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Stars of PR PROfiles: Tony Keller, SSPR

tk_hs1Tony Keller

Senior Vice President


Tony won Gold in the 2015 Stars of PR Awards for Media Relations Professional of the Year.

Length of PR career (so far): 16 years and counting

Your most memorable campaign: Working with a device security company, we had a challenging task in validating the severity of smartphone security (pre-iPhone) without real use-cases and/or horror stories. So, we created our own by purchasing several used phones on eBay, hiring White Hat hackers to crack into them, and revealing a plethora of sensitive information thought to have been deleted. We offered the Associated Press an exclusive and the story was picked up all over the world. It was the number one tech story of the day and we were invited on every major national news broadcast across the country.

Most poignant professional moment: The moment I realized that part of my responsibility would be to help evolve the legacy of a 40-year-old, successful agency following the sudden death of our founder.

Favorite journalist to work with: TechCrunch’s Lora Kolodny. She’s fun, brilliant, and takes the time to push you to be a better PR person while she does her own job in tandem. It’s a rarity.

Number of 2 a.m. calls from a client this month: One. A client called to tell me his house burned down.

Biggest complaint about social media: I love social media. It’s changed my business in an immensely positive way, but it’s fostered a pretty radical addiction to mobile technology. People need to look up once and a while; there is so much more to see and absorb that you can’t get from a 3-inch LED display.

Best thing about working at your agency: SSPR is probably the most agile and adaptable agency on the planet. It’s why I have chosen to spend my entire career here amidst other offers over the years.

Last time you didn’t do any work all weekend: About 3 U.S. presidents ago

Most misunderstood thing about PR
: The practice of Public Relations is not a utility. It matters who handles your campaign—there is a huge gap of expertise among practitioners out there and bloated coastal firms are taking advantage of it, overcharging everyone from small startups to global organizations.

Most outrageous client request: “Get me in Webster’s Dictionary.”

What got you interested in a PR career? Very early on I realized journalism is an art, but media is a business. That contrasting intersection is why I do what I do.

game_famMost interesting thing about your job: Having a front-row seat to the constantly changing media landscape and watching digital continually transform media, a business that has been around for literally centuries. It’s truly the “e-golden age” of media.

Number of meetings you were in last week: Somewhere around 30

Your nightmare client in 3 words: “What is PR?”

Rate your math skills from 1-10: -1

Best advice to a PR student: Write like you read and read anything you can get your hands on.

What do you read daily? Usually in this order: Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, BuzzFeed, Backchannel, New York Times, ChicagoInno, Chicago Tribune, HuffPo, Fast Company, The Verge, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, Bulldog, PR Daily, ScreenRant and Deadspin.

Favorite way to de-stress: I come home from the office every day and lie down in my bed for 7 minutes in pure silence. It’s a power reboot.

The moment you realized PR is more difficult than you thought it would be: When I sat alone in a room with a VoIP company (its founder and their board) during a time when no one knew what VoIP was yet, trying to explain the importance of PR. It was my third week on the job.

Worst PR crisis in the news this year so far: I visited the 9/11 Museum this summer in New York, days removed from when former Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated there had not been any successful radical Islamic terrorist attacks in the United States in the eight years prior to when President Barack Obama took office. He is, for some incredible reason, forgetting that he built, and parlayed, an entire personal brand around the most tragic and significant terror event in U.S. history on September 11, 2001. The fact that even an organization as unabashed and unapologetically irresponsible as the Trump campaign continues to allow this man to speak on their behalf is completely beyond anything I could ever comprehend as a PR professional.

Brand that does the best PR: No brand in history can convince you of how awesome they are with so little more than Apple. Jimmy Kimmel’s commercial spoof is a hilarious validation of that.

Brand most in need of better PR: The internal and public-facing communications made by those involved in The Academy Awards are absolutely surreal. It’s a constant run of bad decisions.

Favorite non-work hobbies: I love movies and cooking.

Last book you read: “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor

Cocktail of choice: Grey Goose Martini (up with one olive)

Favorite movie this year: It was technically last year, but I’d go with The Martian. It’s a Science Fiction/Public Relations hybrid.

Your first “real” job: Restaurant cook

Childhood “dream job”: Photo journalist

Three people you’d love to invite to dinner:

  • Elon Musk
  • Jon Favreau (the director not the speech writer, although he’d be fun too)
  • Ryan Lochte … obviously

Your next big adventure: Disney World with the family in February … pray for me.

Your ideal Saturday: It’s your classic suburban cliché; it consists of coaching my kids’ sports, a bike ride, mowing my lawn, throwing something on the grill, spending time with my family, and chilling out with my wife and a glass of wine to close the day.

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