Intuit's Pforzheimer finds unforeseen rewards in PR

Harry Pforzheimer always dreamed of the power a PR career would give him. During his work, most recently as comms VP at Intuit, he learned that PR's real power lies in advancing business.

Harry Pforzheimer always dreamed of the power a PR career would give him. During his work, most recently as comms VP at Intuit, he learned that PR's real power lies in advancing business.

Most fifth-graders dream of becoming an astronaut or a firefighter. Harry Pforzheimer dreamed of going into PR.

It wasn't the siren song of churning out press releases that spoke to Pforzheimer, now VP of communications at Intuit. It was seeing the people attending to his father, an EVP with Standard Oil, that caught his eye.

"I grew up in an oil family," says Pforzheimer, 51. "My dad always had people running around him. He'd always be in the paper, go to events, and speak on TV. I saw that power, and there were these people telling him what to say, and I thought, 'What a glamorous, powerful, high-paying job it must be.'"

Whether PR is a glamorous, powerful, high-paying job is up for debate. But Pforzheimer has certainly found it rewarding, whether he was coordinating a visit from President Gerald Ford during Pforzheimer's days at Standard Oil, to palling around with Steven Spielberg and David Bowie during his stint at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI).

During those early years at Standard Oil and United Banks of Colorado, Pforzheimer's view of PR was about going to the press club, handing out cigars, and taking reporters to baseball games. He says his approach is a "little more sophisticated now."

But Pforzheimer knew that there was more to PR than cigars and fastballs, even in the early days of his career. He saw the innovation taking place at Standard Oil with synthetic fuels and was the one who extended an invitation to the White House to come see what the company was doing.

But after a few years of oil and banking, Pforzheimer headed west to Silicon Valley, landing at SGI. He considers that one of his greatest jobs, but it also led to one of his largest professional regrets. Pforzheimer saw SGI as a company with no visibility. He turned that around by focusing on how the company's technology made films like Jurassic Park groundbreaking hits at the time.

The glowing press coverage helped catapult SGI from a $185 million company when Pforzheimer joined to a $6 billion one, he asserts. But that good fortune also led to some company conceit.

"We all drank the Kool-Aid," says Pforzheimer of SGI. "I put so much of myself - as did many others - into that company. But arrogance became a big thing. The company just couldn't continue its momentum. Had we not drank the Kool-Aid so willingly, there's no reason they couldn't be a $10 billion-to-$15 billion company today." That hubris led to the company losing its footing. Coupled with the tech downturn, SGI is an $820 million company today.

Pforzheimer says his previous jobs don't have much in common, other than each having presented a unique opportunity and challenge. At Standard Oil, it was developing PR in divisions that had no PR. At United Banks of Colorado, it was running PR for the biggest bank in the Rocky Mountains. And at StorageTek, his first tech PR job, it was helping pull the company out of bankruptcy.

Former PRSA president Reed Byrum, while working for Measurex, met Pforzheimer, who was at SGI. He recalls that Pforzheimer had the ability to see the big picture beyond a company's products, whether that was moving SGI into entertainment or getting Apple to see beyond the PC as a PC.

"And he has a really good heart," adds Byrum. "At SGI, he got the company involved with nonprofits. He does not just think of a company's products. He also thinks of its reputation."

After SGI, Pforzheimer delved into the agency world, helping build The Weber Group's Silicon Valley presence. He then joined Edelman to manage the Apple account, helped lead its tech practice after that, and eventually oversaw the Western region.

And now, after a short stint at Ruder Finn, Pforzheimer is at Intuit, the $2 billion software company best known for its personal and business finance products. Pforzheimer calls this the most rewarding job yet, due to his strong staff and an executive team that appreciates and welcomes PR, he says. "There's zero effort that I have to put in to have a seat at the table," he adds.

That's because company founder Scott Cook is a sophisticated leader, and Pforzheimer works well with good thinkers and visionary CEOs, says Larry Weber, formerly of The Weber Group and Weber Shandwick, and now of The W2 Group, a network of marketing companies he launched last year.

"Harry brings the viewpoint of what is important to the company or client, not just what is important to the media," says Weber, who went to day camp with Pforzheimer outside Cleveland when they were kids. "But he's also very media savvy. He's very learned. He has kept long-term media relationships and continues to nurture those."

Pforzheimer also pushes companies to take risks, says Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. "He pushed Apple to consider talking about the computer as something to put in your living room. He brings a sensibility beyond Silicon Valley. He brings a perspective a lot of people in the Valley don't have."

Since those early days of cigars and baseball games, Pforzheimer says his philosophy has changed significantly. He believes deeply in transparency and focusing on open and honest relationships with all stakeholders. And whatever PR does - be it strategic or tactical - it needs to move the company's business goals forward.

"It's about improving on what you do so that customers and prospects continue to buy and recommend our products," says Pforzheimer.

Pforzheimer is now a long way from those days of watching PR people attend to his father. But his initial view of PR's promise - glamorous and powerful - seems to have been fulfilled in its own way, at least for Pforzheimer.

"What I love about PR is that you can go from oil to banking to technology," he says. "What a great profession. If you do it right, you can be exposed to anything and everything."

Harry Pforzheimer

2004-present VP of communications, Intuit

2002-2003 EVP, Ruder Finn/Switzer

1997-2002 Silicon Valley GM/global tech practice head/Western region president, Edelman 1996-1997 EVP, The Weber Group

1989-1996 Worldwide comms director, Silicon Graphics

1985-1989 Director of corporate comms, StorageTek

1982-1985 Media relations manager, United Banks of CO

1977-1982 Public relations manager, Standard Oil

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

News by email...