From intern to president: A career in public relations, Q&A with Zach Olsen

Tell me your background with Infinite Global; how long you have been with the company and how your career progressed?

I’ve been with the company for thirteen years. I started as an intern with no background or experience in PR. It took me about a year to acclimate, understand at a very basic level what the job was and how to communicate with journalists and clients. 

One of my earliest “aha moments” was realizing that I needed to learn how think like a journalist if I was to be effective; I needed to understand what journalists were looking for in order to keep their readers happy. Thinking like a journalist helps you reverse engineer projects for the best possible outcome, and this skill is something we teach our team members early on.

How important is finding your personal style in public relations?

Personal style is definitely important. It helps you be genuine and communicate authentically, which is critical.

However, more important than personal style is emotional intelligence. You have to be able to read people, understand their motivations and be sensitive and responsive to them in a way that is authentic and true.

Like personal style, emotional intelligence is a skill that is difficult to teach. However, there are ways to encourage its development, and we strive to do this at Infinite Global because we realize that at its heart, PR is a people business and emotion is a big part of shared experience.

What are your aspirations for the future of the company, both immediate and long term?

As a company, we are having tremendous success. As a part of that success, we are finding ourselves invited to more and more new business pitches where we are up against very large, multi-national PR firms with huge marketing and branding budgets.

Given that we are still a midsize PR firm, we don’t have the luxury of huge brand/advertising dollars behind us. This means that the grassroots, boots-on-the ground-work that our people do is what gives us our reputation and what gets us a seat at the table next to much larger competitors. It also means that we have to work harder and be smarter just to get and stay in the room.

I’m very proud of our all that we have accomplished. My ongoing goal is to continue building the infrastructure and providing support that our talented team needs to continue this fantastic work.

What is the most interesting project you have ever worked on recently and why?

I, along with my partner and Infinite’s CEO Jamie Diaferia, lead our data breach and crisis communications practice group, and the work we do can be incredibly interesting and challenging as well as rewarding.

Recently we were hired to counsel the leadership of a school district through a cybersecurity breach. One of the most interesting aspects of this work was the fact that there were so many stakeholders, some with overlapping interests and others, competing. Now, this is usually true in any breach situation, but the involvement of public funding gave this project added complexity. It was also one of the starkest cases I had seen of the negative potential of social media; we had one local journalist quote a rumor directly from social media, with no fact-checking, in an article. It was a very complex case, and I'm proud of our breach response team; they did a terrific job.

Best book you've read recently and why?

Principles by Ray Dalio. It’s a fantastic book, by a very successful hedge fund professional, on the principles that guide his thinking and his life. Now that I’m a dad and a boss, it is important to me to think about the sort of impression I want to make in this world; how I want to impact those around me. I want to make sure that I’m giving those who rely on me, whether at work or home, the absolute best I can of myself every day.

Who has been an inspiration in your life and why?

Jamie, the founder of our company; he has built Infinite Global from a startup legal PR firm to what we are today, a multidisciplinary provider of professional services PR, branding and content creation. I’ve seen how hard he’s worked, how much he has sacrificed, all of the challenges he’s faced and I admire his ability to persevere and build something that he believes in. He’s good at being in charge, but he’s really good about letting people take charge of their work and careers, and at taking second chair when he knows it will benefit the people around him.

What would be your advice to young professionals who are starting out in public relations? 

I find that – especially in the age of social media and digital marketing – young PR pros are very focused on developing their technical skills. While this is important, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting out and talking to people; meeting people in person at events, lunches or coffees, and taking every opportunity to learn from those who have different perspectives, jobs and experiences. This always has been and always will be the most effective way to establish relationships, understand what motivates people, and build connections that will help newcomers to PR, or any career really.

Any final thoughts?

Infinite Global will be celebrating our 20th anniversary in a couple of years. It is sometimes hard for me to believe how far we’ve come. I’m looking forward to the anniversary as an opportunity to take stock as a company, look back and then look forward and then ask ourselves, collectively, “What do we want to be in 20 years?” It is a very exciting time for us.

Zach Olsen is the President of Infinite Global, where he leads its San Francisco office, and oversees the firm’s crisis response and reputation management group. He can be reached at zach@infiniteglobal.com.

Sophie Cikovsky is an Associate Vice President at Infinite Global, where she manages several large client teams and drives the company’s global talent program by developing recruiting, training and coaching initiatives. She can be reached at sophiec@infiniteglobal.com.

To learn more about working at Infinite Global or see our open positions, check out our careers page.

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