He got his start in entertainment PR, and then migrated to the global agency world as the youngest VP at Hill & Knowlton. He then spent six years as Media Director of Cohn & Wolfe, followed by over a decade as EVP at Burson-Marstellar and a stint as Chief Media Officer at Edelman. Today, Peter Himler is the founder and principal of Flatiron Communications LLC, and one might say he’s learned a thing or two about PR along the way.
“A thing or two” being an obvious, flippant term because the depth of knowledge and insight he holds is [quite possibly] indescribable. His ability to understand and embrace the precepts upon which the PR industry was built while simultaneously accepting its rampant change is refreshing if not vital.
Mr. Himler’s voice is an important one for challenging the PR status quo, and his quest to understand what we were up to (within days of our launch) was simultaneously flattering and frighteningly adept.
We caught up with him over brunch a few weeks ago in New York at what I gathered to be his customary booth at Balthazar in New York’s trendy Soho neighborhood.
This man does not play.
You’ve gotten coverage for clients in virtually every outlet from the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal to TechCrunch, Mashable and PandoDaily. Can you talk a little bit about the types of “stories” those outlets generally publish.
Peter Himler: It’s hard to compare these media outlets. They’re so editorially distinct. Each covers a wide array of people, topics, industries, companies and organizations, except perhaps for TechCrunch, which has maintained a pretty singular focus since its founding. However, within their respective technology news holes, any rumblings from one of the following companies usually gain traction: Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Netflix (we should all be so lucky to work at one).
Types of stories include: material news (affecting stock price), new products or services, M&A, litigation, outspoken executives, remarkable growth, strategic partnerships, etc.
How do you tell a client their product is not right for a specific publication they have deemed important? In other words: how do you let them down gently?
PH: Much of what we do is timing and luck. Given the expanded amount of editorial real estate a digital news outlet can offer, I’d be hard-pressed to rule out something outright. Of course, if the publication just did a major feature on my client’s industry or if the publication’s primary competitor recently profiled my client, these would be non-starters.
One question I ask myself: “are you embarrassed to pitch the story or not?” (Does the story fit into the publication’s editorial DNA?) Remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it. The timing may be in your favor.
What are your favorite types of products or companies to pitch and why?
PH: My firm (Flatiron Communications) works with both emerging and established companies. I like companies whose products or services have broken new ground or are unequivocally differentiated in their industry categories. Then again, when news isn’t readily apparent, we might be able to work with the client to create news, i.e. by glomming onto a trend, constructing a survey, or mounting a stunt. Many clients, however, are simply unaware of the news nuggets on which they’re sitting. It’s often our job to ferret them out with pointed probing. In other words, we look for superlatives.
Given the amount of superfluous PR come-ons rolling across journalists’ desktops nowadays, and the fact that PR people outnumber journalists by a margin of 4 to 1, the bar for meaningful engagement is as high as I’ve ever seen it. Fortunately, today’s plugged-in communications professionals have other windows and doors available to them.
Owned media and hybrids of earned and owned (e.g. by-line articles, op-eds) or paid and owned (e.g. sponsored stories) offer PR pros other avenues for gaining a positive digital (quasi-editorial) footprint in the media for their clients.
How important is it for a startup founder to be involved in the “PR process” and does it make a difference in terms of outcomes?
PH: Having a smart, passionate and articulate founder engage a journalist or appear at an industry event on behalf of his or her company is a tremendous asset. That said, not all founders meet this litmus test. In the tech media space, more and more beleaguered reporters perceive PR pros as obstacles. They would prefer to interface directly with the company CEO, or minimally, the appropriate subject matter expert.
This is especially true in the tech PR space. It’s therefore important for PR peeps to have a light touch — be helpful, but not controlling. Step back and let the reporter do his or her work. Make the reporter’s job easier, but also allow your client to infectiously spread the gospel.
Three myths about PR?
MYTH #1: All PR people are evil.
TRUTH: Not true. Most are (or so my wife thinks).
MYTH #2: Today’s democratized media environment wherein journalists have many more sources for story ideas spells the end of the PR profession.
TRUTH: Actually, the PR profession is flourishing today. This is mostly because of new media models that offer different avenues for coverage and a much larger palette on which we can paint.
MYTH #3: PR is not all that stressful.
TRUTH: Wrong. Stake are high. If you mess up, you or your client can end up as a headline on TMZ or on the cover of the New York Post. Didn’t a recent survey find that PR is the 5th most stressful profession – of all professions? It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Follow Peter Himler: @peterhimler
More about Flatiron Communications LLC: http://flatironcomm.com/
About Peter Himler
After years in senior media leadership positions at several esteemedglobal PR firms, Peter left the big agency world in 2005 to form Flatiron Communications LLC. Today, he advises established and emerging companies, including many tech startups, on how to use the latest communications technologies and strategies to advance their business goals
Peter comfortably straddles the worlds of traditional PR and digital communications, frequently lecturing and writing about the two on his blog and for Forbes.com. He maintains an active engagement in the social media graph, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Quora, LinkedIn, Instagram, RebelMouse, and (far) too many others.
He serves as president of the Publicity Club of New York and on the advisory boards for Social Media Week, the Center for Communication, and the Communications & Media Studies Program at Tufts University from which he holds a BA in Political Science and French.