To Gift or Not to Gift?


The proliferation of gift bag opportunities has created an overwhelming array of product placement opportunities for companies to consider. The practice of placing a company’s product into select event gift bags has spawned cottage industries among marketers, event producers and PR folks. The question becomes, when does it make sense to place a company’s product into a gift bag and how do you determine if it’s the right opportunity?

For most start-ups or small businesses it’s a matter of scale – can you ramp up enough units of a quality product and deliver on time?  Many of the biggest, high profile ones i.e. celebrity events such as the Oscars, People’s Choice, Grammy’s and the like charge a hefty “sponsorship fee” on top of the products themselves and then there’s the shipping costs to consider. Shipping is almost always expedited, which only compounds the cost benefit analysis.

Generally, I am not a fan of gift bags.  You are competing among many products and if your product isn’t stand out and well branded (unless the brand is Tiffany, who wouldn’t keep anything silver with Tiffany logo) no one wants your logo pen, calendar or t-shirt. Really, sorry, no. So then why place your product if the brand is not clearly communicated on the product itself or packaging?

I do gift bags only when I know I can position the product in a special and identifiable manner. Sometimes, this rare gem of an opportunity does present itself and everything aligns — core audience, right influencers, right event platform, alignment of brand values, ability to execute large quantity of products AND the price to place is not ridiculous (Sometimes the case can be made to waive a fee or at the least, negotiate it down by a reasonable amount so that everyone still feels good the next day).

Recently we procured such an opportunity for our client, BlueAvocado. BlueAvocado is a young, passionate and authentic eco impact brand noted for its stylish and sustainable shopping totes and accessories. The company eliminates many of those single-use, landfill-building, products we use and throw away every day.

We placed two of their most-popular products in the celeb /VIP gift bag at Global Green USA’s 10th Annual Pre-Oscar party held at the Avalon Hollywood. This event brought eco-minded celebrities and Hollywood activists together for a night of entertainment, collaboration and celebration. The evening was a benefit for Global Green USA’s work to build greener, more resilient homes, schools and communities in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy.

But of course to make the most of the product placement you have to leverage the opportunity. I decided to focus on the live social media aspect of the event. To prepare, my team and I wrote content for Facebook and Twitter, the two strongest and most active audiences for our client, to post before and during the event. We first explained what the event itself was on our client’s page, leaving a teaser as to why the event mattered to our client. During the event itself, we posted about our product’s placement in the celebrity gift bags.

We began our Twitter campaign by wishing Global Green good luck on their event and began engaging with them as the host. During the event, we shortened Facebook posts to leverage on Twitter as well. I also had my team live tweeting and monitoring Twitter for appearances of the hashtag for the event (#solarforsandy).  As you can see, we hit twitter gold with this exchange. Note to self: Calling someone a rock star eco chick is liable to get you retweeted!

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 3.58.39 PM

Overall, this event was clearly and most definitely The Right Gift Bag opportunity for our eco client. Plus now that we’ve worked with Global Green and have witnessed the high-quality event they put on, it will be an easy decision to make next time. Done and done.

Lessons From Third Grade

This is me with my daughters and the third graders.
This is me with my daughters and the third graders.

Recently my children’s grade school asked for parent volunteers to speak at Career Day. It wasn’t until my husband suggested that I should do it that I gave it a second look. As a “working mother” of three school age daughters I realized my responsibility to participate. Beyond the obvious reasons, my motivation was more personal and specific. I live in a really wonderful community (some might call it a bit of a ‘bubble’) with well educated, caring and very involved families. We moved to Austin to raise our kids in just this kind of atmosphere.  However, one interesting casualty is that my daughters have very few examples of career women.

In this community, the base line expectation of the families (primarily the moms) is to be present and available 24/7 for our kids, their activities and their schools. My girls often complain to me that “other moms” come to every school event, every performance, and every activity and even eat lunch with their kids at school on a regular basis. How can a ‘working mom’ ever compare to that? Do not get me wrong, I think it is an amazing choice to stay home and be a full-time mom. It’s not a choice I have made, but I totally respect that it is the right choice for many women (and a few men).

Back to motivation. As a minority, aka career mom, once I decided to commit the effort and time, I was looking forward to speaking up and showing my daughters and their classmates that women can be both – good moms and successful career people.

The presentation was for a couple classes of 3rd graders. All my girls were able to attend as well.  It was fun. I love presenting and the kids were very engaged. My biggest challenge was to tailor the information for a Minecraft-obsessed, eight and nine-year-old crowd.

Lessons From Third Grade is attached but here are the main talking points and slides from my presentation at Career Day:

“I have a PR agency here in town called Kimberly Strenk PR. But most of you here know me as Elke’s mom, Katha’s mom or Taschi’s mom – right? Well, outside the neighborhood, from as far away as London, England to California and New York, people know me as the owner of a PR agency.

What is Public Relations?

What is PR? PR is a profession that helps companies, organizations or individuals communicate with the outside world.  Now why would it be important to do this? (Use a retail store as an example)

  • Grow Brands

My company specializes in launching and growing brands. Does anyone know what a brand is? Show 4 brand images. What do you think of when you see this? What are some of your favorite brands? Why do you like them?

Examples of recognizable brand logos.

Blog Pics
  • Create Stories

Another thing we do is we create stories for our clients. Has anyone here written a story recently that got a great grade or that you are really proud of? When you wrote the story, did you think about who you were writing it for? What did you want to say? How were you able to communicate that message? We do the same things, we create stories that are relatable, and hopefully interesting so that lots of people will want to learn, buy or engage with our client’s brands.

  • Build Relationships

In PR, it’s also very important to build relationships. Does anyone know what a relationship is? How do you start a relationship? Well we do the same thing on behalf of our clients.

I chose PR because:

  • Career vs. job
  • Builder
  • Writer
  • Listener
  • Problem solver
  • Social
  • I always wanted to be the boss

Education and Training:

  1. BA in Literature and Language
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Critical Thinking
  • Imagination
  • Present your best self
  • Do great work
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Move on
  • A positive attitude

 Lessons from Third Grade:

  • To listen
  • To ask questions
  • It’s ok to make mistakes
  • Be a good friend

Important Skills to Develop as a Third Grader:

—  Grammar + Spelling

—  Reading + Analytics

—  Creativity + Building

—  Relationships + Reputation

—  Find a role model

How did it go? Could not have been better.  We actually took a video. One of these days when we have time to edit it down, will certainly share.  A library room full of kids, sitting crisscross applesauce for 30 minutes? They fully engaged, contributed and brought me tons of energy. Feedback from my kids? My first grader has already requested me for her class’ career day next year.

Are we all just modelizers?

Recently one of my interns suggested that I should write a book to share some of the advice she had experienced during her tenure with me. Needless to say I was flattered and genuinely surprised by this suggestion. The idea of remembering what you learn from others brought back memories of my early role models, the people that shaped my worldview. I count a handful of executives, former managers and colleagues as inspirational to me during my career. Too many to list in one post, but my very first “role models” were the executives at Nordstrom.

When I was finishing school at the University of Washington, I worked in the corporate offices in Seattle. I found myself given the opportunity to work for, and to be exposed to, many of the executives from various departments at corporate, from real estate, PR, sales promotion and even to the Nordstrom family themselves (“Mr. Bruce, John, and Jim”). At the time, I didn’t truly appreciate the impact this experience would have on me throughout my entire career, and really my whole life.

Daily, I witnessed these incredibly creative and successful people with impressive titles, treating everyone with graciousness and unfeigned respect. Did I also mention their impressive style? My experience taught me that the retail world has its own unwritten rules when it comes to fashion and personal expression. As a young person, this ‘picture perfect’ world had quite the impact. I witnessed a genuine humility and respectful attitude for everyone; from the janitor that emptied wastebaskets to the most senior member of the board, I saw that regardless of hierarchy defined by job title and responsibility, that in the Nordstrom culture, everyone was treated as though they mattered.  Accomplished, gracious and humble, these were my early models.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with many incredible people, but my benchmark has always been that talent and hard work, married with a genuine graciousness and respect for others, was the high water mark. This is the standard that has guided me throughout. It is the standard I shoot for, though perhaps not one I’ve always achieved. It is a journey, not an end point.

In my current role running my lifestyle PR agency, I have modeled my company after my own hybrid version of work and life. With no feigned modesty, I am proud to have established an internship program that has become fairly well known and respected. It has evolved over time to become a launching pad for students to move into PR careers after graduation or it has helped them to get in the door at the top, most competitive agencies here in town.

Back to sharing learnings and advice worth remembering – while the idea of some sort of pamphlet or even a book of “PR and Life advice” is interesting, for now I will share the perspective of my former interns – what they learned from their time with me and how it has impacted them in their own career + life journey.

As I continue to get responses from my formers staffers who now live and work all over the country, I will update this post with their comments. These are un-edited responses to my query, “What advice or key learning stands out most from your time at KSPR”?

Mallory, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, spring 2009.

“It is hard to believe that I have been in New York almost three years. I am forever grateful for all your guidance and mentorship. My biggest takeaway from you is that you showed me that you can still have a career and a family.”

Jen, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, fall 2010.

“The thing that stands out the most for me from my time at KSPR is your steadfast devotion to only taking on clients whose vision/mission you feel passionately about or have a personal connection with. After leaving KSPR and working in the industry for the past few years, I couldn’t agree with you more on this principle. When you are working with brands that you’re passionate about, all messages come from a genuine place; the client becomes an extension of yourself. I truly believe that this foundation of trust between you and the client is where great things come to fruition.

On a more technical note, I also learned the power of having a well thought-out media list. If you put in the time and effort to research, create and qualify a good media list, your pitches are much more likely to stand out from the pack.”

Carissa, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. KSPR Intern, spring 2011.

“I think one of the most impactful lessons I learned while with you at KSPR, and something that I’ve come to appreciate much more since I have moved jobs is that having a good rapport with your supervisor/manager/CEO is critical to your work ethic. I really enjoyed getting to work with you daily, and you were such a fun person to be around. It made me want to work hard to do what I could to make the company successful. I appreciated that most about you. You made the relationships we had with you fun, engaging and mostly you were a friend, not only a boss.”

Katie, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, fall–winter 2011 and fall 2012.

“Your passion for not only your clients and their vision, but your family and friends has truly inspired me to work for clients and products that I can stand behind and be proud to represent.  The best career advice that you have ever given me is “Don’t Burn Bridges” and “Follow Up.”  I always knew that the first was important, but I didn’t truly understand its importance until leaving KSPR. Working in both an agency and client-side role showed me how small and tight-knit the PR community really is and I will never forget that advice.  The latter is also just as important.  PR is not advertising.  It isn’t a fiscal transaction for ad space.  Therefore, you have shown me how important it is to follow up.  If you ever do write a book, a chapter should be titled, “Follow Up.”

As far as life lessons, I believe that, while I don’t think that you ever specifically said this to me, you have taught me to go above and beyond in life and work and that anything is possible.  I know that the latter sounds extremely idealistic, but what I really mean is that someone doesn’t have just one set role in life.  You showed me how it is possible to have a strong career and be a super-mom.  As far as “go above and beyond” goes, I know many people say to do your best, but, to me, you must always be striving to do better.  I am never more confident at work then when I have added a bit extra to the original task.  The extra is what stands out and shows your passion and enthusiasm for your client and career.”

Sydney, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, summer 2011

“My experience at KSPR was incredibly valuable. You afforded me true to life experience in pitching, branding and networking. I left my internship every day in awe of how you were able to satisfy your passion for work, your husband and your children. For all these things and more, I am thankful.

Prior to my time with you, I was under the impression that my life would ultimately reach a crossroads of aspirations: career v. family. Being driven to the core, I was almost afraid of the route I might one day take.

You shattered this perception everyday.  The tenacity and dedication you showed towards clients could only be rivaled by the infectious love you showed toward family. It is through your example that I came to define “work/life balance,” a value I regard with the upmost importance, even more so now that I call the concrete jungle home.

That summer, you wore many hats: brilliant PR mind, loving wife, caring mother, sensational hostess and superwoman to anyone who crossed your path. I would not be where I am today without your example.”

Stephanie, The University of Texas at Austin. KSPR Intern, summer 2012.

“I learned what PR looks like outside the classroom setting (very different) and most importantly I learned many life lessons. Two of your most memorable teachings:

1. To always try your very best and give it your greatest effort, no matter what task you are given. This is how you build your reputation. When people see your work ethic that is how they remember you. And your reputation is what you carry throughout your life. It is how you network and go places in the world.

2. The world will continue to change, problems will continue to occur, whether it’s a new president, a recession, societal shifts, etc., but life goes on. As long as you keep working, keep on trying, it all works out. That is why it is important to do something you love. So you can enjoy the little things, the things you are doing in your life with your family & friends.”

PR Tips for Entrepreneurs

I was recently asked by a reporter at my local daily, the Austin American Statesman to provide some PR tips for entrepreneurs. There are so many great PR professionals in Austin; I was flattered they asked me and was of course happy to oblige.

As with many of the best opportunities, this one required a very quick turn around. Happily, it was an easy request to fulfill. I work primarily with entrepreneurs and I have been giving an Austin Rise session, “PR for Small Business” (aka Business Aligned Communications) the last couple years.

In general, for entrepreneurs still working out proof of concept, I don’t recommend working with a PR agency or consultant just yet. Unless you have a proven track record of substantial success in a specific industry, media, analysts and customers are not going to care. Remember PR is a strategic asset for engaging with your external audiences. Make sure you are ready. If you are manufacturing goods, then have a prototype and some interested customers/partner retailers. If technology, such as a new app or software tool, have one or two satisfied beta customers that are willing to endorse your service or product. Wait until you have something real to share.

Following are the tips, with expanded detail, from the version that I provided to the Statesman. I have 4 Simple Truths that I try to always follow. These also come in handy for you as you build your business.

1. Be real

2. Keep it simple

3. Focus is your friend

4. Let the story unfold

Ok, you have your product or service ready to go. Before you begin, focus internally and be able to answer the following (while keeping the 4 Simple Truths in check):

1. Who are you?

2. What makes you special?

3. Why should anyone care?

You have done your work and now it’s time to get started. Armed with your “what makes you special” story, you’re ready to start testing your message. Begin by asking people in your network to listen to it, to read it, to watch it, and to have them tell you what they think. This is called “bulletproofing with friendlies.” Don’t get sidetracked by every comment or suggestion, but listen to the feedback to ensure that your story is compelling and that it makes sense beyond your internal team. Then prioritize. You can’t do it all – pick your battles. What can we do now, what can we do later, and what can we let go. Be consistent across all touch points. The look, the feel and the messaging should be the same. Tailor it to the medium. Consistency of messaging creates awareness.

Unless you have cured cancer, it will take multiple layers of exposure for your story to be remembered. There is no one hit wonder in PR. It takes ongoing, consistent effort to win true, meaningful mindshare and to build measurable awareness that counts. Good luck!

A Print-Worthy Press Kit

The last time I blogged about press kits was back in February, 2010, “The Press Kit.” Reading back over it, not too much I would change. There is a good section toward the end with advice on working with a graphic designer. Worth a read.

In the years since that original post, we have created fewer traditional press kits but the ones we have done, I can say have definitely met the threshold of print-worthiness i.e., worth the cost of printing + postage. Our most recent press kit was for a UK based family lifestyle brand, Pink Lining. Their product line includes all things baby, kids and family. From a chic new weekender collection for adults to kids rucksacks and their iconic proud, new momma diaper bags that all stand out for their original print designs. This brand had some great visual product imagery as well as a super cute backstory of how they were formed. The designer and founder, Charlotte Pearl is a stylish, creative and photo friendly young mom with an authentic story of inspired design vision.

Since they already had sales books for each of their collections – we simply re-purposed those as their lookbooks and included the relevant season and collection book into each press kit, depending on the media source we were sending to i.e. travel, family, kids, women’s, pregnancy or design.

What are the essential elements to create? For Pink Lining we wanted to highlight and leverage the best assets: product images, original design textiles used on all their pieces, and the designer herself, Charlotte.

  1. Press Gift. Something that will not be tossed in the trash and represents the company in a meaningful way. In this case we included a small PL luggage tag that featured the navy bow from the upcoming spring 2013 collections. It was the strongest design, made a great gift and most importantly we could tie a little gross grain ribbon (matched to the color of the PL logo – natch) and we could package it nicely into the folder. Sometimes the smallest detail or logistic can ruin even the best plans…
  2. News Release. Put current news release on top. Let your audience know why they are getting this packet.
  3. Pitch Letter. Absent an official news release, create a tailored pitch letter that also communicates the same elements in a news release (Who, What, Why, When and Where)
  4. Designer Bio. We put this as the second most important piece because it was Charlotte that provided the “hook” of credibility for the entire design and founder story. Plus it was such a pretty piece; we had to show it off.
  5. Inspiration Board. For PL this was a design story. We created a Pinterest style board that pulled through the main design theme (In this case spring season 2013, PL’s strongest textile design from that season was based on a navy blue bow which we used to show the importance and evergreen nature of nautical for springtime)
  6.  Some Bling. Most people that you mail a press kit to will not even get to the last page. But for those that do, we wanted to give them some good eye candy. Not mission critical to the story but still something bright and shiny to look at. PL had sponsored the Golden Globes and actually had some decent images of a few celebrities holding product against a PL step and repeat logo wall. The images were not super strong or even high res but we cut and pasted them into a cohesive branded design and included it as the last piece of the press kit.

And of course since it is a KSPR creative mailer, we looked at every detail of the packaging and delivery to ensure a thoughtful and enjoyable experience for the recipients. We did not have the time to have a custom branded folder designed and printed so we put the press kit pieces in a simple, super chic clear envelope with a color laser printed Pink Lining label affixed to front.  Not bad.

Every company brings their own unique story to be told. When deciding if a press kit is the route to go, make sure you evaluate the project through the print-worthy test. In this day and age of digital communiqués, not every launch or news story makes the mark.

Press Kit Pages
Pink Lining Press Kit Pages

Building a Brand, Without the Big Marketing Budget

Look Book Cover

Tints of Nature Lookbook

I have blogged about the importance of creating a lookbook for clients that have an assortment of products or collections (see “bambeco summer lookbook” June 2010). The books can even be re-purposed for customers as a selling tool. In my Williams Sonoma days, we actually re-purposed the customer catalog images and copy to create our more selective and stylistically edited press preview books that we showed editors prior to each seasonal collection being introduced to customers. These look books were the key tool to garner editorial coverage and to tell the seasonal product story.

But what about the company that doesn’t have a collection of noteworthy and photo-ready seasonal products and stylish designer packaging? In the case of our organic and natural beauty client, Tints of Nature, that is exactly the situation we faced. The company is a UK-based beauty brand. Although well established in the UK, the retail brand was still new to the US market. In fact, from a consumer and media recognition perspective, we were starting with very little. We brought them on as a client in late 2011, just as they were about to roll out new packaging and more importantly, an improved organic formula with an even more impressive natural ingredient profile. However, the packaging roll out and new formula was not accompanied with additional marketing resources beyond our PR scope. So how to launch a “new” consumer beauty brand with no accompanying marketing dollars? Our trusty lookbook of course.

While we did not have loads of gorgeous product images to fill our book with, we did have a distinctive and super authentic organic product story to tell. In fact, in the category for “natural” hair color and care brands at retail, Tints of Nature stood apart as a market innovator and, at the time, the only brand with certified organic ingredients (over 60%). Wow. A great product story, but little visual appeal from the products themselves. How many boxes of hair colorants can we show? And to be frank, the model images used by the London-based company did not translate to a US audience.

Our approach was to use the brand’s strongest asset – the product story.  From premium certified organic ingredients to the new formula that eliminated known toxic ingredients such as propylene glycol (the first natural brand at retail to do this in 2012), we were able to weave in the product story using images that communicated the natural elements of the brand, i.e., aloe vera leaf, comfrey root, orange and grapefruit, roman chamomile flower, and natural wheat protein.

We have used the Tints of Nature look book to introduce the brand and to tell the product story to beauty editors at the top women’s fashion, beauty and healthy living magazines, as well as the top family and parenting magazines. Additionally, we use it for all pro-active campaigns. To date, we have garnered placements with Allure and Prevention (November 2012) and pending placements with InStyle (April 2013), Parenting (March 2013) and more. Without this premium, branded piece, we would have been hard-pressed to tell their story and to garner such positive response. The package alone is simply not enough.

Companies with the Best Reputation Have the Best Public Relations (Hint: It’s not just about press coverage)

What am I paying for if I am not seeing media coverage of my company, product or service? This question comes up often, in even the best client relationships. Good – no, great  – public relations practitioners know that what we do is not just about chasing media impressions. Do not get me wrong; this is important and is often one of the most tangible parts of a good PR practice. However, many people fall into the easy trap of measuring results, simply by the numbers.

PR is about more than tactical execution and earned media coverage. Strategists understand the P&L, see the business holistically, and create a path to success that aligns with the goals of the business. These folks have earned their seat at the table where decision making and planning begin.

Public relations as a profession has changed dramatically since I started almost 15 (!) years ago.  I say this with bias and with the perspective of my own career, but I believe PR is a hugely valuable and critical arm of any successful company. I believe the best companies, with the best reputation, have the best public relations.

So then, why does it always come down to clip counts and impression numbers? PR has always been more art than science. The magic happens when collaboration, creativity + execution, meets distinctive, unique + compelling.  Plug and play simply does not win. I wish I had a dollar for every time a CEO asked me what I would do for them, after just one conversation. If what you do is so simple that I can plug you into a template PR playbook, then you need more than a good PR program!

What makes your company unique and stand apart from the rest? And who will care about what you have to offer?  What are your business goals? What does it look like in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years? How strong are your brand assets and which ones do we have to create in order for us to develop and to then to tell your story? How much time and budget do you have in order for us to execute on your goals?

The answers to these questions will drive the creation of the best plan that will win results. If you do not offer something special, then you need a really good advertising budget and you need to be willing to spend money to convince people that you really have something they need to know about. With enough money, you can make yourself look special. PR is not for you. PR alone cannot make you attractive. Companies are increasingly held to rigorous standards of price, quality and desirability. You will not win the day on PR alone if you cannot deliver.

About those media impressions. The filter of third party media and expert analysts opinion are still fundamentally important, vis a vis credibility and targeted reach. When I started, PR was primarily about winning the eyeballs of media and analysts. Company’s PR departments often consisted of a single, junior level tactician with little or no understanding of the overall business. Today, while media relations are still a core part of a solid PR strategy, it cannot live solo, on an island, and help you build a company or create meaningful mindshare.

The fundamentals of smart planning and execution are key. You need collaboration with your leadership team and/or your client contact. Many people use media relations interchangeably with public relations. Media relations are an arm in the PR arsenal, but having a media relations program in place is not the same as a PR program.  PR provides the overarching strategic plan for defining the objectives, goals and measurement for a successful program. Often a media relations program is an important part of meeting those objectives.

If I do not get a press mention, than what am I paying for? When a company chooses an agency, they are not paying for editorial or product placement.  That is an ad strategy not a PR strategy. There are no guaranteed placements with PR. Each and every media placement is earned. That is why the weight of a third party endorsement carries the mantle of credibility. If the goal is to garner covetable third party media endorsements in the form of product or editorial features, there is no (credible) PR agency that will guarantee results.

What should I expect from PR? What you are guaranteed and what you should look at when evaluating the right agency partner is: Do they understand my business, who I am and what I do? Do they have the industry expertise and contacts to put our story in front of the most important influencers for my industry?  Do they have the ability to shape and tell our story across multiple platforms and diverse audience and influencer groups? Are they trusted advisers and not just arms and legs executioners? Are they passionate and excited to work with us? Will they be good spokespeople for our brand, our company? Do they make us look good? Do they speak our language? These are the things that you are paying for.

And when those coveted, hard-earned wins happen, than you know that the strategy and the direction you have taken, is the right one. These wins are the validations of all the work that your PR strategy has won. Enjoy.

In a nutshell, a lot goes into a successful PR program, and reducing it down to a clip count or eyeball number is doing yourself and your PR partner a disservice. If it were easy, than anybody with a media list and a phone would be a PR superstar or just dumb lucky.

About the author: Kimberly Strenk built her namesake firms’ reputation for launching and growing truly unique, authentic consumer brands such as bambeco, an eco home and decor company, Bella Pictures, national wedding and video photography, Beanitos, the first all natural bean based chip, and Key Ingredient, the first digital cookbook for every day chefs.  Kimberly Strenk founded the  company in 2008 after tenure with some of the most iconic and successful consumer companies including, Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom, Inc.

We Like To Build Things


We are all good at different things.  But what makes some people thrive while others flat line or simply falter?  The key is to understand what kind of employee you are. Regardless of title, we all answer to someone.  As a business founder and manager, my goal is to hire for the best skill set needed + personality fit.  As adept as I think I am at “peeling the onion,” you simply never know what you get until they walk in the door and start running.  And if they don’t run, well that presents a different set of problems!

But I digress.  The purpose of this post is to say that at the midway point of my PR career I have found my “good.”  I am a builder.  I like to create things.  Once I started my namesake agency and tried on several different types of clients, at various life stages, I soon found my good spot.  Servicing young companies at the just-launched, but no one knows who we are or what we do phase has become a perfect fit.  I meet a new client with a great product or service, I see endless possibilities to create and build something special.

To that end, here’s a sneak peak at a new ad (yes, an ad, not editorial placement), we created for our client, UK based Tints of Nature.  They are a global beauty brand, available in 38 countries.  We are in charge of helping them to build their nascent but growing US business.  But why would a boutique PR agency be creating advertising?  Back to my original point – I am a builder.  Running my namesake firm has removed the impediments of layers and decision by committee, as well as silo verticals that many large companies suffer from.  We don’t work with big companies with big budgets.  We service the great ideas. Sometimes we do things that are not traditional.  If it helps our clients define their brand and grow their business, we build it.

A shout out to our fantastic graphic design partner, Omnibus Designs. We’ve worked with them for many years and we always look forward to the magic.

Happy building,


Preview of Ad for Feb issue Austin Monthly

The Economy Isn’t Pretty But I Still Look Fabulous

Tints of Nature US

Has the economic downturn affected consumer’s beauty routines?  Intuitively we think the answer must be yes.  When budget tightening hits, don’t we all re-examine what we need and what we want?   But somehow the line between needs and wants has blurred considerably. It’s much more difficult in our hyper aware, consumer driven times to consider giving up our “wants” that we have come to think of as essential, “needs.”  What can we do?

The onslaught of DIY home décor and renovation shows tells us that we are taking on more DIY projects in our homes, but does this DIY mentality translate to our beauty routines?  Are we visiting the salon less and perhaps adopting a DIY mentality to our most cherished beauty routines?

We tapped into traditional research reports and online media coverage to find a few faq’s and news articles to support our hypothesis @ growth of DIY beauty.  We also looked at the proliferation of YouTube every day beauty stars such as Kandee Johnson, Michelle Phan, and Bubz Beauty. Some of our favorite, popular beauty blogs include MakeUpAlley, BeautySnob and Stylelist.  These all feature every day people as beauty experts, sharing and comparing all manner of beauty related topics.

Armed with this, our team of working moms (me) and college/post- college not-quite fashion slaves but enthusiastic, maybe-not-quite-addicted fashion trenders set out to test our beauty assumptions among our friends and friends of friends.  Our reach went West from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, to Southern cities Houston, Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and East to New York.

We created an informal beauty survey, “The Economy Isn’t Pretty But I Still Look Fabulous.”  Our goal was to get enough anecdotal data to support our intuitions about DIY beauty in order to provide additional heft for our client’s upcoming launch of a new organic based, premium at home coloring and care brand.

Some interesting findings:

  • Over 60% of respondents stated that a good hair day meant a more confident attitude
  • However, almost 40% acknowledged that visits to the salon had decreased in the past year due to economic strain
  • An even 50% color their hair
  • Of all respondents, 40% color their hair at home (this surprised all of us but given the high concentration among college age folks, might make more sense)
  • Given the choice of an organic based hair color product, over 60% of these same respondents would be interested in an organic product!

All in all, a fun way to tap into our circles and affirm our thinking.  Isn’t that what friends are for?

Adventures in Book Publishing

We have a wonderful client and friend who is a savvy magazine publisher, editor, marketing wiz, television writer and overall brilliant person. To call him a prolific content producer is an understatement.  Recently he came to us with a completed manuscript for a fast paced, women’s fiction novel.  Think murder mystery set among the social elite.  A fun, guilt-free pleasure.  Could we help him get it published?

The requirements for our clients are simple:  1.  We have to love it 2. Be real with us (hyperbole or superlatives, no thanks), and 3. We are experts in the space.

This book publishing project presented us with an interesting challenge.  We are not book publicists and we have no expertise in the space.  Could we really help?  Always love a good challenge and we were motivated to make it happen for a friend we believe in.

We approached this project as we would a traditional PR campaign: extensive research to understand the market + process; identify key influencers (in this case literary agents are the major gatekeepers and influencers with publishers); create and qualify the database; develop pitch materials; customize each pitch to each target influencer; and hit go.  This of course is only the beginning of the execution phase, but I’m a huge believer in doing targeted research and qualifying BEFORE anything goes out the door.  Otherwise you are just doing PR for PR sake, hoping something will stick.

We are still deep into the process, but we have already begun to see some success.  Just yesterday, a top literary agent responded to our initial “query” and asked for the first 50 pages. A big win.  This is akin to a WSJ reporter or Architectural Digest editor (depending on your market) responding to your pitch (in a positive manner) and asking for additional information.

Everyone, it seems dreams of being published, becoming an author.  You would never know the publishing industry is undergoing a tremendous shift.  Corrective changes are clearly in the works.  Only the best, most nimble and digital savvy will survive.  This all contributes to make the space for published books more competitive.  It’s a tough space, exactly the type of challenge that is tailored made for us PR folks.  Bring it.