Crisis Communicator

November 28, 2010

By ERIN WOOD MILLER '09

MICHAEL FINEMAN '70 might be a familiar name to those who followed the recent Toyota recall or BP oil spill.

A public relations expert and owner of Fineman PR in San Francisco, media personalities often turn to Michael, a trusted crisis communicator, for his opinion on PR slip-ups.

His "Top Ten PR Blunders" list released annually since 1995 has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine. It has pointed out recent oops such as AIG's all-expense-paid retreat just days after receiving an $85 billion government bailout and Kanye West's snubbing of Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Michael's 11-person company has won nearly 100 awards since its founding in 1988, most recently two gold, best-in-nation Bulldog Awards and a Gold Effie Award for Best Company Positioning and Branding for Foster Farms' "Say No to Plumping: Redefining Natural and Exposing Cheap Chicken" campaign, aimed at exposing fresh chicken "plumped" with saltwater at a higher economic and health cost to consumers though labeled as "natural."

The company has helped many food and consumer packaged goods companies become nationally known. Michael's "brand PR" approach helped promote Fresh Express Farms, Republic of Tea, Fantastic Foods, Schlage Lock Company, and Clif Bar. Michael has also worked with clients in health care, building and construction, wineries, and movies.

The agency's crisis communications practice has helped in labor actions, product recalls, natural disasters, and workplace health and safety issues, among others. In 2005, Fineman PR began offering multicultural communications, with emphasis on the Latino community. The new division, Mosaico, has worked in consumer products, foundations and causes, women's health, real estate, finance, and food and beverage.

"Effective communications is about understanding the impact of language on a variety of audiences. For organizations, it's about helping people understand what need the company fills and why anyone should care," Michael says. "Business is difficult, and businesses often get a bad rap. In many cases it is because they have failed to help the public understand their contributions."

Armed with an English degree, the Philadelphia native began his career teaching high school in Oregon. Quickly learning he needed more career satisfaction, Michael began working at a PR firm in San Francisco before eventually opening his own.

Michael shares his story and expertise with Bradley students in Dr. Ron Koperski's public relations classes through videoconferences and internships. Michael says his most influential professor has become a close friend. "Ron helped boost my confidence in my own abilities and skills. He had a lot of great ideas and is still very inspiring."

Michael lives in Foster City, Calif., with his wife Lori. They have two college-aged sons.