Before the social distancing requirements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people could not imagine working from home. But Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein, KLN '86, was ahead of her time. When she launched her public relations agency Making Headlines in December 1995, she did so from the comfort of her home using emerging technology like the Internet. Today, Making Headlines is still going strong with Ezekiel-Fishbein, who also teaches at Klein College of Media and Communication, at the helm.
Making Headlines was birthed out of necessity. Ezekiel-Fishbein worked at Earle Palmer Brown — one of Philadelphia's major advertising agencies at the time that shut its doors almost 20 years ago — and was reluctant to give up the responsibilities of her role as a new mother to return to the grind of office life. She pitched her novel idea to the agency's leadership: working from home through telecommuting. They did not accept her offer, so she made her own way.
With the help of her sister who worked in technology and the support of her husband and colleagues, Ezekiel-Fishbein ventured out on her own and developed her own business. Within a week, she took on three clients who would supplement her lost income.
Although Making Headlines was launched using technology and received local and national press attention for its innovative business approach, Ezekiel-Fishbein did not feel pressured to change her traditional approach to the profession. Referring to herself as "an old school PR girl," she says that she learned from some of Philadelphia's best public relations professionals and brought those same skills to her remote clients.
"The way I do PR is all about relationships, and all about strong writing, and all about understanding your audience and understanding newsworthiness," she says.
Ezekiel-Fishbein's time as a student at Klein also benefited her business. Because she majored in journalism, she was required to take a broad range of liberal arts courses that she believes helped her develop an appreciation for the wide scope of clients she would later encounter working in public relations.
As a result, Ezekiel-Fishbein also knows what makes a great pitch and works well with journalists to highlight her clients. Maiken Scott, the host and creative director of WHYY's The Pulse, has received many impressive pitches from Ezekiel-Fishbein over the years.
"I think she takes a very personal approach in that she knows the product in terms of the person she's approaching — she will know what you cover and what you don't cover and she has a very good sense of what it is that you do," Scott says.
Isabelle Gauvry, senior vice president of public relations at Omnicom Media Group, has mentored and worked with Ezekiel-Fishbein since the start of her career.
"She has a lot of people out there in the network she's made over the years who would have no hesitation about recommending her," Gauvry says. "When people call me and they're looking for someone for a freelance job, she's always the first person I think of."
Since its founding, Making Headlines has operated successfully as a word-of-mouth business that relies on referrals. But recently, Ezekiel-Fishbein decided to revamp its image. She developed a new website for the business and the response has been tremendous.
"The amount of calls I'm fielding about new business — I'm getting more calls than I can manage right now, and I feel incredibly fortunate," she says.
But Ezekiel-Fishbein is selective. Whether she's working for a breast cancer organization, a hospital system or the region's largest co-working ecosystem, she lets the missions of her clients guide her work.
Sally Guzik, general manager of CIC Philadelphia and a client of Making Headlines', has seen Ezekiel-Fishbein's passion for her clients in action.
"When we were able to meet the first time I just really liked her energy and the way that she thought creatively about problem-solving and reaching out into the community and communication and marketing in general," Guzik says. "So we thought she would be a great fit to our team."
"I would say that the one commonality of every client I've worked with — and I'm lucky enough to even say 'choose to work with' — every one of my clients is mission-driven, and has a mission I fully believe in. Or I won't take them on. Because I can't give them my best work if I don't believe in their mission," Ezekiel-Fishbein says.
As an instructor in the Department of Public Relations at Klein, she has now found an opportunity to merge her two commitments. David Brown, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Public Relations, suggested that Ezekiel-Fishbein take on an intern at Making Headlines for the first time. Katie Van Houten is a senior public relations student who was in need of fieldwork experience to complete her degree. With Ezekiel-Fishbein's expertise and Van Houten's maturity and professionalism, Brown thought the two would make a perfect match.
Van Houten has taken on many responsibilities so far, including conducting research to develop fact sheets and email lists, attending planning meetings and even crafting a wiki page for a client.
"The best part of the opportunity so far is definitely learning from Rachel, who has so much experience in the agency sector and also connecting with so many different clients in different industries and just gaining experience through these brand new relationships," Van Houten says.
"I hope that because this was a very convenient solution for both, that this won't be the last time that someone like Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein takes on students," Brown says. "Because I think that she's got so much to share as both a practitioner and an instructor."
Despite her busy schedule, Ezekiel-Fishbein has not lost sight of her work-life balance, the principle she founded Making Headlines on. Her youngest child and only daughter attends Tufts University, and her two sons have built meaningful professional careers. She says her biggest success story is her middle child's progression from his diagnosis with Tourette Syndrome in first grade to his career in disability advocacy in Washington, D.C.
Ezekiel-Fishbein has found that her learning curve for adapting to new technology has eased over the years. She is even involved in some technologically-focused projects, including an upcoming podcast on WHYY about how artificial intelligence affects the average person.
"If you had told me 25 years ago I'd be working on a project around AI, I mean you could've knocked me over with a feather" she says.
Ezekiel-Fishbein's dedication to her field combined with her varied interests have made her a stand-out public relations professional. But when loved ones like Gauvry are asked the key to Ezekiel-Fishbein's success, the answer is simple.
"One word," Gauvry says. "Talent."