analytics drive PR strategy?
This is the great debate in PR: how do we measure what we do and prove its value? I’ve always backed away from compiling lists of hits and only using numbers as ROI because at some point, you claim a billion impressions and it gets comical. I led the PR team that worked on the arrival of the Space Shuttle Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York — a huge story, on its own — and the final campaign clip report was spread over several successive PDFs and a single printed report used nearly 10 reams of paper packed into enormous binders. It got to a point that was too vast to comprehend. But when the client could go on YouTube and see home videos of parents with their kids watching a Space Shuttle on a barge floating up the Hudson River and then have a two-mile long line outside the museum door to get into the exhibit, that’s ROI. That’s results that matter. That’s what drives me; helping to create conditions that foster tangible change.
What do you think is the biggest PR challenge facing brands today? How can they overcome it?
Probably overcoming a misguided definition of success. With a few exceptions, no brand can or needs to be “everywhere,” they need to be in the “right where.” They need to connect with their audience — both current and future — and message to them in a clear way. “The right message, at the right time, to the right people” is how I ask clients to view a clearly defined PR plan. Everything else is noise that distracts from your goal.
How do you help brands create communication that inspires action?
A call to action is a powerful thing; it invites people to get involved, to contribute their passion and their resources, whether energy, money or time. To do that successfully, you have to give people an opportunity and motivation to jump in. Years ago, at the first Mashable Connect conference, founder Pete Cashmore talked about how important experiences would be to successful social media campaigns. Today, I think that’s true across all media. When you have newspapers that have existed for a century mailing their subscribers cardboard virtual reality goggles to use with their mobile devices, you know how important tapping into a user experience can be. Now we’re shifting to conversational sharing; Ben Parr just wrote a great piece about this on Medium.
The communication and PR industry is constantly evolving. How can brands keep up?
I think it’s about recognizing your limitations and then figuring out how to push past them in a way that’s right for you. Being smart enough to know you can’t possibly know everything and then asking for help. Hiring experts who can guide you in growing your business or organization according to your vision, and listening to them when they tell you there’s a problem. Reading everything you can get your hands on, deliberating for a period of time and then acting. Charting your own course and sticking to it and changing only when the market demonstrates you have to. Don’t be lured off course by shiny objects.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
Always tell the truth. When I worked for Howard Rubenstein, he had a sign on his desk, a quote from Mark Twain, which said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Lies will bury you. When people don’t trust you, your phone doesn’t ring. Also, I’ve always put a premium on kindness — treating others with true respect — and enjoying what we do. When it’s time to work, work hard, then go home to your family, on time. Own your mistakes and fix them right away and allow others to do the same. Never burn a contact, a client or a list. Help others when you can, even when you don’t immediately benefit. One day, you will.
Rapid Fire Round:
- If I could live anywhere, it would be… right where I live now. We’re 15 minutes from the beach. OK… maybe I’d live where I could walk to the beach!
- My favorite book is…. anything about New York City history — so it’s a toss-up between “Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto (2005) and “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro (1975).
- One thing I could not go a day without is… clean air, clear thoughts and my family.
- My favorite family recipe is… anything my wife cooks! She’s a food magician.
- If I could join any music group, it would be… one that didn’t care how bad I was.
- If I had a billion dollars, I would… pay off my home, fund my kids’ college education and donate to charities doing great work in my local community. If we each take care of ourselves and our neighborhoods, most of our problems will be solved.
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