Publicist Rockstars: “In PR you need to have thick skin” With Sabrina Ram, Founder of Blu Lotus
You need to have thick skin. PR pros are usually the first clients blame while simultaneously coming to us to fix the problem. It can be frustrating, but keeping calm and not taking things personally will set you above the rest in this field. Also, you are going to encounter a lot of rejection from reporters. This isn’t a direct reflection of your skills, but rather journalists have tight timelines, specific requests, tons of pressure from advertisers and a thousand experts being launched at them.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabrina Ram, founder of Blu Lotus, a strategic communications and branding firm. With more than a decade’s worth of experience in communications and marketing, Ram is passionate about helping organizations make an impact by telling their unique story.
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?
Growing up, I had a genuine interest in wanting to be a professional singer. I researched every aspect of what went into developing an artist and always kept a special eye on the publicist. There were amazing musicians trying to break into the scene, but, without a publicist, their career wasn’t going to go anywhere. I decided to follow that career path in college. I loved knowing I could parlay my natural communications skills into helping bring people’s talents to the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I had the opportunity to do PR for a Philadelphia-based nonprofit’s annual community event. The Mantua Community Improvement Committee’s Family Day Festival was featuring live performances by Naughty by Nature, Slick Rick and Kwamé. As a hip hop fan, I was ecstatic to be a part of the event and see these legendary musicians perform.
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?
In communications, you are rushing all over the place trying to get as much done as possible. This usually involves cramming lunch in at a supersonic speed. About 30 minutes before a client meeting, I grabbed a hot dog from a food truck and ended up getting mustard all over my white blouse. I was mortified! Luckily, there was a mall a few blocks away. I ran to get new clothes and grabbed Starbucks on the way back for the client to make up for my lateness. Lessons learned: Do not eat messy foods before a client meeting and always keep a pair of backup clothes at the office!
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
This is a complicated question as there is no one size fits all model. It really depends on your goals and lifestyle. The one piece of advice I’d offer is to nail down your business goals and exactly what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. The latter part will save you a lot of time and money. In the beginning of launching a business, people feel the need to take on any and every client. Pace yourself, align it to business goals and make sure you have the necessary staff and resources to support all of it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most interesting project I am working on right now is actually reassessing my company. Throughout the years, we’ve focused on various sectors and services. I am taking the time to evaluate the most successful industries and if we want to explore new options. It’s an exciting time!
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Without a doubt, do at least three internships at different companies (both in house and agency). This is a demanding field with a lot of misconceptions. It’s not for everyone. I’ve seen at least half of everyone I’ve known in PR switch careers. Make sure it’s what you want and an environment you’ll thrive in before investing time and money into it.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Great timing for this question! I recently wrote a blog post on “How to Improve Your Communication and Networking Skills.” My favorite tip would be to listen with intent and take interest. Often times, conversations fall flat because a person is only interested in their anecdotes or are already crafting their response before the person has finished speaking. Communicating is about talking and listening. Listen with intent to what another person has to say and provide them with your undivided attention.
Is there a particular book that you read or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There is no one book, podcast or article — rather, you should always be learning and absorbing new information throughout your career. The communications industry moves at lightning speed, and it’s important to stay on top of all the latest updates and trends. I review different materials, attend conferences and even went back to school mid-career to get my master’s in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University. Never stop learning!
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Because I got into this career to help others, it’s hard to narrow it down to one movement. I am especially attracted to nonprofit clients because I want to help make a difference in this world. At least once a year, I try to devote time to one pro-bono client. It’s important to use your skills for good and pay it forward. Hopefully that inspires others to do the same.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There is no such thing as 9 to 5 in PR. When I started out, the internet had violently disrupted journalism and the way we communicate. Social media has made it much more intensive. This job can take up large portions of your life so make sure you love it.
- Start your career at a PR agency. You will learn a crazy amount very quickly and will get to experience different sectors. This will help you figure out which industries you like the most and what areas you want to focus on later in your career.
- You need to have thick skin. PR pros are usually the first clients blame while simultaneously coming to us to fix the problem. It can be frustrating, but keeping calm and not taking things personally will set you above the rest in this field. Also, you are going to encounter a lot of rejection from reporters. This isn’t a direct reflection of your skills, but rather journalists have tight timelines, specific requests, tons of pressure from advertisers and a thousand experts being launched at them.
- If your goal is to ultimately land in a leadership position, do not specialize in one thing. I call myself a strategic communications expert — not just PR or marketing. Leadership positions require people who know how to strategically integrate all of the different communications functions: public and media relations, marketing, advertising, social media, events, etc.
- Last but certainly not least, know your worth. You are going to come across clients and employers who will try to take advantage of you because most don’t understand just how in-depth and valuable your skillset is. Don’t be afraid to walk away from an opportunity that doesn’t grow you. I once had a musician — who had a successful career decades earlier — try to get me to drastically reduce my retainer pricing and then convince me to work for free for a chance to work with them. It was incredibly insulting and not worth my time. I have never regretted walking away.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.