Pitching and briefing the media from Israel during wartime

An Israel-based agency executive explains how he and his team keep their focus amid the air-raid sirens and other wartime inconveniences.

Jerusalem, where Finn Partners Israel is based - photo by Berthold Werner
Jerusalem, where Finn Partners Israel is based - photo by Berthold Werner

Being woken up at 1:45 am by air-raid sirens, having to wake up the kids and shuffle them into the bomb shelter, and trying to keep them calm even while we are not calm ourselves does not evoke good feelings at all. And the alarm clock going off three hours after getting back to bed isn't so much fun either.

So what’s it like to wake up in the morning, knowing there is a war going on in your country, yet also knowing that you are expected to achieve stellar results for your PR agency's clients?

How do we do it? And, perhaps just as importantly, is it all worth it?

First, it’s important to explain a bit about Finn Partners Israel. Our office is staffed almost exclusively by North Americans, with one exception who is a native-born Israeli to American parents.

What that means is that each of us chose to live in Israel. And while each team member has his or her own reasons for moving here, our single point of agreement is that we are energized by playing a role in building the future of the Jewish state, and helping to promote what is wonderful about living here.

That point comes through in our conversations with our family and friends outside Israel, and it comes through in our interactions with our clients and the media.

During this "Protective Edge" war that Israel is involved in, we are still expected to get the job done for our clients. What’s interesting about this experience is that we are finding the war may make things more challenging emotionally, but as far as the work itself, there are certain things a war brings with it that play to our advantage. I know that sounds strange, but it's true.

For example, we had an important pitch for a tech client that was launching a new service. While the US-based technology media are always interested to hear from "Israel the high-tech hub," a phone call from Israel these days takes on more significance.

"Hi, this is Julie (not her real name) calling from Finn Partners Israel."
"Oh, wow. How's it going over there? I've heard about the rockets. Are you guys okay?"

Needless to say, when a conversation with a reporter begins that way, you are in a pretty good place, in terms of pitching your story.

There are other stories we are working on that are directly related to the war itself, such as a summer program in Israel for a major US Jewish nonprofit. Teens spending time in Israel is fine. Teens spending time in Israel during a war is much more interesting to the US-based Jewish media.

But it's not all positive. We were in the middle of a briefing with a top-tier reporter the other day when an air-raid siren went off. While our staffer on the call kept it going, she had to mute the call and run to the nearest bomb shelter, all the while hoping she wouldn't lose cell reception on the way.

And just two days ago, another staffer was literally in the middle of a pitch call with a reporter when a siren went off. She quickly finished the call, ran to a bomb shelter, and was too shaken by the experience to continue pitching that night. (Israel is seven hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time).

But that kind of scenario – thankfully – is the exception, not the rule. Generally, we have been able to get the job done. And that is important, not only because our clients are depending on us, but also because we at Finn Partners Israel feel we owe it to the soldiers fighting to defend our country to try to continue operating with a  "business as usual" mentality. 

Social media is another area of focus with a war going on. When there is news of another rocket or wounded soldier almost every hour, we want to know what's happening, so we spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook. But we can't get carried away, and, in fact, I spoke with the team on Monday about it.

I said that I have no problem with any member of the team checking out the news, even on an hourly basis, to see what's going on. But we have to be professionals and make sure we are taking care of our clients and checking out Twitter periodically, instead of the other way around.

As I said this, I looked around the room and saw a lot of nodding heads, but that doesn't make it any less challenging to keep the Twitter- and Facebook-gazing to a minimum.

So in a nutshell, we're doing pretty well in managing our business, clients, and the media during this war.

If we hear the wail of an air raid siren, we stand up, walk over to the bomb shelter, and pray for the safety of all Israelis – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze.

But when we get the "all clear" signal, we try very hard to head right back to the office and pick up right where we left off.

It's not always easy, but our clients are depending on us. And in that way, we are no different from any PR firm.

Go’el (Glenn) Jasper is senior partner and MD of Finn Partners in Israel.

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