Peter founded Flatiron Communications LLC in 2005 after playing senior media leadership roles at Edelman, Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe and Hill and Knowlton. He started his career in entertainment at NYC PR boutique Zarem Inc. Flatiron is a New York City-based PR and digital media consultancy that helps emerging and established companies capitalize on the latest communications technologies and digital, social and content marketing strategies. In addition to running Flatiron, Peter has written since 2011 for Forbes.com on the intersection of media, technology and marketing. He also founded and edits the “Adventures in Consumer Technology” publication for Medium.com, which has 46,000 followers. He is solidly engaged in the social graph mostly with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Swarm, LinkedIn, and Snapchat on occasion. Peter serves as president of the Publicity Club of New York, is active with the New York Tech Meetup, and sits on the executive board of the Communications and Media Studies Program at Tufts University from which he holds a B.A. in Political Science and French.
How did you get into the industry?
After graduating Tufts University with a degree in political science and French, I was determined to try to break into the music industry. (At Tufts, I headed the university’s concert board and spent four years on its alternative radio station.) I sent my resume around to scores of record label executives, one of whom (from Warner Bros) kindly forwarded it to a small entertainment PR boutique in Manhattan. I went in for the interview, was asked to go home and write a “pitch letter” about my favorite artist. (What’s a pitch letter? I wondered at the time.) Three months later I was called and told to come in the next day. I was hired. On my first day of work, the firm’s senior account person escorted me to NBC at 30 Rock where she introduced me as “the new publicist” on “America Alive,” a network daytime talk show hosted by Bruce Jenner…but that’s another story.
Any emerging industry trends?
In the last dozen years or so, I’ve observed five seismic shifts affecting today’s public relations practitioners.
1. The first was the onset of CGM or consumer generated media (aka blogs, YouTube video…) through which anyone or any company could create and syndicate content directly to key constituents…in effect bypassing the news media filter.
2. With the onset of CGM, came the fragmentation of news media and the commensurate loss of influence by legacy news organizations. Consumers now have many more choices from which to get their news and info, and they tend to gravitate toward like-minded sources.
3. The third seismic shift arrived in the form of social media, and the ability for consumers to share and amplify content to their friends and followers. Today, more people get their news through their Facebook feeds than from any one particular source.
4. The fourth pivotal change in how PR professionals advance the interests of their clients arrived in the form of “influencer marketing,” and in particular the ability to pay those with large followings on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. to insert branded messages in their editorial output. Event producers also jumped on the influencer bandwagon by paying social stars to attend and post their thoughts from their events (aka “activations.”)
5. The last, and most recent development affecting PR pros is one that portends considerable danger for our democracy: the ability for nefarious actors to purposely and opaquely disseminate false or misleading information to sway public opinion. It is no secret that Russian pays thousands of individuals to create false information to advance its political objectives in the U.S., UK, Ukraine and elsewhere. Sadly, this is not a tactic that Russia has the lock on.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The biggest challenges for PR professionals are a bi-product of some of the changes cited above. They include:
• How best to create a client result, i.e., uptick in sales, stock price, reputation, when the mainstream media has lost much of its influence to truly move the needle in today’s fragmented media environment.
• Still, “earned” media continues to be a more effective marketing discipline than paid, but with the ratio of five PR pros to every one journalist, the ability to engage has grown much more challenging.
• The majority of agencies – even those that tout their digital credentials – still rely on, and use as a measure of success, story “placement.” Most agencies do not train their staffs nor develop the skill sets to take advantage of the distinct advantages offered by influencer, content and social media marketing.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
When leaving the big agency world after nearly three decades in the trenches, I soon realized that there are many talented and untethered industry professionals who I could deploy on behalf of my newly formed firm’s growing clientele. I had the advantage of serving as President of the Publicity Club of New York through which I met PR pros of all stripes. Hence, the client-service model for Flatiron Communications revolved around leveraging my network to find and build teams with the most pertinent skill sets and industry experience. Also, having joined networking platform LinkedIn in its nascent days proved a most fortuitous decision.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Fans of Ryan Hoover’s Product Hunt are no doubt surprised and amazed by the cool new products his team finds and curates on any given day. The same goes for PR professionals – at least those who are curious. There are a handful of productivity tools available today to help us do our jobs more efficiently and effect9vely. Some of my fave go-to’s include: ToutApp, MuckRack, Cision, Grammarly, Google Docs, Twitter, DropBox, Newton Mail…
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
The business model Flatiron uses allows the firm to cherry-pick the exact right skills and experience when building a client-service team. By operating this way, we are able to provide best-in-class service at a fraction of the fees that mid-sized or even small agencies charge. We also have achieved considerable success competing for large, global clients against large global agencies…as evidenced by our clients’ renewal rates.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
We recently help launch at CES the first wearable backpack that featured a built-in digital display that was programmable with images from one’s iOS or Android smartphone (via Bluetooth). We were able to break through the CES clutter and secure media coverage from Engadget, The AP, CNET, PopSugar, The Verge, Teen Vogue and many others – all without a formal presence or sponsorship at the giant consumer electronics confab
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
As much as has changed in the practice of PR, the overriding goal remains pretty much the same: how to help clients build a bigger, branded footprint in mainstream, digital and social media – one that accrues to a measurable business result such as more sales, more qualified leads, increase in stock price, or enhanced reputation.
How do you motivate others?
Years ago at Burson-Marsteller, the agency offered me the opportunity to take an effective management course whose tenets have stuck with me to this day. In essence, it divided one’s direct reports into four categories, each of which required a different approach. Newbies were tasked with specific goals and timetables, and little acknowledgement when they were completed. More senior reports were asked to weigh in on strategy and agree on deliverables. I follow this approach to this day. Also, FWIW, I also remain by their side in the trenches, editing pitch letters, researching journalists and influencers, and helping clients on messaging and interview technique.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I frequently jump on calls with soon-to-be-minted college graduates to offer career advice – mostly from Tufts, but elsewhere as well. It becomes clear very soon into the call whether the PR aspirant did any homework before taking the call. How can one expect to succeed with a client if he or she did not bone up in advance on what keeps a client up at night? That’s a big pet peeve. Also, being conscientious, i.e., responsiveness, is a big plus. I remember a young man in B-M’s DC office who always answered his own phone and returned calls within an hour or two. I would joke with him and say, “you’re going far in this business.” Ten years later, he was head of communications at Bloomberg LP and went on the become president at a major communications firm.