Born and raised in Washington D.C., Ben Finzel's interest in politics and current events began when he was just a kid.
“Growing up in D.C., I think you either hate all of that because you’re surrounded by it, or you gravitate toward it,” he says. “For me, it was the latter.”
He loved living in DC and immersing himself in the world of politics. “The local news was the national news,” he explains.
Ben eventually attended Texas Tech University, where he majored in history and minored in English. He also took a few PR classes but didn’t think of it as a field for him until years after graduating. He spent the early part of his career on Capitol Hill, first as a legislative assistant and press secretary for North Carolina Congressman Tim Valentine, then as a legislative director for Bill Richardson, a congressman from New Mexico.
In the mid 1990s, Ben reconnected with one of the folks he interned for, who was at the time working for Edelman Public Relations Worldwide. He recruited Ben to the organization, kick-starting what would become a long, successful journey in the PR world.
“I started my PR career almost by accident,” he says. “I wasn’t looking for a job in PR.” But the rest, as they say, is history.
Learning the language of PR
At Edelman, Ben managed and coordinated teams for some big name clients, including SC Johnson and the World Wildlife Fund. He also worked on a variety of interesting projects, including supporting efforts to renew the Fox TV program, “America’s Most Wanted” and developing a program to advocate for country of origin labeling on frozen produce.
Ben’s role at Edelman enabled him to dip his toes into agency life. It also served as a great learning experience — he recalls having to ask his boss what B-roll was.
“Once I figured out the language of PR and that I liked it and might be good at it, that was a fantastic thing,” he says.
Ben returned to political work for a brief stint after Edelman to serve as a communications director/special assistant in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. During his time there, he helped develop the “Clean Energy for the 21st Century” brand.
Ben then returned to the agency world, including roles at Fleishman-Hillard, Widmeyer Communications and Glen Echo Group. Those jobs helped him hone his PR skills in everything from project management to billing to managing client relationships – all of which enabled Ben to build a foundation on which he built his own business.
From the ground up
Without his extensive background and training in the PR world, Ben wouldn’t have had the confidence to do his own thing. But with the encouragement from many friends and colleagues, Ben took a leap of faith and established his own communications consulting firm, RENEWPR, in 2015.
“Once I started, there was no looking back,” he says. “I’ve just been going for it ever since. And I’m having a blast.”
Ben has no regrets about the timing of starting his own business, either. Although he had more than two decades of experience by the time he launched RENEWPR, he knew he wouldn’t have been ready any earlier.
Ben’s previous agency experience mostly centered on energy and environmental clients, which is what he mainly works with through his business, too. Some of his clients have included the Carbon Capture Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, DSM North America, United States Energy Association, Common Ground Alliance, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Greenwood Energy.
He’s also expanded his client roster to include LGBTQ organizations like Family Equality, The LGBT Victory Fund, Believe Out Loud and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. In fact, his work tackling LGBTQ issues and oportunities is perhaps what he’s most passionate about.
Extending skills to LGBTQ community
One of Ben’s core memories from LGBTQ-driven communications work is from when he helped launch the first global LGBTQ practice at Fleishman-Hillard, referred to as FH Out Front.
Now at RENEWPR, Ben is even more focused on LGBTQ issues and clients. He’s also the co-founder of The Change Agencies, a network of independent multicultural and LGBTQ-owned PR firms in the United States focused on providing inclusive public relations to the communities it serves.
In addition, Ben launched and manages DC Family Communicators, the first and only professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals in Washington, D.C. The group currently consists of more than 200 members, including a few Solo PR Pros.
Blending personal and professional life
Ben’s team at RENEWPR includes himself, the only full-time employee, as well as seven freelancers. His husband, Mark Pimble, has even come on board as the COO of the firm.
While some couples might find working together to be too much of a headache, that’s not the case for Ben and Mark. Ben recalls the very first year of his business, a big client was referred to him – a client that alone would have helped him meet his revenue goal for the year.
It was a terrible fit, though. He remembers talking to Mark about how he was scared of turning them away because of the money. Yet Mark told him, “You didn’t start the agency for this. You want to do good work with good people and have a good time doing it. You’re not doing it for the revenue.”
It was great advice Ben still cherishes today.
And as he reflects on his long, storied career in PR, Ben feels he subconsciously set on a path in the industry even back in sixth grade, when he had to read a newspaper in class and dissect it.
“Trying to understand the world around me or being interested in it was certainly a part of my upbringing,” he says. “I think that fits nicely with a career in PR.”
Photo Credit: Credit:arthobbit