How Priscila Martinez Fell Into PR And Started Her Own Agency
If you know anything about the PR industry, you know that it’s a pretty tough field to crack. It’s one thing to get an internship or an entry level position, but much like the fashion industry, you’re left waiting hand and foot on clients and typing emails for seven hours straight before you ever get to see a glimmer of “success.”
But instead of starting at the bottom and spinning on the PR hamster wheel until she made it to the top of a firm, Priscila Martinez started her own.
Now the president and founder of The Brand Agency, she’s crafted one of LA’s most well-known PR agencies in just two years. The best part? She creates a company culture and sense of family that she felt was lacking at other PR firms.
We talked to Priscila about how she founded The Brand Agency, what it’s really like to be a female entrepreneur, and the un-glam side of being a boss.
Can you tell us why you started The Brand Agency?
So, that was two years ago from this month — we started in March. I was working for the largest privately owned public relations firm here in Los Angeles, and after being there for a while and definitely learning ropes of the career, I decided to branch out on my own and start servicing clients that I was really passionate about and that I really cared about. That’s when The Brand Agency was born.
How did you get involved with the agency that you worked at previously? Did you study public relations? Did you get an internship?
No, it’s the craziest story too, because I did not study public relations. Had I known that would have been my career, I 100% would have done it. I’m actually an international business major and my first job out of college was all spreadsheets. I would come home with my eyes bloodshot from staring at a computer — Excel all day. My roommate at the time started working at a PR firm. She would come home from premieres and with armloads of free clothing. And there was something wrong with the equation. Obviously, with her being in the industry, she let me know that there was this opening at the firm that she was at. I went, interviewed, and became the assistant of who now is my mentor. And yeah, that was 10 years ago today.
My roommate works in PR and she’s always bringing home a bunch of clothes and stuff, so I feel you.
Right! And beauty too. I feel like I haven’t bought shampoo in years.
When you started The Brand Agency, you obviously had to reach out to clients and businesses and convince them that they needed your services. So, how did you go about doing that and were there things you struggled with?
Of course. We’re basically going out on a field call, that’s best way to describe it… and it is really difficult because there’s so much lead work. Before you sit down with someone, you have to research them, you have to know what they’ve done in the past, you have to know how they like doing their social media, what publications they have been in, and all of that good stuff. And then after that, you still have to go and wow them, and then after that, you still have to follow up and make sure you put a kick ass plan together. There’s so much involved, absolutely there were some hurdles in the beginning. It’s all hard work and obviously, there were days when you’re in bed at midnight still doing emails that you wonder, “should I have just stayed inside that little fake bubble?” But again, two years later, I can happily report that it was all worth it. You know, even though there were those tough times and it didn’t end up the way you wanted, it was all a learning experience in the end.
What persuasion skills have you picked up along the way? Because I’m sure you have to be really confident and persuasive and that can be hard for a lot of people, especially women.
Yeah, you do. One of the best persuasive skills, at least in my industry, is arming yourself with knowledge. I think the best ways that just yielded that most results are just really paying attention to your client in a certain industry and making sure that every time I read a headline about that industry, I forward it to them and say, “hey, did you hear about this?” or “how crazy it is that xyz announced this today?” Help them know that you’re in the know and that’s what keeps you top of mind and I think that’s being persistent in your own way. It’s a little bit more digestible for a potential client to get an email from you with information that they most likely want to read about their industry, then for you to completely follow up saying, “Hey, am I getting the business? Hey, am I getting the business?” So, I think that’s one of the little tricks of persuasion that I developed.
So, have you ever been called “bitchy” or a “bitch?”
Yes, 100%, and you know what? It’s very unfair, and I know I’m probably quoting like 99% of the female tier, but if a man does that they get clapped at and looked at like, “ooh, you’re a go getter.” They’re seen as very successful and for a female it’s really hard. You have to pussyfoot around a lot of things— not able to say things outright. One of the things I have learned though is to really notice my language. I think before I was very much the person that would write, “Maybe. If you want, we can.” Or, “How about we can xyz? What do you think about that?” I had to teach myself to be a little more direct and to the point and to ask for what I want. If that makes me bitchy, so be it.
Do you find that men are intimated by you?
You know what, it’s really funny because I don’t interact with a lot of men in my industry. And I think that’s the saddest part, that it’s us women that go out at each other. But I don’t feel that, even in personal relationships. I’m married to a guy that’s equally good at what he does and honing in on his craft. So, I think we kind of support each other and that’s been really great. Also, I was really lucky enough to be in that relationship when I opened the company. I think had I been still single, I might be giving you a different perspective because there’s definitely those people who wouldn’t be okay with a female working that many hours or having to be out with clients or traveling that much for work. I think it can definitely make a man a little bit uneasy.
Obviously, you get to travel, which is really cool, but working in PR— especially being the president of the company, means that you don’t really have “off” work. You’re expected to answer emails at certain times of the night or if something happens with a client. So, do you ever wish that you had more free time?
100%. And again, I think I would be lying if I said that still doesn’t cross your mind as an entrepreneur and a person who started the company. Every day is kind of a struggle and you just learn to put one foot in front of the other because that is correct. I take in conference calls from the beach and I also sat in the middle of a modern art museum in Mexico City on a client call. So, those kinds of moments when you scratch your head and wonder, “is it all worth it.” But again, two years later I’m happy to report that it is, even though there are those instances that you’re like, “are you kidding me? I’ve become that woman. That woman taking conference calls at the beach.”
I think it’s also different when it’s your business, you know? If you were working for somebody else, then you’ll be annoyed, but it’s what you worked for.
Yeah, it’s your baby. It’s the best way to describe it, you know. You want to see it grow and you put all your eggs in that basket, so it better work out.
If you can go back and start again, what would you do differently?
That’s a tough question. It’s hard to answer, because everything I did kind of led me to another decision that ended up working out. I think probably my biggest mistake was being so naïve on how easy it was going to be. I think you always glamorize whatever vision you have. If you want to be the best chef ever, you would think only about great reviews and people clapping at your dishes. You never thing about long hot nights in the kitchen and missing all of your friends’ get-togethers. And so, I think I glamorized it and romanticized it in my head so much that I didn’t take a moment to sit down before I took the precision to kind of figure out what it really was going to look like and how hard and how many hours I was going to put in there. So, I think if could switch things around, I would have prepared myself for what was to come a little bit better versus thinking that everything was going to be roses since I left a larger, kind of modeled air company.
Do you have any tips for girls that work in PR? I know it’s a lot of hours and not the best pay which can be tough.
Yeah, you’re like stuffing gift bags at 2 a.m. on your hands and knees. You always feel that PR is going to be such a glamorous job, but you know at the end of the day I think it turns out to not be that way. I think my best advice would be to be perseverant. I think in PR you have to start doing things that you’re not that proud of and that you didn’t envision yourself doing, but if you just get through that hurdle and let a couple of years of that pass, you’re going to be able to get to a point where things seem a little bit better and your labor is paying off.
It’s hard because sometimes when you’re in the office typing at 10:30 p.m., you hate everyone, but if you just keep the long game in mind, I think it definitely helps. Another thing I would 100% recommend just find someone that you really admire and kind of check in with them little by little. I hate the word mentor, I think it’s so loaded and cheesy, but I think just finding someone that you admire that you like their lifestyle — it doesn’t have to be someone that’s a monster in the office and then hates herself when she goes home to seven cats. It has to be someone that has a great balance — that is in loving relationships with herself and friends and maybe significant other. Find someone that you like their life in all aspects and kind of check in for advice every once in a while. I think that helps keeps a perspective because everybody that’s in a great position now wasn’t that way eight years ago or three years ago.
Definitely. That’s a good point. It’s easy to forget that everybody was once in your shoes.
Also I feel like it’s just human nature. Especially now with social media, nobody puts up a picture of themselves being with their cat watching Netflix, eating ice cream. So, all you get is the highlights of everybody’s life and [it’s] so easy to feel that little inkling of like, “Gosh! Why are they so perfect and I’m sitting here drowning in emails at 11 p.m.?” But, just keeping that in perspective and having someone to say what you’re feeling is normal and it will pass and you will be in a way better place, just put your time in.
Yeah, that’s such a good point because nobody posts pictures of them working.
Exactly! No one is like, “seven hours and counting.” It’s always like, “I’m out at a fantastic lunch,” or “This great work trip!” But they don’t show slumping the client’s bag or whatever it may be. It gets kind of hard when all of that is bombarding you. And also, when you know, especially in working in this industry, [that there are] girls that [get paid] $20,000 just to show up to an event. Like, are you kidding me?
Right! I see that all the time and I’m like, “Must be nice.”
Yeah, it’s infuriating because you’re like, “are you kidding me?” So, it’s hard, especially when you’ve been with people that just basically sit pretty. But again, keep your head down and put the work in and everything works out.
Cover photo by Rick Bahtia