Nicole Rodrigues had an epiphany after spending more than a decade working in the public relations industry. After 13+ years of plying her trade for other people and firms, she realized it was time to start her own company in the image she knew clients wanted to see. Rodrigues created NRPR and began creating cutting-edge PR and marketing campaigns for clients that made a real difference.
Rodrigues lives and breathes creative marketing and, speaking to her, it is easy to see her passion for the industry. Now, with nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Rodrigues still has a hand in everything NRPR does. She wouldn’t have it any other way, as being unable to share in the creativity of developing and executing campaigns would take her away from the part of servicing client she loves most.
Rodrigues and NRPR have worked with a number of high-profile companies and sports teams. Each receiving their own bespoke media, marketing and image development campaigns. It keeps clients returning year-after-year and presents NRPR with referrals for new ones every day. In an ever-evolving industry, there’s always something different happening at NRPR; and it is quickly becoming the go-to agency for clients who want proactive, creative, and highly strategic media relations that actual lead to the growth of their business. NRPR has a great reputation for being different and very results-driven; while Nicole, specifically, has a solid reputation for being extremely hands and available to the CEOs and CMOs she works closely with. She explains, that’s a big part of why other agencies fail and why she continues to flourish and expand her business.
Nicole, NRPR boasts a wide-range of clients from Fortune 500 to startup businesses. Obviously, NRPR didn’t start out with such a who’s who list of clients. How did NRPR begin?
Thankfully, with years of hard work and building a great reputation for myself in the PR industry, that reputation is what helped me with the initial process of building my client roster.
Prior to starting NRPR I’d done great work with Hulu, Yahoo!, Dolby, Plantronics, MobiTV, the Oakland Raiders, and so many other great brands and startups. Everyone I’ve worked with in the past knew that when I was involved, I put my heart and soul into work that would benefit my clients. Naturally, this led to a lot of referrals coming my way. The moment my website was up, and the first announcement was made that NRPR was open for business – it was game on from there. I’m thankful for the years of reputation building that made it all possible.
I always tell my team, no matter where you are, your personal “brand at work” will follow you wherever you go. My personal brand is what led us to a great start. However, it’s now the firm’s reputation for delivering great results for clients, which has led us to continued success.
When did you come to the realization that you could create your own PR brand and outdo other firms?
What led me to the realization was simply meeting other PR professionals, especially senior PR pros, who didn’t have the love for the profession or have sharpened skills in our profession the way I do. I genuinely love what I do, and I’ve worked among the best of the best. My mentors, throughout every step in my career, have each taught me what it meant to be at the top of the PR game. Once I became a VP and had spent a solid amount of time mastering the levels in PR and digital marketing below that level, I knew I was ready to not only branch out on my own but also to truly mentor and foster a team of titans who could also grow to be the best in the industry. I have an eye for great talent and know how to build a dream team. That’s exactly how and why I knew I could outdo other firms.
What are some of the biggest difference between NRPR and other firms out there?
We really pride ourselves in being the most proactive PR firm out there. We actually look for the opportunities before our clients have to come to us with ideas. We go out and actively search for and ideate meaningful, press-worthy opportunities to chase and we seize them.
We also focus on the big picture, with regards to driving actual growth to our client’s businesses with any way to build meaningful buzz. This includes Marcomms (speaking, awards, events, thought leadership, executive brand development), social media community building, campaign planning, and more. We’ve found this to be a solid niche and void, we fill, as opposed to what’s offered by traditional firms, which is usually laser-focus on managing inbound requests from clients and inbound opportunities from press. We strategically chase every and any way to build meaningful buzz for our clients. Which means we don’t wait around for “inbound.” We also help clients identify stories they didn’t even know they could or should tell. That’s what they love us for.
Also, because we’re very selective about which clients and projects we take on, it gives us more of an opportunity to build with the clients WE choose. The goal is to grow with them because we integrate ourselves into the full company. We don’t just act as an extension of it. I personally work 1:1 with all of the CEOs of the companies we bring on, as well as their marketing/PR arms, so we’re all moving in the same direction, like one cohesive team.
What can future clients expect from your firm?
Hard work. Proactive work. Creativity. Accountability. Results and constant growth. Period! What more could you ask for? We’re a bit of a unicorn and we’re very proud of that.
In your opinion, how important is it to have a good PR firm in 2018?
Honestly, no matter what year it is, it’s always important to have great PR! People underestimate the power of consistent publicity. Third party validation weighs heavier in the eyes of consumers, and others, over social media and advertising. However, social media and advertising are needed as well. We all need to work together. PR is essential to the entire marketing mix and should never be overlooked.
For example, I own a PR firm and am always looking for ways to do PR for us. We take our own advice. The press hits and awards we earn keep us top-of-mind for friends, family, clients, media, you name it. This way, when they know of someone who needs PR, we’re always the first they think of referring when the opportunity presents itself.
Whether you’re new or an existing brand, strategic PR can keep your relationships with media strong and keep you top-of-mind for customers, users, investors. Especially, if you’re constantly sharing your great coverage with them.
In terms of marketing, what are some of the best ways a company can reach new customers or existing clientele?
Nothing beats face-to-face meetings. I try to get face time with all my existing clients as often as possible. I also try to meet potential clients in person to feel them out before making commitments. It’s not always possible but definitely something we strive for.
So many people want to hide behind digital marketing to create all their opportunities. Or hide behind email to keep relationships alive. I don’t believe in using those forms of communication as crutches.
The marketers who are succeeding are attending events, visiting people in person, then using social media, email, phone, and great PR to remain top-of-mind to those who matter to them. Industry events, meetups, seminars. The list goes on. The more face time you have with people, the stronger your relationships and the more effective your online marketing and PR can be for you. They just become icing on the cake. People do business with people and companies they trust. One of the key ways in creating that is figuring out how to make time for face-to-face meetings.
What’s the biggest mistake new PR companies make when starting out?
Speaking from experience, the biggest mistake is hiring very entry-level people who have no PR experience at all and being the first “shell shock” for them in the industry. Most college graduates have little to no full-time work experience. So, seeing as though PR is not a typical 9-5 career, many see the “fun” on the outside and don’t understand that the hard work on the inside is what really matters. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull off great launches, events, campaigns, etc. If you’re not used to working a lot and you only have textbook knowledge of PR, it’s going to be hard for that person to sincerely contribute to an agency’s day-to-day. From client management to media relations, the training that’s required with very junior people simply leads to frustration. Let the larger, established firms ease them into this. If you’re new and have little resources, bring in experienced contractors or employees to actually help do the real work because there’s less need for direction.
Now we have a policy: no new hires who have less than two years of real PR experience at an agency will be hired – at this point in our company. Otherwise, we lose precious time on people who aren’t made for the culture of the PR industry.
In connection to the last question, what’s the biggest mistake, or mistakes, companies make when selecting a PR firm?
The biggest mistake is thinking all PR firms are created equal, which leads to underestimating how much work should be done to build a solid PR program for a company. I’ve met CEOs who thought all PR entailed was press release writing and blasting that to media. That is absolutely NOT what PR is. From strategic messaging, to full, thoughtful press release development, timing, campaign building, and so much more, what PR has the ability to do is ignite buzz to keep every possible factor in marketing working together. It’s like being an orchestra conductor. It feels that exciting at times.
If you meet a PR person who doesn’t look at things strategically like this for you, and they don’t consider all of the elements in your marketing mix when you’re seeking their advice, run. We are not all created equal. The best will definitely deliver thorough, thoughtful advice and better results.
Rodrigues believes a good PR company and agent can weave a story together that enthralls the audience. It is a skill that takes time to grow and harvest. That is part of the reason Rodrigues seeks employees with a minimum two years of experience.
In a previous interview, you stated you want to see the PR industry move in a positive direction. Where do you see it going in the next 10 years, and what are some of the things that currently hold the industry back?
The industry has an opportunity to shine right now and, if we keep doing our jobs right, while evolving with the new digital times, PR will be the top of the marketing food chain – where it belongs. We are the storytellers. We, when we’re doing it right, can direct social media, events, ad campaigns, and so much more. The best storytellers can build brands, messaging, and any given company’s personality. I know because I’ve done it and it’s so amazing to see when a company benefits from it.
What’s holding us back are people who refuse to enhance their writing, creativity, strategic skills, and digital marketing knowledge because they think we’re limited to pitching media for stories and leaving it at that. We have to evolve and be better, so we can be a more integral part of a company’s decision-making processes. We have the ability to help a company exist and grow. We have to take that seriously and become great catalysts for building relationships between companies, media, and influencers.
Rodrigues isn’t just about building a better company for herself and her employees. The PR veteran wants to progress the industry and teach valuable lessons she has learned. PRfect Pitch Radio is one way she gives back to the industry.
PRfect Pitch Radio was created to help PR and marketing professionals. Why did you decide to create this tool for others working in the profession?
Years ago, as a young PR pro, I was always seeking out ways to learn more about what “media” wanted, so I knew how to pitch them better. There weren’t very many ways to do that, so I found I had to create opportunities to speak to media face-to-face to pick their brains and learn. When I worked in-house for the Oakland Raiders, media came to the facility every day. I had to talk to them, build relationships, and ask them what they wanted so I could deliver. It was awesome. Most companies don’t have that luxury. Nor do they create those opportunities for themselves [hosting media].
Reflecting on this made me think about how many PR professionals and business owners overlook the fact that without media and building relationships with them, we can’t reach the masses and build buzz around anything. That’s why they need to seek their advice. Listen to what’s happening in their worlds and become a resource so everyone wins. My show is my way of giving back to the whole ecosystem. Media get a platform to be heard. PR pros get to listen and take note. We also get a chance to learn more about each other’s worlds. With more understanding, we can all enjoy working with each other more.
You have nearly two decades of experience in public relations. Can you share one of your favorite PR campaigns or marketing moments you have had?
There are so many. I genuinely love this career I’ve built because I’ve been able to contribute to so many great companies that have done great things. However, my heart will always be with MobiTV for so many personal and professional reasons. I guess it makes sense to share a win from the early days, when I was in-house.
One of the first times I realized I was a super strategist was when MediaFLO, a competitive solution to MobiTV developed by Qualcomm, was launching and they were going to try to knock MobiTV out as the mobile television solutions leader. That was NOT going to happen on my watch. We, my boss, Jason Taylor, and I, had spent so much time building a solid reputation for MobiTV as the leader, we didn’t want the founders to have to feel a hit. They were just too awesome and such visionaries. So, I thought: “We know everyone who will write about MediaFLO on launch day. Why not proactively offer our founders to the media who would cover their launch, to ensure every bit of coverage that mentioned their launch also included MobiTV?”
It worked. Every story. Every MediaFLO mention had a MobiTV perspective and mention. We didn’t even have an announcement. It was theirs, but we proactively got ourselves involved in their news because we knew how to take the initiative to offer sources to media. We won on theirlaunch day, and I’m sure Qualcomm’s executive team was surprised at the sneak attack. It was in that moment I realized that thinking for the business and taking aggressive steps to manage its reputation is what it takes to be effective in our industry.
Despite her success with NRPR, Rodrigues doesn’t take a backseat to the business. She is extremely hands-on and wants to put ideas into every project. Rodrigues likens herself to Jerry McGuire. It works well for her, but don’t expect to find her shouting “show me the money,” if you visit her office.
Now that you run your own company, how hands-on are you with PR campaigns? Are you mostly just managing the team or do you have direct input into everything?
I’m extremely hands-on. I love the work I do and it’s the reason why I limit the number of clients and projects we take on at a time. I take extreme responsibility for the strategy and management of initiatives. I see so many other PR agency owners give up doing the work just to run the business. Those are the ones who lose their touch first. It’s why I had my “Jerry McGuire moment.” I understood that clients wanted more service, more strategy, more attention – especially from the higher ups. Without that, they feel like they’re being passed off to junior talent. Not fair.
I also love my media friends. I’ve built so many relationships over the years, why would I give that up and not pitch them? Though I use my time to train my team, so I have time to spend with the CEOs and CMOs from a strategy perspective, I keep my media friends close and help them anytime I can. Relationships mean a lot to me. From media to clients. It’s what my career has been built on. I wouldn’t do anything to stop those relationships from being fostered.
Finally, what should companies look for when choosing a PR firm?
Look for someone who loves your business, sees your vision, and knows how to match that up with the right media strategy. You need a firm that will look at your business as an extension of themselves and do the work because they want to see the great results as badly as you do.
Be sure they’re honest about what’s possible for you at that stage of your business and know that Rome wasn’t built over night – neither will your company’s reputation. Engaging with PR is a commitment. You have to be in for the long haul. Remember, you can go heavy at some points in time and slowly at others. Just don’t stop. That continued attention from press, analysts, influencers, and others will help your company in more ways than one.
Rodrigues’ passion for clients can be felt in her words. She doesn’t just go through the motions but builds each client’s PR campaign from the ground up. Just as the NRPR website says, the company isn’t your traditional PR company and Rodrigues is no ordinary business owner.
Rodrigues and her band of storytellers and idea creators continue to grow the ideal company. Now with years of experience under their collective belt, the team is heading into an exciting future. Rodrigues stays grounded, however, as she knows you are only as good as your last PR campaign.
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By Drew Farmer
Images credit: Araya Doheny-Diaz
Journalist and author. Contributor