5 Unconventional Reasons Why Hire a Public Relations Firm

Different sized companies, private or public, have varying needs when it comes to corporate communications. Whether it is to help message a crisis, improve shareholder value or build brand awareness, engaging a public relations firm may often seem like a no brainer.

It’s also important for any organization to look beyond the obvious to assess opportunities or even threats that may impact business goals. Think of it like a self-tune up that asks the fundamental questions, “What if …” and “What can we be doing better?”

Most small and middle market companies do not have their own communications departments able to perform self-assessments. Using an outside firm may be a good alternative, which also can provide a unique, objective perspective on existing strategies.

As organizations plan for 2023 and beyond, it may be worthwhile to consider these five unconventional reasons for engaging a corporate pr agency:

  • Perception doesn’t match up with company’s values. Media and investor audits, as well as customer and employee surveys, can be very helpful in gauging sentiment. Using a pr agency as facilitator is ideal for determining unbiased feedback that can be translated into effective communications programs.
  • Can’t tell the bigger story. Today’s CEOs, CFOs and CMOs must navigate myriad landscapes that have their own unique sets of challenges. Clearly defining target audiences from Main Street to Wall Street will help ensure message delivery. However, knowing what to say, when and how to say it will move the proverbial needle.
  • Too busy. Organizations have great ideas but don’t always have the bandwidth to successfully implement communications campaigns. While finding a good firm may take some extra time, consider one that can do the “heavy lifting” and free up internal marketing and investor relations resources.
  • Don’t hear the word “no” very often. While a communications firm should be an advocate and supporter of a company’s vison, it is important that the pr firm does not drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. A heathy debate on strategy and tactics will always yield better results.
  • You got this. Like most corporations, good public relations firms, too, should always be learning. We need to be aware of new technologies and strategies, as well as stay up to speed on latest marketing and communications platforms that are constantly evolving. Select a firm that can add both tangible and intangible value to any company, brand or organization beyond its internal capabilities.

Establishing or enhancing share of voice can be a monumental task for any sized organization in today’s crowded, very noisy marketplace. All that’s needed is the right public relations firm with the savvy to develop a cogent strategic approach, mixed in with good ole’ fashioned “out of the box” thinking.

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

PondelWilkinson Profiles: Janet Simmons

Every company has that one person who is the “glue” that keeps everyone and everything running smoothly. Janet Simmons is that person at PondelWilkinson. Entering her 15th year at the firm, we asked the Los Angeles native some questions about her professional and personal life as part of our ongoing Q&A series. 

What was your first job?

It was with Bell Industries, working at their manufacturing facility in Burbank. I started out on the plant floor and ended up in the front office, working with the CEO and CFO on corporate communications and administrative matters. Stayed there for 34 years.  

Janet Simmons with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

How long have you been in the industry?

The last 15 years of my career have been with PondelWilkinson. I joined the firm right after I left Bell Industries, which ironically was one of PondelWilkinson’s first investor relations clients. I already knew and loved everyone at the firm, so the transition was seamless. 

If you had to pick one word to describe what you do, what would it be?

Variety. I cover everything … from administrative duties to preparing quarterly analytical reports for clients, issuing press releases, updating websites and more. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 

I would have to say it’s interacting with people. I enjoy working with everyone at PondelWilkinson and with our clients. Even though we are working remotely these days, we always find time to stay connected and enjoy a laugh or two. 

What is your least favorite part about your job?

That’s a tough one. I really enjoy all that I do here, but I’m not a big fan of tight deadlines. I know it’s part of the job, but short turnarounds can be very stressful at times. 

What do you like to do for fun?

I love gardening, hiking and going out with friends.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done?

My husband and I recently went on a “Jeep safari” in Moab, Utah. While navigating the Hells Revenge trail, we started to climb a super-steep Lion’s Back, when I jumped out of the moving car and walked back down the hill. I don’t know about being the weirdest, but it definitely wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. 

What’s something that recently made you smile?

The other day I noticed a squirrel in my backyard trying to get my attention. He was looking at me through my kitchen window, as if to say, “Hey, the bowl is empty, are you going to fill it?” I literally laughed out loud because the squirrel was so animated. Needless to say, I filled the bowl with food, smiling the entire time. 

What’s next on your bucket list?

Washington, D.C. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?

That would have to be from my dad, who often said, “Better to be early than late.” Simple advice, but something I live by in everything I do. 

— Shannon Clemons, sclemons@pondel.com

PondelWilkinson Profiles: Judy Sfetcu

This month marks Judy Sfetcu’s 25th anniversary at PondelWilkinson. Our longest tenured staff member, Judy oversees a host of firm functions, as well as managing several investor relations accounts, including Monster Beverage, which has been a client for more than two decades. We caught up with the firm’s vice president in our ongoing Q&A series to learn a little more about her personal life and some of the experiences that have shaped her career.

Pictured during her last trip to Chicago, Judy Sfetcu had the pleasure of stopping by the SkyDeck to overlook the beautiful city. 

What was your first job?

Passing out menu flyers for restaurants. I just turned 17 at the time and moved to New York City from South America about a week prior. My next job was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Much more fun.

How long have you been in the IR industry?

Twenty five of my 27 years have been at PondelWilkinson. I spent my first two years working for a publicly traded apparel manufacturing company, which piqued my interest and passion in investor relations.

If you had to pick one word to describe what you do, what would it be?

Multitasker. Hands down the best word that describes me and encompasses my job. I’m pretty much a jack of all trades at the firm, from working with the investment community on behalf of investor relations clients, to planning, accounting and human resources for PondelWilkinson. 

What is the favorite part about your job?

Learning about all the different types of businesses we represent, how they operate and how we help companies maneuver through the investor landscape. This gives me a plethora of knowledge about different industries, management styles and achieving success

What is the least favorite part about your job?

I would have to say managing quarterly reporting schedules. Most public companies report earnings around the same timeframe, and sometimes, clients report results on the same day. Life becomes super hectic during earnings season.

What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy traveling, dancing and attending the theater. Living in Los Angeles provides plenty of options to keep me entertained and happy.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done?

I know it may sound odd, but I don’t do weird things, although I’m quite adventurous when it comes to food. My most recent trip to Philadelphia had me eating authentic sautéed snails!

What’s something that recently made you smile?

About a month ago, I saw a butterfly in my backyard struggling to fly. It kept bumping into things. I went outside to see if I could pick it up and noticed its legs were stuck together with some type of lint. I was able to remove the string-like material, and happily, I watched it fly away. It was one of the most beautiful butterflies and being able to help it put a smile on my face.

What’s next on your bucket list?

Traveling back home to visit my family in Taiwan for Chinese New Year, Asia’s most celebrated season. I haven’t visited my family for almost four years because of Covid. I am super excited, since it has been so many years since I properly and traditionally celebrated Chinese New Year. Looking forward to the Year of Rabbit on January 22, 2023.  

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?

“Forgiveness is really for yourself, not the person you are angry with.” I am not sure where I originally heard that, but often the person who angers you is unaware of your feelings. I’ve learned that it’s best to let go, otherwise these emotions will only hurt you in the end.

— Shannon Clemons, sclemons@pondel.com

PondelWilkinson Profiles: Laurie Berman 

PondelWilkinson’s investor relations teams play an important role helping publicly traded companies position themselves to Wall Street. We caught up with Laurie Berman, the firm’s managing director, who shared more about her IR work, personal life and some of the factors that have influenced her career.  

What was your first job?  

My very first job was at a snack bar in a roller-skating rink. Professionally, my first job out of college was working at Institutional Investor magazine in their sponsored conference division.

Laurie Berman, PondelWilkinson’s managing director, pictured with her loving dog, Mishka, as they enjoy the Los Angeles sun.

How long have you been in the industry?  

I’ve been practicing investor relations for almost 30 years (I guess I started when I was still in diapers).

If you had to pick one word to describe what you do, what would it be?  

Fast-paced (that’s one word, right?).

What is your favorite part about your job?  

I love storytelling. It’s so important to be able to find the right words to describe a company and its strategy.

What is your least favorite part about your job?  

Deadlines. Although I work great under pressure, it’s sometimes tough to juggle multiple deadlines at the same time. I’m proud to say I’ve never missed an important one.

What do you like to do for fun?  

I love sports (the spectator kind).  Right now I’m very into football and I am a rabid fan for my NY Giants.  Baseball is also a love of mine, but I switched my allegiance from the NY Mets to the Los Angeles Dodgers when I moved to Los Angeles more than 20 years ago.  I still do root pretty hard the New York teams of my childhood.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done?  

I allowed a very persistent relative to convince me to go on a date with someone I briefly dated five years before (it didn’t work out at the time). We’ve now been married for almost 26 years, and that relative was a flower girl at my wedding (she was in her 50s at the time).

What’s something that recently made you smile?  

A few months ago, we rescued an 8-year-old dog with vision problems. She makes me smile all of the time because she’s such a goofball.

What’s next on your bucket list?  

Aside from winning the lottery? I’d love to take an extended vacation through Europe.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?  

Not so much advice, but something I try to take to heart. “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

— Shannon Clemons, sclemons@pondel.com

Hitting The Ground Running: An Intern’s Perspective

When I first interviewed for PondelWilkinson’s internship program earlier this summer, I was told that it would be a hands-on and immersive experience. I nodded politely and expressed my interest. I laid out what I had done at school, which I thought made me capable. While I was not completely wrong in my “qualifications,” I learned fast that the real world cannot be taught.

On one of my first days, I was tasked with writing a pitch letter for a client’s new product launch. Easy enough, I did this in class, I thought to myself. So, I found my old professor’s template and went ahead to write an email pitch. I polished it up and sent it along to my supervisor expecting minor feedback. I was not expecting the entire letter to be edited and rewritten. Oh, this is not like school.

As the internship went on, I was tasked with more pitch letters, calls to reporters, and updates for clients. I was not getting the perfect latte ready or organizing file cabinets (although the internship was virtual so that would have been hard to do). I was acting as an associate on client accounts, working behind the scenes.

One element that took some time adjusting was the virtual format. While there are many positives for working remotely, including the flexibility of making my own schedule, there are downsides as well, particularly learning each other’s “schedule” when there is no real office. I am happy to report that the teamwork aspect was not lost. I also got to work alongside my fellow intern where we helped each other on projects and still felt connected, even if she lives in Pennsylvania and I in Maine.

Below are a few tips for new interns on what I found to be successful when transitioning from class to an internship:

Organization. In school I always had a planner where I would write down what I had to do, and then cross it off as it got done. This worked well for my internship, too. I would write down client activities planned for the week and then begin by checking them off once completed. This made me feel productive and helped keep what I was doing organized. What differs from school is there might be urgent items that come in at random times. While school and class have a schedule, the business world does not. What I think I might do during the day could completely change. You must stay on your toes but keep organized while doing so.

Communication. I admit it. I am the student who annoys the professor with emails to make sure I am doing the right thing. I have learned that communication looks a little different in the workplace. A lot of the time management responsibility is left up to me. I must take ownership and trust myself and my work. The good news is there are no grades, and things can always be changed and edited. Communication is still important, but its purpose is to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Work hard, play hard. This is the mantra at my university. Students are expected to produce high quality work, but also relish their college experience. I think this phrase can still be applied to an internship but tweaked just a little. Working hard does not change. I always want to put my best foot forward and exceed expectations. To play hard in an internship, however, means taking a step back and enjoying the experience. I have been able to work with some cool clients who are doing eye-opening things, and also become friends with Lauren O’Neill who was not just “the other intern.”

While an internship is certainly not like school, there are qualities that can be applied to both. I have learned so much more about public relations, even if I have had great classes about it. George was not lying when he said this internship would be immersive, and I am so glad it has been.

Rachel Peterson


Rachel Peterson interned remotely at PondelWilkinson for the firm’s 2022 summer program. She is a student at Wake Forest University studying communication, integrated strategies, and film. When she’s not working or studying, Rachel enjoys going to the beach, watching the sunset, and dancing. After graduation, she hopes to put her skills to use in Vancouver or New York.

How I Thrived as a Liberal Arts Major Interning in the Business Sphere

In my three years as an undergraduate, I have never once taken a business course. So, you can imagine how I felt when, during my first week as an intern at PondelWilkinson, the conversation at the weekly staff meeting quickly turned to non-deal roadshows and corporate access. 

I have been studying as an English major, and I felt that my only skill was being able to edit papers and read quickly. I immediately doubted my abilities and thought I had made the wrong choice. 

But I was wrong. 

One of my first tasks was writing a pitch letter for an AI robotics company revolutionizing the culinary industry. After all the journalism classes I had taken, I thought I had this down. I knew about the catchy introduction, and the importance of making the story seem timely and relevant. The difference was this pitch letter would not be sitting on my computer in an endless list of documents. It would be sent to actual reporters.  

I quickly realized that writing the email was not something that could be done with the snap of my fingers. I needed to fully understand the client and spent a lot of time looking at press releases and news coverage. I also had to research reporters and their outlet perspectives, which helped ensure my pitch letter was reaching the right audience.

Suffice to say, my pitch generated media interest that resulted in a client Q&A published in an industry trade outlet. But it didn’t stop there. There were press releases, client strategy calls, social media programs and even SEO work, among many other of my day-to-day activities. Throughout it all, PondelWilkinson provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate the skills I acquired as a liberal arts major that were applied to corporate communications in the real world.

After constantly going through college, hearing “What are you going to do with an English degree,” I finally feel confident in my decision as PondelWilkinson provided me with the opportunity to do real and meaningful work.

Lauren O’Neill

Lauren O’Neill recently completed her internship at PondelWilkinson and is a rising senior at Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College majoring in writing and communications. 

Investor Relations in a Bear Market

Every great story deserves an engaged audience.

It’s a philosophy we deeply believe in at PondelWilkinson – So much so it’s splashed across our website banner and written on the back of our business cards.

And it rings true regardless of market conditions, even in bear markets, when the value of equities or other investments dip 20 percent or more from recent highs.

That happened around mid-June on the S&P 500, and while there’s little companies specifically can do to calm market forces, taking a proactive, non-promotional stance is the best course, according to PondelWilkinson CEO Roger Pondel.

“Retreating or staying purposely quiet is not a strategy that works,” he asserts. “Astute investors have their antennae up now, looking for good companies.”

In a bear market, investors go into safer stocks, explains PondelWilkinson Vice President Judy Lin Sfetcu, who adds some historical context to highlight her point.

During the dark months of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, when the S&P sank nearly 52%, investors flocked to companies with solid financials and established track records, abandoning companies teetering on insolvency.

“If a company has a good balance sheet, they should be messaging that to investors and Wall Street,” Sfetcu says.

Managing Director Laurie Berman views this bear market more as a reflection of investor sentiment, than company specifics, and a recent tally by FactSet provides some data points to back that up.

Through July 22, 2022, 68 percent of S&P companies in Q2 reported a positive EPS surprise, while 65 percent of S&P companies reported a positive revenue surprise.

Granted it was a small sample size (21 percent of total company results), but undoubtedly good quarterly metrics by several publicly traded companies.

Yet, as of press time, the S&P was down just over 13 percent for the year. The tech-heavy Nasdaq, down 21 percent this year, closed with the worst six month start on record, losing nearly 30 percent of its value through June, according to Yahoo Finance.

“If a company is being negatively impacted by macro issues, that company should be honest about what that means for its future, and importantly, what steps are being taken to try to insulate it, or use the macro issues to their advantage,” Berman suggests. “Highlighting certain areas that may give investors more confidence can be helpful.”

Analysts and other finance experts contend bear markets typically last between nine months and a year, so settle in for some continued volatility, especially as inflation, pandemic-led labor shortages, related supply chain constraints, and rising interest rates present ongoing challenges.

In the interim, here are a few more dos and don’ts to ponder:

  • Think responsiveness and transparency.
  • Message the company’s strengths: cash flow and balance sheet; client/customer relationships; resilience and history in prior down markets.
  • Message if and how current economic conditions are creating change for the company, positive or negative, including decision-making.
  • Be certain that investors hear regularly from c-suite executives, sometimes more than the CEO and CFO, on conference calls, non-deal roadshows (NDRs) and conference presentations.
  • Court and know key investors and their concerns, not just about your company, but about their portfolios.
  • Give investors reasons to hold your shares, or buy more.
  • Don’t feel defensive about a falling stock price, particularly if the company is still performing well. Investors know the reason.

“Resist the temptation to over-promise about the future,” says Pondel. “Be proactive about reaching out to new investors and participating in NDRs and conferences. They are not a waste of time, even in a bear market.”

Consider this blog entry a primer to a larger discussion on investor sentiment, a key topic we’re aiming to further develop into a whitepaper this fall, with insightful take-aways to help public companies improve communication and messaging during volatile times.

Chris Casacchia, ccasacchia@pondel.com

How PR Can Support Micro Cap and Small Cap Companies

How-PR-Can-Support-MicroCap-and-SmallCap-Companies-Roger-Pondel-and-Shelly-Kraft-article-MCR-Q2-2022

Are the Traits of Exceptional CFOs any Different than Those of CEOs? 

According to a recent article at CFO.com, there isn’t much overlap.

In a blog I wrote a while back about effective CEOs, critical traits included: decisiveness, willingness to collaborate, being a doer, setting realistic expectations, insightfulness, innovative thinking and courage, among others.

While those are outstanding traits for any senior executive, what else specifically – other than hopefully having an affinity for math and knowledge of accounting – does it take to be a successful CFO?

  • Good communications skills. It’s one thing to know a company’s financials inside and out, but another thing altogether to use that data to tell a compelling story. It’s also crucial that CFOs appreciate the importance of clear and concise messaging to internal audiences to help key stakeholders understand the meaning behind the data.
  • Ability to analyze. Today, the amount of data generated is astronomical, but at face value likely doesn’t tell us much. A good CFO will be able to turn that data into actionable ideas that help move a company forward.
  • Love (or at least like) of technology. Is this really important if you’re not the head technology honcho?  Absolutely yes. CFOs hold responsibility for financial reporting, so understanding and choosing the right tech partner is paramount. It is also likely that CFOs will be asked to put their rubber stamps on technology that may not directly impact financial reporting but could impact other parts of the company … often significantly if that technology doesn’t work as expected.
  • Risk appreciation. The business environment has changed considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it continues to change every day for a number of reasons. Good CFOs will assess risk/reward profiles before making decisions, whether financial or otherwise.
  • A world view outside of finance.While CFOs have a wide range of duties and expectations related to a company’s financials, the best CFOs have knowledge and opinions outside that narrow view, including being aware of the global environment and a company’s role within it.
  • Capacity to strategize and collaborate. It is readily apparent to me based on almost 30 years of working with executive teams, that the best CFOs partner with their CEOs to help achieve their company’s objectives. The old adage, “No man is an island” rings true.
  • Attention to social issues. ESG has become an increasingly important topic, particularly for publicly traded companies and the planet. CFOs need to understand how their companies operate within a greater construct. A company’s impact on the environment, for example, could have ramifications for that company’s ability to attract talent, customers and investors, not to mention the impact to the globe.

Robert Half, a leading provider of specialized talent solutions and business consulting, noted similar traits in its recent article, “How to Become a CFO: 5 Steps to Guide Your Career Path.” 

Essentially the same advice comes from the MIT Sloan School of Business CFO Summit Chair and CFO Leadership Council founder, Jack McCullough, who says that “A great CFO is a rockstar CFO.”

Gartner has some good advice as well. The research firm surveyed more than 100 CFOs around the world and found that great CFOs are customer-oriented, build constructive conversations with the CEO and board, apply financial leadership principles to time management, and are closely involved with the business.

Are there other important traits for effective CFOs not covered here?  Let us know if you can think of any.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com