Eric Yaverbaum co-founded Jericho Communications and served as President from 1985 until it’s acquisition by MDC (publically held and traded on the Canadian Exchange) and subsequent merger with Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in 2006. At the time, Jericho was ranked nationally as the 21st largest public relations agency in the country and the 11th best agency in the country to work for. A hands-on manager and strategist, Yaverbaum has been repeatedly called as an “industry legend” and “social media guru” in the national media for three decades.
He regularly advises some of the world’s most prominent CEOs and corporate titans on all aspects of strategic planning, media relations and crisis preparedness and has advised everyone from the Chairman’s of the Fortune 500 (including companies like Domino’s Pizza to Sony, Progressive Insurance and Berkshire Hathaway) to King Abdullah II to Presidential candidates to the United Nations.
He has helped launched companies like Vitamin Water ( which was sold for one billion dollars to Coca Cola) to Deutsch Advertising when it had only 10 employee’s (also sold for one billion dollars), to direct response start ups like The “Juiceman” and Home Shopping to Billy Blanks and “Tae Bo.”
Eric is a regular on the lecture circuit, speaking to professional organizations and universities across the country. He also is a frequent talk show guest on national television, making weekly appearances on Fox News and MSNBC. Yaverbaum is a regular contributor to the Washington Post and Huffington Post and has made appearances on CBS This Morning, The Today Show, CNN, and Larry King Live, in addition to many other television and radio programs. Yaverbaum was the co-author of the best-selling book I’ll Get Back to You (McGraw Hill, Dec. 1998), and the author of Public Relations For Dummies (Wiley Books, Feb. 2001, Second Edition published May 2006), Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs (Dearborn, March 2004), which sold over one million copies, and Everything Leadership (Adams, May 2008). Yaverbaum wrote his most recent book, Life's Little College Admissions Insights (Morgan James, January 2010), with his daughter, Cole.
Yaverbaum was an active member of the highly selective Young President’s Organization, where he was elected Chapter Chairman in New York City and briefly sat on the global board of directors until his agency was sold and Yaverbaum resigned.
His widely acclaimed “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” campaign helped push increased spending on stem cell research through the House of Representatives and led to his nomination as a “Hero” of public relations industry by PR Week. Along with Mark DiMassimo, Yaverbaum founded the Tappening movement, a promotion of the virtues of accessible and healthy tap water. Tappening water bottles were named one of the hottest and trendiest products of 2008 by ABC’s Good Morning America.
How did you get into the industry?
I got into PR because I wanted to wear sneakers to work. It’s almost as simple as that. I liked the idea of starting my own business, and PR seemed exciting if for no other reason than you get to meet all these titanic personalities. I’ve worked with so many over the course of 35 years. From Kings to Presidents to the most well known business personalities and success stories of our time. Living legends.
Interestingly I got to work with Jack Lalane for the last seven years of his life. He was this absolutely fascinating historically iconic figure. I remember looking at him, this ninety-year-old man who was in better shape than I was. And of course he was most well known for his non wavering commitment to personal fitness. Jack was one of those people who actually touched and changed my life. He treated me like I was one of his kids. So gracious.
A little earlier in my career, I had the good fortune of working with Trillium Health Products to launch and promote their Juiceman brand and educational juicing seminar series that toured the country for many years. They became the first mass market consumer-level juicer. So I’ve basically been surrounded by this health and wellness culture throughout my career and I kind of started imbibing it. Cut to twenty five years later, and I’m out of shape. I get this new client, a personal trainer named Leandro Carvalho. my agency started working with him professionally, as his agency while his pr team and I also were making use of his fitness expertise and training, and he more or less introduces me to Beachbody, one of the world’s leading providers of fitness, training, and nutrition programs in the world.
All of which is a really roundabout way of saying that one of the reasons I love doing PR is because it means I can influence people to adopt healthier lifestyles. I feel better now than I ever have in my entire life. The people at Beachbody, especially Carl Daikelar, the co-founder who I’ve known and admired for decades, are seriously just brilliant people who have figured out a way to really make fitness accessible to everybody, in no small part with technology and a streaming platform that over a million people use in their own homes already. Doing PR lets me help bring more people into this community where they can just feel better. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with a company that actually makes people healthier?
Any emerging industry trends?
I don’t think anybody really saw the power of social media coming in all of its glory. It’s the sort of thing most companies assign their interns to. Meanwhile, I personally manage some of the social profiles of some of my biggest clients. Part of the reason we were all so shocked by the election of Donald Trump is that, well, we’re actually as a society pretty dismissive of social media. But it’s super powerful. Just look in the oval office. Politics aside, social media works.
To bring it back to fitness, because I spend a lot of time in that world, it’s actually pretty illustrative; the fitness community is so plugged in, so connected that they really are a community. Beachbody has really been able to tap into that and make use of it to grow their brand, to grow their influence. Fitness and nutrition are about as social a category as social gets. They’ve embraced and developed technology in an area where most people wouldn’t see how it could fit, and made it the cornerstone of their engagement with their audience. More companies need to really leverage the power of social media to affect how people think about them. Eventually everyone will.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
To piggyback off my last answer, I really want to underline the importance of digital communication and social media, because it’s only going to get more powerful from here – and I can’t stress enough that Twitter made Donald Trump president. It’s something people in PR are still wrapping their heads around, focusing all their attention on prestigious print media placements like the New York Times instead of working on building the kind of social profile at the same time, that can make real changes even faster. Social media has created musicians, actors, television shows, artists from obscurity to fame.. It removes the middleman and lets people directly engage – which is precisely why it’s so powerful. There’s still great value in the traditional gatekeepers of culture and information – newspapers, new channels, magazines – because those names have elevated credibility attached to them. There is no doubt what so ever that gaining exposure in them just multiplies itself all around the digital space. Still absolutely worth it.
I caught wind of this really early, and tried to get on top of it as quickly as I could. I published magazines on how to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for PR, but it was virtually impossible to sell a strategy that centered on those channels. And really all I ever suggested was that they be included in the digital surround sound of information dissemination. People can get a little too caught up in the names of their media outlets and not their impact. And it’s still going slowly! But the ground has been shaking under our feet for a decade, and it’s surprising to me that so many corporations have not figured out how to use social and digital media in an impactful way.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The thing I guess I’m the most passionate about in PR, the whole reason I got into this business, is that it’s incredibly powerful. You can shape people’s opinions, beliefs, and behavior. PR has been one of the major forces guiding the entire last century. History is literally made in PR.
Not long after I got into the business ,my passion for the game of baseball combined with my pr prowess rocked the world of Major League Baseball. With a strike looming over the pure joy of the game for those of us who were fans in 1985, I didn’t have to sit idly by and watch what I perceived to be the rich players vs. the wealthier owners battle it out, while I could barely afford a hot dog and tickets. So, we created a national citizen’s action group called Strike Back that organized a letter writing campaign where fans would promise to skip one game post-strike for every game that got cancelled. And you know what? It worked. The entire strike lasted a day, and the commissioner of baseball cited Strike Back and the fan sentiment as one of the major reasons the strike was so short. Imagine being 25 years old and having the type of influence.
The fact is that PR can move mountains. It’s powerful and influential and it can change both perception and reality for the better. When my ex wife was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I thought I could use my PR skillset to find the evasive cure. My agency organized a campaign called “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” in lieu of having a massive march on Washington (which would have been impossible to organize; the partners and caretakers of MS patients wouldn’t have been able to come as they would be, you know, caring for MS patients). While we were unable to sway the Senate, we did sway the house vote for increased funding of stem cell research. Our efforts reached the highest echelons of power. I’d like to believe with so many more efforts and initiatives that our efforts helped in some small way to raise awareness and bring us a baby step closer to finding that cure. While I may have been a little naïve to what it takes to cure an illness, I remain inspired by my ex wife who I think of as sort of the Michael Jordon of chronic illness. She never gives up and embraces every day. PR or not.
Basically, I see PR as a powerful tool to help make the world a better place, impacting history and changing its direction. God knows we need it.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing as long as I love it…which has been for over three decades now. Loving what you do makes every day a new day in passion. I don’t have a giant meta-goal for Ericho (my agency) beyond, well, I want everyone who works for me or works with me to enjoy success. I like raising superstars. It’s my favorite part of the job.
I’m extremely proud of my team and their capabilities, and I’ve deliberately worked to create a company that doesn’t operate the way you’d expect. When I was younger, one of the most influential global organizations I belonged to (and eventually chaired in NYC) was the Young President’s Organization (YPO). Almost by definition it was made up of very powerful execs from big companies. And many of the most successful and respected entrepreneurs in the world. YPO is a literal who’s who of intellect, power and success. One of this countries most highly regarded bank presidents told me, “you can love a good company, but a good company will never love you back.” That always felt backwards and wrong to me. I invest in my team in this big way; I want them to be superstars. So I really try to make sure they’re being treated well, that they can see the commitment I have to them more than just spoken, but demonstrated. My company does actually love them back.
So as for what’s in the future? I want to keep raising up superstars.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Not all my associations are public, but by empowering my team – I give my team the power to drive their accounts, to work closely with clients, to direct their careers, to make them powerful. That’s what drives our success. They get to do extraordinary things! Sometimes at very young ages. Like I was when I started moving a mountain or two. That’s incredible to me.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
It may be cliché, but 9/11 really shook me and my sense of what kind of business I wanted to run. The vast majority of people can’t fake who they are in a crisis.. Those sort of life situations will always reveal who and what someone really is. Some leaders hid under their desks that day . Some people push people down to get to the door. Some people stay and help others. Now, New York was such a horror show that day, and I don’t just mean the attacks. The city kind of ground to a halt; were more attacks coming? What should we do? How do we get home? Absolute chaos right out of your window. Not on TV, but on your block.
I was watching the attacks with my staff at our office windows. We watched the second plane hit. There aren’t guidebooks or any precedent to learn from for that, and I wasn’t sure what exactly to do about this. Do I send people home? Do we all stay here? What’s the safest way forward? So my gut was to send everyone home with some realistic plan for how they would get there. I wanted to make sure they had their laptops. It wasn’t about making sure they could work from home – who was worried about that? I wanted to be able to make sure everyone would be able to get in touch and check in. So I would know that 183 people made it home safely that day from my freelancers working all over the city to my staff working in our offices that day.
What I learned that day was that what mattered for me at my business was the well being of my investment in time, and it helped me focus in on that and really make it a top priority. I could do so much more good if I trusted my gut and always considered what was highest and best use of my limited time. On that particular day, the best use of my time was to care for those I felt responsible and act swiftly to make sure they were all safe and sound by the end of the day.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I want their businesses to succeed. I want to make their lives and businesses better.
We try to get inside a client and figure out what makes them tick, where their cash register is, and build a bridge with the discipline of ours over to that cash register. . We understand their businesses; we know what they do and why they do it, and that means we can explain them to the world. We take complex subjects and make them simple. Clients don’t keep us because we get them press. That’s what they pay for. That’s the bare minimum. Clients keep us because we’re intimate with their business models.
We want companies to grow, so we get inside their own organizational behavior and psychology to make it happen. If we get what a company is really about and what is so unique about them, then we can help them reach their next level. That’s our value. We love the next level up mentality. The higher the better.
How do you motivate others?
The way that I live. Either you’ll be inspired, or you won’t work for me. Certainly not for a long time. I can tell anybody what to do but that doesn’t mean it’ll click. Motivation comes by modeling the right kind of behavior. It’s a lot like parenting. But it really all comes from example and visceral leadership.
After my divorce, I was broke, flat on my back,. Like I did as a boxer in my youth (a poor one at that), when I got knocked to the mat (which was more frequently than you might imagine). I didn’t stay down, never stayed on that mat. Simply, I wouldn’t. I needed to stand back up. I wouldn’t quit. Won’t quit. Ever. Its not in my DNA. That example matters so much more than words. Keep going has become a popular hashtag on social media. It’s not a hashtag to me. It’s a lifestyle. I always prevail in the end.
Do as I do, not as I say. Someday my son will do exactly the same as me, because he saw me do exactly that. No pep talk, just a life demonstration in real time of growing up.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Put on a thick skin. Nobody is going to hold your hand, and nobody is going to be nice to you. Earn it. Every single solitary day.. Keep going. That actually works. And stop taking everything so personally.
I take an approach to teambuilding that’s basically this: if I’m not the dumbest one in the room, I’m in the wrong room. I hire people who can elevate me, instead of people I can feel better than. That’s how you learn, and I love how smart my staff is. Every single one of them is smarter than me, and that’s by design.
That generates real value; if everyone agrees, nothing happens. But if smart people disagree, the challenge leads to better solutions. I call it intellectual fiction; I want to rub intellects together and see the magic happen.
Lastly, don’t shy away from trouble. Run right to the eye of the storm; that’s where you need to be.