PR PROfile: Gary Frisch, Swordfish Communications

Gary Frisch
Founder and President
Swordfish Communications (Laurel Springs, N.J.)

Length of PR career (so far): 25 years, the last 8 as the owner of my own agency.

Your most memorable campaign: When the Phillies were vying for their second straight World Series win in 2009, and the local media were obsessing over anything Red and Blue, I suggested my client, a make-your-own winery, create a Phillies tribute wine and serve it to its customers at a viewing party. The merlot was made from New Jersey grapes and we put a “Phillies Phinest” label on it. I pitched it, and the client and wine were featured in two TV segments, including a live tasting on “Good Day Philadelphia.”

Most poignant professional moment: On behalf of a hearing aid franchise, I tweeted to a Philadelphia TV reporter that my client wanted to donate hearing aids to a partially deaf boy she’d reported on who’d started a lemonade stand to raise funds for aids. Since the family already had the needed money from contributions, the boy’s mom said she’d take us up on the offer and give the money to another young girl in town who also needed aids. It felt great that I played some small role in that.

Favorite journalist to work with: Kevin Riordan, the Southern New Jersey columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. A consummate professional, his columns are always interesting, insightful, and he’s not afraid to inject his personal enthusiasm for the subject.

Number of 2 a.m. calls from a client this month: Fortunately, I’ve never had a client call me in the middle of the night, not even one in Australia.

Biggest complaint about social media: The declining quality of discourse on important issues, with few people taking the second or two to Google the facts before posting their knee-jerk and often misguided opinions. And it’s too easy to post dumb or inflammatory things from behind a veil of anonymity.

Best thing about working at your agency: Going out into the community representing Swordfish Communications at various business functions and networking events, and meeting terrific people.

Last time you didn’t do any work all weekend: August 2014, the weekend my niece got married out of town.

Most misunderstood thing about PR: Paying us doesn’t guarantee results. If you want guaranteed placement, buy advertising. If you want to build credibility, PR is the way to go precisely because nothing is guaranteed and your news must stand on its merits.

Most outrageous client request: Seven years ago the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association asked me to promote its big golf tournament fundraiser for free. I agreed, and have been volunteering PR services and serving on the tournament planning committee for them ever since. It’s been very rewarding for me, and I even got to meet Kendra Wilkinson!

What got you interested in a PR career? My love of writing. I began as a journalist then transitioned in the hopes of better pay, and of possibly working in the PR department of a professional hockey team, Sadly, that hasn’t happened—yet.

Most interesting thing about your job: Coming up with fun or goofy ideas to promote clients. Even if they’re ultimately rejected, at least I usually get credit for thinking outside the box.

Your nightmare client in 3 words: Arrogant, uneducated, and slow-paying

Rate your math skills from 1-10: 5. Who needs math with laptops and Quickbooks?

Best advice to a PR student: Be a star. If your supervisor asks you to do X, deliver X, Y, and Z.

Favorite way to de-stress: Doing sudoku, cryptoquote and crossword puzzles with the TV on in the background; floating in my pool in the summer with reggae blasting from my outdoor speakers.

The moment you realized PR is more fun than you thought it would be: When, as a PR writer for Panasonic, I was sent to frigid Lake Placid to document the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s use of Panasonic video equipment in its training for the 1992 Winter Games. I got to spend time with the team and became friendly with their star goalie, Ray LeBlanc.

Worst PR crisis in the news this year so far: Brian Williams. It’s that unusual case where someone who is very likeable made a serious mistake, then—not so unusual—exacerbated it with lame excuses. It’s always the response to the initial problem that causes the most headaches.  This is a great PR case study that will be taught for years to come.

Brand that does the best PR/communications: I hate to say it, but Apple. Everything it does turns to media gold, and most people have forgotten about or are willing to overlook the working conditions in its factories in China.

Brand most in need of better PR: The NFL. Its waffling and inconsistent messaging on domestic abuse and concussions has given it a serious black eye. Roger Goodell is inept as a spokesperson and should probably resign.

Favorite non-work hobby: Watching hockey—that actually covers 9 months out of the year!

Last book you read: “Lone Survivor,” about the Navy SEAL who fought for his life in the mountains of Afghanistan (the basis of the Mark Wahlberg movie). It’s also one of the best books I’ve read.

Favorite movie this year: “Whiplash.” JK Simmons scared the hell out of me, and the jazz music was great.

Your first “real” job: Assistant sports editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey, phoning in game stories before e-mail was common, and putting the sports pages to bed by midnight every night.

Childhood “dream job”: Navy fighter pilot. That became the basis of my company’s name; “Sword” is my vicarious fighter pilot call sign.

Three people you’d love to invite to dinner: The late Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, retired hockey goalie and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, and any one of the Impractical Jokers from the TruTV series.

Your ideal Saturday: Sleeping late, lavish breakfast, and taking my beagle-shepherd mix Zeus to the local dog park and lake.

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