Publicist Rockstars: “It’s all about the next hit. (story placed) Or, your clients always want more.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Bagatelle-Black, Principal, Bagatelle Black Public Relations. Tracy helms Bagatelle Black Public Relations, a boutique PR and social media firm based in Southern California. With more than 20 years of experience, she has seen it all. From the early days of the internet representing companies such as HBO, Warner Brothers and Electric Minds to today’s world of blockchain and cryptocurrency representing Vice Industry Token, The Crypto Invest Summit and Vaultbank, she has ridden the technology wave and then some.
Along the way, she has worked on a diverse set of clients including Lowrider, Mazda, The California Milk Board, PetSmart, Avery Dennison, Penthouse, Union College, Stevie B, Activision, Virtualscopics, The Young Turks and many more. She has also worked at Terpin Communications (now Transform Group) and Hill & Knowlton, a top PR firm, doing media relations and learning social media along the way. In 2015, she earned a certification in digital marketing from General Assembly. She has worked both in-house as a director of PR for tech company and also on the agency side, as well as a freelance publicist and social media manager. She has also been a freelance writer contributing to AOL, Gannett News Service, California Computer News and more.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I fell into public relations. I came out to Los Angeles with a master’s in film and video. I was hoping to write for television. After a short stint working as an agent’s assistant at United Talent Agency, I realized that show business was not for me. I ended up answering an ad in the Hollywood Reporter for an entertainment PR gig. I got the job and that started the ball rolling. It was a chance to combine two things I love, writing and talking to people. I quickly realized I was good at both things, and got my clients good media placements. After six months there, I moved to a tech PR firm that was the one of first to work with internet companies. I got the job because I was the only one with an email address that could email them a resume. I have been working in technology public relations ever since that point. (I have also done work with biotech, pharma, consumer products, education, and more.)
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I have gotten to meet some interesting celebrities along the way including boxer Larry Holmes, Cenk Uygar (Young Turks), ⅔ of Spinal Tap (Harry Sherer and Mike KcKean), director Rob Reiner, actor Charlie Fleischer (Who Killed Roger Rabbit?), baseball player Jason Giambi, Anthony Michael Hall and many more.
In fact, in working with Charles Fleisher on an online chat, I had dinner with his family at home before the work began. Then many years later I ran into him at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove in Los Angeles and he remembered me!
I also had the opportunity to get my mom in the Wall Street Journal. During the height of the tech boom, Goodwill and the Salvation Army were turning away gently used furniture for better donations. My mom had that problem (Goodwill had rejected some of her donations), and she was quoted in the story, “Now beggars can be choosers.” It was very exciting for her.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This isn’t exactly a mistake, but when I was working for an online game company I wrote a pretty catchy headline they wouldn’t accept. The headline was, “Engage Games Signs Deal with the Devil.” They had just signed the game Diablo. At the time, that headline would have been very successful with reporters but the client wouldn’t let me do it. I was before my time with the snarky headline. The only lesson I learned that day is that some clients lack a sense of humor and are afraid to take risks.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
As a sole practitioner, my company’s business still fluctuates on yearly basis. From the start, I have been profitable, but how much I make still varies each year. The upside is that I get to make my own hours.
The secret to starting out profitably was to create a rough business plan before going out on my own. That way I was prepared for how to run the business. While I was at H&K I had gotten them to send me to a UCLA class on writing business plans because we were reading so many to decide on which clients to accept. However, I was also thinking it could be useful if I wanted to start my own company. That class prepared me for what it would take to start my company.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently had the opportunity to do PR for the Stormy Daniels issue of Penthouse magazine. That was pretty exciting. It felt like I was involved in changing history, in a small way. Also, I really enjoyed working with the team at Penthouse.
Right now, I’m working on a few different cryptocurrency/blockchain clients which is interesting because it’s an entirely new technology and industry. I like learning new things and being on the cutting edge of what’s next.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Be prepared for change. PR is a constantly changing. Back when I started we used to mail press kits and fax press releases to news outlets. Now people pitch any number of ways including using social media instant messages.
Be open to learning how to use new technologies. These days you need to understand Google Analytics. Who knows what it will be next?
Be ready to pivot into new industries. I’ve seen colleagues that started out doing PR for one industry and then later work in another one.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
- Try to remember one interesting detail about someone’s life when you meet them and ask them about it when you see them again. It’s a good way to impress people.
- Go to different sorts of events and always remember to bring cards. You never know who you might meet. I’ve gotten clients from going to social meet-ups.
- Just because someone isn’t interested in your services when you meet them doesn’t mean they won’t call you in a few months or recommend you to someone else.
- Follow-up on leads quickly or someone else will get the gig.
- Be friendly in general. I have gotten clients just socializing.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Not really. When I was at Hill & Knowlton they made us all read The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. It was interesting but I’m not sure it was that helpful. I just read different things online and keep up with the industries that I am servicing at that moment. Medium usually has interesting things.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As a parent of two kids, I think we really need education reform in this country. When public school teachers are begging parents for classroom supplies, it’s pretty obvious that we’re not supporting our education system. I’ve seen over the years how the school has lost its art, music and PE teachers. Plus, now even the public college system is becoming unaffordable for middle class kids who may not qualify for financial aid but the loans are still too high for them.
I am an old school feminist and proud of it. I’d love to see more opportunities for women, especially in technology where it’s particularly bad.
Also, as a parent of a boy scout, I have noticed that there is a lack of minority and lower income participation. I think it would it be incredible to reach out to kids at risk and get them into scouting. Currently it’s cost prohibitive for them, but I’d love to see someone develop a program for low income youth. If we can get them into scouting (boys and girls), maybe that would keep those kids from joining a gang or dropping out of school.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- How much the industry would change — constantly.
When I started out, any website was news because the “world wide web” was so new. Now it’s really hard to impress tech reporters and the shelf-life of what’s new is much shorter than it used to be.
2. It’s all about the next hit. (story placed) Or, your clients always want more.
I remember a story a former boss told me. He had gotten one of his D-list clients onto The Joe Franklin Show. It was huge coup for my boss. As soon as he was done with the interview and off stage he said to my boss in all sincerity, “Next, The Tonight Show?”
3. Don’t take a job just for more pay.
I was lured away from a pretty good agency job by headhunter years ago. They had a gig at a huge games company. The pay was better, but the job and title were actually at a lower level than I was currently doing. I left the agency for the pay and glamour of the video game company, but ultimately it wasn’t a good a fit. I left after a couple of months there, but it was actually to join a much larger agency so it all worked out.
Honestly, I can’t think of any more so I hope that three is enough. Growing up Jewish, my mom told me all the possible negative things so there is not much I wish someone had told me before I started working, because she covered it all. She summed it up by saying, “Work is work.” Basically she meant it’s not supposed to be fun. Although, luckily I have found ways of making PR fun. I have loved meeting and working with so many reporters and interesting people.