29 VP, Airfoil PR
Airfoil PR VP Eric Kushner, 29, likens his entrance into public relations to an episode of Seinfeld where malcontented character, George Constanza, keeps on showing up at a company and gets a job one day.
After graduating from Tufts University with a degree in Asian history, he was unsure about what career path to take and was contemplating going back to school. A family friend recommended that Kushner contact an acquaintance, who apparently ran an ad agency.
Kushner says that this interested him on a conceptual level, so he went in for an interview at what was actually a PR firm. During the interview, Kushner was upfront about his uncertain goals, but was nevertheless hired to do a data entry project.
After the project was done, he continued to showing up for the next month offering assistance to the firm's other employees. He was then offered an account assistant role and promoted to account executive a year later. In retrospect, Kushner says he was predisposed to work in PR because it plays to what he considers his strengths: being an effective communicator, articulate, team-focused, and possessing a strong work ethic.
He ironically got his first major break in the industry when the three-person account team he worked on for an automotive aftermarket retailer sent out a letter to a community dignitary with the erroneous date for an invitation. The client was understandably upset, which he demonstrated during a conference call with the team members as well as the partner at the agency.
At this point, Kushner was supporting the team, but only in a moderately client-facing role, he says. "After the partner of the firm and the client went back and forth, the partner asked, 'Moving forward, how can we make this right for you?'" Kushner says. The last thing he expected, Kushner says, was that the client would say, "I want Eric to be our point-person."
"That's where I cut my teeth," Kushner says.
At Airfoil, Kushner runs the lucrative Microsoft account, which the firm has held since 1997. Airfoil comes from the Franco Public Relations Group's technology practice, from which it spun off four years ago, approximately at the same time Kushner joined.
At that time, Airfoil handled Microsoft's field sales efforts for the Great Lakes region. The technology company was contemplating restructuring its PR efforts, and asked Airfoil to participate in a pilot program. At the time, Microsoft's field sales PR was split into 17 districts.
"I came up to speed pretty quickly and was given the opportunity to step into that role," Kushner says.
The end result is that Airfoil now handles Microsoft's field sales PR for the entire US region in a $1 million-plus account.
Beth Jordan, senior PR manager for Microsoft North America, remembers Kushner when he was the lead for the Great Lakes Region and Microsoft was contemplating a restructuring. "He always got things done and recognized limitations," she says, adding that his main concerns revolved around what was best for Microsoft's strategy, not the budget constraints.
"He can go toe-to-toe with our internal execs, and he's able to talk about the industry as a whole," Jordan says.
Jordan says that Kushner gets Microsoft's business and technology on much more than a cursory level.
"He's one of those rare PR folk that understand technology and has an interest and a passion for it," Jordan says. She also cites his commitment to the big picture.
"He's always thinking three to six months ahead of the cycle," Jordan says. "He doesn't get himself caught up in the daily crisis and let the long term slip by the wayside."
Kushner says that working at Airfoil provides him with the opportunity to help define the organization. "It's a smaller group with clear direction from our principals, but we're an open environment." To return to the list, click here.