A Family Affair

By Anne Stein

Spouses and PR execs concentrate on telling good stories… and staying out of each other’s way.

From the beginning of her public relations career, Liz Kaplow ’81 has relied on storytelling to make her clients and their products come alive for consumers. So when Target came to New York City-based Kaplow a decade ago, she was in a quandary. How could she make the brand resonate when there wasn’t a single Target store in Manhattan for media or potential customers to experience?

The answer: She created a Target pop-up (a temporary store) on board a ship at Chelsea Piers during the holidays.

“We not only had media go on the boat, we opened it up to consumers, so they could shop off the boat, too,” Kaplow recounts. “It created tremendous buzz and was a great way to make the ‘Expect More, Pay Less’ story that wasn’t in front of people come to life.” 

The model is still effective: Kaplow recently helped to implement pop-up shops for Target during this year’s Fashion Week in Manhattan. 

One of the leading independent consumer PR firms in the country, Kaplow Communications ( used a similar strategy when hired by Skype. To explain what was then a new way to connect, the agency told stories about a grandmother
spending time with her grandchildren after dinner, a doctor making house calls, and an overseas veteran visiting with family—all via Skype.

“It became much more emotional for media to see the way technology was used in real life for real people,” she explains.

Kaplow, who’s CEO and president of the 75-person company, founded the firm in 1991 to have more flexibility while raising her two daughters, now ages 21 and 25. In 1995, husband Evan Jacobs ’78, an attorney and fellow Vassar alum, joined the company full-time. As CFO, he oversees finance, operations, and staffing, while Kaplow concentrates more on satisfying their clients.

“That’s one reason we work together so well,” Jacobs says. “We have very different, defined roles. Liz deals with the PR side and I work behind the scenes to make sure the company’s run profitably. That role separation is great for keeping the business and marriage thriving.”

“To tell the truth, we’re not together that much during the day,” continues Jacobs, who loves to golf and jokes that a healthy separation on weekends can also be a good thing. “We have clear lines in the sand and we complement each other.”

And when they do lock horns, Kaplow says, “We try to be flexible. Flexibility is something that helps us enormously at home and work.”

The two met at summer camp (Camp Echo Lake) in Warrensburg, New York, when Liz was 14 and Evan was 16. She was a camper and he was a counselor-in-training. They wrote letters to each other after camp ended, and they’ve been together ever since. Jacobs, who attended Vassar first, convinced Kaplow to apply to the college.

“We never used to talk much about the fact that we were a husband-and-wife team,” Kaplow says. “We thought we had to be quieter about it. But what we hear from employees is that they love the family feeling of the agency. You’ll see Evan walking around chatting to employees and, in an age of technology and social media, people are craving that personal connection.”

For an agency with just a single office in New York and a small adjunct in San Francisco, the company’s been enormously successful in the consumer brand business, focusing its energies on large, blue-chip clients, including Avon, Laura Mercier, Timex, Shiseido, and Unilever. In 2011, Kaplow was awarded the Holmes Report Consumer Agency of the Year award.

Kaplow and Jacobs have added a social media practice, and have had to build a strong digital group and video production in order to thrive.

“It’s what makes PR so different today,” Kaplow says.  “In the past, we relied on the media to spread the word. Now, we work directly with consumers using social media to tell stories and create content.”

Though the practice of PR has changed dramatically, at the end of the day, she says, it’s still about telling a good story.