Small-bodied, big brained, big city.
When Bianca Caampued and Mallory Blair launched Small Girls PR in 2010, the duo decided that part of their "sauce" would be working with friends. As the agency of record for GE and Panasonic, we'd say they've made some friends in high places. But while some of their clients are corporate, their strategy is anything but. From the gate they tossed pre-packaged ideas out of the window from their office in Brooklyn, successfully proving that a PR "stunt" can actually shift into a sustainable business strategy; they are one of the most successful boutique PR firms in New York.
They don't issue press releases or BCC hundreds of people at a time. Their messaging is crafted, creative, and gets people buzzing. In a 2011 blog post celebrating their first year, Mallory wrote, "Small Girls PR is a happy accident balancing carefully on the precipice of fear & hard work. What I’m saying, Dear Internet, is that I am a fraud. Maybe a diligent one, but a fraud nonetheless."
At this point, we beg to differ.
And since Bianca and Mallory are going to be popping up with us at SXSW, we checked in with the small but mighty duo to get the low down on their SG game.
Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds and why PR was the right move for your careers?
Bianca: I started out working in promotions and advertising at Lucky Magazine out of college and I really loved the creative activations that were being done for advertisers. I eventually ended up doing in-house "PR" at a thrift store where I did it the way that made sense to me - inviting my friends who were bloggers and downtown 'cool kids' (what I guess you would call "influencers" now) to the store to create content for and around the store's socials. I ran the Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, produced lookbooks and shoots for the special things that came into the store, threw events, and even occasionally pitched an outlet if a writer's interests were in line with the brand and it caught my eye.
Mallory: Bianca and I met right when I was graduating college, while still working long hours at a small, four-person brand consultancy whose clients were tech giants like Apple. When I saw what Bianca was doing, I thought it could make sense to merge surfacing trends in technology with creative campaigns. That's how we built Small Girls PR in the beginning - taking all of the ways she was playing with new media & events at the store plus the positioning & trend-jacking I'd gleaned from the consultancy. We leveraged our mutual blogger networks as talent, tapped our friends as tastemakers before the word "Influencer" was a thing, and called it the new PR.
Bianca: I still run the team that handles these kinds of projects at SGPR, though we now have 3 entire hubs dedicated to press strategy and media relations as well. Even when it comes to more "traditional" comms work, we use the same spirit of creativity and personalization.
Small girls. Big business. What does that mean, respectively, to each of you?
Mallory: To quote me quoting a tumblr meme quoting Shakespeare, "Though she may be but little, she is fierce."
Bianca: It literally means we are small girls (5'0" and 5'3") and we're capable of doing big business.
"To quote me quoting a tumblr meme quoting Shakespeare, 'Though she may be but little, she is fierce.'"
You’ve worked with brands like Google and GE, both at SXSW. What is it about a startup, and yours in particular that you think is compelling to larger corporate brands?
Mallory: We're neophiles so we're always thinking about what's next, testing out new platforms, and meeting up with rising bloggers. Our entire team is in the same tech-savvy, marketer-aware audience that brands are trying to reach by participating in things like SXSW or launching a web series on a VR platform or creating an Instagram treasure hunt (all things we've been hired to execute and do PR for).
You both put yourself front and center for certain campaigns. Why do you think it’s important for bigger companies to brand themselves in relation to people? Are corporations people too?
Mallory: This has gone so far that brands are now dipping into the uncanny valley, using 'bae' and 'fleek' more than 'discount code' and 'click to purchase'. I love brands playing into this weird twitter apocalypse and hope it never ends. [insert hands praying emoji]
This will be your 3rd year at SXSW, what is it about the festival that’s so exciting and appealing to such a wide audience?
Bianca: This is actually my 7th year at SXSW and Mallory's 8th! Prior to starting Small Girls, I helped Tumblr with their first SXSW event in 2009. I was also a regular attendee of the music portion of the festival for a while. Since then, Small Girls has produced SXSW events for clients ranging from Google to GE to The Dutch Consulate.I think that the most exciting and appealing thing about SXSW is the fact that it brings so many people across tech, music, and film together in one place. You can meet new people who are also working on interesting, creative things and spend time with them in a way that jumpstarts a friendship or even a business partnership. Hopping from panel to activation to party (to after party to the hotel lobby) gives you the opportunity to get to know people quickly & outside of just what they do for a living.
Piggybacking on that, how do you get a brand to stand out when there are so many onsite activation points?
Bianca: This is such a tough question because there is so much noise in the space. Producing an activation in 2016 is not like what it was throwing a party in 2010. You can't just book a venue, slap an open bar on the invite, and get a DJ to get people excited; brand participation is saturated so it's crucial to give guests something to interact with, learn about, or experience for the first time- something they won't want to miss. All of this means partnering with the right brands or talent that can help draw attention to the experience and knowing the corners of the Internet where the people who would genuinely be interested in the project you're working on are hanging out.
Mallory: Last year, we spent months in advance strategizing the amplification of GE's BBQ Research Center (debuting a 12-foot tall intelligent brisket smoker). We thought through every part of the experience from a media standpoint as well as the kind of content we could generate that would actually compel people to share or cover, whether data visualization of barbecue or tweeting gifs to attendees of their brainwaves reacting to brisket flavors (tracked via an EEG headgear set!). It was one of the most talked about SXSW events, with spots on ABC News, NPR, Fast Company & Nightline, earning over 1 billion media impressions.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Bianca: Making charts. 💹
Mallory: Making those charts go up and to the right. #TEAM
What are you most excited for at SXSW 2016?
Bianca: Our client KnowMe is doing a keynote & event with the founder Andrew Jarecki and JJ Abrams (who is an investor). I love Star Wars and am a very active user on KnowMe outside of doing their PR, so I can't wait to work with them down there!
Do you really believe that there is no such thing as “bad press?”
Mallory: Kill this myth! The wrong messaging can be damaging (even if merely by being confusing). That said, when there is "bad press" the fun is the coming up with a game plan to overcome the challenge.
If disruption was the buzz word in 2014. And Innovation was 2015. What’s the word for 2016?
Bianca: Spiritual (sub words - The Force & CrystalMagic)
What one song sums up your current office vibe?
Mallory: RAC made a track for people to play with down at Deloitte Digital's Interplay lab at SXSW (a concert-meets-mad lab space with indie musicians). We've been playing the track on repeat as we work on the project. :)
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her at www.ariannawrotethis.com