Take a brief scroll through social media, and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking everyone is in the business of PR. Forthright and artfully filtered, some people just have a knack for creating engaging content and selling their way of life.
So, does social media make it better or worse for professional PRs trying to get the word out these days? We put the question to Elizabeth Blitzer, whose eponymous public relations firm specializes in interior design, to find out.
Public Relations, Elizabeth is quick to point out, is a concept that companies need to fully grasp before they invest in long-term. For starters, brand building exercises don’t always equate to direct sales. However, in the digital age, a perfectly timed campaign can drive traffic, boost conversations and increase followers in no time.
“No one will ask for a graph of your success if they know things are happening,” Elizabeth says, and we couldn’t agree more. “Work begets work, and if you are busy, you stay busy.” Transcending all aspects of business strategy, as well as connecting like-minded entrepreneurs are Elizabeth’s primary motivators, allowing her to generate new concepts and see them through to fruition.
When you’re first breaking out on your own, it can be hard to know what to charge and how clients will perceive your business value. The key, according to Elizabeth, is niching down. “If you really do feel like an expert on a narrow subject, you will make a great pitch for new business.“
From setting rates and severing ties professionally, Elizabeth shares her top tips on finding the right clients for what you’re selling. Plus, she dishes on why creating a business plan can be, well, bad for business…
HER JOURNEY INTO INTERIORS PR STRATEGY: I graduated from Vanderbilt University having given very little thought to what I wanted to do with my future. I had successfully avoided the Career Centre throughout my undergraduate years and because I was so happy in Nashville, I decided to stay on at Vanderbilt to get my Masters in Education. I taught 3rd grade for the next three years then I moved with two college friends to New York for what was going to be a couple of very fun years. I was lucky enough to meet Susan Becher through my friend, Jane Abercrombie, who was interviewing for a job in her boutique PR firm that specialized in Interior Design. Susan loved Jane but didn’t have any availability, and Jane went on to get another job. A few weeks later, Susan called Jane to say that she had an opening, and because Jane was already gainfully employed, she sent me to interview in her place. I am forever indebted to Jane and Susan for giving me the opportunity to learn from the best! I had a wonderful 10+ years with Susan until I started my own firm in 2010.
THE ART OF NICHING DOWN ON YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE: I started a business that specialized in the things I was most interested in. PR is ever-changing, and I saw that connecting people—both with press and within the industry—was the most rewarding and most valuable service that I could offer. Of the many hats that a publicist must wear, I was always the most interested in the “idea”—that is the great pitch, the great collaboration, the great event, the great unexpected. It became my personal goal to make great ideas come to life (and to press) for our clients.
It’s hard to walk through what we offer—at the core we specialize in publicizing our clients as companies, individuals, and in the products that they offer. That is the bread and butter, but, our best work is when our clients allow us to be a part of all of the initiatives they undertake—marketing, sales, PR, licensing, and partnerships. In this case—we build short and long term strategies that differ from client to client.
My experience is that confidence comes from knowing a singular industry inside and out. If you really do feel like an expert on a narrow subject, you will make a great pitch for new business. The benefit is that you know your niche inside and out because you have been living and breathing it for nearly two decades. I’ve grown up with many people in the industry and our ties run deep. Some of the editors who were assistants many years ago are now editors in chiefs. The difficulty is that when you are asked to promote something in an adjacent category, for instance, travel or fashion, it can be a fun challenge but a bit more trial and error.
HOW SHE SECURED HER FIRST CLIENT: I wouldn’t say that I set out on my own. In fact, I am not a risk taker at all, and it was with great trepidation and very little confidence that I started my own business. But, I had no choice but to make it work. I had no trust fund or other means of support, and I had a mortgage to pay. I am stubborn, and I wasn’t going to let it fail. I decided that I needed one client to pay my mortgage, and one to cover my cobra payments and everything else would work itself out. I was lucky enough that Flair owners, George Nunno and Jon Morato hired me the day I opened for business, and now they are stuck with me for life.
HOW TO RAPIDLY SCALE UP: I had been talking to the owners of Flair for a month or so, but I was very open about my inability to start before I left my prior job. In the beginning, I said yes to everything—pro bono work, favors, tiny retainer fees—I just wanted to be busy all of time, and I knew that if I did well on these projects, I would get recommendations or could ask for money at a later date. Work begets work, and if you are busy, you stay busy. Before long, the free work paid off in referrals and in time spent networking within the industry. I always tell people—my best advice is to tell anyone and everyone that you are looking for work. Seeking out PR business is tough—you can’t talk someone into hiring a PR firm if they don’t understand what PR is. They will never understand the measure of success. But, when someone understands PR—they are ripe for the taking.
THE FINANCIAL BENEFITS OF RUNNING A SERVICE-BASED BUSINESS: I have the luxury of owning a service-based business so the financial investment from the get go doesn’t compare to those entrepreneurs who carry a large overhead. This is bad advice, I’m sure, but my idea is that a business plan is a waste of time. There is no way one can foresee how the road will unfold. The ability to be nimble enough to go with the flow will allow you to take your business where the money is. But, in my case (in a service industry), my advice is to get busy getting busy. Your success is measured only on what you provide on a monthly basis for your client so there is no time for creating pie charts and power point presentations. Get out in the world and start making things happen. I promise that no one will ask for a graph of your success if they know things are happening.
THE ONE THING SHE LOOKS FOR IN NEW CLIENTS: The most important consideration for us is whether we think there is enough for us to work with and be successful. We have also made a decision to only work with people who like us and with whom we can have a mutually respected relationship. We work so intimately with our clients, and preferably for the long term; they often do become family. Our success weighs very heavily on all of us in our office, and we are hard enough on ourselves on a daily basis that we try to limit unnecessary anxiety by only working with nice people.
I always want to know what their goals and expectations are. It must be very clear to potential clients, that PR doesn’t always equal sales. It is very important that a potential client understands that PR and meaningful growth is a slow burn. One success builds on the next success and growth has to be measured over a long term, rather than by the event.
HER UNIQUE APPROACH TO SETTING RATES & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT: I did have an idea of the general fees that most companies were paying at my prior firm. I did feel that we could have been charging more, but I understood that the home world isn’t the beauty world and as much as I would love to have fewer clients with larger fees, I would rather have smaller fees and longer term clients. When I started out, I was fearful about quoting a higher range. I started with fees that I would never charge a starting client today, but I felt that a lot of clients came to me knowing that my fees would be less as a new business. Some of my best clients (even today) are some of the ones who signed on in my early years.
The only strategy that works for client retention is being invaluable—that means that we are constantly adding to their business in some way or another. Communication is the most important key to keeping them aware of our workload on their behalf. Some clients feel that our fee is high, but we are an office of four people who work on and discuss every client. The grand total of their monthly fee to us, usually adds up to the cost of a junior to mid-level employee…our return FAR exceeds that potential workload.
ON HOW TO LET CLIENTS GO THE RIGHT WAY: I think all parties know when a partnership isn’t working. I don’t sign contracts with my clients because this industry is small and intimate. I would rather part ways as friends than have unhappy clients begrudgingly finishing out a contract. That is a bit of the people pleaser in me and probably a bad business decision. My advice regarding fees in general is that I have always felt it is a weight off my shoulder to not put all of my eggs in one basket. I try to keep my fees fairly equal so that losing one client doesn’t affect the run of business. My most valuable asset is the incredible colleagues who work with me. I can’t afford to lose anyone in my office because of the loss of a client so I never hire employees based on client load.
RESULTS: PR is infamously very difficult to measure, but, in the days of Instagram and trackable links, sometimes our clients can feel an immediate impact, whether that be an influx of followers on Instagram, or a burst of traffic to their website. It’s always very rewarding for us to hear these types of stories from our clients. Right now, it’s all about the partnerships. Our greatest successes are when we collaborate with like-minded companies to leverage the strengths of one company with the strengths of another.