First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Paul Wilke: We’re fortunate to all be healthy. We’ve managed to adhere to being as socially distant as possible, only going out for the bare necessities, socially gathering responsibly, and of course, wearing masks wherever we go.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Upright Position.
Paul Wilke: I founded Upright back in 2012 with one goal in mind: How to build what I do well into something that can help others. What started as me as a one-man-band PR company quickly grew into a medium-sized PR firm made up of talented people committed to telling our clients’ stories with integrity.
How does Upright Position innovate?
Paul Wilke: Most of our employees have been either journalists, clients or have worked in big PR firms…or worked for a combination of all three. There’s a disconnect between reporters, clients, and PR firms, and our innovation comes from breaking down the barriers across those three parties in a very simple way…telling our clients’ stories in a way that resonates with reporters without hyperbole. To do this, we end up serving journalists as much as we do our clients.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Paul Wilke: It’s been tough. The pandemic hit the PR world in ways I’m not sure most people expected: Clients put more pressure on public relations to tell their stories at a time when reporters were losing their jobs, having their beats reassigned, and covering less of the stories they used to cover to focus more on COVID-19-related content. This created a paradox: we had to work harder to get coverage for our clients in a space where reporters were writing less about the topics they used to write. In that paradox, something has to give, and in many cases, companies scaled back PR budgets. Thankfully, most of our clients understood the paradox and were willing to adjust and try some of the new ideas we were suggesting.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Paul Wilke: We recognized early on that the business was going to change, and in the short term, not for the better. We made sure we were set up to weather the storm as best as we could. We ended up reducing headcount slightly…which is something you never want to do, but for the sake of the long term, it was necessary. We also learned that at the outset of a crisis, you really have no idea how long it is going to last, so you should be prepared for an open-ended timeline.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and your company in the future?
Paul Wilke: Everyone deals with stress differently…I tend to dive deeper into work. On the positive side, that helps keep work moving. On the negative, it can create a stress vicious cycle. With regards to projecting… I try to be honest and upfront about where we are as a company and what we’re thinking of doing. I’ve spent a lot of time during the pandemic identifying ways to keep our clients in coverage and figure out how the public relations world will change, post-pandemic…and it will change.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Paul Wilke: We don’t have specific competitors. The good news is that there’s enough business for public relations to go around for everyone, which is why I feel like I have what I call peer friendships rather than adversaries. We plan on staying in the game by recognizing that what worked in terms of media relations 8 months ago does not work now…and will not work in the future. Additionally, we’re in the final stages of launching a new media company…thing of it as farm to table PR and content!
Your final thoughts?
Paul Wilke: 2020 (and possibly 2021) will go down as the time when everything in business is re-thought…whether it’s the merits of working from home to the value and use of the commercial real estate. People are ready to do different things, try different approaches. For that, I’m optimistic.
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