It’s difficult to write a blog post about FischTank PR’s 10 year anniversary without it seeming like an acceptance speech, but 10 years is 10 years, and we are extremely proud of this milestone. So, I’m going to give it my best and start at the beginning.
Just over 10 years ago, I was at a career low point. I was transitioning from the in-house marcomms position I’d held and loved for the prior two years to consulting for a PR firm where things just weren’t working out. Panic attacks on the subway and insomnia were regular occurrences. I was newly engaged and professionally miserable, as what I’d thought had been a promising start to my career had seemingly halted in its tracks.
Things changed as one side hustle become two, two became three and soon the LLC that would soon dba as FischTank PR was born. January 15, 2014 – the day I stopped collecting a paycheck on the 1st and 15th – is technically the beginning of the FischTank story.
But today’s anniversary is not about a frustrated 29-year old freelancer; it’s about what came next, collaboration with good people and dogged resilience. A decade later I can tell you plenty about both, and will do my best to be concise and share a few observations and lessons about business and PR:
Surround yourself with good people.
I remember the first couple years very well for the fun we had. My business partner Matt Bretzius joined me in September 2014, which really represented the start of the agency. Months later he advocated for the hiring of Samantha, who had just graduated from college. Later that year we added Devonne and Kate, and the five of us worked in a tiny box of an office at 125 Maiden Lane. Kate and Sam actually built the conference table that sits in our office today.
FischTank moved to 32 Broadway in 2016 and continued our growth in the years that followed, adding colleagues who have now been here for many years. This includes but is not at all limited to Erin, Rob, Jessica, Mike, Carly, Ashley, Diana, Spencer, Marissa and several others who I’ve gotten to know well and forever changed our culture for the better. We were fortunate early on to hire good people who helped grow and shape the culture and our reputation for years to come.
In the beginning we routinely lost business to agencies much larger than us. Sometimes the company considering FischTank as a PR partner didn’t even respond to the proposals we sent. They still don’t! But we were relentless, and we slowly started to win them over. Many of those companies are still clients today, and several of them will tell you it was our hustle that made the difference. Bigger firms weren’t flexible. They didn’t want to pitch without news. Required a budget increase for every out-of-scope ask. Were yes-people, and didn’t shoot their clients straight. That hustle is why we win. That, and…
Media relations is a lost art.
We hear plenty of feedback about other firms in our space. When did PR/media relations programs turn into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for nebulous activities that provide zero value, like re-writing web copy for the umpteenth time?
And yet, companies are going for this, then showing their surprise when months later – they have zero media coverage.
My colleagues at FischTank are the antithesis of this. We believe in working with journalists well ahead of time to introduce them to our client sources, sometimes well ahead of an announcement or related story. We encourage our clients to respect and adhere to embargoed/exclusive outreach ahead of significant news, enabling the journalists to get the story right and maximize its reach. We push our clients to trendjack – or speak on breaking trends and be resources for media and reporters when they need them most.
Point being – we put in the work. Our team enjoys working with journalists and emphasizes outcomes (client results), and this has become our greatest differentiator.
Show patience and grace.
We’ve lost great clients and even better employees more than once, and it’s undoubtedly going to happen again. This is extremely frustrating, and I’ve been ready to air my grievances and burn bridges because of how good it would feel in the moment. To the surprise of someone reading this who knows me well, we’ve done our best not to. For this reason, we’ve had many boomerang clients and colleagues, and our network continues to grow because of our reputation for being good people who are great at PR and media relations.
I try to remind myself when things don’t go our way that the road ahead is often long, and faces will appear, disappear and reappear. It’s all healthy. To that point…
Ups and downs will happen, it’s a matter of when.
At our holiday party in 2019, an attorney from an office down the hall said to Matt and I, “congrats on the growth, just remember that anything can happen at any moment.” With a tequila or two in me, I brushed this off. We were coming off a banner year, and just made several new hires. I was excited!
COVID struck just a few months later, and our office was temporarily empty of its people. The faces I saw every day for years at a time were now floating heads on exhausting Zoom calls. 20% of our business disappeared in March 2020 alone. Many of us lost loves ones, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on video, and the world was in a state of madness. Work meant a lot less, survival and peace a lot more.
2023 wasn’t always that rosy either. The startup scene was challenged by funding scarcity that didn’t seem to resume flowing until the second half of the year. Many PR firms had layoffs. We made decisions that didn’t work out, and paid for them. Only now, after 10 years, can I accept that everything won’t be perfect all the time, and that even amid struggles, we’ve been so fortunate. And so…
…Resiliency is everything.
When celebrating FischTank’s five year anniversary, I wrote in a blog post:
“…place a premium on resiliency. Bad days, weeks and months will come. You will get home late after a bad day and think maybe you’re not cut out for this stuff. Self-doubt will creep in when you’re at your most vulnerable and it will eat away your confidence. When this all happens, you cannot give in. Get up, show up, and keep coming at them.”
I don’t think I can do better than that so I won’t try today, but it bears repeating when things are going poorly. It’s also important to keep in mind when things are going very well. Try not to get too high (except at a Black Crowes show) or too low, because regardless, you’re going to need to show up again and do it tomorrow. He or she who is resilient can never lose. Sinatra says it best in That’s Life:
That’s life (that’s life)
That’s what all the people say
You’re riding high in April, shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
Now for the cheesy 10 year anniversary stuff. Thank you to Matt Bretzius for being the turning point where FischTank evolved into a real company, and for being a good friend and foxhole guy. Thank you to our current colleagues who make FischTank look good and inspire Matt and I every day.
Thank you also to our former colleagues – we wouldn’t be celebrating a 10 year anniversary without your contributions; our exciting stable of clients who demand the best from us every day; journalists who respond to our pitches; partners who do for us all the things we can’t or won’t do for ourselves; competitors who push us to elevate our game; friends and family who support us when things get really effing hard; and people who have shown kindness along the way. There are many of you!
FischTank PR has always been fiercely independent and completely disinterested in being popular and trendy. We are nerds who eat limes to fundraise, put Star Wars helmets on our accountants, befriend street performers and guys who sell hot dogs on the Delaware River, consume Leo’s Bagels like the world will end tomorrow, mix tequila with karaoke, play more Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty than Taylor Swift, place pets above most humans, and generally have a good time.
We’ve always been ourselves, and that’s good enough for me.