We go behind the scenes with Lisa Smith, founder of The PR Net, who shares the biggest differences between US and Aussie PRs, and how the industry has changed since COVID.
What’s your background and How did you get started with The PR NET?
I grew up in New Zealand but I started my career in Sydney, Australia. Initially, it was with a focus on journalism, but through working as a freelance writer for an eyewear distribution company, I fell into marketing and PR, when the need arose with their company. I kept up my freelance writing and was interviewing a friend for a story when he proposed my taking the second floor of their store as a workspace in contra for PR services. From there, I was referred three additional clients, resigned my job and started my agency. Despite my boss at the time telling me very directly that the venture would fail, he ended up becoming a client and it evolved into a business I had for several years.
I’d always hoped to live in London or New York and on a fateful trip to NYC in 2009 my partner and I decided to make the move the following year. It wasn’t well-considered, just based on an instinct I had to try out other places while we were still young and unencumbered.
I arrived in New York in April 2010, knowing only one person from my college days. It was a true starting from scratch in every sense and I was still involved in my businesses (I also had a fashion e-comm biz by then) in Australia for the first 18 months till I merged/ sold those to other companies in the same space. I did freelance work for a few agencies and brands and that’s how I got my experience in the US, seeing a gap for a modern media brand for the marcomms field, that also offered networking for its community. Thus, The PR Net was born.
Goodbye, 2020! Do you have any major projects or goals for 2021?
The New Year has given me a really refreshed perspective and I’m feeling incredibly inspired to level up in both my work and personal life. On the work front, we’ll be creating the inaugural ‘The PR Net 100’ list and launch event (honouring the industry’s most influential and talented), a mentorship and career development program for BIPOC students and recent graduates, a conference, and alongside our digital programming, a return to live events this summer! In the works is also the opening of chapters in additional cities around the US, Canada, and beyond and some exciting brand partnerships.
On the home front, a move to Brooklyn after almost 11 years in Manhattan and a renovation of our weekend home in Springs. My eldest child is also starting kindergarten this year which feels like a big step. Lots on the agenda, but if I learned anything from the challenges of Covid, it’s about making it count and a belief in my ability to make things happen.
What aspects of your work are you most excited about?
Like many, I was thrown into the world of videoconferencing when Covid hit but have really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with incredible panelists for our program, so I’m looking forward to more of that, but it’s the idea of a return to in-person activities that excites me most. Site visits for events, meeting members IRL rather than on Zoom calls – just running into colleagues in the street or attending an event again seems so exotic! Digital is efficient, but it’ll never replace the real thing.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
Last year during the first few months of quarantine life, it was a challenge to keep all the plates spinning when it felt like the world was falling apart. It was people’s messages during that time, of appreciation for our consistent programming for them, that kept me going – I’ll never forget that.
These days, now there’s some light starting to shine ahead, it all seems pretty good – even the challenges are part of the process and feeling surmountable. I genuinely love what I do.
One roadblock I’ve wanted to get past though is growth – all the ingredients are there, it’s just extrapolating it to a wider audience. The m/o this year is to scale via partnerships, in a variety of ways.
You’ve spent time working in Australia and the US. What are the key differences in how the markets operate?
Culturally, Australians are so much more relaxed and it permeates the way people interact and do business. I miss the easy-breezy Aussie way! The scale of the US market is the major thing that defines it differently – the opportunity it brings and international perspective it allows. I do think, however, that the global PR community has many similarities that it shares, irrespective of location. We plan to weave more international content into The PR Net this year and beyond.
Has Covid impacted these markets differently?
Having recently been spending time in Australia, after living the first 8 or so months of Covid in New York, my feeling is that it’s like two different worlds. I can’t speak to the business impact Covid’s had in Australia, but it seems from the outside like the effect was quite short-lived and that the economy’s bouncing back. Given how well-controlled the virus has been and currently is, it seems like life’s gone back to normal here (and wasn’t affected badly in Sydney even in the height of the pandemic), while the US is facing peak virus cases during a grim winter.
It’s going to take much longer to fully repair Covid’s effects stateside, but I’m sensing an optimism that there are much brighter times ahead by Q2/Q3. I’ve been impressed by American comms pros’ ability to hustle, stay agile and keep things moving under these challenges.
What does the future of PR look like?
Covid just accelerated trends that were happening before: the practice is multi-faceted and the successful PR pro of the future will thoroughly understand all the elements that make up modern ‘PR’. I also foresee more agility, the ability to meet clients where their needs are, rather than a prescriptive approach.
There are those claims from time to time of ‘PR is dead’, but I don’t believe that at all. The world will always need skilled brand builders and communicators, the practice might just look a little different in time – which is okay and actually, more interesting.
What will it take to be successful in 2021?
Knowing what sets you apart from others – that perfect zone where your true purpose or calling matches your unique abilities and playing into those strengths.
I also think that a sense of optimism, of shaking off any bad 2020 juju and keeping your vibe high and vision future-focused is important.
Can you share 3 practical PR tactics for creating brand awareness that readers can try themselves?
1. Social media – these platforms are free and open to anyone, so leverage them to get your brand message out to your audience.
2. Sometimes PR pros are like hairdressers with bad hair – we forget to do PR for our own companies! While I know there’s a small time investment, I don’t have to preach to the choir here that media coverage is effective – for SEO, brand building and business development. Even if you’re not landing the cover story on the big titles, look for industry blogs or relevant sections of consumer titles that you can pitch your company story. Podcasts, video conferences and other speaking engagements are also fantastic ways to get your brand out there.
3. Build and maintain your network! I know it’s tricky with Covid keeping many of us physically isolated, but you can still take part in online networking events, or just reach out to industry contacts and make a date for a quick Zoom catch up. Once live events resume, participating in those to catch up IRL with your contacts and meet new ones, is also a good idea. You don’t have to spend all night – just 30 minutes might be enough time to reignite an old relationship or make some great new ones.