Ben Finzel is a former Congressional staffer, presidential appointee, and public relations firm executive who decided to pivot his career path and launch his own agency.
Today, he’s the President of RENEWPR where he pursues work he’s passionate about with his team of seven public relations professionals.
We spoke with Ben to learn more about his journey from working at firms to starting his own as well as the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Can you tell us a bit about RENEWPR and why you started your own firm?
My background is in public affairs and communications in Washington DC. I worked for five different PR firms before starting RENEWPR in 2015, and this firm is an outgrowth of the development of my career.
The reason I started RENEWPR is that, when I was working in agencies, I essentially found myself losing touch with the work itself. I’d always had lots of fun in the various PR jobs I was doing, but as I was getting more senior, I found my job skewing more and more towards just developing business, but not actually working on it. I was getting further away from the work itself.
So, I decided to take my career into my own hands so that I could stay closer to the work I was passionate about: energy, environment, and equity PR.
Today, I have a team of seven other people working with me–freelancers who help me work with clients from all over the country.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your work? The most challenging?
I think the most rewarding aspects of my work are the opportunities to help clients succeed.
When we place a story or help a client communicate about a challenging issue, that’s really fun and super rewarding. It’s also a very cool feeling when the team collaborates and achieves something we weren’t sure that we could.
Beyond that, I think the nature of our firm is very rewarding. I would say RENEWPR is in the “small but mighty” category and that’s a great place to be. We work with good people who are doing good things.
It makes the long days and late nights worthwhile.
How did you choose energy, environment, and equity as the focuses for your firm’s work?
My whole career has been focused on energy and environment, so it made sense to begin there as a starting point.
I added the equity component a few years ago because I’ve done a lot with the LGBTQ+ community and I wanted to build on that expertise by connecting it to the broader multicultural conversation.
To do that, I helped found The Change Agencies, the first and only national network of independently-owned public relations firms focused on inclusive marketing to multicultural and LGBTQ communities. RENEWPR is a member.
So, when my firm has equity work, I can bring in my colleagues from The Change Agencies as well.
Remote work is becoming prominent but still presents challenges. What advice would you share with others trying to manage a team of remote freelancers?
The first thing I’d say is that you have to decide how you’re going to build the team and who’s going to be on it.
For instance, my team is made up entirely of former colleagues. I know them personally and I know their work so I know they’re going to deliver great results. And I know that if my clients like working with me, they’ll like working with one of my colleagues because they’re as good as or better than me.
So, if you can do that it’s great. And, if you can’t, you need to decide what your standards are then communicate them as clearly as possible, as often as possible.
The big challenge with remote work is you’re not in the same room with someone. So, you can’t see their physical cues, pick up on their tone intuitively, or ask them a quick question. You have to call them or get on Zoom and that puts the onus on communicating early, often, clearly, and honestly.
You need to be willing and able to say when you’re having a problem with someone, you need them to do something, or you need their help.
I think we’ve all gotten used to remote communication during the pandemic but it can still be a challenge. It can definitely be overcome, but it’s something you need to be intentional about.
What advice would you give to creative professionals trying to start or grow a business of their own?
The things you thought will be easy will be hard and vice versa. It’s not going to be what you expect, so you have to be ready, willing, and able to go along for the ride.
Also, if you’re thinking about going out on your own, you have to be really clear-eyed about what that means and what that’s going to take to succeed. You need to understand what that decision is going to mean in terms of time dedicated to work versus time with family or friends.
Self-employment isn’t something you just try out. I always say it’s like going to law school: you do it on purpose, not by accident, because it’s hard work to get in, then you have to want to be there to stay there. If you don’t want it, you won’t succeed.
And, most importantly, you need to be willing to sacrifice to make it work.
There’s a tremendous payoff if you can do that, but it’s not right for everyone and that’s okay. But it’s sometimes hard for people to wrap their minds around that concept.
How did you end up working at Launch Workplaces? How has your experience been?
I was actually at two other coworking spaces first. I originally looked at Launch before it was Launch and I liked it, but I opted for something else.
Eventually, that space closed, so I moved again, and then when that contract ended, I finally came back to Launch because I wanted a better environment in a more convenient location .
It’s exactly what I wanted. I love the vibe of the space, the people, and the neighborhood. It’s a really good work environment. I look forward to going to work each day.
Want to learn more about RENEWPR?
Our mission is to restore common sense to communication. Common sense is the core of good communication and sometimes organizations lose track of that. At RENEWPR, we use that as the foundation of the work we do.
If you’re interested in learning more, check us out online and send us an email.
And if you’d like to learn about our flexible office services or to book a tour of one of our Launch Workplaces locations, contact us today. Our team is here to help and answer any questions you might have.