We talked to Eric Fischgrund of FischTank PR about digital marketing during the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eric Fischgrund: We are fine, thank you for asking. My daughter is about to turn one, and my close family members are well and healthy. Like many Americans, we lost elderly loved ones in the early months of COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FischTank PR.
Eric Fischgrund: I’ll give you the cliff notes. I was born in Maine, grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Shippensburg University in central PA. I graduated with a degree in Communications/Journalism and a minor in Psychology.
I first started in PR in 2008 at a firm in Hackensack, NJ. From there, I went in-house for a real estate company and its affiliated broker-dealer. Although I only stayed in-house for a couple of years, 2011-2013, it was an incredible experience that left a mark on my career. Working for a colorful, entrepreneurial startup and its leadership, I quickly learned that all the bureaucratic stuff and focus on promotions to various new titles in PR, etc., was really a waste of time. Age/experience meant nothing (ok, experience means something), but execution and aptitude meant a lot more.
Early on, I was able to really define my position and began viewing marketing/communications as being more integrated within business development, investor/customer acquisition, etc. I stopped viewing the efforts of all departments as siloed.
I left that company and started FischTank PR because of this new outlook on my career and business in general: I didn’t have to follow the rules, I could do things my way, and as long as there was value in it for my customers/clients, it would be a success.
Nearly seven years later, we continue to chug along.
How does FischTank PR innovate?
Eric Fischgrund: We innovate beyond just our approach to public relations and marketing, but with our approach to client relations. We are an objective-driven communications agency, so our goal(s) aren’t the same blind metric expectations (like DMA size or total subscribers) that other firms chase, but more relevant to specific outcomes.
For example, when we start working with a new client and ask them why they hired us, the easy answer is “to get my company in the media!” – but that’s a means to an end. Why do you want to be in the media? SEO/ORM ramifications? Investor awareness? Lead generation?
We innovate by catering every client strategy to their specific goals/objectives.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Eric Fischgrund: Well, I’m writing this to you from a 20-person office in lower Manhattan that has one person sitting in it every day, so the lack of office interaction is an easy answer.
It’s definitely frustrating that we can’t have our normal office interactions/engagement, and I know many of my colleagues feel the same way. Work from home is great, and it’s proven to be productive for the majority of people I know, but lack of human interaction is also a problem.
We’ve coped by having meet-ups (outdoors, the social distancing, of course) and Zoom happy hours with themes. Many of those themes are interactive and require sharing, engaging with one another, etc. – all the things we can’t do in person.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Eric Fischgrund: The biggest lesson learned is how quickly things can change, as well as the general reminder that none of us know anything when it comes to global catastrophes. In the early weeks, I remember talking with clients who would say things confidently like, “We’ll be back in the office by June,” and I would say, “Eh, maybe September.” Looking back, what did we know? Obviously not enough.
We are fortunate that FischTank PR grew during 2020, and none of our difficult choices resulted in job loss or salary reduction for our colleagues. However, it didn’t always look that way. In April, we experienced major hits to revenue, and it felt in that moment like we wouldn’t have a shot of hitting our 2020 growth projections. Things changed quickly, and by July, we were back to where we started, and then blew by it this fall. Things can change quickly.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and FischTank PR in the future?
Eric Fischgrund: Mostly with tequila and undying, unrewarding love for Philadelphia sports? I try to stay level, but it’s not always that easy. Some days it’s just about putting on a brave face and powering through. Others require a day off to reflect, spend some time away from the computer/phone, and remember that there’s more to life than just work. I also spend a lot of time outside with my family and my wing-dog, Buddy. That helps!
Projecting myself and the company? Honest and hardworking. I’ve heard several clients past and present mention that our client relations and care for the partnership are reasons for continued engagement. Hopefully, everyone we work with knows that we go 110% because we care and understand that our effort reflects our reputation.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Eric Fischgrund: We run into different agencies from time to time. I don’t know if I would refer to any of the individuals as competitors. There are always the big PR agencies who do “crisis control” for the conglomerates and pay a ton of sponsorship money to “industry leading” magazines like PRWeek, then win a bunch of awards from those organizations at the end of the year. Most of those agencies have been around for centuries, and whose leadership inherited from their parents who started said the agency, so I don’t put a lot of stock in their experience vs. ours at FischTank, who built it on ourselves. I bet they don’t call us competitors either!
Your final thoughts?
Eric Fischgrund: Hard work can’t be replaced, culture is everything, your network will grow if you care about the people in it, and journalism is still doing great – you just have to look a bit harder to find it.