Learn to Manage your bandwidth. You only have so much bandwidth and so many hours in a day. When I first started out I was juggling marriage, a new baby, clients, meetings, tapings, deadlines and a slew of other administrative things. I’d be up at the crack of dawn working, then I’d come home and be with my family and take care of the baby, and then be up until 2 or 3 am working on billing. It was a recipe for burn-out. I thought I had to do everything myself. It took me awhile to learn that I needed to bring in people to help me.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Allen, President and CEO of Valerie Allen Public Relations and Expert Connection PR in Los Angeles. Valerie is a media relations and communications strategist with more than twenty years of entertainment, lifestyle and health & wellness public relations experience. Before opening her own firm, Valerie held senior level positions at public relations powerhouses Burson-Marsteller and Rogers & Cowan. She was also a senior account executive at Davidson & Choy Publicity. Valerie began working with radio personality and TV Host Dr. Drew Pinsky when she was brought on to spearhead publicity for DrDrew.com. In addition to helping Dr. Drew launch the hit Celebrity Rehab franchise on Vh1, she played an integral role in his overall success and helped elevated his brand to the professional and trusted name he is today. She has coveted credentials such as a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Ithaca College Park School of Communications in New York, a Master’s degree in Journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia and is the two-time recipient of the prestigious George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award. Valerie is the co-president of Families with Children From China Southern California and media advisor for The Power to Decide. She lives in Calabasas with her husband and daughter. Her motto is Carpe Diem!
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?
When I first moved to Los Angeles I was working as a TV producer for a production company that created educational children’s television shows for PBS. The show was called “Futures with Jaime Escalante” and I won a Peabody Award for my work on that show. One day they needed help with marketing and PR and asked if anyone knew how to write a press release. Since my background is in communications I volunteered to write the release. Turns out there was more stability on the PR side than being a freelance producer and going from production to production. When I was at Rogers & Cowan I pitched and won the business for DrDrew.com and began my long association with Dr. Drew Pinsky. After DrDrew.com was sold to DrKoop.com I continued to represent Dr. Drew but I wasn’t entirely happy in the corporate world. Dr. Drew suggested I open my own shop and said he would be my first client! That was over 18 years ago and Dr. Drew is still my client today!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I have hundreds of stories! I’ve been so blessed to work with so many fascinating people. One of the highlights of my career was booking Dr. Drew and the cast from Celebrity Rehab on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” For a publicist, going to the Oprah Show is like going to Mecca. It was a great booking and it also raised awareness about addiction. It was great getting a personal note from Miss O herself in the mail afterwards!
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?
I like to think of my mistakes as learning opportunities.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
My business was profitable within the first 3 years of opening my doors which I attribute to calculated risk taking, keeping overhead as low as possible, and building a great team. I built my business organically over time. As my reputation in the business grew, so did referrals and my client base and I scaled as needed. In the last 10 years the business has really taken off and has remained profitable.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve work with Dr. Drew on so many crazy TV and radio projects from Loveline in the early days, to 5 seasons of Celebrity Rehab on Vh1, to his daytime talk show LifeChangers, 5 years on his cable news show on HLN, Teen Mom on MTV, Drew Midday Live on KABC radio, his various podcasts, all his book campaigns and our work with the Prostate Cancer Foundation! I’ve met some of the smartest, most interesting people from major celebrities to Nobel Prize winners.
I love working with our clients who are trailblazers like top music attorney Dina LaPolt who is the architect of the Music Modernization Act which was passed into law this past October. We just launched a book campaign for Dr. V from WE-TV’s “Marriage Boot Camp” which landed her on the USA Today Bestseller lists. My work with transgender activist Billie Lee from Vanderpump Rules and transgender actress Amiyah Scott on Fox’s STAR is so inspiring.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Sharpen your writing skills! You must be able to write on deadline and the writing needs to be crisp to grab the reader’s attention. Whether it is a pitch, a press release, a bio, a Q&A, or a corporate boilerplate, good writing is essential to success in the PR field and will set you apart from the pack.
My second piece of advice is to develop relationships with journalists and producers and build good will. You need for your pitch to be noticed and not get tossed to the spam folder. In a crisis situation you need to be able to get on the phone with key people.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Very early on, one of my mentors showed me the importance of connecting one-on-one and developing relationships with people. I try to take someone to lunch or breakfast; a journalist, a writer, a producer, or an agent, as often as possible. I never worry about what I can get out of the meeting and I always follow up.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s very old school but I love Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I have it on Audible and listen to it in the car when I’m stuck in traffic (which is all the time in Los Angeles!) One of the most important lessons I learned was the importance of remembering someone’s name. That and the AP Style Guide which is a publicists bible!
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. :-)
There is so much hate and vitrole right now both online and in the real world. I’d love to create a TV project that brings people from different backgrounds together to hear each other out. It would be the opposite of the Jerry Springer Show.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. DREAM BIG. The possibilities really are endless and only limited by you and what you can dream up. When I was starting out I never imagined that I would be running my own PR firm in Hollywood with celebrity clients, a full staff and an office.
2. Learn to Manage your bandwidth. You only have so much bandwidth and so many hours in a day. When I first started out I was juggling marriage, a new baby, clients, meetings, tapings, deadlines and a slew of other administrative things. I’d be up at the crack of dawn working, then I’d come home and be with my family and take care of the baby, and then be up until 2 or 3 am working on billing. It was a recipe for burn-out. I thought I had to do everything myself. It took me awhile to learn that I needed to bring in people to help me.
3. Trust Your Staff. Don’t micromanage and learn to take a step back. Give them the tools and the freedom to succeed. I was very nervous to hand over set visits or red carpet events like the MTV Movie Awards. I thought that only I could properly represent the client and my company outside of the office or that the client would get upset if I wasn’t there personally. Afterall, my name is on the door! There were times when we had multiple clients at multiple tapings or events and there was no way for me to be at both places. Turns out that if you give people responsibility they tend to rise to the occasion. The clients survived and were even happy, the staff liked the excitement of being on set or on a red carpet, and I get to spend more time doing other important things like working on new business or spending time with my family.
4. Get a mentor and learn everything you can. I am a big believer in mentorship and I was lucky enough to work with some of the best people in the business early on in my career. They taught me all the things that you don’t learn in school; from how to handle difficult clients and press people to how to navigate a set visit. We have a very robust internship program that is very hands on and I hope that our interns go out in the world with real skills.
5. Enjoy the Ride! Take the time to pat yourself on the back every now and then and acknowledge all you’ve accomplished. Then get back to work!