Alumni Chris Abraham and Mark Harrison, who met on GW’s crew team, run a Washington, D.C.-based digital PR company that has a global reach.
By Menachem Wecker
The employees at Abraham Harrison LLC, a digital public relations firm founded by GW alumni Chris Abraham, B.A. ’93, and Mark Harrison, B.A. ’92, speak English, Spanish, Afrikaans, German, French, Hindi, Swahili and Arabic. They have lived in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Liberia, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Germany, Spain and Egypt. And by the way, there are only 30 members of the team.
“It is our normal daily life that we order lunch in German while phoning with a client in English, then pause to ask a friend a question in Spanish,” write Mr. Abraham and Mr. Harrison on their Web site, “navigating in real time the cultural switches that go along with communicating with an Austrian, a Canadian and a Colombian within the span of 10 seconds.”
Mr. Abraham, who is president and chief operating officer of Abraham Harrison, grew up in Hawaii and fell in love with Washington while attending Close Up, a summer educational program on politics for high school students. “Add to that the catalog I received at my home in Honolulu with the photo of the GW crew team rowing across a glassy, early-morning misty Potomac, and I was done,” he says.
Like many of his GW peers, Mr. Abraham aspired to be a lawyer or a politician. He remembers loving his political science courses, but after taking English and philosophy courses, he changed his major to American literature. “In fact,” he says, “I loved my class in African American literary theory so much that I was tempted to go straight to graduate school in linguistics and postmodern literary theory.”
Mr. Abraham’s adviser, English professor Robert Combs, helped him decide to spend a year studying American literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. “The United States reveres British literature, and likewise many professors in the U.K. are amazed and impressed by the works of their former colony,” he says.
Though he had no crew experience at all, Abraham became interested in the sport after seeing the classic ’80s film “Oxford Blues” in high school. On the crew team, Mr. Abraham met Mr. Harrison, who later became his business partner. Mr. Abraham still owns a racing shell at Thompson Boat Center not far from where the GW crew boats dock.
After working at the public relations company Edelman and in the Office of the CIO of the U.S. Treasury Department, Mr. Abraham started his own firm. In 2007, Mr. Harrison came aboard and Abraham Harrison became incorporated.
To Mr. Abraham and Mr. Harrison, running a digital PR company means ensuring that their “client’s message -- the right message -- is being portrayed in every corner of the digital space.” The company leverages relationships with bloggers and online journalists, but does not just see the Internet as a new parking lot for marketing copy.
“We adapt to differing community’s values and communication patterns because we respect the medium, which in turn will translate into respect for [our client’s] company and brand,” they say. “Abraham Harrison understands that the Internet is not just a different advertising medium, it is a different culture with unique customs and protocol.”
Mr. Abraham and Mr. Harrison, who live and work in Washington, Germany and Mauritius, also appreciate different real world cultures, customs and protocol.
Mr. Abraham credits his parents with his international lifestyle. His father was a photographer, and his mother traveled throughout Europe and the United States before he was born. “I remember my dad pulling me out of elementary school on Oahu, Hawaii, in order to jump on the plane to fly to the Big Island of Hawaii, because they announced a volcanic eruption,” he says. “Tramping around on lava floes as a 9-year-old makes a huge impression. Popping onto a jet was completely normal to the Abraham family.”
Abraham Harrison allows Mr. Abraham to join his love for travel with his passion for social media, a field he says used to be defined by academia. “I think universities defined the collegial nature of the Internet,” he says. “The free and open exchange among students, professors, universities and generations was where the Internet began.”
So Mr. Abraham is surprised to see that institutions of higher education are often not leading the way online today, which he diagnoses as a financial, and perhaps egotistical, problem. But Mr. Abraham cites as positive steps the “lifetime” alumni e-mail address and the fact that universities are seeking out alumni where they spend their time – on social media sites. In fact, George Washington Today first reached Mr. Abraham through his Twitter handle, @chrisabraham.
GW’s “collaborative learning model” is what most impressed Mr. Abraham when he was a student, and he still draws on the things he learned from that community every day.
“So, every time I get all the cartoons in a New Yorker or understand a cultural reference during CBS Sunday Morning or by Scott Simon on NPR I think about old buff and blue,” he says. “That I know anything about the 19th-century English novel, early American literature, the black arts movement or Sino-Soviet Cold War politics is because I attended GW.”