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Insider Advice to Those Dreaming of Opening a PR Agency

Published on February 13, 2020, at 6:10 p.m.

by Emily Greco.

Many public relations students and professionals dream of one day opening a public relations agency. What could be better than being your own boss? Although running an agency comes with many challenges, it can also be incredibly fun and rewarding.

Sarah Rose Attman, Louise Oliver and Lauren Reed all accepted the challenge and successfully opened their own firms. Read below for their insider perspectives and advice.

Sarah Rose Attman — Sarah Rose Public Relations: Baltimore, Maryland

Photo courtesy of Sarah Attman

Sarah Rose Attman, president of Sarah Rose Public Relations, started her agency in 2012. Sarah Rose Public Relations is a boutique agency that handles clients ranging from technology to fashion.

Attman did not initially set out to open an agency. After freelancing and gathering clients, she decided to make it an LLC.

When opening Sarah Rose Public Relations, Attman said most of the obstacles revolved around perfecting the public relations craft. “I had a background in journalism, but I had never worked at a PR firm or studied PR/marketing, so I had a lot to learn,” she explained. “Fortunately, I had a natural knack for it. I connected with great mentors, and I think having a strong writing background is key. I also had to learn non-craft skills, like how to manage client expectations or manage employees.”

Attman was also surprised by how unglamorous the PR industry as a whole could be. “When I worked as a journalist, I met a lot of publicists and always assumed their job was very cool, very fast-paced, full of networking and chic events like Samantha Jones in ‘Sex and the City.’ Once I started doing freelance marketing and PR myself, though, I learned that’s far from the truth! Actually, PR in my experience is 99.9% quiet hours spent at the computer, a lot of writing, a lot of cold calling, a lot of conference calls … not what I expected!” said Attman. However, this was a pleasant surprise for Attman, since the reality of PR is “way more her speed.”

Attman’s favorite part of owning an agency is making her clients happy. An additional perk that Attman loves is the freedom of being her own boss.

Attman’s advice to someone dreaming of opening an agency is: “in the beginning, take pretty much all work and all clients you can get, and you may have to price things lower for the first year or so just to build a base of clients. I’d also recommend keeping overhead low. PR can be a very inexpensive business to run because you really just need a computer. Later on, you can add software like Cision or SproutSocial or office space, etc. But when you begin, your computer and your couch or local coffee shop should be enough.”

Louise Oliver — PERITUS Public Relations: Birmingham, Alabama

Photo courtesy of PERITUS

Louise Oliver, president of PERITUS Public Relations, started Alabama-based PERITUS Public Relations in 2014 after finding out that the original firm she had worked for was closing. Oliver was in her 20s when she decided to take on the responsibility of establishing her own LLC. With the blessing of her previous CEO, she decided to keep the firm name the same to maintain consistency for her clients, but completely rebranded and restructured the firm’s focus.

Being faced with the overwhelming task of opening PERITUS in just four weeks, Oliver found inspiration in her father who told her that he was her age when he started his own business. After hearing her father’s advice, Oliver decided, “If I want this, whether I succeed or not, I will always regret it if I don’t try.”

Today, PERITUS has a presence across Alabama and is consistently ranked as a top public relations agency in the state.

Despite the obstacles she encountered building a business from the ground up, Oliver said that she wishes she reminded herself more that “the sun will shine again tomorrow and to give [herself] grace during learning lessons.” Oliver said looking back, she knows she made the best decision for and hopes she can continue building a firm environment where everyone has a seat at the table. “No matter what role we have in a company, we should enjoy it — life’s too short not to,” she noted.

Oliver’s favorite part of owning an agency is being able to mentor the new public relations generation. She enjoys knowing that she has positively impacted a young professional’s career.

Oliver’s advice to someone looking to open an agency is: “If you want to start something, the greatest formulas to your success are you and your vision and surrounding yourself with people who are going to help you achieve that vision. Here at PERITUS I am fortunate to have a committed, visionary team dedicated to connecting our communities.”

Lauren Reed — Reed Public Relations: Nashville, Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Reed Public Relations

Lauren Reed, president of Reed Public Relations, opened her agency seven years ago. Reed never pictured herself as a business owner — she thought owning a business was too risky. She eventually realized that “remaining with [her] current employer seemed to be even riskier than going out on [her] own.”

The toughest obstacle Reed has encountered since opening her agency has been recruiting and finding talent. “We have so many solid entry-level candidates, but when you look for someone with eight or more years of experience, it’s a tough market,” she explained.

The day-to-day of running an agency never surprised Reed. She has only ever worked in an agency setting.

If she could go back and do it over again, Reed said she would not do anything differently. “I’m an experiential learner — I believe in learning by failing forward. You learn from everything; it’s made me who I am as a business owner and who we are as a company,” Reed replied.

Her two favorite aspects of owning an agency are being able to build a talented team and her Be the Good program, which provides grants for applicants to do travel volunteer work. “I’m a big believer that you need to work for something bigger than a paycheck. I’ve had life-changing experiences with mission work that makes me a better professional,” said Reed.

Reed’s advice to someone looking to open an agency is: “There will be tough times where you think you can’t do it and it’s not worth it but [keep] learning and [do] not give up; the reward far outweighs the risk.”

These experiences illustrate both the risks and rewards that come with opening a public relations agency. If you dream of one day owning an agency, never give up. Take these valuable lessons from three successful public relations entrepreneurs and get one step closer to creating your own agency.

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