Michael Kempner is founder and CEO of MWWPR, one of the nation’s largest independent PR firms. He is an authority on reputation management, crisis communications, public affairs, business to business, consumer marketing and corporate brand purpose, having counseled some of the world’s most prominent executives, organizations and companies.
Kempner was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors/U.S. Agency for Global Media. He helped direct all U.S. international media including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcast Network and Radio Free Asia and served on each of their boards.
What would your advice be for a young person entering PR in 2020?
Looking back over the past 40 years, I realized my entire success was based on the relationships I have created and nurtured throughout my career. Success in life and business is all about those relationships, so start building them now. The people you meet today become your mentors and others will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Plus, it’s fun. You meet great people, make friends and learn so much. But remember that a relationship is more than just a nice breakfast; keeping them fresh and ongoing requires a conscious and active effort.
What role should the industry play in combating COVID-19 and racial injustice?
The PR industry has a responsibility and obligation to communicate louder and with more passion when it comes to fighting social issues such as COVID-19 and racial injustice. We are on the front lines of communications with our clients, our companies and our communities — shaping and influencing national conversation on a daily basis.
Whether it is current issues of income equality, racial justice, climate change, immigration, healthcare, LGBTQ rights or the polarization of blue versus red, we need to be a much deeper and more committed part of the solution. Unfortunately, public relations leaders tend to shy away from controversy and rarely express their opinions, even on the most pressing and universal issues. But we have a unique platform and must use it to help create a more just and equitable society.
How are the founding principles of PR relevant in today’s fast-moving and febrile comms environment?
The principles of honesty, integrity, authenticity and purpose have never been more important or relevant as they are today. With the ability to communicate across the world in less than a second, PR practitioners need to stay true to those principles and ensure they guide all aspects of our communication.
How important is the 2020 U.S. presidential election?
We are in an existential crisis and are truly fighting for the future of democracy, decency and all that America stands for. This is an election about hope versus fear, and whether America will continue to advance with the values of the last 240 years.
To quote Kamala Harris: “Justice is truly on the ballot.” If we are going to be a more fair and just society and tackle issues such as pandemics, erosion of democracy around the world and inequality, America needs new and empathetic leadership that unites and moves us forward.
What keeps you excited about working in the PR industry?
To begin, I love the people I work with and I truly enjoy seeing them every day (now by FaceTime). I have loved to watch them grow, become leaders in our industry, have families and build their lives. It is one of the true joys in having run MWWPR for so long.
Also, PR is never dull, and great PR practitioners need to be ready to challenge themselves every single day. You need to enjoy waking up thinking, “How great can I be?” It takes incredible curiosity and the ability to play multi-dimensional chess to be the best. Many can be good at their job, but few can be truly great.
How do you relax?
I’m actually not great at relaxing. I love to have too much to do. I love the multiple responsibilities I have at work, home, politics, education and philanthropy.
But my favorite part of the day and the time I truly relax is waking up early, when all is quiet, grabbing my first cup of hot coffee and watching the world go by. Freeing my brain of stimulation before the chaos of the day begins, that is truly my happy space. Besides that, an afternoon on the water with a beautiful sunset never hurts. And last, but certainly not least, there isn’t much better than an afternoon with a glass of wine while slowly smoking a great brisket.
Favorite sports team?
Chicago Cubs. There is no second choice.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band; The Rolling Stones; Jackson Browne; James Taylor; Counting Crows; Mumford and Sons and, just to date myself, Jethro Tull.
Coffee — skim milk on the side and one sugar.
Which three people, living or dead, would you like to host at a dinner party?
Ruby Bridges, Teddy Roosevelt and Yitzhak Rabin. And I would love to invite my grandfather just to see him again.