Celebrating the TENacity of Owning a Small PR Agency

When Cindy Riccio of NYC-based CRC hung out her shingle ten years ago, the world was a much different place. In 2007, Apple had just announced the release of the iPhone and we were just getting to know Justin Bieber. Chris Crocker’s hilariously emotional YouTube video, “Leave Brittany Alone” was the internet’s biggest sensation with 18+ million views, and frosted eyeshadow was one of the most coveted beauty trends.

Momentous advancements in technology changed the world as we knew it. How we lived, did business, acquired information and connected with others was entirely different than it is today. But how, exactly, did this effect the communications industry?

As the owner of a small PR and digital marketing agency, Cindy shares her ten top observations about growing and thriving in a competitive and ever-evolving marketplace, competing with the big agencies and how a boutique lifestyle shop continues to keep and attract smart talent and great clients.

Foster a culture of ownership and gratitude

Embrace team members as agency co-owners. Let them help set your vision, reach and exceed goals and, in turn, offer gratitude with spot bonuses, agency retreats and creative excursions. It’s important to cultivate learning opportunities so team members can learn a new skill, meet new minds and explore their passions. Our team goes on regular “Idea Trips,” in which we take a few hours to discover art, photography, new venues, local companies and food using the City as a muse. As a result, we encourage new and breakthrough ideas with event planning and strategy overall, grow an extended network of collaborators around the city and a cultivate a strong bond as a team.

Play to your strengths

Storytelling is my passion and dialogue is my strongsuit. Seth Godin, one of the greatest marketing minds, says that “a dialogue leads to connection which leads to trust which leads to engagement.” It’s about taking calculated risks and knowing where you can win. Be able to identify what has been successful and what hasn’t worked over the years. Strategically promote your specialties and know where there may be gaps in expertise, which are key to the success of your business, your clients’ business and campaigns.

Listen to what’s new

Be sure to watch for what’s next—and what you can do to seize that moment to provide clients with insights and ideas that can benefit their business.

Be open to—and an active part of—the evolution of communications and the new channels of communication that brings. There is a continuous stream of new resources and platforms that can directly connect us with targeted, engaged audiences that we didn’t have such a direct bridge to in the past. For example, engaging the social crowdspeaking platform, Thunderclap, has been a tremendous success in terms of directly reaching activists for our philanthropic client, CARE.

Take creative risks to build your business

For example, expand your office space to have a showroom for a proper presentation of your clients’ goods, and invest in tools and resources that will help the agency team better connect to influencers, agents, consumers and media. Talent acquisition is your best investment, so ensure that your team devotes time to attend personal development workshops, classes, and events. Encourage mentorships to foster creativity and a culture of collaboration, which is essential to the success of the team, and ultimately, your business.

Be customer and client-centric

Know your client’s business, customer and culture like it’s your own. Acting as an extention of client’s internal marketing and communications teams allows for better client service. We have worked with our first client, Hanes Hosiery, for ten years now and know their business inside and out. Agility in adapting to the difference in needs and wants of brands across all categories is important, whether it is Ted Baker watches, ‘I and love and you’ holistic vet-approved pet food, ROAR Organic electrolyte-infused drinks or BeYu Cosmetics.

Imagine with data and insights in mind

Having a pulse on each client industry, whether its watches or haircare, is essential. Knowing what innovation is coming down the pipeline makes for a well-prepared team and makes us quicker and more successful in our day-to-day work and larger campaigns, such as beating the Apple Watch to market with the Kenneth Cole smartwatch.

Practice PR Pilates

Stretch your core capabilities by keeping a pulse on what new products and services you can add to your portfolio. Be set on continuously pushing yourself to be best-in-class, because just “keeping up” will never do in this industry. What’s included under the PR umbrella has expanded immensely over the last few years, and continuing to add new talent and expertise, such as celebrity-, influencer- and digital-marketing, keeps a team nimble and relevant.

Network with your network

Build and nurture your business relationships every day.  Tap smart partners and specialists to bring smart solutions to your client’s business challenges. Bringing in industry veterans to hone your team’s creative skills and provide specialized workshops for continued growth.

Growth is hard work

You have to spend money to make money and sometimes your gut has to overrule your brain when calculating what is the right balance for return on investments. Just when you think your success is solid, an economic downturn in consumer spending or client bankruptcy can send your financial ledger spiraling out of control. And, as you add more services, such as content strategy, social media management and digital marketing, it is important to balance fees and resources to still be profitable.  Be wary of new companies and start-ups who have little to no credit and understand the category landscape of the business partners you choose.

Tenacity is a trait you need to weather the storms and make the business in your mind a reality

As an owner of a start-up, you succeed when you have strength of purpose—a belief system with your business GPS that’s set on success and an honest understanding that there will be many bumps in the road and detours along the way.

Don’t be afraid to go “all in”

The vision of the communications business is a moving target and the lines between marketing disciplines and channels change in rapid success but amidst all of the change, one thing has remained true in the practice of public relations—we tell a great story—and no matter your channel of choice, the story matters most.

CRC