Evie Smith Hatmaker: “Authenticity is your secret weapon”

Authenticity is your secret weapon — People are full of crap in this industry. It’s no wonder press people can’t stand PR people. We are super annoying. We are the used car salesmen in their inboxes. Exercising discretion, being authentic, and just being a real human person made me stand out in this industry. I had no […]

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Authenticity is your secret weapon — People are full of crap in this industry. It’s no wonder press people can’t stand PR people. We are super annoying. We are the used car salesmen in their inboxes. Exercising discretion, being authentic, and just being a real human person made me stand out in this industry. I had no interest in fitting into the weird corporate PR mold. I have always been authentically myself, and it has only done me favors.

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 Evie Smith Hatmaker.

You might not recognize Evie Smith Hatmaker outright, but you know her work, whether you realize it or not. Evie worked in Silicon Valley right after college for almost 10 years with flashy startups and Fortune 500 companies before moving to Portland, Oregon, and founding Rebellious PR. She started Rebellious to use her top-notch PR skills and talent, but this time for something bigger. She wanted to focus on underrepresented founders and companies that are looking to change the world. Recently Evie was at the center of the gender tech censorship conversation/movement, having created momentum and conversation about the issue in every major media outlet. Evie infiltrated the cultural zeitgeist with this story, and conversations around her work have appeared on This American Life, as well as the TV show The Bold Type.

Evie strives to drive the PR industry-standard higher, to create better work, better work culture, and a better, more trusted industry across the board.

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?

It was an accident. I had zero interest in going into PR. I was a journalism major in college. I had won a few student journalism awards and had a killer internship at a music magazine. The expectation was that I would work at a magazine at some point. I was living in Santa Cruz at the time with my boyfriend (eventually husband and then ex-husband), and he had no interest in leaving SC. So that meant I could work freelance or locally, and to be honest, it all felt overwhelming. Looking back, I just did not believe in myself or my work, even though I had crushed it at college.

I had started playing roller derby in my last semester of college, and I really needed health insurance and just wanted to transition into some kind of post-college career smoothly. I noticed there were a ton of PR agencies in the Bay Area and even in Santa Cruz. I started working at a local agency the day after I graduated and stayed there (with my new shiny health insurance) for the next 8 years.

It took me about 2 years to understand what PR was and what we were doing. Entry-level work with little explanation of the full picture did not help my cause. I liked the human aspect of PR. It’s a lot of conversations. We talk to clients, speak to the media, and then the media talks to people. Of course, most people associate it with parties and boozy dinners (which do happen from time to time). Still, for the most part, we are the bridge between a company having a message and the public understanding that message and reacting to it. I liked being the translator, and I was good at it (once I got out of my way). I found that my core abilities from my time working at restaurants and bars translated well — reading people, being empathetic, and friendly. So I stuck around.

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

I mean, it would have to be the gender tech / CES stuff. I had been waiting to make waves in the tech industry since I started working in PR. I had this love-hate relationship with CES as a tradeshow — I loved getting to see all of the hottest tech companies and major players each year, plus understanding the landscape of CES and how I could get my clients the most attention there. Heck, I met my wife at CES!

But CES has a long history of having a women-problem. Everything is super old school and for the male gaze and male POV. It’s a place where men go to do business. And because of CES’s sheer size and legacy, they have no competition (maybe SXSW Interactive). So giant Goliath, with no Davids, means Goliath has very little reason to want to change.

Having a client who was so mistreated and mishandled by the Consumer Technology Association was my golden opportunity to use every trick in my book, every number in my Rolodex, and capitalize on the current climate to draw attention in this area where I had been feeling so frustrated (not alone!) for so long. And we won! gender tech is now allowed at CES, booth babes are now a thing of the past, and I helped kick open a door for female founders who could not get into the show.

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?

Sometime in my first couple of years of PR, I was sending out a pitch through Cision. If you are not familiar, Cision is a PR tool with journalist info and lets you make press lists and send pitches (aka emails) out to those lists in one click. I had done my standard due diligence as a JR employee by making a huge press list with way too many people I had not researched. I went to hit send, and it lagged and did not react like I had clicked anything, so I then proceeded to hit the send button 7 times. The pitch then sent itself 7 times.

I started to see journalists tweet about it and thought for sure I would get called out by name (which was a super fun thing tech journalists used to do all the time). Luckily no one called me out, and I kept my head down at work and was never discovered.

The lessons I learned that day:

– Stop trying to take shortcuts for everything.

– Do the damn research.

– Send pitches out in smaller, more thought out batches.

– Don’t overly rely on fancy tools — PR is more about tact and graceful than thirsty and desperate.

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

A few of my newer clients that I am excited about are:

– Emme: It’s a smart birth control case (that is beautiful)! It makes the pill more useful for users with reminders and tracking. It really is birth control 2.0.

– The Workers Lab

– Sad Girls Club

– Her

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

Authenticity is your secret weapon — People are full of crap in this industry. It’s no wonder press people can’t stand PR people. We are super annoying. We are the used car salesmen in their inboxes. Exercising discretion, being authentic, and just being a real human person made me stand out in this industry. I had no interest in fitting into the weird corporate PR mold. I have always been authentically myself, and it has only done me favors.

You don’t need permission — This is important for both PR and entrepreneurship. I think we get caught in these cycles of approval that it kind of makes us mentally lazy, and we feel like we need approval or sign off on every little thing. It’s always impressive when someone exercises agency at work with their work. Be independent. Be a rebel. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

It’s in the details — This could also be summarized by saying: do dang the work. It’s always in the details. I feel like people like us in PR tend to rush through projects and miss important details. The details do the work. It always will take more time, but the work will be amazing, and your future self will thank you!

Collaboration over the competition — To be honest, I had a pretty gnarly work nemesis for like 4 years. We were just super different people. I hated her bully management style, two face-ness, and a laundry list of other things. We butted heads a lot. She told me after she quit that I was one of the reasons she was leaving the agency. I felt both surprised and sad. I had no idea that this person who made me legitimately unhappy, who I had let become the negative voice in my head, was unhappy because of me. I somehow felt like we had both missed out. We were so busy trying to outdo each other that we could have joined forces and made one heck of an account team. We could have supported each other in dealing with some of the gender microaggressions and bullcrap that happened at that firm. I would just say I don’t make nemesis’ at work. Look at differences as an opportunity to learn. Also, If someone legitimately seems horrible and not like someone you want to collaborate with (there are many asshole Karens in PR), just don’t let them dictate your work psyche. Find someone else to collaborate with!

Know and advocate for your worth— If you are working in PR, let me be the first person to tell you: The client needs you more than you need the client. Just wrap your head around that. Also, if you work at a firm, they need you more than you need them. The publicist had all the power and quite often is underpaid, treated like crap, and works in toxic work environments. And to boot, it is a female-dominated industry — women are conditioned to be grateful and not advocate for their worth. YOU are the most valuable thing in this whole equation and should be compensated fairly.

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

Wow! I’m so flattered! The trick with networking is to have goals and a plan; otherwise, it can be awkward and uncomfortable. Have a reason to go to an event with specific goals you are trying to achieve while there. Also, I find these days (well not these actual days) I like to network with a buddy. I find going in with someone who you vibe with can make for a successful event.

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?

For us, it is a mix of:

– Referrals — our work often speaks for itself, and it is our best calling card. Usually, the leads we get through referrals are our best leads.

– Good branding — people can take one look at our website or social media, or even our name and know instantly we are either for them or not.

– Scouting — We also always have a process where we are sending out cold emails to companies we want to work with. We scout these companies out from their coverage, research, or sometimes they will be competitors of current or past clients.

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

I loved the book Girl Boss. I’m not sure how I feel about the brand in its current iteration, but I respect and resonate with Sophia. I’m a self-made college dropout just like her, so I really felt her journey and got a ton of inspiration there.

I love the Ted podcast Work-Life — they do such a great job analyzing and telling stories about teams. I’m pretty obsessed with “fixing” work. I love organizational psychology, so this pod makes me tick.

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. 🙂

Well, first off, I am flattered that you think I am a person of influence! I would love to help tear down the venture capital system of funding startups. When I think of old, antiquated, and out of touch — it’s these guys. The funding statistics around women and people of color getting funding is unacceptable! You see, people like Arlan Hamilton who are disrupting the system from the inside and organizations like SheEO who are getting women funding in spite of VCs. But I just think the whole model needs to be set on fire. I think the idea that a company is not successful unless they have VC money also needs to change.

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

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