• Learn How to Build a Powerful Personal Brand That Will Differentiate You and Allow You To Compete in the Global Marketplace.
  • Personal Branding Interview: Aaron Kwittken

    Today, I spoke to Aaron Kwittken, who is the CEO and Managing Partner of Kwittken & Co and a previous vice president at Fleishman Hillard.  In this interview, Aaron goes over some obstacles he faced in becoming successful at a young age, how his role as a PR person has changed and what you should pay attention to, as well as his view on press releases and much more.

    How did you become an executive at Fleishman-Hillard at 25 years old? What obstacles did you face?

    I was recruited to help launch IBM’s E-Business campaign back in 1996. The launch was incredibly successful, helping IBM to regain its footing as a technology business leader and displace the then contenders (now laughable), AOL, Netscape and Microsoft. I was also fortunate to have led a litigation communications support team on behalf of an Alabama chip-maker named Intergraph Corporation, in its high profile anti-trust suit against Intel. These two experiences, in addition to being able to generate significant new and organic business opportunities, I believe gave me the good fortune to accelerate my ascension.

    The obstacles I faced at FH were the same ones I faced every day of my career, that is until I started balding more. When I entered a room, people thought I was there to take meeting notes, make copies or fetch coffee and snacks. I had a client once mistake me for the UPS guy at an event in San Francisco (note: I rarely wear much brown these days).

    The greatest challenges were often internal and not with clients. I have often been in a position where the people I manage were anywhere from 10-15 years older than me. If these people had high self-esteem and confidence, then I had no issues, as long as they performed of course.

    Like anything else in life, you just need to prove your worth no matter your age or background. I worked harder than my peers and was careful to always dress up – a suit and tie but never one that looks like you wore it at your bar-mitzvah. It is important to remember too that performance is the great equalizer. Providing great client service, securing additional business from those clients and bringing in new business, is a sure fire way to succeed.

    How has your role as a PR person changed in the past few years?

    Three fundamental shifts have significantly impacted the public relations industry over the past few years and all of them for the better, even if perversely so, when talking about upside to a down economy.

    1. The Economy. In a bizarre twist of fate, the economy has actually bolstered the role of public relations professionals who have the skills to help leaders manage through tough times by preserving and protecting brands and company reputations. Sure, we have been practicing more “issues and crisis management” than ever before but we also now have a seat at the C-suite table like never before, alongside the CMO’s and no longer subjugated. The economy was a stark reminder to executive leadership that PR can get more done, often for less money and with as great an impact as other forms of marketing communications. I am not advocating that companies only do PR. I am saying that the mix has changed, for the short-tem. More importantly, for the long-term I hope and expect that our higher-grade status remains the same or continues to rise.
    2. The Not So Average American. A recent study by Ogilvy and Mather around the 2010 Census,suggests that there is no such thing as the average American anymore. For example, Texas and California no longer have any one majority race or ethnicity and there are more multi-generational households than ever before. This notion, which I agree with, is already having an impact on how brands effectively market to consumers. PR has an ability to customize and segment messages and our earned media “pitches,” thanks to specialty magazines, social media and online communities, events, promotions, etc.
    3. The Social & Searching Web. Social media strategies and vehicles have certainly added a new and valuable component to the PR mix. However, not enough attention has been paid to SEO and the “on-page” strategies marketers will need to advance and accelerate to access the deep web. The PR folks would be wise to invest in SEO experts, not social media experts, going forward. Both need to be part of a PR professional’s evolved genetic makeup.

    Do you think the press release will fade out anytime soon?

    No, though I will admit that the term “press release” has long been a misnomer – even before the rise of the Internet and social media. Releases serve important information sharing purposes for multiples of audiences regardless of what you call them. Companies are under pressure to increase their transparency and continue to demonstrate momentum and key milestones to their stakeholders. Releases are good, as long as they have a defined business purpose behind them. I DO think that the paid newswires (PR Newswire, Businesswire) will fade over time. Why should we continue to pay a middleman for access to an audience that we can reach on our own for free?

    What is the difference between engaging with bloggers and traditional media?

    There should be no difference. Tell a great story, disclose relationships, provide reasonable access to spokespeople and always tell the truth. Eventually, bloggers, like Journos, will likely (albeit informally) adopt a set of standards and a code of business conduct that we all can agree to. The FTC’s recent revision of its disclosure guidelines is a step in the right direction.

    How valuable do you think mainstream media is to PR campaigns now?

    First, remember my point earlier about the rise of multi-general households? Well, that means that there will not be a one-size-fits-all media solution. Mainstream media will never go away, they will continue to morph into hybrid platforms and the Web will continue to drive much needed efficiencies within the media business, which will result in improved talent pools and better reporting.

    Mainstream “dailies” (a funny term to use now) like New York, Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times will continue to wield influence as will the wires. Broadcast TV and cable always follow print and continue to reach mass audiences. Take the YouTube wedding video for example. It only reached an epic amount of views and so called buzz once the morning shows and CNN started to report on it. That all said, I do think certain segments of mainstream media will die, and soon – namely the mainstream news weeklies, except the Economist.

    There will always be breaking news to manage and companies wishing to make the news. The best news of all is that traditional media outlets are starting to conceive content and story ideas that are based on search versus what they fancy. If PR folks can understand search/SEO better, we will be able to tell and sell more stories both offline and online.

    Aaron Kwittken is the CEO and Managing Partner of Kwittken & Co.  During Aaron’s 19-year public relations career, his expertise and performance have resulted in a rapid ascent through the industry.  A vice president at Fleishman Hillard by 25, an executive vice president of Ketchum managing 250 people by 29, a president handpicked to resurrect Internet PR agency Euro RSCG Middleberg by 31, Aaron has enjoyed spectacular success and was recognized by PR Week in 2007 as one of the nation’s top 40 public relations professionals under the age of 40. His services have been requested by numerous iconic brands and blue-chip companies including, but not limited to, IBM, MCI, Yahoo!, Mercedes-Benz USA, British Airways, Absolut Spirits, Cantor-Fitzgerald, Heineken USA, America Online, Schering Plough, D&B, Reuters, S&P, Visa International, Goldman Sachs, Bell South, Consumer’s Union, KPMG and Deloitte & Touche.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Futures, Interview, Marketing, People, Personal Branding, PR, Social Media
    Content Partners
    As Seen In