Growing pains are normal. Sometimes things aren’t going to work out exactly the way you expected they would. Maybe you hired the wrong person for the job or didn’t win a dream client’s business right away. Let that go and you’ll usually find that the next thing that comes your way is a better fit.
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 Helen Sharp.
Helen Sharp, 35, has over a decade of global experience in Public Relations, Journalism, Marketing, and Sales. After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2008, Helen spent several years traveling the world and working in Taipei, Chicago, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles.
She speaks Spanish and beginner Chinese and loves the art of language and communication. Her infatuation for public relations began when she started working for a small tech company out of Austin. She later moved on to an eco-friendly reusable straw company, where she combined her expertise in PR with her passion for sustainability. The PR and sustainability niche stuck and Helen launched her agency, Be Influential, in 2018 after being approached by eco-focused influencers and businesses to help with their own public relations efforts. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Adam and their Chiweenie Bonnie Rosa.
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 have always been a social person with a flair for storytelling and connecting with people. My husband says I’m hyper-social and I think that can be used as a superpower for fueling public relations.
I spent a few years in Taipei, Taiwan where I wrote and edited a magazine about culture, nightlife and travel. It was bilingual (Mandarin Chinese and English) and we hosted many parties to try and bring different cultures and communities together. I loved crafting those stories and connecting with Taiwanese rappers, restaurateurs and superstars to create a more active and dynamic interview series.
There are a few things I find are important in public relations — you must be social, love to connect with people and have the innate ability to craft a story. I found myself being a journalist and a makeshift PR person for the magazine.
At the same time, one of my best friends, Molly Leibowitz, was living in New York and working in PR. I was always interested in her work and always reverted back to conversations with her about a career in public relations. When I started in my first PR job, she mentored me through everything and we still discuss new and upcoming strategies for Be Influential today. I’m forever grateful for such a loving friend and badass mentor.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Launching a new product with a brand new business at the very beginning of the global pandemic was pretty interesting and something no one was prepared for. My client, Hitch, hired me in February 2020 to launch their very first product on Kickstarter. By March, everything was uncertain. No one knew how fast COVID-19 would spread, how deadly it would be or how it would affect the economy.
There were endless questions and uncertainty around launching the campaign. And, If they launched, should they address the pandemic like other brands were doing?? Everything was new and there were no right answers.
The founders decided to launch in April on Earth Day with the original, upbeat, and the creative campaign they designed pre-pandemic. It was the right decision — the campaign was so successful that Hitch became the most funded bottle in crowdfunding history, raising 2 million dollars in the middle of the pandemic. Even more incredible for a novel product meant for people on the go.
Be Influential secured an incredible amount of press for Hitch during the campaign from Inhabitat, Wired, Mashable, Politico, and Trend Hunter, to name a few. We secured this without sending out a single sample. This led to an uptick in sales and really strong social proof for the campaign.
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?
It’s hard to come up with a “funny” mistake when you’re a first-time entrepreneur because starting your own business is scary and nothing is certain. At first, I said yes to every potential client that approached me, trying to grow as quickly as possible. My first mistake was not looking at the interview process with a potential client as a two-way street. I didn’t ask myself if they would be a good fit for me and the vision I had for my new agency, Be Influential.
Your work-life takes up the majority of your day, so if you’re miserable with who you’re working with it will make your life miserable. Since I was building something that was my own I became very focused on creating the ideal agency — dedicated to the planet with personal relationships with my clients.
So, I broke up with a few clients, lost some revenue and took a step back and envisioned the ideal client for Be Influential — a specialized agency for a better world.
I wrote down the types of clients I wanted and I meditated on the fact that, through this work, I also wanted to help the planet. I focused on sustainable businesses and professional, thoughtful clients. After I made this decision, business showed up through referrals and finding my work online.
The community surrounding sustainable products is tight and dedicated. These people care deeply about the planet and are changing the world. As more budding eco-entrepreneurs came into the picture my business began to grow. My network continues to grow through my connections and I’ve helped many of my clients by introducing them to dedicated graphic designers, social media marketers, customer service experts, and e-commerce consultants with a passion for the planet.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m very picky about who I bring on as a client, so I’d have to say that they’re all interesting and exciting.
Below is a list of my clients in no particular order.
- LastObject invented LastSwab, the first reusable, sanitary alternative to the Q-tip, one of the world’s most significant pollutants. This Danish eco scale-up has raised almost 3MM dollars through crowdfunding campaigns and continues the fight against single-use waste. Since founding the business in 2018, LastObject continues to design innovative solutions to wasteful habits that make a lasting impact. In 2020 LastTissue, LastRound, and LastMask x Spray were brought to life. They launched LastTissue Box in early 2021 and plan to roll out two more products by the end of the year. By 2023, LastObject, and its growing team of over 31 global waste warriors plan to eliminate 50 billion single-use items from the planet.
- Hitch is a Santa Barbara-based climate-positive start-up that launched in the midst of the pandemic. The sleek new water bottle/coffee cup hybrid is thoughtfully designed to make everyday essentials more sustainable and easier to carry. Despite launching in the middle of the pandemic, Hitch is the most funded water bottle of all time, raising over 2 million dollars in funding. What makes Hitch different from the hundreds of reusable water bottles in the market is that it has a removable, barista-approved coffee cup hidden inside — both full-sized, insulated, stainless steel, and leak-proof. While many people have made the switch to reusable water bottles or even coffee cups, the inconvenience of carrying both items means that most of us are still using a disposable cup for our coffee. Hitch is Certified Climate Positive and works with organizations like One Tree Planted and the Plastic Bank.
- Sanikind, the first-ever, eco-friendly refillable hand sanitizer, is the latest eco-product to fight COVID-19 and COVID-19 waste. The re-fillable sanitizer mist is made from recycled ocean-bound plastic. The Sanikind Mini refill holds 16 ounces of hand sanitizer and Sanikind’s stylish personal spray bottle clips onto a key ring. Since launching in December, they’ve reclaimed the equivalent of 118,000 plastic bottles out of the ocean and prevented over 365,000 disposable sanitizer bottles from entering landfills this year. They’ve also joined 1% for the planet, 1% of sales go towards environmental non profits.
- Bruvi is the next generation of single-serve coffee that offers noticeably tastier coffee and eco-friendly pods set to take on Keurig. Founded by former Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf CEO, Mel Elias, Bruvi’s B-Pods are not just recyclable but are designed to break down without leaving microplastics behind in a landfill environment. They’ve also eliminated adhesives and the use of water-based inks. Bruvi is first and foremost a coffee company and all of their house-brand coffees are fair trade and sustainably sourced. Bruvi is the first single-serve system to offer not only espresso and lattes, but cold brew and Matcha Lattes.
- GetEmails is an outlier to my usual client roster. My husband’s second business, GetEmails, allows people to capture anonymous traffic on their website to retarget via email and grow their email lists. Customers like Cariuma, a sustainable company from Brazil, are seeing a 20% lift in revenue by using this novel marketing strategy called Email-Based Retargeting.
I love working with my husband. He is a very thoughtful and intelligent person.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’ve worked with some incredible entrepreneurs and leaders and some not-so-great leaders. They’ve all taught me equally valuable lessons. These lessons were helpful but a few things I wish I had known before I started are:
- Choose your clients wisely. You will be working with them constantly and you want to work with intelligent, thoughtful business owners that will add value to your portfolio and your life.
- Relationships are everything in public relations. Do your best to be respectful and thoughtful in every interaction. On the other hand, know your boundaries and when people become disrespectful try not to take it personally, be professional and move on.
- It’s ok to ask for help. When my business was growing I was barely sleeping and driving myself crazy trying to do everything myself. I finally hired someone full-time and not only was I happier but my business was better for it. It’s hard to let go of every little detail of a blossoming business, so hire the right people
- Growing pains are normal. Sometimes things aren’t going to work out exactly the way you expected they would. Maybe you hired the wrong person for the job or didn’t win a dream client’s business right away. Let that go and you’ll usually find that the next thing that comes your way is a better fit.
- Trust the people you work with. You and the people that you bring on to your business are a team. It’s hard to let go of some tasks, but let them go. As you grow, trust in your employees is important. This shows respect and opens up time to do more high-level work to create a better environment for your employees and a more efficient agency for your clients.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Networking is definitely one of my favorite things, which is why I think I’ve always been drawn to public relations. I love a good party and meeting new people.
The key to networking is to think about how you can help others instead of making it all about you. In public relations, you are earning media and coverage for your clients, but you are also helping journalists with ideas for new stories.
I always like to come up with fun and interesting pitches that journalists can use as inspiration. Building proper lists and familiarizing yourself with the journalist or editor’s work you are pitching is so important for earning their respect and not wasting anyone’s time.
When you pitch the right story to the right person you are networking.
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?
My business grows through referrals. I depend on good client relationships and earning sufficient media coverage for my clients to keep them happy and in turn, they send new business my way. I started a program with my clients that if I sign a new client because of their referral I give them a free month of public relations or influencer marketing services, which is a substantial win for both of us.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I think more than books or podcasts, people have helped my career. It is very important to hire coaches and find mentors that can push you past the substantial learning curves you face when starting something new.
If I had to choose a book it would be “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Burnstein. This helped me to believe in myself and the process of starting my own public relations agency — it helped me to keep moving forward during difficult moments. You have to believe in yourself and keep pushing to hit your goals. No one else is going to do that for you.
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’ve been a sustainability and nature conservation nerd since I was a kid. I live consciously and sustainably and I hope that the way I live my life and the clients I serve can help make a difference in creating a greener and more harmonious world for future generations.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.