Agency life will be a grind, but you will be thankful later. Agency life taught me unparallelled time management. At the agencies early in my career, I had to fill out daily time sheets in 15-minute intervals. It trained me to be efficient and extremely productive with my day.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Zamost of Zamost Public Relations. Zamost runs a small, results-driven public relations firm. She has developed publicity programs for a wide range of clients including Guide Dogs for the Blind, Noah’s NY Bagels, Sutter Home Winery, Boys & Girls Clubs, 7-Eleven, Beyond Differences, Minnesota Street Project, Ghirardelli Square, Thorne Research, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, The San Francisco Recording Academy, The Clorox Company, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Tesser, The Hot Flashes film, General Growth Properties, Rainforest Café, Warren Miller Entertainment, Macerich, The Animation Show, Stanford University Hospital and Let the Sunshine In Concert, featuring Sting, Bob Weir and an all-star line-up. Zamost also was part of the public relations team on The Bay Lights, and Impossible Light, the documentary about how The Bay Lights became possible.
Zamost has placed clients on national news programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, Better TV, NPR, CNBC, MSNBC and more. Print placements have included USA Today, USA Weekend, Parade, New York Times, Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Redbook, LA Times, Bon Appetit, AP, InStyle, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Woman’s Day, Woman’s World, Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle.
In 2008, Zamost won the highest honor from the Public Relations Society of America, The Silver Anvil Award, for her work on the Simpsons Kwik-E-Mart conversion of 7-Eleven to cross-promote 7-Eleven stores with the premiere of the Simpsons film.
Prior to starting Zamost Public Relations in 1991, she held positions at Edelman Public Relations, Duffey Communication, and Kennedy Sanger.
She studied literature and contemporary British theatre at University College, Oxford University in England, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Emory University in Atlanta. She also is the author of Handstands in the Sand, a children’s book.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was an English major in college at Emory University and my advisor recommended that I interview for an internship at CNN, which was in its early years. Because the network was so young, they allowed (and needed) interns to do a lot of hands-on work. I was pre-interviewing guests, editing and writing copy for scripts. I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes work and was very interested to learn that PR firms helped shape a lot of the stories that were on the air. Working at a news network also let me experience the manic pace inside a newsroom.
When I was interviewing for jobs, my first boss, Paul Sanger, keyed in on my work at CNN and asked me about all of the story prep I did. I credit him for recognizing something in me and giving me my first break. I stayed at Kennedy Sanger for 4–5 years, got incredible experience, traveled internationally for work and logged crazy, long days. From there, I worked at Duffey Communications and then Edelman PR in San Francisco before going out on my own.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The thing I love the most about my field is that every day is new and interesting. I’ve learned about so many different industries and been fortunate to work with amazing companies that are leaders in their field and nonprofit organizations that are making the world a better place.
One story that comes to mind is from 2009 when I was approached to work Let the Sunshine In, a sold-out charity concert produced by Narada Michael Walden to raise money for Christopher Rodriguez, a boy who had been shot by random gunfire while taking piano lessons in Oakland. While sitting in one of our meetings to discuss the event details and logistics, Carlos Santana surprised us to give the group an inspirational speech on pulling off this magical event. It energized our team in the most amazing way and moved all of us to tap our creativity and feel collective gratitude to make the event the best we could.
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 is only funny in retrospect. At the time, I was mortified.
I was assigned to write the proposal for a new business pitch that our team would pitch. The writing part was not a problem, but I made a rookie mistake and memorized my section of the presentation. When it was my turn to speak, nerves got to me and I forgot where I was in the program. Because I was spitting back information verbatim vs. really knowing what I was talking about, I froze and could not pick up where I left off. Fortunately, my team carried the rest of my portion (and we got the business), but I learned a very valuable lesson that day. I needed to use key points to explain rather than try to memorize pages word-for-word. And, I needed to take a deep breath and relax. All of that has helped going forward and building my business.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
After working for three agencies, I went out on my own in 1991. In the early days, I went to business networking events on a regular basis and took every project I could secure to build my business. Also, I tapped into my alumni network from Edelman. Many of my co-workers went from agency to in-house PR and hired me to do projects for them at large companies like Pizza Hut, Clorox and Stanford Medical Center. I worked hard to parlay projects into annual retainers and always gave my clients personalized attention. I also collaborated with other small PR companies like mine to win larger pieces of business. It took about two years to feel comfortable in my new role as a business owner, but each year, my business grew. After about 3–4 years, I hired a few seasoned freelancers to help me with my client workload, but I have always handled at least 50 percent of the work on every account I have had since 1991. For the last several years, Brad Hennig, an incredibly talented writer and brilliant marketing professional, and I have partnered on several accounts. Also, I am part of a national network of independent PR firms called USPR, founded by some of the PR professionals with whom I worked when I handled PR and promotions for 7-Eleven in Northern California.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently, I work with two life-changing nonprofit organizations: Beyond Differences and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Beyond Differences inspires students at middle schools nationwide to end social isolation and create a culture of belonging for everyone. They’ve developed free programs and curriculum — Know Your Classmates™, No One Eats Alone®, and Be Kind Online™ — to help teachers reinforce the message of inclusion. Beyond Differences was founded in 2010 and piloted its first No One Eats Alone Day in just a handful of schools. Today, more than 5,000 schools in all 50 states use Beyond Differences programs and impact millions of students,
Guide Dogs for the Blind is the largest guide dog school in North America. The nonprofit trains highly qualified dogs to serve and empower individuals who are visually impaired, More than 14,000 guide teams have graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind since it was founded in 1942.
I also work with a variety of consumer products, one of which, Thorne Research, is leading the way in nutritional science and personalized health.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
You need the following skills:
• Solid writing skills
• Understanding of the ever-changing media landscape
• Quick study
• A creative writer and filled with ideas
• Great communications (verbal) skills
• Work well under pressure
• Proficient juggler
If you have all of these skills, you may have found a career path that will keep you engaged for many years.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
You should view everything you do as a potential networking opportunity. From chatting with someone at a dinner party or on a plane to engaging with people at business functions, all of these encounters can lead to work.
Two networking tips:
- Be a great listener: Understanding other businesses and taking time to listen is a valuable skill to connect with other business professionals who can refer business to you.
- Get involved in your community: Volunteering your time is just part of being a good person, but it also connects you to other people who want to “do good” in the world. Many of those people can be good resources for you as you grow your business.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff reminded me of what’s really important and how to manage work/life better, particularly during highly stressful periods — which occur frequently in PR.
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?
I am already working with a program that is inspiring youth to end social isolation and build a more inclusive culture in their schools and communities. I think that if we lived in a world where everyone accepted one another for who they are, we would see less violence and more unity.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Agency life will be a grind, but you will be thankful later. Agency life taught me unparallelled time management. At the agencies early in my career, I had to fill out daily time sheets in 15-minute intervals. It trained me to be efficient and extremely productive with my day.
2. I would learn so much about so many different fields. Being a successful publicist includes being a quick-study because of the variety of clients you will encounter throughout your career. The ongoing education is a wonderful bonus.
3. There will be sleepless nights. With so many deadlines and juggling different projects and events, it’s tough to avoid occasional whirly brain. I have lost a lot of sleep fretting about press event details, new business presentations, and product launches.
4. I will love working in PR and never want to leave. Everything about this career choice was suited for me — from the writing, creativity, events and media relations to crisis communications, media training and learning about so many different industries, it’s been a perfect fit.
5. It would open my eyes and my heart. Through this field, I have been exposed to an extraordinary number of cause-related projects that have filled my heart and soul with so much love and respect for others and reminded me to have gratitude every single day.