PR PROfile: Chris Fleming, Smoot Tewes Group

Chris Fleming, Smoot Tewes GroupChris Fleming

Media Engagement & Communications Principal

Smoot Tewes Group (Washington, DC)

Length of PR career (so far): I have been in the Public Relations field since September of 2000.  I always say I started in PR when it was a bright shiny object no one understood, and there were very few firms.

Your most memorable campaign: My most memorable campaign, so far, was the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Life of Medgar Evers. As a fierce defender of civil and equal rights, the opportunity to lift up the legacy and memory of Medgar Evers will forever be one of my favorite accomplishments. Working with Myrlie Evers and Medgar’s children, and continuing to do so was and is the best way, as we say, to honor his life and live his legacy.

Most poignant professional moment: One moment that left an indelible mark on me was back in the early 2000s. I was sitting with filmmaker Keith Beauchamp (producer/director of the upcoming film TILL The Movie) who had just finished his documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” and Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin. Keith was talking about his passion for justice on the Emmett Till case and what led him to work with the FBI to reopen the case with the DOJ. Keith explained his relationship with Mamie Till-Mobley and how she called him a nickname like she did her son Emmett, Keith started to tear up, I started to tear up, and I just sat their and listened to his story. It was then that I knew I would do whatever I could to help bring justice to Emmett’s family and help Keith tell the story.

Best thing about working at your agency: Collaboration, teamwork and variety. At The Smoot Tewes Group, each day is an adventure and a challenge. We are a small team, and all help on every client whether it is western lands conservation, civil rights, or technology.

Chris Fleming, Smoot Tewes GroupMost misunderstood thing about PR: It is an art, not a science. It requires creativity, analysis and most of all a personal touch to achieve good results. Sending a press release and hoping for the best, doesn’t work well, tailoring your pitch, your timing and your angles, coupled with getting to know reporters is the only true way to achieve success.

What got you interested in a PR career? Altruism and storytelling. I was always fascinated with how issues, campaigns, products, and people got in the newspaper. In fact when I was a high school student, I was calling news outlets to cover a student walkout we held and a bond issue we were trying to pass in our school district. I was unsuccessful and was incensed at the same time. It was then that I knew that I wanted to do something to help people; causes, issues, and more get their message out into the newspapers and the airwaves.

Most interesting thing about your job: There are so many interesting things about PR and Media Relations it’s hard to say. If I had to pin it to one thing, it would be the span of clients I work with on a daily basis, one minute I am talking to reporters about the “terror gap” in our nations gun laws and the next I am talking to another reporter about the fundraising infrastructure ActBlue has provided for candidates.

Number of meetings you were in last week: If we’re counting conference calls, which we all know is a day in the life of a PR professional, 30.

Best advice to a PR student: I would give them the best advice I got from my mentor, Ken Sunshine, always, always, always be nice and respectful to anyone and everyone at a media outlet. You never know when they’re going to be the next national anchor or White House correspondent or on a beat where you will need them. Secondly, reporters are people too. Get to know them, respect their time, and ask them questions. Don’t just pitch, place and repeat. Know what they cover before you call and ask if they have time to chat. Notice I said call, never ever be afraid to pick up the phone and call—it truly is a lost art in the digital age.

What do you read daily? As a transplant from New York to DC, I cannot go without reading the New York Times and New York Daily News every day. In addition, I always read The Washington Post, POLITICO, Huffington Post, and of course I get my daily sports fix from ESPN, The New York Yankees website and the Dallas Cowboys website.

Favorite way to de-stress: Indoors, it is watching television while holding my 3-month-old daughter, she’s already deep into Shondaland programming in addition to our nightly animation fix. Outdoors, it is playing golf. There is nothing like a round of golf on a nice day to de-stress and enhance those creative juices, no matter how good or bad you play.

The moment you realized PR is more important than you thought it would be: The moment hit me when I was a young cub consultant in New York City. I was managing media and public relations for a union client that was in tense negotiations with the city. I had a room in the hotel that was filled with every outlet in New York camped out, sleeping on the floor, and hungry for information. It was then I realized how important it was to keep the frame and narrative going in the direction my client needed as well as how difficult it was to give stories and manage the expectations—and more importantly the relationships—with reporters. It was fun, exciting, challenging, exhausting and important all at the same time. It’s safe to say that I knew then, this was the career path I wanted to continue down.

Worst PR crisis in the news this year so far: The Flint Water Crisis. The way the Governor of the State and other elected officials handled the crisis was deplorable, not to mention the failure to act to help the residents from the state. There are times where politics must take a back seat to humanity.

Brand that does the best PR: Despite their recent dust-up with the FBI, I would say Apple. I am a die-hard Apple fan, but somehow, someway they make all their new products even with the slightest tweak the hottest things on the market, and something that you want to have. They have definitely tapped into that 21st Century need for new tech every few months that speaks to the kid in all of us.

Brand most in need of better PR: Congress, plain and simple. Americans across this country are sick and tired of nothing getting done at the highest level of the government. Instead of taking the 1 millionth vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they should and could be doing the work of the American people, fixing our broken immigration system, creating jobs and reforming our nation’s broken gun laws.

Favorite book to read and reread: All Too Human by George Stephanopoulos. A fascinating read on the inner workings of the White House press office, messaging, spin, counter-spin and crisis communications. I think I’ve read it 8 times since it came out, and learn something new every time I read it.

Your first “real” job: My first real job was a paper route believe it or not.  I would wake up at dawn every day and somehow strap a newspaper bag to my bike and ride 10-12 miles delivering newspapers.

Three people you’d love to invite to dinner:

  • Alive: Derek Jeter, Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Dead: Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Jerry Garcia.

Your next big adventure: Everyday, especially with my 3-month-old daughter and an 11-year-old son is an adventure! My wife and I are also planning our 10th wedding anniversary trip two years from now so an Italy, Greece, Turkey holiday will be the next big adventure away from the kids and work.

Your ideal Saturday: Hopping a flight with the family on a Friday night and waking up early in Cozumel to take my best buddy and son Smyth scuba diving with the sea turtles, followed by a Mexican feast, shopping and snorkeling with my wife and daughter.

Want to be a PR PROfile source, or know someone who would be a perfect fit? Email the editor at richardc@bulldogreporter.com.

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