I had the pleasure of interviewing KJ Blattenbauer, a publicist and business strategist who has spent more than two decades working for leading American brands and succeeding with reputable public relations agencies. Through her award-winning PR practices, world-class training programs, and one-on-one strategy sessions, KJ has helped entrepreneurs, small business owners, and influencers not only chase their dreams but achieve their goals and become profitable.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m a small-town girl originally from North Dakota. My original plan was to attend the University of North Dakota, a tradition in my family, and major in communications as a precursor to law school.
Somewhere in the midst of all my courses, I fell in love with the subject of public relations — which we only covered for about half a week in one of my journalism classes. Somewhere in that brief lesson focused on PR, I convinced myself that choosing it as my profession meant I’d be sitting poolside having drinks with celebrities nonstop as my life. Boy, was I wrong!
After graduating early from undergrad, I got a heavy dose of reality when I took my first PR internship with Fleishman Hillard. Once there, I was assigned only tech and finance clients. Which led me to quickly find a way to take even the most complex, and sometimes boring, topics and make them newsworthy and fun. I’ve made a career out of it ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I think the beauty of working in PR, and one of the most interesting things about the profession is that no one day is ever the same. However, the greatest experience I’ve had so far in PR is any chance I get to work pro bono for a nonprofit or charity.
Whether it’s helping them identify how to position their brand or performing media relations on their behalf, nothing is more rewarding than being able to use the power of persuasion for the betterment of even just one man, woman, or child.
PR is often listed as one of the most stressful professions, but it’s not open-heart surgery. However, using the talents we have as PR professionals make a huge difference in those who are trying to save, enhance, and better lives. It’s the most rewarding feeling to be a part of that.
In this industry, it’s easy to get lost in the buzzwords and flashy PR stunts. But I believe everyone should have an opportunity to also give back when there aren’t big bucks driving the publicity machine. I’m always moved by the stories behind the charities and nonprofits. It allows me to step outside the norm and bring fresh perspectives and new ideas back to my clients.
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?
As a very young, 20-something PR manager, who thought she knew everything and didn’t need someone to spell check her memos, I may have sent out an email to 55,000 members of the media using the word asses when I meant to be writing assets.
It’s interesting to see which news outlets will immediately take what you distribute to them and cover it word-for-word. Needless to say, my boss and the bank’s CEO were not amused.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
One of the things I love the most about working in PR is that it’s a flexible long-term career you can turn into anything you want it to be.
I have the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world where there is wifi and be there for friends, family, and my husband when they need me.
PR has also given me the ability to change my area of expertise to suit whatever direction I want my career to go. In my 22 years as a PR professional, I’ve been part of award-winning agencies, the go-to person you went to in order to promote your marathon, triathlon, or athletic event. I’ve carved out roles for myself at Fortune 50 and 500 companies. And then I decided that there was a gap in who was serving entrepreneurs and small business owners, and I started my own PR firm.
Seven years in, I’ve decided I no longer want to work weekends or multi-day events. And my passion isn’t in pitching the media any longer. Rather than close up shop, I’ve scaled my business to be profitable by introducing passive income to the mix — I now have a PR 101 course that’s available, as well as workshops, toolkits, pitch packages, and strategy sessions that are available. I’ve greatly exceeded my financials from when I was purely taking on monthly retainer clients, and I have more time to focus on my other business endeavors, charity work, and my family.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
This is a very exciting time for my team and I. We are currently working to help launch the first mobile Calcium Heart Scan — which has the chance to end the high rate of surprise heart attack deaths and widowmakers. We also are working with a top professional organizer whose name is appearing everywhere as we speak. And, we just signed on with a new app that is going to revolutionize the way entrepreneurs set up meetings and make LinkedIn look like a platform of the past.
I also have been dedicating a lot of my time to meeting one-on-one with entrepreneurs and influencers to help them strategically plan out their next 12- to 15-months of content and business promotions — as well as show them how to monetize the opportunities — and it’s been simply amazing to see their sales and revenue more than triple within a week of our meeting.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
The best advice I can give to someone considering a career in PR is to not be afraid to fail. There isn’t a single PR professional on this planet who doesn’t have a horror story of a media interview gone bad, client or reporter yelling at them, or typo they wish they could take back. We all make mistakes. And that’s how we all learn and grow. These mistakes also humanize us and help us form relationships with our peers, clients, and the media. So dive in and get dirty, but you’re going to fail. Embrace that.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
The best networking tip I can give is to practice actively listening. It’s the only way to build genuine connections. So many people see networking as an opportunity to sell. They’re already thinking of how they’re going to respond before the person speaking has finished their thought. Nothing kills a good conversation faster than people who try to one-up each other. Successful networking is about building honest and genuine connections with people by actively listening and sharing experiences and expertise rather than pushing your services on them or hardcore selling to them.
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?
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to reintroduce kindness into the mainstream. Whatever happened to being kind to strangers or others just because it was the right thing to do? It feels good to be kind! I’d love for our society to move away from what I perceive as constant anger and instead get more comfortable with facts, not feelings conversations. So we might disagree on subjects or have differing stances on an issue, that doesn’t mean we can’t be civil to one another. A smile, simple greeting, manners, or common courtesy — these things go a long way and make our world a better place. I wish more people would lean into being kind.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. PR is not all fun and games. You won’t be sitting poolside, drinking Mai Tais with celebrities. You’re going to start out at the bottom. That may mean grabbing everyone’s coffee and waiting months to make your first real pitch. We all need to pay our dues and that often means doing the less desirable entry-level work. If you do your job well, you’ll move up quickly and soon you’ll be the one managing others.
2. Find a good mentor early on in your career. A mentor can help you navigate the course of your career and share the wisdom of their experiences. I was able to find a fantastic mentor during my first internship and she saved me from making a lot of costly and unprofessional gaffes. Plus, she motivated me and gave me the direction I needed to pursue further opportunities in my career. A great mentor will not only hold you accountable but also open up doors for you.
3. PR is not a 9–5 job. If you choose PR as a profession, you’re going to have late nights and work on the weekends. However, these are fantastic times to learn new skills, prove your worth, and build lasting relationships with your colleagues and media peers.
4. Triple check everything. Whether it’s an internal email, pitch, blog post or social media content, triple check everything that you send out. No matter how experienced you are, it’s easy to misspell a word or accidentally include a broken link. Read and then reread every little thing.
5. Know your worth and demand your value. As exciting as it can be to land clients or grow your own agency, there’s nothing that feels better than knowing your worth and demanding your value. You never know, saying no to an opportunity that doesn’t suit you may mean an even better opportunity is going to immediately fall into your lap. It may be your goal to work in fashion PR, but that doesn’t mean you have to take on every fashion client you can in the city for mere pennies just to build a portfolio. If a client doesn’t feel like a good fit, treats you poorly, gives you anxiety, or makes you feel as if you are compromising your mission or values, it’s time to let them go and find someone who knows your worth.