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Publicist Rockstars: Carie Breunig of Gunpowder On The Five Things You Need To Have A Highly Successful Career in The PR Industry

Be a beacon of positivity and encouragement. The world can get pretty dark. Especially during these tough times, there are so many great things to focus on and so many ways we can encourage each other. Being someone who sees the glass half full is a trait that’s pushed me through a lot of challenges in life and has helped me mentor many young people along the way. I strongly believe that a positive, can-do attitude has gotten me to where I am today — leading a team of some of the best and brightest young PR professionals in the business.

As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carie Breunig.

Carie Breunig is the Vice President of Public Relations at Gunpowder, Inc. With more than 20 years of experience working in public relations, Carie has built highly-successful proactive consumer and trade media publicity programs, developed and deployed engaging social media strategies, provided communications consultation to high-level executives both proactively and in times of crisis and planned dozens of newsworthy events to move the needle for her clients’ businesses. Her work in the industry has been recognized by the Public Relations Society of America. Carie believes the best crafted brand stories may be memorable, but only if someone hears and connects with them. As consumers become more inclined to speak, share, comment and create content of their own rather than listen and absorb, making an immediate emotional connection has never been more important. Because consumers and media have morphed into trusted influencers with hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of people “listening,” they have become the best brand advocates for brands of all kinds and it’s a publicist’s job to make sure that first brand experience is a positive one.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I knew in college I wanted to pursue a career in communications, but hadn’t been exposed to many options within the world of marketing communications. Since that was more than 20 years ago, internships weren’t as common and I spent a majority of my time studying, playing sports, hiking, biking, rollerblading (old school, yes) and working a retail job. In school, I thoroughly enjoyed my public speaking class. It wasn’t a class many people had an affinity for. Following graduation, I applied for a job at one of the biggest ad agencies in Milwaukee. To get my foot in the door, I accepted a position in the Yellow Pages division. You read that right, the Yellow Pages. While working in that role, I developed relationships within the agency and volunteered my time to help with other projects, primarily for the public relations department, as I had quickly realized that’s where I belonged. Three months into that job, I requested a transfer to the public relations department and my request was approved. I was extremely fortunate to have some amazing opportunities at an early age to work on some of the largest travel and leisure brands in the world including FunJet Vacations and Southwest Airlines.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

My time at Gunpowder Inc. has been nothing short of interesting. It’s an amazing agency with a creative approach to the world of public relations. But, if I must pinpoint THE most interesting story, it would have to be when our team dreamed up and pulled off a one-of-a-kind boat giveaway that tugged at the heartstrings of everyone in attendance at the biggest fishing trade show of the year (ICAST) for our client Johnson Outdoors. Our goal was to select a well-deserving person from the fishing community who had a boat in need of an overhaul. We worked closely with the recipient’s family and friends to obtain the boat (without his knowledge) and delivered it to ICAST in Orlando for a complete overhaul. It included rigging the boat with Johnson Outdoors products and some from other industry-leading brands. The experience was capped off by ongoing appearances from some of fishing’s most recognized pro staff members and a day on the water with the boat owner.

During the event, the upgraded boat was displayed in a high traffic area. The entire boat overhaul was streamed live across Johnson Outdoors’ social networks and on the company website. Then, the content was distributed to media channels in the endemic fishing space.

The boat was revealed to the owner on the ICAST show floor and it was a moment I’ll never forget. The genuine appreciation for what we had done, the tears (from the boat owner, the pros, the people gathered around to watch the presentation and members of the media) and the extensive media coverage was a huge success for our client and our internal team. There’s something really special about combining professional wins with the chance to bring joy to someone’s life — it doesn’t get any better than that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson(s) you learned from that?

I never made any mistakes. Just kidding. Mistakes are proof that you’re trying new things and taking risks. Understanding that navigating bold ideas that haven’t been done before is challenging and a key part of what we do every day. We take calculated risks with the goal of making a lasting impact for our clients and generating positive results for their brands. That’s the kind of PR team I’m working hard to build at Gunpowder, Inc.

When I was first starting out, I was terrified of making media calls. Like literal calls via phones that had cords. On one of my first media calls, I was pitching a new battery technology to Car and Driver Magazine. I was so nervous because who was I to tell this guy about battery technology? The journalist could tell I was nervous and went easy on me. After that call, I learned to be more confident in myself and my abilities as a PR professional. The most important lesson I took from that experience was to always remember that relationships with media are key because PR professionals are relied on to be a key source of information and to inform their stories. They need us and we need them. We should work collaboratively together. When I started to focus on building trusting relationships with media contacts, my career was forever changed.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am truly blessed to have a phenomenal team and a stellar client roster. We are consistently doing big things for our clients that break through the clutter. We love bringing big ideas to the table and then bringing them to life. Right now, our team is working on multiple projects that I’m really excited about.

We are currently working on one of the most interesting and engaging holiday campaigns I’ve ever been a part of for our client at Pure Fishing — Berkley. At the time I’m writing this, we just ended a worldwide vote to determine where Santa will fish following Christmas. We had narrowed his fishing spots down to five prime locations across the country. After a week-long vote, Long Beach, California pulled out a win at the last minute. It’s gaining tremendous momentum and we’re seeing some excellent engagement on social channels along with local, national and endemic media coverage. Two days after Christmas, Santa will show up at the winning fishing hole with gifts (fishing rods and gear) for the children in the community and a check for $25,000 to go support a conservation initiative in Long Beach.

We’re also planning some amazing content and media trips for our client, Uncharted Supply Co., around emergency preparedness and safety. Through collaborations, partnerships and influencer campaigns, we’ll be making some waves in 2022. And for our recreational vehicle client, THOR Industries, we’re working hard to promote the joys of RVing in a world that has completely altered its travel habits following a global pandemic.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Focus on building positive, trusting relationships. From your team to clients and media contacts, I can’t stress enough how important it is to develop and foster impactful relationships. They are truly the foundation of everything we do in PR. If you are kind, genuine, courteous and friendly, you’ll go far in the industry.
  2. Remember we’re all human beings. We were all created equal and we’re on a level playing field (some of us just have more experience under our belt). In PR, if you exhibit confidence and a winning attitude and find ways to get outside of your comfort zone, you’re bound to succeed. Just remember to work hard, be respectful and find ways to get involved and learn as much as you can in every situation.
  3. Do your research and come prepared. There’s nothing worse than a know-it-all who doesn’t actually know it all. Spending some time to research and read background information prior to a meeting, a pitch, an event or project is always a winning tactic and worth every second. Learning about a person, brand, company or journalist prior to a conversation will almost always put you in a position to succeed.
  4. Be a beacon of positivity and encouragement. The world can get pretty dark. Especially during these tough times, there are so many great things to focus on and so many ways we can encourage each other. Being someone who sees the glass half full is a trait that’s pushed me through a lot of challenges in life and has helped me mentor many young people along the way. I strongly believe that a positive, can-do attitude has gotten me to where I am today — leading a team of some of the best and brightest young PR professionals in the business.
  5. Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. The job of a publicist can be daunting at times, but you should never forget the big picture. This is a job, and you have a goal, but you’re also human. And we should laugh at ourselves once in a while.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

I’m a firm believer that word-of-mouth, reputation and continuously doing great work are the best, most effective ways to generate leads and new business opportunities.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

Early in my career, I read a lot of general marketing and public relations books and resources. In the last few years, I’ve turned to content focused on leadership skills and how to motivate teams. Today, I’m finding more tools to help manage teams virtually. So it’s really been an evolution over the last 20 years. Things have changed a lot. Not only within my position, but in the world of public relations. What we needed to succeed 20 years ago is quite different from today’s world of social media, influencer, content and affiliate marketing and media relations. From industry webinars and events to podcasts and platforms, there are so many valuable tools to help manage teams, personalities and work flow. However, the very best resource for growth has, and always will be, networking. Learning how my peers have navigated a situation or solved an issue and digging into creative ways to think about a challenge will always be my number one recommendation.

As a master networker, can you share some tips on great networking?

  1. Find people you look up to and connect with them on key platforms like LinkedIn.
  2. Strike up a conversation and ask questions that can help further your career or help solve a challenge.
  3. If they’re up for it and live near you, set up a coffee or lunch meeting. Making connections and leaning on each other is the absolute best way to grow in this field. And who knows, the perfect job might come from this type of proactive outreach.

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?

Inspiring a movement is no small feat! But I’d start with encouraging people to believe in the good and focus on loving others the way we were all made to. As the world becomes more and more divided (about things we could probably find common ground on if we tried a little harder), it’s so important to challenge ourselves to love and appreciate everyone even if we don’t always agree. Most of the time, that starts with respectful communication and empathy. And honestly, it might also mean turning off the news and limiting your time on social media.

Each of us have different life experiences and we’re all going through something that may be taking up a lot of headspace. We all have ups and downs and know the downs can sometimes be pretty debilitating. Build each other up. Love each other. Make people feel special and appreciated. Stand up for what you believe in, but respect the opinions of others who don’t share yours. We could all stand to think about things differently right now.

In combination with the hope of inspiring a movement of compassion and understanding, I’d also encourage people to stop living in fear. Get out and live life to the fullest. In my opinion, these things actually fit quite nicely together. When you focus on loving yourself, valuing your life, creating memorable experiences and appreciating what you have, you’re more apt to treat others with respect and dignity. It’s a winning combination — like chocolate and peanut butter. And who doesn’t love that combo?

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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