Henry Feintuch was born a writer. Growing up, he’s always loved writing and had a strong interest in the news. When he was in the Boy Scouts, he was the editor of the newsletter for his local chapter. One Halloween, he even dressed up as a reporter and carried around a typewriter. As a news junkie, the move into broadcast journalism and, ultimately, PR was natural. With 30+ years in the industry, Henry sat down with us and shared his thoughts on the changes and what it means going forward.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in PR?
The Internet. I started as a broadcast journalist so I spent time at four different radio stations and Channel 2 News in New York before I shifted my career path. Since then, the biggest change was the availability of the Internet. It changed everything—the introduction of email, the ability to publish content directly to a targeted audience, the ease and accessibility of worldwide information and instant and mass communications.
What is the most challenging thing about PR?
Client expectations and reality. Managing client expectations and educating clients about what is possible through PR is challenging. Some clients have their own ideas of results and the ROI PR should deliver. So it is essential to get everyone on the same page; otherwise the relationship won’t last and we can’t succeed regardless of the output.
At the onset of the relationship, partner with the client even as we strive to manage both our roles in their program. Ensure you both understand the current assets you have and what results those assets can deliver. You can tell a client “no” if you know what they are asking for is wrong or not in their best interest. Keep them focused on the business outcomes they are looking to achieve, instead of simply generating buzz and media coverage.
Both are important but those are not the end game for me. The outcome should not only be the article in the WSJ but to increase product sales or enhance their reputation as an industry leader. Fundamentally, this goes back to their overall objectives and the best strategies and tactics we can employ to accomplish them.
Is there anything happening in the industry that you find interesting?
A social media program is more effective with media relations or thought leadership campaigns and should be valued alongside other valuable tactics instead of being the primary channel. It’s another way to communicate to an audience, no different to running an event, a press release, etc. Companies think they need these platforms so the medium or channel is saturated because everyone is doing it. The reality is that you need to see if it’s an appropriate channel to reach your audience.
What is important about writing and how can professionals improve their skills?
Writing is an art. You can be a great creative writer, but if you can’t write to convey the message of your campaign, you’ll never succeed.
Writing is a key tool that communications professionals use to educate the market and capture the attention of their audiences. Through writing, we convey the voice of a company or brand, its goals, aspirations and/or point of view.
You need to be flexible in your style of writing so you can produce copy that is appropriate for each intended use. There are two ways to improve your writing: by reading and by writing.
When you immerse yourself in reading different forms of writing (e.g., news, books, blogs, etc.), it influences the way you think and can help you become more creative. Similarly, the more you write, the better you write. By putting this skill into practice, you can essentially improve your writing over time.
How do you generate news and build buzz for clients?
By listening. Early on in my career, a seasoned professional told me, “Don’t just speak to hear yourself heard. Go into a meeting and listen and take notes.”
Meetings with clients, reporters, customers, etc., provide an opportunity to ask questions. If PR people were less concerned about being authorities and more concerned with listening and asking the right questions, we’d get to the heart of their need faster. Being a great listener and great reporter have helped me immensely over the years.
I don’t like to build buzz for clients. I don’t even like the word buzz. I like to solve my clients’ business problems and realize their business goals. In fact, if part of what they need is buzz, publicity, word-of-mouth, then we will develop that but I look at that in a more holistic fashion. Clients won’t get the best from us if the goal is to just build buzz.
The approach, when we want to generate excitement in the marketplace, will vary from client to client and situation to situation. Building buzz means so many different things, based on who we are targeting, the industry and what we are trying to accomplish.
What publication do you read on a daily basis?
The New York Times. Every day. I like the writing style of The New York Times, the editorial mix, the journalistic standards that are imposed and the resources available to staff to report from all around the world. They do a great job at giving a well-rounded view of the world. I also get news from difference sources—news radio, television, online—but it’s very important to read a paper of record in order to stay current with the world, opinion and things that are happening outside of your sphere.