Gary Frisch is a 22-year industry veteran who earlier in his career was involved in the launch of the DVD format in the United States. He initially entered the PR field with hopes of becoming PR manager for an NHL team, but that never happened. When he’s not busy running his company or training to become a pilot, Gary is a part-time adjunct professor teaching PR courses at Temple University in Philadelphia. In 2008, his company, Swordfish Communications, was recognized by the Philadelphia Business Journal as part of its South Jersey Corporate Philanthropy Awards. And in 2011 Gary was recognized as runner up for Businessperson of the Year by the Rotary Club in his hometown of Voorhees, N.J.
Swordfish Communications is a full-service South Jersey public relations agency. They specialize in getting their clients messages out to their target audiences through the strategic use of media relations, corporate social responsibility programs and social networking.
MO: There are a lot of PR and marketing companies out there, what sets Swordfish apart from the competition?
Gary: First, we’ll work with clients of any size, even small companies, and one-off projects that larger agencies won’t touch. A lot of small businesses and start-ups like the idea of public relations to promote themselves, but don’t know how to go about it, or have no interest in signing a long-term contract with a large, entrenched agency. We have a lower overhead than those firms, so can offer an affordable level of service to those types of companies. But more importantly, we provide very personalized service. We like to think of ourselves as a partner to our clients, not just a contractor. The term we use is we want to become their “in-house, off-site PR department.”
MO: With so many established firms, what influenced you to start your own instead of working for someone else?
Gary: I’ve been there, done that. I worked for three agencies in my career after working in-house at Panasonic, and I discovered I’m not real good at working for other people. I’m a very creative person, and I’ve determined I want to have the creative control that comes with my ideas. For example, if “the boss” wants me to pursue a particular tactic, and I can tell early on that the tactic just isn’t generating results, I want to change tactics on the fly, not simply continue doing it because it’s PR “best practice” or what worked for another client. Beyond that, I love being in control of my own fate – using my energy to both locate and solicit new clients, then doing great work for them while benefitting myself, not enriching somebody else. And finally, being my own boss, I get to share in the life of my kids more than when I worked for other agencies. I could go watch their Halloween parades at school, for example.
MO: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your new innovative service, News Angler?
Gary: News Angler is our process of digging into a client’s business to find one or more appealing news or human interest stories that will entice the media. As I mentioned before, some companies just don’t know how to get started when it comes to public relations. News Angler simply brands a service that most good agencies should be doing anyway, and provides a good jumping-off point for newcomers to PR. News Angler is based on my belief that every organization has something interesting to talk about, but sometimes even the business just doesn’t know what that is. I go in with my journalist hat on (I was a journalist before entering PR) to help them figure that out.
MO: Are you seeing a rise in corporate responsibility programs? Why do you think that it’s so important for businesses to be involved in charitable causes?
Gary: Every business is so competitive right now, and just as people like to do business with people they like and trust, consumers want to do business with companies they like. Why do they like a company? Exceptional products, service or value are the usual reasons, but good citizenship, giving something back is a great reason to like a company, especially when that giving back hews close to your own personal beliefs. If you’re an animal lover, how can you not like Coke for trying to save the habitat of polar bears?
There’s definitely been a rise in CSR (corporate social responsibility) and I think that’s partly a result of social media. Never before have companies been able to have a two-way communication with their customers like they can today, and that works in three ways: it lets companies easily share information about their CSR initiatives with customers, at little expense; it gives them a direct channel to enlist passionate customers in the cause (for example, “buy our product this month and x amount will go toward the polar bears,” or simply “share this link with your friends”); and it provides almost immediate feedback as to how successful the campaign is.
That’s what public relations is by almost any definition – two-way communication between an organization and its publics for the benefit of both sides.
MO: You’re very philanthropic and I was impressed at how committed you are to numerous local charities. Where does your drive for social responsibility come from and can you remember the first time you were inspired to give back to the community in which you live?
Gary: My first insider’s exposure to CSR came when I was with Panasonic, and was in charge of generating press coverage for their annual Christmas party for local disabled children. Here were these kids with cerebral palsey and other afflictions, who barely seemed to know what was going on around them, yet each year I got to see their faces absolutely light up when Santa Claus handed them a toy. It really struck a nerve for me, and after the first year seeing it made this event an easy pitch when I was on the phone with journalists.
I’m a big believer that CSR is an integral part of public relations, so I almost always recommend some kind of program to my clients. From there, it’s really a matter of practicing what I preach. Besides that, it’s just a wonderful feeling to get involved in an event that becomes successful and helps so many people. Besides getting personally involved, my company provides pro bono publicity for some of these events and organizations.
MO: What are three tips that you would give someone about to start their own public relations agency?
Gary: Number one, go in eyes wide open. It’s going to be a daily challenge to generate business, and a livable income. That’s been the hardest part, gaining business, and finding time to devote to that aspect of it.
Number two, give every project your best effort, no matter how small. That’s how you earn your reputation, and why clients will come back with more work or refer you to others. Take no short cuts. Treat a $300 project the same way you’d treat a $2,000 a month campaign.
And third, place value on your time and effort properly. The services and talents you offer are very specific, but when starting out its easy to sell yourself short because you need the work. It takes some discipline, and some trial and error, but figure out a reasonable hourly rate in line with what other professionals charge and abide by it, or at least stick close to it.
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