Rhonda Rees is an award-winning veteran in the field of public relations. She is an independent in charge of Rhonda Rees Public Relations Company. In 2018 Rhonda was named as one of the five most powerful publicists in Hollywood by PeopleMaven. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, and is the recipient of the Publicist of the Year honor from the prestigious Bulldog Reporter publication, for a media awareness campaign she orchestrated to help bring attention to online book piracy.
In her varied career, Rhonda has represented a wide variety of clients including authors, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturers, fire and safety firms, environmental companies, attorneys, politicians, financial planners, and nonprofits. Each year she picks out a different charity, cause or non-profit to help out with her pro bono services. She is an active member of professional business and civic organizations including the Book Publicists of Southern California, the Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN), and the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). Rhonda has also served as president of the former Publicity Club of Los Angeles.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Rhonda and here’s what went down:
When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
My original PR training came from a very small agency, and at the time, my boss was retirement age when I was a “green” 22-year-old. He taught me everything he knew and relied on me to do quite a lot of the “hands-on” work. This included servicing the accounts, bringing in the business, meeting with the clients, as well as managing the small staff that we had and outside vendors. Due to this type of experience, and serving on the board of an industry organization, I was fully prepared and equipped to open up my own company- and start my entrepreneurial journey.
How did your life look like before being an entrepreneur?
Before I entered the public relations profession, I was planning to be a school teacher. I had already worked as an assistant in the Los Angeles Unified School District when the PR bug hit me. I had also taken a few classes in college on media, publicity, and promotions, and served in the student government. I found that was where my interests were. I then did an internship with a small public relations agency, and got to wear many hats. This type of “hands-on” training was enormous. I further took a business class on how to run your own company, and that also set me up for my future as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
I don’t really experience any motivation problems, as the staff that I have selected to work with are already used to being independent, and they are very talented and capable individuals. I too have trained this way my entire career, so it has never really been an issue.
I’m the type of person that likes to stay in charge and “on top of things”, so I am constantly keeping involved with what they are doing, and reporting back to my clients.
I have most definitely been able to sustain success working this way. I have had my own PR business for 30 years now. The flexibility of work hours, the freedom to be “your own boss”, the pace, and creative nature make it all worthwhile and suitable. Also, with public relations, it is “different” every day. This is one of the first things that my former boss told me many years ago – and it’s still quite true even today.
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur and explain why.
Patience. This is certainly more than a virtue! It’s so important – both for being an entrepreneur as well as in practicing this in life as well. Waiting for deadlines, being considerate and understanding with clients, as well as taking the proper time to approach and provide the media with what they want, is all a very big part of the experience.
What were your top three motivations for starting your business?
- To help, educate and inspire others
- To be creative, flexible, and resilient
- To make a positive difference and impact in the world.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
Luckily, I’ve managed to juggle the many responsibilities that come with owning a business. It’s a smart idea to never “rest on your laurels”. Even when business is good, it’s so important to still market your services. Using a variety of methods to do so is often the best way to go. Examples include attending networking events (now on Zoom) joining organizations, serving on industry boards, using email and direct mail marketing, cold-calling, entering industry contests, word-of-mouth referrals, and doing both traditional PR, as well as social media marketing has all worked out very well.
To run my boutique PR agency such as I have, everything is handled remotely. Many of us work out of our homes, and I rely on outside staff, freelancers, and vendors to assist me. These include media distribution services, social media experts, IT help, etc. Without these great folks, I would never be able to perform my job, although I do handle all of the “hands on” work myself. It can be a very big challenge to communicate with one another – and to complete assignments on time. With PR, we’re always “on a deadline”, and it’s very important to make sure that everyone gets back to each other in a timely manner. Often, I have to do extra follow-through by sending out multiple emails, messages, communications, and coordinating telephone Zoom and Skype conference calls.
What are three biggest challenges you have faced growing the business and how did you overcome them?
When there is a downturn in the economy, which has happened several times throughout my long career – unfortunately PR is generally the first budget item to be “cut”. It’s so important for people to realize this, and to take it into account. It’s also very wise to remain flexible and resilient and to realize that recessions won’t last forever.
In today’s business climate, I believe that people have to remain flexible and realistic. I have mostly handled clients that are directly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, and have been offering their services with a sense of hope and help to others.
Effective publicity doesn’t generally happen overnight. People have to realize that it is important to market any coverage that you get. Also, that it is never a guarantee, however, it can certainly help a business to gain exposure while building up its name, reputation, and brand. This can very much be worth its weight in gold.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
My best marketing tip is to make active use of any PR and media coverage by being proactive with it.
Posting the information to your Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn page, and on other social media is a definite plus. Displaying YouTube videos, or audio podcasts, and having print articles on display is what good PR is all about. You can’t expect that people will notice your coverage the first time around.
Sending out your coverage through direct mail, or electronically, or even by distributing materials is also a smart way to go. You can re-print a magazine article for example, and put your contact information on it with a QR code leading them to your product. You can also print up postcards or flyers with this same information to distribute. One good tip to say is, “As seen on XYZ TV, or “As heard on ”Radio Station XYZ…”, and people will be impressed.
As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
Showing empathy, goodwill and a heavy dose of emotional intelligence are one of the most important characteristics for a great leader to have.
This makes all the difference in the world in terms of how you are received by others, and how employees feel about you and your business.
One way that business leaders can improve their empathy is to try and get inside the minds of their employees, and customers by attempting to walk “a mile in their shoes”.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
In our current economic climate and technological day and age, it’s very important for businesses to make every dollar count. There’s a lot of good resources to help you out.
Making use of paid web-based wire services such as PR Web, Newswire, and EIN Presswire is very beneficial. Another suggestion is Radio GuestList.com. This is a great service that provides many podcast opportunities in all kinds of industries. Finally, HARO (Help a Reporter Out), has top journalists and bloggers looking for credible media sources.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
The best advice I can give my fellow entrepreneurs is to never give up. Even when business is good, as mentioned, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels. You have to still get out there and “work it'”. Doing so is more than one way is also wise. Networking (now safely) is still very valuable.
Also, remember to try and not take yourself “too seriously”. It’s so important as an entrepreneur, or in life in general to be able to “go with the flow”, and to remain flexible, aware, sensitive, practical, and realistic. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Never promise anything that you can’t deliver. Also, getting back to people in a timely manner should always be a top priority, as well as something pleasant to do.