I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Feistel, Senior Managing Account Director with Bastion Elevate, a multinational PR, communications and social media agency. Dave has more than a decade of experience guiding his clients to quality media visibility and enhanced brand recognition. Dave is known for developing and positioning executives as respected thought leaders in their fields, managing crises, helping organizations more effectively shape the way their brand is presented and developing a strategy that seamlessly integrates PR efforts in a way that helps contribute to achieving broader organizational objectives. He’s spent his career consistently developing and executing successful PR campaigns and programs across a variety of industries, including tech, med tech, small business, health, banking and more.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always loved to write and craft stories. Growing up, I was encouraged at every level of my education to pursue writing as a career, be it as a journalist, novelist or professor. I knew that I wanted to have an opportunity to write and develop narratives, but as I got older I began to envision myself working in more of a business environment and decided to pursue a business degree.
After graduating, I accepted a position working in the marketing department of Taleo, a leading software technology provider based just outside of Silicon Valley which has since been acquired by Oracle. It took me all of three weeks to realize marketing wasn’t for me but I noticed some of the messaging work the communications team was doing and was instantly drawn to it. I began to take on extra work on nights and weekends (much of which was never used) to demonstrate my ability to help that team with executive messaging, speech writing, press releases, whatever I could get my hands on.
Eventually, I was able to create a position for myself within the communications team and began to learn about the work their outside PR agency was doing to help tell our story and increase media exposure. The more I learned, the more I realized this was where the action was. It was just the right mix of writing, sales, business strategy and branding to get me hooked. I found a home at a growing PR agency based right in the middle of Orange County and never looked back.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started in PR, I thought I could work with anything my clients gave me and create news out of it. My largest client at the time was a bank and they let me know they were going to be erecting a new flagpole at one of their locations. They asked if this was newsworthy and I very enthusiastically — and very definitively — let them knew that I would get press to cover this event.
Needless to say, local media were not interested in a flagpole as a news item — nor were they particularly interested in me wasting their time pitching them on a flagpole as a news item. And they let me know that in no uncertain terms. Ever since that time, whenever my clients update me on any organizational news or events they might have, I let them know if it doesn’t pass the flagpole test.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
Public relations can be a challenging field because clients can leave for a variety of reasons that are completely outside your control and that have nothing to do with you. However, I’ve found that the key to scaling to profitability is properly assessing and valuing your time. Sometimes, you’ll come across a prospective client that may be interesting or that you know you can be a real benefit for. However, they are going to require x amount of hours to achieve success and the budget they have available won’t align with the resources you’d need to expend. In those cases, it’s important to value your work and your time. Let them know what it will cost for you to do the job right. Maybe they will clear the space for more budget. Or, maybe they’ll pass on your services for now. If that’s the case, it’s for the best. This will either free you up for more promising future growth opportunities and you may hear back from that prospective client down the line when both sides can make the numbers work.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a client, Cyrex Laboratories, that is pioneering a variety of autoimmune sensitivity, reactivity and intolerance blood panels for those who either have or suspect they may be suffering from an autoimmune condition. My wife is living with an autoimmune disease so the research and groundbreaking work Cyrex is doing is something that is near and dear to my heart. Their entire organization is extremely passionate about helping patients identify and overcome triggers of autoimmunity and, as they continue to push their research forward, I believe Cyrex will help equip millions of patients in the US alone with the information they need to manage their conditions.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Try to get as much education and experience in different areas of business as you can. Learn how to write — but not just write a sentence or a story — learn the art of business writing and messaging. Learn about branding. Learn about marketing. Take a business management class. Learn how to develop presentations and execute social media strategy. In order to be effective in public relations, you really need to have a strong understanding of all facets of business to be able to serve your clients successfully.
In addition, you’ll need to learn the verticals and spaces you plan to work in. There is a lot of specialization out there in today’s marketplace, so dive in and really learn the MedTech space if that’s what interests you — or finance, or emerging market business development. Whatever grabs your attention. And if you’re not looking to get into corporate or B2B PR? Same rules apply. Determine what industry or area of PR you’d like to get into and learn everything there is to know about that space. In order to make the people and brands you represent leaders in their respective fields, you will need to be an expert behind the scenes as well.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Networking often means playing the long game and keeping relationships and contacts alive for future opportunities. If you get into PR, you’re likely going to go through a lot of clients over the years and meet a lot of really smart people who work in different fields. When one of your primary contacts with a client leaves for another job, that’s an opportunity to secure new business — even if they aren’t in the market for PR representation at that moment.
The same rules apply to your contacts in the media. Journalists and media pros can (and often do) burn out and it can be a volatile industry. If you establish and maintain relationships with your contacts, it can open up avenues for new media opportunities when they jump to a different publication or news outlet. Or, if they leave the media space and jump into the business world in the vertical they used to cover (which you likely have experience in), that can be an opportunity for a new client.
Networking opportunities happen every day in PR. You just have to put in the effort to cultivate these relationships to the point where they can develop into future professional opportunities down the road as well as in the short term.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s cliche for a reason, but The Art of War is timeless and many of the strategies and lessons the book contains are easily transferable to PR and business in a broader sense today. I also have a client, John Larson, who wrote a book entitled Capturing Loyalty which focuses on the concept of identifying and serving your most satisfied customers. It’s a great read and really helped me to consider how I approach each interaction with the media I work with most frequently for my customers–as well as those who are the most valuable to my clients in terms of reach, impact, etc.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is a great question. I’d love to inspire a movement for us as a society to aspire to empathize and understand each other better. In today’s world, we all dig in with our own core value system, beliefs and opinions and it’s easy to become closed off to the thoughts and opinions of others. Even if we can’t come to an agreement on a certain issue, I think we could all benefit from working to at least understand each other’s perspectives rather than valuing the rigidity of our own convictions at the expense of collaboration and progress — whether that be personally or professionally.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Resist creating an adversarial relationship with media — The longer you work in PR, the more friction you’ll see between media and PR professionals. Approaching this relationship from the PR side, it’s imperative to put yourself in the media’s shoes and understand they are incredibly busy. They receive countless pitches (that aren’t always relevant to their publication or their beat) on a daily basis and they have a lot of pressure on them to crank stories out. Add all that up and you have a recipe for the occasional negative interaction. If you write off every contact that sends you a snarky email, text or reply tweet, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities. Conversely, if you work to address their concerns and evaluate if there’s something you can do to improve the next interaction, you may be surprised with the positive results you’ll see. Bottom line — an adversarial relationship with a media member has zero upside, but resolving a negative interaction has the potential for creating a positive relationship that may yield rewards for yourself and your clients.
Let the silence speak for itself — Sometimes, when you pitch a client to media on a specific angle and you get nothing back, it may be a function of your contacts being out of the office or needing to give them more time. However, more often than not, if you pitch your client to speak to a certain topic and you get crickets, it means your contacts aren’t interested. Move on and try something new or take another look at who you should be targeting with this pitch.
Know your verticals — When working with businesses, it’s imperative you identify all the desirable target vertical audiences they may be interested in getting in front of. This will make your job infinitely easier and will help you become much more valuable to your client. If you keep hammering the same audience day after day, you’ll run out of stories, they’ll run out of interest and your client will move on. However, if you can continually find new audiences to target, you can develop new pitch angles and go after different media in these spaces to keep things fresh and maintain a desirable level of media exposure and visibility for your client.
Learn AP Style — Do not under any circumstances underestimate the value of knowing AP style forwards and backward. Whether you’re editing a piece of thought leadership material, drafting a press statement or writing a press release, AP style is a format you will need to be well-versed in. If you’re a college student reading this, find a writing class that teaches AP style and take it.
You Need to PR Yourself — Your clients will often need to lean on you to understand why your recent PR win was important for them and how that exposure is going to drive visibility and, ultimately, organizational growth. If you expect them to figure that out on their own, you’re not doing your job. When you get wins for your client, it’s on you to articulate how this will benefit them, who is going to see this, where they will see it, if it ranks in a relevant Google search, if it’s on the homepage of a specific publication, if the author is an influencer or has a significant social media following, etc. If you don’t PR your own wins to the client, you’re not maximizing the value of your work.