Kristin Daher, the President and founder of Powerhouse Communications, spearheads the creative communications agency providing a wide range of media relations, brand strategy, and social media services with a specialty in the foodservice and franchise space. In January 2016, Daher purchased the agency where she served as the firm’s first ever vice president, and rebranded it to Powerhouse Communications. Since opening in Santa Ana, California, Daher has successfully combined the history of a seasoned agency with the fresh outlook of a startup. As Powerhouse grows, Daher continues to expand the agency’s capabilities with a heavier focus on social and influencer trends, while finding ways to improve the overall client experience.
In this interview, Daher sat down to discuss with me the challenges of being a new agency owner, how to deliver effective pitches, and how she’s embracing the many changes in the field of PR.
How did you get your start in PR?
From an early age, I would talk to anyone. Yes, even strangers — much to my mother’s dismay. I was destined to work in the field of communications. Like most PR professionals, it took a few steps along the way for me to find my path. I initially entered college seeking a career in broadcasting, transitioned to advertising, and then found my true calling in PR. The agency life is the only life I’ve ever known. From B2B to non-profit to consumer technology, I knew I loved PR, but I wasn’t serving the right industry. I quickly moved my way up the ranks at the few agencies I worked at before finding my perfect fit. In 2010, I got my chance to work in Food PR and I was hooked! In late 2015, I was offered the chance to purchase the agency where I’d spent the past 5 years. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, no matter how terrified I was! In January 2016, Powerhouse Communications was born.
Tell me about your transition from working as a Vice President at a PR agency to now owning that agency. What has been the biggest challenge?
It has been an intense and exciting experience, to say the least. The biggest challenge in transitioning to the role of business owner was finding a balance between running an agency and servicing clients. I am still very much in the trenches with my employees when it comes to account service, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I am much more focused on strategy, I still like to take on some tactical work from time to time. As a business owner, I must find time to manage the back end of the business, which has been a huge learning experience for me, but one that I’ve come to enjoy. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, but that’s typically the case for any PR practitioner. I surround myself with talented, hard-working people, and through their commitment to the agency and our clients, I’m able to find time to be an owner. There’s no way I could have taken this on without the support of a loyal team.
You’ve helped many of your clients secure national coverage. What are your secrets for media relations success?
In my experience, research is key. I become a mini-expert on the journalist I’m pitching. What’s their writing style, what’s their background, is there a common thread in their articles? It’s about being a memorable and a valuable resource. I love pitching my clients as part of a bigger story and being the one who’s providing news worthy ideas to the media. I always ask myself, “why would their readers care?” before sending any pitch. Everything is not news, therefore everything should not be pitched; but if you can tie it into a more important trend piece, you’ve got a much better chance of getting their attention.
What role does social media play in your media relations strategy?
Social media and media relations are vital pieces of any awareness campaign. They support one another and there are few instances when you should ever do one without the other. Although there are different approaches to doing each effectively, they both serve the same purpose: to communicate a message in a style that resonates with your audience. There are so many ways to consume the news today, it’s important to make an impact where your customer is. Whether we’re telling a story with images and hashtags or informing the media with a well-written press release, the message and tone needs to be consistent and on-brand across all platforms. Inconsistency leads to confusion and loss in credibility. My PR employees work in tandem with our social media manager to ensure that we’re maximizing awareness opportunities and supporting our media relations with compelling visuals.
Today, we put a heavier emphasis on social media and influencer marketing than ever before. We always recommend that social media be included in any communications program, otherwise clients are leaving huge reach potential on the table. Although much of social media and influencer relations are moving to the pay-to-pay realm I, along with countless others in the field, believe that PR should own influencer marketing because it’s about steering the conversation and should look nothing like an ad.
What are some of the key components of an effective brand communication strategy?
Planning is the backbone of any strategy. Whether we’re planning for a product launch, a brand refresh or the opening of a new concept, planning is key. You must always set objectives and consider the “why” in everything you do. Plans should be extremely focused. I’m a firm believer in doing something very well, rather than executing a long list of mediocrity. Focused campaigns are the most impactful and easier to measure to determine whether the program was effective enough to duplicate. What gets measured gets improved! Our days are chaotic, so it’s important to have a solid plan and timeline to ensure we get off to a strong start and stay on target. The planning stage is where all the magic happens, when creativity flows and ideas evolve! We plan the smallest details to the grandest stunts always ensuring that it gets us closer to our goal. If it doesn’t, get rid of it! Different goals require different plans and just because something worked once, doesn’t mean that we can’t make it better. As the world of PR continues to evolve, so should the way in which we promote our clients, and it always comes back to the planning stage.
What are your thoughts on Influencer Marketing?
If you’re not involved in influencer marketing, you’re missing out. I absolutely love working with influencers because they are so relatable and often a ton of fun to collaborate with. When identifying the right influencers for your campaign, reach is a factor but engagement is much more important. The reality is that the general public won’t care about a particular influencer, but their followers go nuts for them! It’s because of this organic loyalty that influencers can alter someone’s prevailing belief. A big mistake that many companies make when pursuing influencers is approaching it from a transactional mindset. Influencer campaigns are less about driving sales and more about altering opinions and gradually steering a brand’s reputation. You’d be better to think of influencers as content generators. They’re able to create organic material that really speaks to their audience; it should be the furthest thing from shoving an ad in someone’s face. Another mistake brands make is meddling with an influencer’s style. They are loved by their fans for a reason; take away their quirks and it turns into an ad…they’ll see right through it. At Powerhouse, we heavily vet influencers before engaging, and if we’re paying for content, we develop a creative brief with crystal clear guidelines (none of which are meant to compromise the influencer’s authenticity). Lastly, of course established influencers should be paid for their work. They likely have day jobs and are spending time on generating content for you. You’d pay for a photo shoot or an infographic or a video production, right?
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
My best advice is to study the PR industry to make sure it’s the best fit for you. Remember that our work is never done when we leave the office. PR is a fast-paced environment, and you have to love that about it. Are you organized, a creative, a multi-tasker, a strong writer and a strategic thinker? It also takes a certain personality to thrive in PR. Once you decide that PR is the gig for you, make sure you read a lot! Many opportunities stem from what’s going on in the world. Don’t just network to network; take your time to strategically connect with successful people in your industry and find a mentor. Also, work on building your personal brand. What will people remember about you? Why are you a better choice than the other good choices? The best way to build a personal brand is not with a grand gesture, but in simple, everyday interactions.
Rapid Fire Round:
- When I was young, I wanted to be… A cast member on Saturday Night Live! (I still do)
- My biggest pet peeve is… When you smile at someone and they don’t reciprocate
- If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be… Oprah
- My dream vacation would be… Backpacking through Peru
- The thing that gets me up in the morning is… The excitement of having absolutely no idea what my day will bring
- My favorite social media platform is… There are a ton of interesting articles on Facebook and I uncover a ton of pitching material through reading. But when my brain needs a rest, I head over to Instagram for all the pretty pictures.