An old warhorse dishes on the PR industry

I worked eight years for Fleishman-Hillard, one of the world’s premier public relations agencies. During that time, I often thought we ran the world, and I’m being only slightly facetious. On any given day, those capable of digging behind the headlines often would find that F-H played a role. We drove a wide array of issues, from fighting increased beer taxes to saving manatees, from speaking out for riverboat gambling to urging America to “change your clock, change your batteries” (smoke detector batteries, that is). Fleishman-Hillard provided both the brains and the muscle to drive success for a wide variety of clients.

Joe Finnigan’s memoir, Feisty: Chronicles & Confessions of an Old PR Warhorse, talks about the rise of Fleishman-Hillard from an influential player in St. Louis to an international public relations power with 80 offices worldwide, 2,600 employees, and annual billings of more than a half billion dollars. The book, however, primarily tells about Joe’s successes and setbacks and the personal and professional lessons he learned during 35 years in the PR business.

Joe played a huge role in the growth of Fleishman-Hillard. As a major cultivator and curator of the Anheuser-Busch account, he helped Budweiser and the company’s other brands win the beer wars of the 1970s. Joe’s systematic, strategic takedowns of the company’s major competitors, Schlitz and Miller, showed that, if necessary, public relations can be a blood sport.

At the same time, Joe demonstrates how much working in public relations can be like walking a high wire without a net. Capricious clients can love you one day and eat you for breakfast the next. PR pros also can serve as convenient fall guys, as Joe learned after one, fairly innocuous misstep with Anheuser-Busch.

Joe is stunningly honest about his clients and brutally honest about himself. He discusses his struggles with alcohol, his marital difficulties, his long estrangement from his children (since resolved), and his quest for the World War II soldier-father he never knew.

Feisty is a must read for anyone who wants back stories about how headlines are made, issues are won, and quirky personalities can shape our world. Go here to buy the hard copy of Joe’s book or here for the Kindle edition.

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