Get to know Rob Biesenbach – Communications expert, actor, author, IABC member and dad
We continue our Getting to Know You series with Rob Biesenbach. Agency VP, press secretary, actor, author — Rob’s career has taken a number of turns. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, he went into communications and PR. He’s been a nonprofit and association communications director in Washington, DC, press secretary for the Attorney General of Ohio, and vice president at Ogilvy PR Worldwide in Chicago. In 1999, he struck out on his own and has been working independently ever since.
He also took classes in acting, improvisation and screenwriting at the world-renowned Second City in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. A few famous graduates include: John Candy, Tina Fey, Mike Myers and Steve Carell.
Tell us about your career in communications.
“For most of my career I’d taken a pretty conventional path. But the higher up I went, the farther I got from what I really love — writing and creating. I started working for myself in 1999, so I actually got to DO the work for my clients instead of just managing other people doing it. Working independently also gave me the freedom to explore something I’d been thinking about for a long time: Second City, which changed everything.
I quickly caught the performance bug and carved out an entire second career as an actor, doing sketch comedy, theater and commercial work. Eventually I realized everything I was learning on stage and in front of the camera could be applied directly to business communication — it’s all about connecting with an audience, telling your story and communicating in a creative, compelling way. That led to an entirely new direction: writing books, speaking professionally and doing training and coaching programs on storytelling, presentation skills and interpersonal communication. That’s been the focus of my business for the past decade.”
You work for yourself. How do you stay current in your career?
“Beyond the usual — reading, conferences (and IABC events, of course!) — I learn from my client work. Most of the stories I tell and examples I offer in my books, speeches and workshops come directly from my experience. And the questions I get from audience members and workshop participants often lead to brand new insights and the exploration of new topics. Every engagement for me is like a focus group.”
What are some of your career highlights?
“Taking risks like leaving a great job at Ogilvy, getting up on stage, starting a business — reinventing myself, essentially — has been tremendously rewarding. And my books. Even if I just stuck them a drawer and they never saw the light of day, it would have been a really satisfying experience. But the fact that people actually buy them and learn from them? That’s the cherry on top. My latest, on storytelling, is still going strong after two years and actually outsold the other two combined!”
How did you become involved with the IABC?
“I started attending networking and learning sessions in the early 2010s and finally became a member in 2014. It’s a great group of people who love what they do and sharing their knowledge with others. I’ve been fortunate to be a speaker at the IABC World Conference for five years running. This June, when the conference returns to Chicago I’ll be doing a mini-workshop on presentation skills. I look forward to meeting new people and seeing old friends.”
Tell us about your family.
“My wife Karen is an attorney at a pharma company and we have two absolutely ridiculous kids. Teddy is four-and-a-half and I’m proud that he seems to have inherited my linguistic abilities. He loves books, is a smooth talker, an insane dancer and has a hell of a throwing arm. Lily is two-and-a-half and really coming into her own. She struts down the street like she owns the place, wants to do everything herself and is kind of a remarkable little soccer player.”
What do you like to do for fun?
“I stopped having fun when the kids came along! Actually, I have a lot of fun with them — Karen feels like she has three kids sometimes — and they’re a great audience. Beyond that, my few non-working/non child-raising hours are filled with reading, workouts and falling asleep in front of the TV. And I like to travel. We go to Alaska most summers to fish and spend time with family (Karen’s a native).”
Do you know someone who should be featured in the Getting to Know You series or would you like to be? Please contact Rhonda Carlson.