25 years ago this week, i left my two part time jobs at StageWest and Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, and hung out my shingle as Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations. First client: WFCR-FM (NPR) to sell underwriting; second clients, WSPR-AM as arts reporter and news anchor and Jewish Weekly News as arts reporter. I thought WFCR was going to be an 8 week gig; it turned out to be a 22 year one. Going out on my own was the best decision I ever made in my life.
I started the business with an electric word-processer and a FAX. Hard to believe I ever did public relations, marketing, or development without a computer or laptop, email, social media, or cellphone. There were no Starbucks branch offices then. I might as well say “we had no electricity and I walked four miles to work in the snow”.
I always had a sense of adventure and innovation, and I wasn’t afraid to think outside the box to take on clients or projects that would expand my horizons. Some of my most memorable experiences evolved from that sense of adventure:
I occasionally teach seminars on marketing, public relations, and advertising. Students ask “what’s the most important skill you need in order to succeed”. My stock answer: “A sense of integrity and ethics”. I always try to work with clients who are good neighbors, good citizens, and businesses of integrity. I only collaborate with colleagues who have those traits. Nice guys sometimes finish last, but they finish having increased their cache of quality people and quality work.
I’ve been blessed to work with some great clients and colleagues. A couple of examples.
The Anne Frank Exhibit. The Holocaust Center in Springfield and the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, MA, two former clients, asked me to market and promote the national tour of The Anne Frank exhibit. I teamedup with a hotshot young marketeer, Sean Moloney. Sean had co-founded The Valley Optimist, a regional newspaper, and had started an advertising group. I was somewhat a traditionalist in marketing. Sean was brash and bold. Sean and I went to DC to see the Holocaust Museum. It was a very moving experience for both of us, and a bonding experience on multiple levels. We co-produced an incredible campaign, and loved every minute of the project. Today, Sean has an incredible agency in New York, Dramatic Health, and we remain in touch frequently. Sean opened my eyes to computers and the web. I opened Sean’s eye to texture in a campaign.
Pet Night with Santa. I did some ongoing work for Eastfield Mall in Springfield, MA and its owner, The Rouse Company. Rouse had sent Robin Faulk, a young marketing director with an innovative creative side to Eastfield, Together, we decided to produce two novel events, one a community festival, where non-profits could showcase their products and services. The second, a media favorite...Pet Night With Santa, an evening when folks could bring their dogs, cats, pigs, birds and other pets to pose with Santa Claus. The animal kingdom was slightly better-behaved than their human companions. Robin has recreated Pet Night in other venues. It gives us annual laughs at the holidays. Thanks to Robin and his boss at The Rouse Company, I got to do the national press for the Bel Canto Opera Competition, which was held in 15 Rouse Company malls across the country--which brought a lot of class and classical music to many food courts.
David Sedaris,. At WFCR, I produced a lot of special events featuring NPR personalities, authors, music groups, and more. My favorites in terms of being down to earth and fun to work with were Scott Simon, Ira Glass, Terry Gross, and Garrison Keillor, who tried out a new show in town. Keillor needed a last minute accompanist; Mount Holyoke sent the jazz ensembles’ music director, Mark Gionfriddo, who has become my number one co-caffeinator.since. But, back to Sedaris. A WFCR underwriter offered to send a private plane to pick him up in Portland, ME. The pilot offered to let me go for the ride. Enroute, he circled UMASS where the radio studios were; he diverted over Boston, so I got a great view of Boston from the sky; flying back, with Sedaris in tow, he entertained us with repartee and stories. I felt like I got a private one-man show.
The David Pakman Show. I’ve done PR for several radio programs before, including my own on two different stations in Western Mass, the locally-produced programs at public radio station WFCR, and some of the other NPR programs. It was all traditional marketing and public relations, and sometimes full of dealing with egos (mine included). However, working on The David Pakman Show has been an exhilarating experience. It’s new media, new ideas, and incredible results, because the client understands marketing and public relations. David Pakman is a wunderkind, a guy in his 20s with a vision that folks twice his age wish they’d possessed. He’s energetic, charismatic, appreciative, and innovative. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve learned more working alongside David, and never had as much fun or as many “wow” moments.
AOL Community Leaders. I joined AOL in the mid 1990s, and within six months, had been recruited as a community leaderand chat room host in the LGBT area. Within a year, I’d been promoted to the host in charge of the Coming Out Support area, where Ischeduled other hosts andpublished a resource newsletter (which I still publish on the side, even after AOL’s program shut down in 2006). The hosts I worked with for a decade have become some of my closest personal friends. I coordinated a weekend with co-hosts and room members in Northampton one year, and in Boston another year. Great people. Great memories. Although I’d been an AIDS activist and coordinated fundraisers for DIFFA, The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, this launched my volunteerism on behalf of LGBT rights and marriage equality.
Anything Northfield Mount Hermon. My prep school years left an indelible impression on me, so I’ll do just about anything to help my school. I’m a class secretary. I work on reunions. I’ve helped raise money, helped guide the school’s magazine, and basically keep my classmates involved. You can never give back enough to the school that shapes andmolds you.
There have been some unforgettable experiences of the negative kind as well...but I don’t want to dwell on them. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve learned from the callous and unprofessional behavior of others. “Nuff said.