Dealerscope 2020 Hall of Fame: Lois Whitman-Hess, HWH PR
Dealerscope 2020 Hall of Fame honoree Lois Whitman-Hess, president & founder of HWH Public Relations, has built a 42-year career in her field drawing from an invaluable perspective: that of an editor.
Her branch-out into PR was achieved along with Eliot Hess, her husband, whom she met when she was in editorial and he was an art director for Richard Ekstract’s stable of consumer electronics trade publications.
Before that, she found her footing as a reporter beginning in 1966, as a copy editor at Fairchild Publications’ HFD (Home Furnishings Daily), which covered consumer electronics and appliances. She was trained there by reporting legends Aaron Neretin and Manning Greenberg, and promoted to reporter in just five months. “I was so lucky I started on those sections, because those two guys were the best in the business, along with the Television Digest guys [Dave Lachenbruch and Bob Gerson]. They would rewrite me in the beginning, but I was very good at getting scoops and page-one stories,” she recalls. “It was a blessing, because that’s how I learned the entire business. I would call retailers and talk to them all day long – the chains, the independents. It was glorious; it was the best time. I’d get information like, GE is raising prices on appliances by three percent, and I’d yell out, ‘Hold the presses!’ and Manning would do a [taxi-hailing] whistle. It was thrilling.”
In 1974, Whitman-Hess was scouted and then hired by Ekstract, whom she cites as a mentor, making the move to his trade news magazine fold as managing editor for Consumer Electronics Monthly; eventually, she took the helm of that publication as editor in chief. The job also entailed the editorship of the CES Daily, the official publication of the then-biannual Consumer Electronics Show. She worked there for three years, where she met Hess, and eventually left the publishing world with him. They formed the HWH PR agency, and enjoyed a running start. Turntable maker BSR (USA) became an instant client, and others soon followed.
“It wasn’t that I was so talented,” she reflects about the immediate success of the agency. “I was just so well known by all these brand-name accounts that I didn’t even have to write a business plan for five years… We were the PR agency for emerging technologies including for the Compact Disc Group; we were very, very lucky. JVC was a client for many years and we were involved in the launch of compact camcorders.”
Their client roster quickly grew. “I didn’t have any formal training in the PR world. When I left B-to-B journalism and started HWH, I felt my way through it. I knew the essence of what clients wanted, and was able to take my abilities as an editor and go after the editorial world, which at that time was print and broadcast, and get publicity for clients.”
HWH’s clients have included brand names such as Sony, DuPont, Panasonic, Philips, 20th Century Fox, HBO, Casio, Westinghouse, Astell&Kern, Kyocera, BMG, Random House, Revlon, Waterpik, Helen of Troy, Bell South, Higher Ground, University of Tennessee College of Business, and HGTV, and many sports and entertainment figures.
Whitman-Hess points with particular pride to her agency’s role in positioning a then-new-to-America, little-known Korean brand – Samsung – front and center with CE trade and consumer journalists.
“We brought awareness of Samsung to the United States,” she says. HWH’s relationship with Samsung lasted for 17 years, and the agency was instrumental early on for helping to promote many of the brand’s products.
“We also worked with them on events such as their Four Seasons of Hope charity campaign, along with [special events expert] Susan Grant at IMS Marketing.” That campaign afforded HWH a crowning PR achievement, with Grant and Whitman-Hess getting former President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – political opposites – to commit to attend one of the galas. “Every major news outlet showed up to cover it, after New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser wrote ahead of time that they’d both be there. Peter Weedfald [then with Samsung] introduced them - and they hugged! It was one of the biggest things we’ve ever done.”
Fostering Next-Generation Careers
Whitman-Hess and her husband are both very active in charity work and as supporters of the arts, and she considers among her most impactful activities, besides those, to have been the establishment of an ongoing PR internship program – a mentoring initiative that has resulted in the fostering of many careers in public relations and related fields.
Whitman-Hess also holds the distinction of having attended every Consumer Electronics Show ever held, starting with the first one in New York City in 1967, with just 17,500 attendees and 100 exhibitors. And just like CES, Whitman-Hess has grown her reach, following the instincts of her characteristically open personality to share her observations – via social media – on the changes that have come to the industry, while changing right along with them.
“The future is very, very exciting, and people should be embracing all the new innovation and technologies,” she says. “What none of us are used to, and what everyone is moaning and groaning about, is change. Everybody wants things to stay the same.
“The only reason I am working all these years later is because I changed with it,” she continues. “I knew I had to change with the changes. Even though it takes me longer to learn something, once I learn it, I learn it well. I might resist change a little, but I don’t say no. A lot of people no longer in this industry just wanted things to stay the same. It’s impossible. They can’t. And because of the Internet and the digital community, I think we’re living in the greatest time to be in business. All this innovation is happening, and you see things you never saw before.”
In line with this thinking, Whitman-Hess co-hosts a weekly podcast called Lying on the Beach, with Today Show personality Steve Greenberg, where they regularly talk to innovators. She has also run a daily blog for the past eight years called DigiDame. “It keeps me abreast of things. A lot of it is personal, but mostly it’s about innovation in all areas including tech.
“It’s about keeping relevant.”