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FinePoint’s Meredith C. Fineman on founding and leading a company

Meredith C. Fineman (@meredithfineman) is the founder of FinePoint, a digital PR firm based in Washington, D.C. Fineman also writes on career, leadership and entrepreneurial issues for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Lifehacker and other sites. I recently asked her about how she leads, what led her to found her company in 2011 and what she’s learned since.

How do companies like yours extend and support leaders? Why and when should leaders — executives or otherwise — consider firms like FinePoint?  

We’re a group of communications professionals who’ve purposefully chosen to go the opposite route of the traditional PR. We’re savvy enough to know the top 10 digital trends, but we’re also a group of young people who aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and book you on a TV show. I truly believe that those values are not dead and that they are making a resurgence in this field. We’re boutique enough to be flexible, specialized and endlessly connected.

How would you describe your company culture? Your management style? How has the latter changed since you founded FinePoint? 

We’re a group of highly passionate individuals who also care about making each other laugh. It feels like a group of friends, but we also care about getting done with the same tenacity, attention to detail and wherewithal that we apply to our personal lives. Even though we’re all friends, I still think it’s important to maintain a respected level of leadership and distance. I’ve also made certain mistakes — like not creating the proper professional distance — that has definitely impacted the way I want to lead going forward. It’s always hard as a founder to have everyone believe in your premise and vision as much as you do — but I’ve found that as the leader, the confidence that I exude and highlight becomes infectious.

When you are considering potential clients or employees, what do you look for, or ask about? 

For clients: FinePoint works in the verticals of tech, consumer & lifestyle and business. With any potential client, (be it a startup, brand, individual or otherwise) it must be something or someone that I personally would be interested in even in the absence of a professional tie. In order to successfully pitch anything, you have to be interesting in what you’re pitching; otherwise it will show in a second.

I work with a lot of individuals to raise profiles and increase their personal brands, and I particularly love working with female leadership. There’s nothing I love more helping an accomplished leader showcase her efforts.

For potential employees, these things are crucial and essential: ambition, aggression, resourcefulness, tenacity, organizational prowess. I have a great deal going on between my company and my writing career, so it’s all about successfully getting in my face — so if you can do that, I’m interested in talking to you. I used to think that resumes mattered so much. I’ve hired people with PR experience and without it. The individual characteristics matter. It’s about how I want and NEED on my team.

You founded FinePoint in 2011. What were doing before then, and what inspired you to take that step? 

I have worked in almost every area of communications in some way. In college I threw parties (and continue to do so). I’ve worked in marketing for brands like CBS and Bloomingdale’s. I also worked in advertising Young & Rubicam in Argentina — where I spent the year after I graduated from UPenn. I’ve also been a freelance writer for nine years.

After launching and running a successful blog for two years, The FFJD — a rumination on young adulthood and all of its awkwardness — I went into working in digital strategy and blogger outreach at New Media Strategies. I realized that my strength lied in combining the facets of traditional PR and the tenets of new digital strategy. FinePoint is the result of that.

What aspect of running a company was most difficult to adjust to, and how have you managed that since founding FinePoint?

The roller coaster of a startup is exhausting — especially in the services business. There are ebbs and flows (like any other business). Maintaining a level head in all of that is incredibly difficult. As I say to my team (and to myself), if you throw enough shit against the wall, eventually some of it will stick.