By Pete Mazzaccaro
In 2008, when the economy went into a deep recession, lifelong public relations man Tony DeFazio found himself at a crossroads.
Several years prior, he was working for Gregory FCA, one of the largest PR firms in Philadelphia, and had built the PR department for a large real estate company. He was having a good time, working for a global brand, Wall Street investors, etc., but the recession had dried up business and he had a decision to make. He had long considered going out on his own and the recession gave him a push.
“I started my business in 2008, right at the beginning of the recession,” DeFazio said. “People thought I was nuts at the time. How were we going to open a business in this economy? It worked out perfectly. We took advantage of the fact that there were clients looking for a cost effective edge to promote their goods and services. They were cutting back on advertising and sponsorship, and I was able to make a case that community relations, notably publicity, was highly leverageable as a marketing communication tool.”
And so began DeFazio Communications in DeFazio’s Conshohocken home office. With a leaner staff and focus on gaining publicity, DeFazio, 54, said he leveraged his connections and experience to build a client base and did what he described as traditional media relations – media training, writing press releases and crafting media kits – until about 2012 when he recognized digital trends in communications and social media were upending the industry.
He began to shift to what is known in public relations as “earned media.” It’s a term to describe publicity the client doesn’t have to pay for. It ranges from having the client’s story told in a magazine to having its products noted by a social media influencer.
“As the digital economy took hold, traditional publicists, I would count myself among them, were forced to rethink and to come to grasp with how we were going to evolve and innovate in a world in which everybody theoretically is in media,” DeFazio said. “You’re a blogger, you’re the media. And even consumers are media. There’s no restriction. There’s no impediment to anyone creating some sort of a platform with which to communicate and offer opinions and reviews and critiques of any comments from service.”
As he began changing his approach to media relations for his clients, DeFazio said he also reached a point last year at which his client base was far too heavy on pharma and health. So he decided to change things up a little bit more, further streamlined his staff and found himself looking for a more suitable office space.
“I wanted more flexibility,” DeFazio said. “In terms of growth. In terms of servicing clients. And Conshohocken for all of its resources lacked flexible office offerings. Given this new direction, I wanted to be more agile in the ability to serve clients and also to have basically limitless top end and room to accommodate more people or resources, and so I did some hunting and some research.”
That’s when he met local Elfant Wissahickon Realtor and Kismet Cowork founder Chris Plant, who impressed DeFazio right away. Plant started Kismet in early 2017 in Chestnut Hill. In the years since, he’s expanded to spaces in Manayunk and Spring Arts.
“He impressed me as very entrepreneurial and innovative but also very customer centric,” DeFazio said of Plant. “I had met with other providers including WeWork and none of them conveyed to me the level of customer service that Plant did. The moment I walked into the Chestnut Hill location I instantly felt welcome.”
DeFazio Communications is now based at Kismet Cowork in Chestnut Hill. The location has worked well for DeFazio who says it’s equally convenient to meeting Center City clients as it is to reaching King of Prussia.
It’s worked out marvelously for us,” DeFazio said. “We entertain clients all over the Philadelphia area, and when I say entertain, we do sessions and meetings here. We’ve added staff since we’ve been here. We went from literally rolling in here and just grabbing a floating desk to dedicated office space and additional team members. We’re able to keep down costs, which is a big thing. The membership structure, rather than a lease, offers us enormous amounts of flexibility. We can expand or contract without any long-term overhead cost to be concerned with.”
In the past year, while a member of Kismet, DeFazio Communications won a “Pepperpot” award from the Philadelphia chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The award was for the agency’s campaign for Discovery Labs, an innovative pharmaceutical research hub in King of Prussia. The nature of the business – investing in the former Glaxo Smith Kline plant in King of Prussia and creating a space for small medical startups, including those in the field of gene therapy – was so novel it proved a special challenge for DeFazio. He had to tell a story of a business that no one had ever really heard of before.
“The challenge from a PR perspective, and why we won this award, is that nobody was doing it or had heard of it before,” DeFazio said. “It’s unheard of. We were telling a new story to a local Philadelphia business community. To the Biotech industry trade magazine. To the real estate industry trade magazines.”
The campaign was a success and before long, the Discovery Lab had more interest in its space than it could handle. It made winning the industry award particularly nice.
“I was honored and overjoyed,” DeFazio sad. “It’s a competitive contest and we were up against agencies that are four times as large as ours, and so obviously it was recognition of a job done well but also validation of when you put your nose to the grindstone and you work really hard, good things will come.”
For more about DeFazio Communications, see defaziocommunications.com. For more information about Kismet Cowork, see kismetcowork.com
Pete Mazzaccaro can be reached at 215-248-8802 or firstname.lastname@example.org