Publicist Rockstars: “Networking should be seen as relationship building; It’s not transactional” With Sabrina Hutchinson of Defiant Public Relations

Kristin Marquet
Dec 27, 2019 · 8 min read

I am someone who approaches networking as relationship building. It’s not transactional. I build relationships to last a lifetime, hopefully. When networking, focus on the relationship (or potential relationship) and not what the person might be able to do for you. Think about how you can help the other person rather than how they can help you. Ask other people questions about themselves, what they are working on, and what they need, then listen thoughtfully. And if you’re going to a networking event, go alone — don’t take a “Wingman.” If you do, you’ll meet fewer people.

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 Sabrina Hutchinson. For more than 20 years Sabrina Hutchinson has been in the business of making sound creators sound great. As an entertainment industry insider, super-connector, and producer, Hutchinson lives and breathes digital and strategic public relations and marketing and is passionate about building and strengthening relationships and connecting clients with new audiences. For eight years she has been CEO of Defiant Public Relations, garnering coverage for her clients by building relationships with top media outlets including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Forbes, USA Today, CNN, Slate, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Deadline, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Buzzfeed, Yahoo!, and scores of others. She has also produced dozens of events and handled publicity for high-profile special events including Whole Foods Foundation’s Whole Planet Pre-Grammy party, the star-studded Eat, Drink, and Support benefit for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball, the We Are Family LA Music Festival with headliner Kevin Costner, San Diego Comic-Con, and more.


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

hank you for the opportunity. The two throughlines of my 25-year career have been working with creative talent as well as marketing and sales. I’ve managed artists, produced for a variety of media including music, interactive, and broadcast, and have worked as a creative and tech recruiter. Just prior to moving to Los Angeles from Seattle in 2011, I felt called to build something new and made a shift to form Defiant Public Relations. Our focus is entertainment public relations, branding, and events for brands and individuals. The company reflects my commitment to great results and exceptional service to clients, as well as creative, strategic thinking and action.

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

There have been so many interesting, challenging, and exciting things that have happened since starting the company, most of them have been the wins we’ve gotten for our clients (and, of course, some of the most “interesting” stories are ones we can’t share!). A recent project that we’re particularly proud of is the campaign for Eat, Drink, and Support benefiting the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. We were hired to handle publicity for the event, which took place in December 2018. The fundraiser featured all-star chefs including Food Network’s Duff Goldman, Antonia Lofaso, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl with his new Backbeat BBQ endeavor, Chevy Metal with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, special guests including Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, Hall of Famer and LA Kings President Luc Robitaille, and more. The event presented a challenge from a PR perspective as it took place just three days before Christmas when many people are away for the holidays. However, both the event and the PR campaign were a great success and we were thrilled to receive multiple awards for our work, including a PRism Award from the LA chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

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 a funny mistake per se, but I will say that almost without exception, the only times I’ve made mistakes in business were when I have gone against my own intuition. I know that many business owners can relate to this. Often, it takes the form of taking on clients that we shouldn’t take on. Later, my gut instincts were quickly realized when the client proved to be difficult. As tempting as it can be, I endeavor not to go against my intuition.

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

We work with incredibly talented artists, some of whom include composer Carl Thiel, who was just nominated for an Annie Award for his score for the animated series “Seis Manos,” composers Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton who scored “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order,” and composer Bear McCreary who scored four films and released five soundtracks this year, and numerous others.

It’s awards season right now which is a complex and exciting time of the year filled with deadlines so that has also been at the forefront of our thinking.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Play to your strengths. Each of us has inherent strengths and unique abilities. One of the best things we can do is to identify these strengths and use them to our advantage. Your career path may not look like the next person’s, and that is FINE. I speak with a lot of people who worry about their paths either not looking like their colleagues. That’s a good thing! Just because you didn’t study a particular discipline, graduate from a particular college, or even attend college, don’t let other people’s paths, their opinions, or your own negative thinking dictate your pursuits, your confidence, or your success. As an example, in college, I studied business and accounting — not PR. But 25 years of marketing and sales, managing bands, and working with an array of creatives, coupled with my passion for communication and service to others has led to the success of Defiant Public Relations.
  2. Don’t be solely focused on “what’s next.” Enjoy what you’re doing right now (and if you aren’t, do something else). Life is short. We hear that all the time, but it really is. Live purposefully and put your heart into what you’re doing, whether that’s in a conversation you’re having or delivering a project at work. Enjoy the time you have now, enjoy the people you spend time with and the work you’re doing. If you truly don’t enjoy these things, change them — and change quickly. I live in Los Angeles where so many people come to pursue their dreams, and I’m surrounded by incredibly successful, hard-working people. But I’ve seen that hard work turns into obsession and workaholism, which comes at a cost, whether it be illness, strained or damaged relationships, etc. Success must include balance, rest, and time spent in thoughtful reflection. That reflection is imperative to success. In taking the time to go within, we will be guided to take whatever steps are next — whether that be to slow down, turn left, or about-face. Each of us has that inherent voice and we can absolutely trust it to guide our every step. If we don’t hear it, that simply means we need to get quieter.
  3. You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Jack Canfield, Co-Author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series says “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I keep this in mind and regularly check-in to make sure I’m spending time with people who align with my goals and values.
  4. You will fail. Failure is not only guaranteed, but it’s also an essential part of life. It’s necessary for growth, for humility, for clarity, and to learn. Knowing that we’ll fail does not mean we should fail to do our best, try-hard, etc. but if the approach in life or business is to never make mistakes, that is unrealistic. And the result will either be constant self-criticism, which is a huge distraction and not helpful or else you will not take big enough risks. When I first started Defiant Public Relations, I was much more sensitive to perceived failures. But the failures — persevering through them — has made me tougher. Not only have I learned ways not to do things, because I’ve weathered a lot of ups and downs, but that experience has also given me faith when difficulties come, that the sun will shine again. It can be really hard to pick yourself up after a failure. Do it anyway.
  5. Be kind. The value that kindness brings cannot be measured. It’s a simple idea and one that benefits every party involved, and one that anybody can practice. Kindness can instill confidence in employees toward you as an employer, it can instill trust with your vendors and clients, it can create an environment of harmony and inclusion, can aid in productivity with teams, and the list goes on. Some folks have been taught that in order to command respect, people need to be afraid of you. I disagree. You can be respected and still be kind. Far from being an act of weakness, it’s an act that can sometimes take a tremendous amount of strength. It’s a method of being that brings a lot of rewards into my life — both professionally and personally. It’s at the core of what we do every day.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

I am someone who approaches networking as relationship building. It’s not transactional. I build relationships to last a lifetime, hopefully. When networking, focus on the relationship (or potential relationship) and not what the person might be able to do for you. Think about how you can help the other person rather than how they can help you. Ask other people questions about themselves, what they are working on, and what they need, then listen thoughtfully. And if you’re going to a networking event, go alone — don’t take a “Wingman.” If you do, you’ll meet fewer people.

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?

A brand is your reputation plus amplification. We work hard to deliver on our reputation of quality service and stellar results, and as a result, are fortunate to get great referrals from our clients. That tends to bring a lot of the “right” folks to us.

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

I really like “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith. It’s a smart, digestible, pocket-sized book with great examples of how to be successful in service industries. I’m also a huge fan of “What Color is Your Parachute” by the late Richard Nelson Bolles. That book is a must-read for anyone interested in finding a career they love. I’m also a big fan of Stella Bales’ “PR Resolution Podcast,” which I’d recommend to anyone in PR or marketing.

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?

That’s a great question. I would start a movement to encourage people to do more to support charitable organizations — financially, physically, or both. I’d encourage employers to provide paid time off for employees to do acts of service and match charitable giving. There are so many fantastic organizations doing great work around the world. For me, some of them include The Ocean Cleanup, Endangered Species Protection Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

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

Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Kristin Marquet

Written by

Publicist and author based in New York City. Founder and Creative Director of FemFounder.co, Marquet-Media.com, and E-Nixi.com.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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