Blue Ocean Global Technology interviews Peter Himler, the founding principal of Flatiron Communications LLC, an NYC-based PR and digital media consultancy that helps emerging and established organizations capitalize on the latest communications technology and strategies.
Blue Ocean: Congratulations on being named the sixth ‘Most Influential PR Professional to Follow’ by BuzzSumo and one of the ‘Top 100 PR Agency Professionals in 2021’ by Propel Media list. Can you tell us about your leadership journey and keys to success?
Peter: As I was coming up the agency ranks, I finally found myself in a management position with responsibility for sourcing and hiring talent for my team. It is always important to have professionals who are fluent with the tools of the public relations trade, but those tools alone do not necessarily translate into success. Employees need to be plugged into current events, and aware of the trends shaping our society.
In fact, I created a quiz for prospective employees that touch on both. I have also tried to stay painstakingly current, especially in the area of the burgeoning media platforms, e.g., TikTok, Substack, and ClubHouse, and the roles they play in driving communication narratives. You’d be surprised by the number of people in my industry who lack this essential curiosity or even know what and who is “the first gentleman.”
Blue Ocean: In the age of evolving online and remote engagement, how can we communicate more effectively to win new client relationships and strengthen existing ones?
Peter: Just as the news media has fragmented over the last ten years, so has the proliferation of content “creators” – for better or worse. Nonetheless, it has never been easier to elevate one’s professional profile and, presumably, thought leadership through these content channels – from Medium to Substack to WordPress to LinkedIn. In my industry, an active presence on Twitter is also crucial for elevating one’s profile since it remains the primary digital sandbox for nearly every consequential journalist I know.
Blue Ocean: With the unprecedented global situation due to Covid-19, why is Flatiron Communications well-positioned to continue to serve its high-profile clientele?
Peter: I established Flatiron in 2005 after decades in the big agency world at a time when the “gig economy” was just taking hold. I was thus able to tap the growing cadre of competent (and fortuitously untethered) professionals to build bespoke teams to service our clients. Flatiron was started as a virtual agency that offered its clients the exact right skills and industry expertise, regardless of where that expertise resided. This model has proven to be especially resonant during the Covid lockdown, and I expect it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
Blue Ocean: You edit the publication “Adventures in Consumer Technology” on Medium, which is well-read. Can you share an interesting adventure or experience from a consumer perspective?
Peter: I actually started that publication in the nascent days of Medium at the urging, I believe, of the platform’s founder Ev Williams, who also co-founded Twitter. The impetus behind the publication came from the realization that, as a fledgling agency, I no longer had an IT department to call when some annoying error message crossed my desktop. I was on my own, as were many others in the gig economy. I imagined a collection of personal experiences grappling with the technology that increasingly enveloped our lives would find a readership. Others agreed, and the site now has 48,000 followers.
Blue Ocean: What are your sources of inspiration to thrive in a competitive environment?
Peter: Again, I think Twitter, and increasingly Clubhouse, can serve as sources of inspiration. It’s important to remember that it’s not so much about what you tweet or say on these platforms, but rather whom you choose to follow. It’s important to be judicious when building out the list of those whose voices you respect and want to hear more from.
Blue Ocean: Obstacles are the raw materials of magnificent accomplishment. What are some of the obstacles you have faced in your life as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome them, and what have you learned?
Peter: When I left the big agency world, I was on my own for the first time since my early 20’s. For several decades I enjoyed holding big-titled positions at some of the world’s most esteemed agencies. These roles opened the doors to speaking engagements, new business development, and journalists of all stripes. I was thus faced with the daunting task of building my own brand with a new agency name/website with Flatiron, and a blog about the industry ignominiously named The Flack (that soon was named Best PR Blog of the Year). I also made a concerted effort to experiment with, and sometimes embrace, other social media platforms, perhaps out of fear of becoming a dinosaur. As for revenue, I was fortunate to have a very strong professional network. Shortly after launching one of my former clients, The New York Times tapped us for a high-profile assignment. It was the firm’s first client.
Blue Ocean: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs and future CEOs? What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Peter: I think that both young entrepreneurs and future CEOs need to know…what they don’t know. Too many founders I’ve met over the years, however smart, feel they can and should do it all. They should recognize that their success will be attributed, in part, to the competency of the teams they’ve built. Sourcing and retaining quality talent to do the work for which one’s own skillset may not be best-suited is a talent in and of itself.
Blue Ocean: You are a proud father of three exceptional sons. Please tell us how being a parent of both children, and now adults, changed you as a person?
Peter: You should only know how my wife and I live vicariously through their lives. We are truly blessed. We are a very tight-knit family, celebrating every birthday together with a cake, no matter where they may be living. Many parents either dictate the activities of their children or are totally laissez-faire, opting perhaps to spend time on the golf course. We managed to find a balance, i.e., being a constant presence in their lives, but not in an overbearing, helicopter-like way. Most importantly, my wife or I speak to each of our three sons every day, if not multiple times a day. That open dialog makes navigating the tough times easier.
Blue Ocean: Please share any favorite quote or mantra that you live by. Why do you identify with it?
Peter: Of all the notable quotes from which to choose, I turn to an old commercial for the New York State Lottery: “You gotta be in it to win it.” If you don’t try something, you’ll never know if you’ll succeed.
Blue Ocean: What is the key to your happiness and positivity?
Peter: Family. And our first grandchild.
Blue Ocean: When you are not leading a public relations organization and inspiring PR professionals, what hobbies and interests do you pursue?
Peter: We split our time between New York City and the East End of Long Island where nature abounds. Our home on L.I. came with a pergola covered with old-growth New Dawn roses. I’ve embraced my inner rosarian to ensure that these and the other rose varieties scattered about our small property thrive. This is no easy task, and involves lots of blood-letting, especially during the pruning season in February and March. Separately, we also have a 10′ x 20′ vegetable garden at Bridge Gardens where we grow a range of eclectic edibles from spring to fall. I also have enjoyed some birding, and even keep a Pinterest board of the birds that regularly visit my backyard feeder. In NYC, we’re in the midst of a gut renovation of an old apartment, which is a hair-raising adventure in and of itself. Most of all, we cherish a return to family dinners under the pergola or hopefully, in our new apartment.