Hard times change plans for alums

In the midst of one of the most dismal job markets the U.S. has seen in decades, several GW alumni have created their own success.

Three recent alumni who started public relations firms in New York and Washington, D.C. say they are finding success, despite an economic climate that has decimated companies from the multi-billion dollar investment firm Lehman Brothers to small, independently-owned businesses across the country.

GW alumni Sarah Nelkin and Tiffany Tabar said they launched New York boutique firm UpSpringPR in part because the economic downturn dried up the entry-level jobs they were seeking after graduation.

“It really had everything to do with the economy,” Nelkin said.

The firm’s business model, which charges clients on a performance basis, rather than a monthly fee, is ideal for the economic downturn because it makes hiring a PR firm affordable, Tabar said.

“We wanted to give companies the opportunity to afford PR services,” Tabar said. The firm currently has seven clients.

Zach Cutler, a recent graduate who started The Cutler Group in D.C., said the recession is benefiting his business because companies that might have turned to large, expensive firms in better economic times are now more willing to look at smaller firms.

Culter, who said his firm currently has four clients, also offers his clients fundraising, event-planning and business development, in addition to PR services. This unique aspect, Culter said, has helped his firm secure business.

With contacts and previous summer employment experience, Cutler’s entrepreneurial side kicked in and he said the decision to start his own firm made more sense than searching for a job in corporate America.

“It’s really come together beautifully in the last few weeks,” Cutler said.

Despite these alumni’s success, the industry has not been immune from the recession, said Don Bates, a GW professor and founding director of the master’s degree program in strategic public relations at the Graduate School of Political Management.

“U.S. PR agency profitability dropped 20.8 percent this past year to a four-year low,” Bates said.

In order to find success in the PR industry during the economic downturn, Bates said publicists must be willing to hit the pavement to find clients.

“Anyone entering the public relations or public affairs consulting business should work from a position of strength,” Bates said in an e-mail. “Don’t just put out a shingle and think the business will walk through the door. You need a plan that begins with an assessment of your skills and abilities and what you can provide clients.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.