As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Krug.
Heather Krug is a seasoned communications professional with an agile approach to developing client narratives. She’s driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for entertainment and brands.
Heather has 20+ years of experience in entertainment, sports, and consumer products, with special expertise in developing strategic public relations and marketing campaigns for celebrities and athletes, securing press for film and TV/streaming series, and launching new products. In addition to serving her own clients, Heather consults for major PR firms to serve as an extension of their teams.
Heather’s high-profile accounts have included Amazon, NFL Network, Al Roker Entertainment, McDonald’s, Red Bull TV, Topps, Disney, Spin Master, The Coca-Cola Company, Stoli Vodka, Momentous, Beachbody, and The World Surf League. As a long-distance trail runner, she particularly enjoys working with healthy food and fitness brands and publicizing triathlons, marathons, and other sporting events.
Prior to managing her own consulting company, Heather served as CEO for celebrity Bear Grylls and his company, Bear Grylls Ventures, and managed the consumer, entertainment and sports department at Rogers & Cowan, the world’s largest entertainment PR firm.
Thank you for joining us Heather. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up on Long Island, I always wanted to move to Los Angeles. In college, I majored in psychology and writing and discovered you could actually have a career writing movies and TV shows. I wrote a Seinfeld script and tried using it to get a job as a writer. I got a reality check when a well-known producer friend said, “Everyone has a Seinfeld script.”
I got a job working as an associate editor for a trade publication on Long Island and quickly learned I was much better at creative writing than reporting. Plus, the job was really boring because I was writing about government equipment on military bases. I remember making a reference to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in one of my stories and the managing editor telling me to tone it down. I also got in trouble when the publisher saw me at my desk staring off into space and claimed I wasn’t working. I found that ridiculous! My brain works best when I’m staring off into space or in the shower.
I was looking for other jobs in publishing and came across a PR position. A firm called Markham Novell was looking for someone to “work with news outlets and publicize companies and talent.” I felt that was something I could do and managed to land the job. It was a wonderful experience at first. I was working in New York City on all kinds of accounts, including Festina watches, Walkers Shortbread, a school safety expert, and The Muppets. But I also found myself in the uncomfortable position of representing the company that put out the Pam and Tommy Lee sex tape. I wanted out, and when my client was being deposed in Los Angeles, I took the opportunity to interview with some of the top entertainment PR firms here. I emailed Pat Kingsley and many other well-known talent publicists and told them I would work really hard for them and they wouldn’t be disappointed. A lot of people offered to hire me as an assistant to learn the business at a salary that wouldn’t pay the bills. But Tom Tardio, who was CEO at Rogers & Cowan, read my email and shared it with Julie Nathanson, who was looking for a senior account executive. The rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I first went out on my own, I partnered with the incredible PR pro Jon Harris. Jon is good friends with Al Roker, and we put together a plan to help promote his production company, Al Roker Entertainment. Al was going to SXSW for the first time for a speaking opportunity, and it was right around the time when live streaming apps were launching.
There was a little buzz about an app called Meerkat. I suggested that Al check it out and do some videos from onsite, and that’s exactly what he did. Al became one of the early adopters of live streaming and got so much attention for his broadcasts. It was an exciting time. He even changed part of his business to incorporate live streaming shows across platforms such as Twitch, YouNow, Facebook, and Periscope. He aligned with celebrities and famous chefs, and it was incredible to see how fast everything took off. I think about that often. Sometimes you have an idea, and it turns into something you never imagined. PR is unpredictable. I’ve been working with Al for the past five years, and in case you’re wondering, yes, he is the most incredible and sweetest person on the planet!
A lot of people see me with celebrities or at Oscar parties or the Super Bowl and think PR is super glamorous, but it’s very hard work. One of my first jobs after going out on my own was managing PR for USA Pro Challenge, a major professional cycling race in Colorado. I needed extra staff for the race and hired one of my best friends who works in media buying. She’s super smart and energetic, and I knew she’d be a perfect person to interface with so many people. The race has seven stages, which means we’re in a different city each day. You have to set up media command centers in the morning to see the cyclists off and then drive to the next location on mountain roads to beat them to the next media center. You host press conferences every day and sened out the stage results each night. On day three, my friend turned to me and said: “This is insane. I knew you worked hard, but I didn’t think this hard.” I laughed. She did a great job, but I don’t think she will ever work a red carpet, pro sports race, or any kind of event with me again!
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?
This isn’t necessarily a mistake but more of a life lesson and the tale of how I became less rigid.
When I worked with Bear Grylls as his personal publicist and eventually left Rogers & Cowan to run his business, I learned that I was wound up too tight. I was a rule follower and Bear, well, he definitely liked to break rules and push boundaries. One time he was hired to do a satellite media tour, which can be exhausting and boring because you have to answer the same questions over and over again while doing 15–25 broadcast interviews in 2–3 hours. In the middle of a serious interview, Bear decided to stand on his head on the seat of his chair. It’s an impressive sight, but the PR rep for the company that hired him had a meltdown. I knew I didn’t want to be like her.
Another time we were in New Zealand shooting a commercial, and we had to take a helicopter into rugged terrain. I have this incredible fear of heights, and although riding in the helicopter was so freakin’ cool, it was also terrifying. Unbeknownst to me, Bear had told the pilot to play a trick on me. He had the pilot basically flip the copter upside down. I screamed my head off as the entire crew laughed hysterically.
What did I learn from all this? It’s OK to color outside the lines. Sometimes you can bend the rules a little, and you can’t force formality on someone who’s used to being a little wild. Being a communications professional means knowing when to give the red light and when it’s time to play. I came to understand mottos like “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and “be a warrior, not a worrier.” I credit Bear with igniting my adventurous spirit.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
If you’re a company or organization that needs PR help, you can hire me. If you’re a large or boutique PR firm and need an additional expert on your team, you can hire me.
I’ve always been scrappy, and I can move on projects pretty fast with a high rate of success. I know other firms and colleagues who move slower and become a little too cerebral in the process. I’m someone who believes in action, in getting the plan right and executing it in a timely fashion. I can work on small projects or bigger ones that would normally take a team of five or more and I’m extremely creative and like to work backwards. Tell me the results you want to accomplish and I will do my best to get them for you.
My clients have always been very diverse. I’ve worked with the biggest sports leagues, including NFL, PGA Tour, IRONMAN, Riot Games, and NHL. I’ve worked with some of the most well-known brands, from Captain Morgan and Coca-Cola to McDonald’s and General Mills. I’ve worked in television and film for Warner Brothers, NBC, Discovery, HULU, Amazon, and Red Bull TV. I’ve also worked with smaller companies like TTPM, a toy review company led by an incredible industry expert, and Tripleclix, a marketing agency specializing in creating gaming strategies for brands. I’ve led PR campaigns for automotive brands and technology companies. I’ve always liked being able to do many things, and my media contacts and industry resources are in all different verticals.
I love what I do (most days) and now during our pandemic it’s become an especially tough time and I’m constantly looking for the brighter side and making a pivot to be successful in our “new normal.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice is simple. Be approachable. Some women can be very intimidating. Some of my former staff used to say I was “tough but fair.” Sometimes you need to open the door a little to let people see a human side behind the workhorse. I also think it’s important to work smarter, not harder.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I’m going to use a sports analogy since I’m an athlete. You need to be the team captain that everyone wants to follow. It’s OK to be tough as long as you’re fair.
I’ve found that women can sometimes be cruel to one another. There tends to be some bickering or “mean girl” syndrome. I have zero tolerance. It’s important to lift each other up, and it should be addressed on day one.
Another bit of advice is to divide and conquer and give each individual a bunch of goals. There are so many different personality types, and everyone processes things a little differently. It’s important to understand your team and each person’s assets. Divide up work to best suit their strengths and teach along the way to shore up weaknesses.
It should go without saying, but be a decent human being.
How are you managing during Covid-19? Has your business changed? How will the industry change?
It’s been a very difficult time. I’m grateful for my health. I’ve lost a lot of business due to the pandemic, but I’m hopeful it will come back. Some of my business is in events, and that’s all on hold for the moment. I also work with other teams, and many companies can’t budget for consultants now.
A few of my clients are doing really well. They’re using this time to prepare for the future. Gaming has seen an increase in numbers. It’s been fascinating to watch how companies are changing to fit the new world.
The NFL draft was impressive and had some of its highest numbers. I applaud all the teams that came together to pull off such a stupendous feat with the hundreds of cameras and locations. It was similar to some of the streams eSports has been doing for some time.
I think it’s important to dig really deep during this time and be creative and innovative. I’ve always loved the saying from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s kind of like that in PR. You need to build the right idea for the time and put it out there in a sensitive way. I love being put to the test and challenged, and I’m eager to work with clients that provide content and products for the betterment of all.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped you get where you are? Can you share a story about them?
Julie Nathanson was the executive vice president at Rogers & Cowan who took a chance and hired me to help with her consumer accounts and promised to teach me how to work with celebrities. At the time, I wanted to make celebrity PR my career. I soon learned there were only a few celebrities I wanted to represent. She passed away this month of a rare cancer, and I’ve been gutted thinking about how much she impacted my career.
We didn’t always have the biggest celebrity names in that department, and it wasn’t easy, but she taught me how to find the story and the media contacts who would cover rising stars. I admired how she spent hours on the phone with clients like Terry Bradshaw, Bradley Whitford, and Bruce Greenwood and how the media adored her. She taught me that things work out 99.9% of the time and my favorite phrase, “pig fuck,” which is an event that goes horribly wrong.
When times were tough with the looming actor and WGA strikes, Julie lent me to our sister company, Weber Shandwick, to help save my job. That’s when I began working on The Coca-Cola Company, which opened up a whole new world to me. They’ve remained a client of mine for 20 years.
When I posted to a networking group about Julie’s passing, there were so many responses about how she helped people get started. Julie was a presence who had fiery red hair and a matching car. She knew all the red carpet media and treated each client like royalty. I will always be grateful for everything she did for me.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be transparent. No one likes huff and puff. When I take client meetings, I never oversell them on what I bring to the table. I like to under-promise and over-deliver.
- Be inspiring. How do you expect your team to do their best work when they aren’t excited?
- Lead by example. If you expect your team to do certain tasks, it’s ideal if you know how to do them all yourself. Take the time to relearn how to send out a press release or build a media list.
- Keep teaching. We are often too busy to slow down and really teach. Younger people tend to put up a front that they know it all, but that’s not always the case and many want to learn. I want people to remember me as someone who cared and gave their time to help others succeed.
- There’s no crying in baseball. I’m a sensitive person. I feel too much. Don’t get me wrong, I can keep my shit together, but I wish I had a little tougher skin. This is a very hard business, and sometimes it’s thankless. Harder armor would help.
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 would be a voice for animals. My heart breaks every time I see trophy hunters posing with helpless giraffes or elephants. We should live in a world where people don’t hunt lions, bears, and other big game. I want a world where gorillas and chimpanzees aren’t hunted for bushmeat and rhinos aren’t poached for their horns, a world where there’s no shark fin soup, no open animal markets in China and other parts of the world, and no dog meat trade.
I feel sick when I think about the amount of animal cruelty in the meat-packing industry, and my heart bleeds for all animals suffering habitat loss. Don’t even get me started on minks and foxes being hunted for their fur or seals being clubbed and shot. My dream is to hold a baby orangutan. I often wonder how I can help the world be a better place for animals, to be a warrior like Jane Goddall.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t listen to the dream stealers.” There are so many people who will tell you that you can’t do something. It’s important to listen to those who believe there’s no limit to your potential.
The other quote I really try to embrace is “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” There are many things that scare me, and I’ve always found joy on the other side. I never thought I could run 50 miles on a trail and I surprised myself! I’ve been active in the ultra running community for the past several years.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person you would love to have breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’m a big Steven Spielberg fan. It would be fun to chat about his iconic movies and the stories behind the scenes. I’ve alway been interested in filmmaking, and in another lifetime I could see myself as a casting director or filmmaker. Maybe it’s not too late. I guess I should learn how to edit film during my Covid-19 downtime!
How can our readers connect with you on social media?
My business website is www.heatherkrug.com. You can also find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/heatherkrugprandmarketing/ and Twitter @heatherkrug. My Instagram, @Krugger14, is mostly personal. You’ll find lots of beautiful trail and beach photos there.