Ask: Jessy Fofana of LaRue PR answers your public relations questions

Last week, we asked what you wanted to know from PR maven Jessy Fofana. Jessy founded her agency, LaRue PR, more than seven years ago after previously working in magazine publishing and founding (and later selling) her own cosmetics company. She knows her stuff, and will soon be covering everything PR for the Create & Cultivate blog. To kick it off, she picked a few questions to answer here, and warned us she wanted to answer them all.

cassandramonroe  What are qualities that PR agencies or personnel look for in a blogger/creative person that determines whether or not they feel like a collaboration is a good fit?

It’s always great to collaborate with a partner or influencer that approaches what they do with a creative spirit, but also like a brand/business owner.  Being responsive and having a media kit and rate card ready with available stats and numbers is always appealing. Partnering with a blogger that is truly interested in the product/service they are going to collaborate on is best.  It’s wonderful to team up with someone who has done their own research and is bringing creative ideas to the table that tie in what works best with their audience. Of course design, layout, image quality and general aesthetic sensibility are important, but if a PR person has reached out to you with interest they have decided you are “on brand” and the right fit.  If you are an emerging blogger trying to work with a company for a collab, it’s important to know what you are about and why you feel the partnership would be beneficial. I also suggest starting with smaller businesses that might be more accessible and approachable. Finally, it’s important to have a nice working relationship, to meet deadlines, to be responsive and to share post partnership results.

mommynotes What are some good tips for negotiating with PR companies as a brand, particularly when your budget is small?

This is a great question and one that I’m sure a lot of small biz owners new to working with agencies and consultants might have. If you are interested in working with a PR firm, it’s important to find a boutique agency that has experience working with small businesses or startups. PR firms usually create their pricing structure based on time, so you want to make sure that you whittle down what your goals are and where you would like the focus to be. A good PR team will offer input and advice on this as well and can advise on where your business will see the most benefit and how to streamline efforts and costs. Some agencies will create a retainer agreement that is tiered or that increases over time to accommodate a new business.  Approaching PR on a project basis (ex: product launch, around an event, or seasonally) is another way to limit the expense and create specificity for the campaign. Finally, if you find an agency or freelancer that you feel is a great fit, talk to them. While there are industry standards, there is no hard and fast rule and if someone sees the potential, they may be willing to negotiate. I’ve tried to move mountains for brands that I really believe in.
miss.collective  I would love to know what approach you recommend to targeting publications after hosting an event to have the greatest success rate of getting published. Thanks!

With events there are a few different strategies to consider. We typically look at any event and consider a three-pronged approach to press coverage that includes pre-event press, “live” event press, and post event press. Depending on what your event goals are, maybe only one of these applies, but it’s important to consider all angles. If you are looking for press coverage to drive attendance and foot traffic, pre-event coverage and “live” coverage are a necessity. If your goal is to showcase a private event, the focus is typically post event outreach. For this there are a few things you need to have at the ready. Event PR usually has the best return on a local or regional level, so putting together a hit list with the best area print, digital and broadcast media is essential. Do your research and make sure you find the right contacts at each outlet. Look at who has covered similar events in the past, check titles and beats and reach out.   Have all of necessary info ready, in either a press release or an event one-sheet and share a few low-res images to help create interest and excitement. If media didn’t attend the event, it’s important to have a photographer on site who can share event images for press inclusion. Timing is important. You can pitch for post-event coverage before the function happens to try and secure an exclusive story. If you have trouble getting interest in advance, then immediately following the event—ideally the next day—work on pitching it with all the juicy images and info.
mirabellamarket What is the best way for a handmade business on Etsy to gain traction and increase sales? How can we bring our products to the masses?

Fifteen years ago I would have said that traditional PR is really the only cost-effective way to bring visibility to any small business. It still is a great tool, but over the years, the scope of what PR includes has broadened and now there are so many more resources available. Social media has created entirely new outlets for visibility. Now influencer relations and strategic marketing are an important part of any PR strategy. When you have a handmade business, it’s important to get creative and to have a plan of attack. When I was in my 20s I started a “handmade small business” with a friend. Over the course of a number of years we grew our sales, and ended up selling our start-up to a multi-million dollar fashion label. One of the key factors that helped that sale along was the buzz we had created for ourselves via PR. In addition to creating exposure and sales it lent our fledgling business credibility. Don’t be afraid to pursue media coverage. I went out guerilla-style and just pitched our product and story to a ton of editors and we ended up getting featured in some of the most popular fashion and lifestyle magazines (Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle etc.). At the time I was just starting out and didn’t have a ton of PR experience, but I just pounded the pavement and believed in the product. I think that same strategy is still worthwhile and now that are a multitude of mediums to go after. 

Try an organized “spaghetti-at-the-wall” approach and see where you get interest and where you get return. Make a hit list of media outlets where you would like to land your product, research contacts and try reaching out (it’s often better to start with a more junior assistant, writer or editor). Figure out a few brands that are similar in size, or slightly larger, that have a complimentary rather than competitive identity and reach out about a co-branded social media collaboration to grow awareness among your respective customer base. If the collaboration is cool, look to get a bit of press coverage on it. Incentivize your existing customers and market directly to them with original (and hopefully not annoying) promotions. Social media is a way you can share your brand identity and connect with your end consumer on a daily basis.  Try to be sincere, create worthwhile content and don't be too focused on sales. Keep at it. Don’t give up. All of this takes time and keep in mind with PR specifically, you are bound to get a bunch of “NOs” before you get that “YES,” but usually that “YES” is really worthwhile.

Jessy Fofana founded La Rue PR over ten years ago after successfully directing public relations and marketing initiatives for an impressive list of well-known fashion, home décor, lifestyle and cosmetics brands and retailers.  Having worked in both digital and print magazine publishing as well as co-founding a fashion and lifestyle brand that she later sold, Jessy and her team at LaRue PR understand exactly what it takes to create the kind of take-notice, multi-faceted campaign that delivers brand-changing buzz.  With an experienced team of professionals, LaRue PR covers all the bases including print and digital media coverage, influencer relations, synergistic brand partnerships and more.  LaRue PR provides the skill and experience of a large agency with the creativity, dedication and affordability that can only be offered by a boutique firm.




Kate Williams

Writer + editorial director in Los Angeles. Reading books + watching palm trees.