Interview by Kevin Ohashi of Ohashi Media
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Nicole Messier is the Founder of Portfolio PR Group. Nicole has a B.S. in Journalism from California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo. She has had a 10 year career in Silicon Valley and New York doing PR. In 2009, she moved back to the east coast, Saratoga Springs, New York to join another PR firm. However, because of the recession she found herself out of a job soon after and faced a hard decision about her future. Nicole’s entrepreneurial instincts kicked in and she took on freelance work. The work kept coming and coming until she realized she had a business and had to hire more people. Thus, Portfolio PR Group was turned from a freelance operation into a company.
Portfolio PR Group is a public relations and social media agency that works with technology companies across various niches such as apps, enterprise, semiconductors, clean tech and more. What started as an at-home operation has transformed into a national (and starting to become international) company that has expanded 500% in the last six months.
You’re a startup helping startups and small-medium sized businesses. You’ve worked with some Silicon Valley heavyweights in the past such as Citrix Systems, why do you focus on startups and small businesses? What makes you uniquely suited for this niche?
While we work with companies of all sizes, two of our clients are +$10 million dollar businesses, we tend to attract start-ups because we achieve fast results for affordable retainers. Start-ups are often in need of PR, especially given the prices in advertising, but affordability with some of the agencies just aren’t in the cards for them at this stage. We can work on a project-basis or an annual contract and those terms offer flexibility for a start-up that is obviously focusing most VC capital on their product and sales teams.
On a personal note though, I love working in businesses where we can immerse our team as part of their team – that works better in start-ups and small businesses. We’re on-site a lot, we attend major company meetings, we help them craft messaging and strategies that are going to gain them headlines. That internal visibility makes us more successful and in turn their PR experience positive and fruitful.
What are the biggest challenges of working with startup/small business clients? Can you share any tips for startups looking to attract some press?
Depending upon the technology and their credibility stats, start-ups in some spaces are hard to pitch because it’s not a household name and it’s not a brand that reporters recognize. Also, some spaces are more crowded than others which makes your tiny start-up a dime a dozen. You have to craft a great story and find multiple angles, which is why we tend to be picky on who we work with. We want to keep the promises and metrics we set forth in the beginning, I can tell if the story isn’t going to sell and usually can advise on a better time to bring us in.
Don’t spend the money on fancy databases or unnecessary overhead. If you’re doing PR in-house, spend two hours with a PR person outside of your business who can help you craft a few great pitches. Then build relationships just like you do in sales. Don’t blast reporters, don’t mass email. Pick a few a week that you want to converse with and start there. Also, keep a content pipeline constant – come up with news releases, blog postings and contributed articles so that you have news and information to share. It keeps you in front of reporters and helps to build your credibility as a source for reporters.
You used to be in Silicon Valley working for mostly valley-based companies, but now you have a client list that spans the continent and is beginning to span the globe. How do you manage your relationships without being local anymore? What strategies/techniques make working with non-local clients easier?
Even with our international Netherlands-based client, we are pretty old school and use the telephone as well as email. The importance is making sure each team has a personal face to our brand and communicates regularly with our clients. We don’t go silent, we report every inch of progress and we touch base daily. It keeps us top of mind, it keeps our clients knowing how hard we’re working for them and it builds a relationship which I hope keeps them here at our company.
You made your first hire not too long ago; could you tell us about the circumstances leading up to your first hire? How did you go about recruiting and hiring her? Did you find hiring someone for your own company versus managing a team different and if so, how?
I made two hires at once – my first manager that I knew could hit the ground running and my first entry-level person who I knew I could teach. I recruited one through Craigslist to keep cost down (and I’m devoted to Craigslist from my San Francisco days). The second, I recruited personally.
The key is that one of them could run with things while I trained the other. I chose people who already demonstrated that they worked hard; my manager has started his own consulting practice and worked day and night in his former PR role, he also was a great writer. My entry level person had a portfolio and was willing to work around the clock to learn the business so we could be present during business hours. She also started pitching right out of the gate, which let’s face it, is very impressive. Our next two hires we organically grew into PR specialists, which turned out to be a blessing since we’ve developed our own style and culture and they naturally had to fit into that.
Do people in the PR industry really believe that all publicity is good publicity? Do you have any experiences trying to transform bad publicity into something beneficial that you could share
In today’s world it’s more about how you handle publicity than whether it’s good or bad. In fact, because of social media, the story can get out of hand quick, so I find people in our industry today are really focused on how you react and when versus worrying just about the outcome.
Publicity does what it says it does – it makes them public. It’s our job to make sure the story is correct. When tragedy or crisis strikes, being proactive and prepared is far more important than a cover up or placing lipstick on the pig-of-the-story.
For the most part, the negative stories we deal with are executives leaving or products failing. In these cases, the one-to-one contact with a reporter is important. I advise where it’s appropriate to comment and when it’s time to just let the story lay low.
Bad publicity is only beneficial when you are right and it gets corrected. When your client is wrong or in crisis, the most you can do from bad publicity is to usually learn from it. Once the story is out there, it’s out there, and the problem today is that it gets re-distributed with context and comments via social communities. If you are prepared it will do you a world of good and before you make public comment, get all of the appropriate people internally and on your PR team in a room to discuss the right course of action. And do this quickly.
I see everyone offering social media marketing these days. Could you tell us what that means to you and your clients? How do you measure social media marketing?
We don’t offer social media marketing. If people come to me and want to use social media to sell a product, I send them to social media marketing firms. If they want social media stunts, we use contractors who can handle this.
We use social media on our clients behalf and for our clients to build relationships with reporters and to give the brand credibility with gaining followers and understanding of the product or service. We also use social media to ensure more and more people upon publishing read our press coverage. We use social media just as a PR tool, we don’t do stunts or lengthy amounts of Tweeting on behalf of clients. We keep it in check and we do it because most times it’s hard to measure and our clients want headlines more-so than tweets. Don’t get me wrong though; our PR efforts are heightened 100 percent by social media.
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