Carla Williams Johnson of Carli Communications: “Relationships are a must”

Relationships are a must: I literally had to pull out my little black book and call in a few favours to get my clients featured, particularly for time sensitive PR. Forging and maintaining those relationships is a must; As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the […]

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Relationships are a must: I literally had to pull out my little black book and call in a few favours to get my clients featured, particularly for time sensitive PR. Forging and maintaining those relationships is a must;

As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry I had the pleasure of interviewing Carla Williams Johnson.

Carla Williams Johnson is an award-winning Media Marketing Specialist based in Trinidad & Tobago. She helps both business owners and entrepreneurs gain the clarity and the confidence to unapologetically make their mark in the world.

She’s been named one of the top marketers to follow and has been featured in global publications such as Forbes, Huffington Post, Thrive Global and BuzzFeed to name a few. Her inspiring story and her desire to help others has taken her around the world to places such as China, Australia, India, The USA, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and across the Caribbean.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I honestly didn’t know I had a gift for teaching people how to get publicity. Honestly, I took for granted that what I knew, others needed to understand how to do.

After close to two decades in the field of marketing, media and communications, I live and breathe this every day and it’s literally second nature to me.

So much so, that getting featured for myself and my company was easy. Locally, regionally, internationally, getting interviewed was just something I knew how to do.

It was a call from someone who had been watching and observing me over time who said she absolutely needed my help to get her featured. She’d been trying for years and just couldn’t make any headway

I hesitated

Could I do this?

Can I really help her?

My first instinct was to say no, but she believed that I was exactly what she needed.

I relented and within two weeks of us working together I was able to get her published in three major business publications.

What took her years to accomplish, she did in just a few days with my help and, from that point on I could no longer deny that I was uniquely blessed with the talent to help others do the same.

From then on I started teaching others, then I started doing things for them…..fast forward to now, I’m everyone’s ‘go to’ publicist.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Interesting you say.

Back in June 2017 I crafted a three year plan for my business. I was so proud of myself that I was finally able to put it all down on paper. All my goals, the marketing strategies and the tactics for my business and I confidently presented it to my team.

They too were excited and on board and we began the first phase of the plan………then……..I found out I was pregnant. Apparently I was pregnant all this time and I didn’t even know it.

It wasn’t even expected…..my last and only child was a full eighteen years older (but that’s a story for another day)….but I guess that’s life right…..things happen that you just don’t expect.

But, honestly planning so far ahead helped me so much because I was able to prepare for the unexpected; Because I already knew what my goals were, I was still able to achieve them by moving things around and pushing things back.

Now I am not saying anyone can go as crazy as I did with a three year plan but having a plan for a minimum of one year can help you make changes if the unexpected does occur and can help you stay on top of things and make shifts as necessary.

This tip worked really well for me and for a client of mine who was in the middle of gearing up for a launch but had to deal with a natural disaster. I advised her to shift her focus from ‘sales & launching’ to ‘public relations & goodwill’ and her brand awareness increased and when she did finally launch a few months later she landed 10,000 dollars in new sales.

Just a little tip to help you out with business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well this was funny for me, not so much for the other party.

A few years ago while working at a well known agency, I was on my way to the office and honestly, just didn’t feel it. At the time my business was a ‘side hustle’ and the company I worked for knew about it.

The traffic headed into the city was disgusting, the weather was gloomy and the company I was at was faltering because we had just lost a major client. Morale was at an all time low and management didn’t really seem to care; as long as you were chained to our desk.

It was so bad that all staff would come in from 8am and sit at their desks watching television or catching up on the latest series; others would spend all day on social media or would come in to just sleep.

That was not the life I wanted. So I turned the car around and headed in the opposite direction. I needed a day to relax and figure out my next steps and God was on my side because the weather suddenly turned ideal……so I headed to the beach.

As I dipped my toes on the water and sipped on a cold beer I made a decision to not waste my life anymore. This job was just that………a job, something that was no longer fulfilling. Worse yet I wasn’t even utilizing my talents or helping others.

I would be damned to sit in two hour traffic to head to the office to sleep for another eight. That was crazy to me, but everyone else seemed to accept it because they collected a salary for basically doing nothing…but that was not me!

So I decided to approach management with a proposal that could have benefited us both, I would work my business and any clients that came my way I would outsource graphic and production work to the agency……could you imagine they rejected it? That was the final straw for me and eventually I left and made my own way. An award and global recognition later, I’m still going strong.

As for them, they closed their doors for good just a few months later. Who knows, if they valued collaboration and productivity more than their need to control, the outcome might have been different.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Well I am on a mission to make everyone famous!!!

My goal is to help more business owners and entrepreneurs show up and connect with their audience in an authentic way. The truth is that PR is the fastest way to generate credibility and recognition in your business which leads to more sales so right now I:

  • Teach at not one but two prestigious higher level institutes here in Trinidad & Tobago helping students understand the fundamentals of Publicity & Crisis Management
  • Started work with the US Embassy here in Trinidad & Tobago mentoring female startups for their Academy of Women Entrepreneurs initiative
  • Host multiple programs and workshops designed to help others unleash the power of publicity in their business
  • And, of course, work one on one with many entrepreneurs helping them get featured in notable publications as well as show them how to integrate publicity into their overall marketing campaign

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. This is a full time job: Being a publicist isn’t just a 9–5, it’s checking to see what opportunities are out there, carefully curating your client’s message and image so they stay relevant and on point. It’s a lot to the point that I find myself dreaming of opportunities that my clients can get involved in. Between getting the right media, pitching and following up it’s pretty much all my time and energy is spent;
  2. There will be a lot of explaining: Many people think that press is only for the rich and famous or to get only if anything bad happens. No, publicity is for anyone who wants to show up to their audience and really connect with them. The pandemic has created a unique opportunity in that many people need guidance. The media is actively looking for experts to share their story and their knowledge and that can look just like you;
  3. Relationships are a must: I literally had to pull out my little black book and call in a few favours to get my clients featured, particularly for time sensitive PR. Forging and maintaining those relationships is a must;
  4. Stay on top of changes and trends: Crucial to the life of your business and that of your clients. Always be prepared grab an opportunity when it presents itself;
  5. It’s a lesson in patience: I am not the most patient person but sometimes I definitely need to have some. Sometimes, the process between getting featured and going live can take months and while the client is excited, I still have to help them understand that sometimes dates change, it’s the nature of the business (but it’s worth the wait).

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Master networker you say……why thank you!!

Well while I might just be tempted to say ‘just get out there and do it’ I do understand how difficult it can be for people to simply connect with others.

Even if you find yourself at a networking event, making that first step can be hard, but I learned that there a few things you can ask that will not just open the conversation but will allow others to open up and trust you more:

  1. What are you most passionate about? Once you ask this question, trust and believe you might have to beg them to stop. People love to talk about what they’re passionate about, particularly to someone who absolutely wants to hear it.
  2. What projects are you working on? Again, people are always excited to talk about themselves so showing interest will allow them to open up to you.
  3. What do you need help with right now? Most people are afraid to ask for help but once you give them an open, they may be more willing to divulge. Who knows, maybe it’s something you might be able to help with.

Opening with any of these three questions allows you to control the conversation plus shows others that you are more happy to know more about them and what they do.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Personally I have been working mainly on referrals, but I do have a qualifying process that involves a brief interview to make sure that both the client and I are a right fit and that I can truly help them with what they need.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

My absolute favorite book is Essentialism The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This is the book that actually put me in Forbes and it’s a life saver to anyone who finds that they’re just too busy.

My favourite line: What if we stopped celebrating busy as a matter of importance?

The author walks us through his four step framework on focusing only on what’s important to achieve success. I have to say that so many of us get caught up in the trap of being busy and as business owners, we have to remember, it’s not about getting more done but getting more of the RIGHT things done (….and maybe asking for help when we need).

Another book that really had a profound effect on me was We Should all Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers. Rachel talks about the Broke Ass Decisions that keep us ladies from reaching our true potential and the powers that be designed to ‘keep us in place’. She helps navigate the reader on how they can truly excel and reach their true potential.

Really a great book for women to read.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I honestly feel that men are ‘groomed’ (for lack of a better word) a particular way and therefore they are ‘expected’ to act and react in situations that can be really unhealthy for them and the people around them. Society still expects them to be a certain way which is counterproductive to how the world is progressing. If I could I would create a movement to address this because while women are becoming empowered, men are still being held to the same outdated stereotypes with their worth measured by an old-fashioned value system. I think helping these men unlearn some of the traits they were exposed to can truly help the world become a better, less violent place.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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