I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Gold, partner at The Rose Group. Darren has been with the Rose Group for over 3 years, but doesn’t have the typical PR resume. He produced a movie that was sold to Lifetime, worked at a Fashion web site before the first internet bubble, partnered in a clothing line, and founded a go-to men’s store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Darren has been the spearhead of many creative projects and was the Chair of the West Hollywood Design District for 8 years, where he produced a yearly design event, DIEM. The Rose Group clients have included, Brookfield Property Partners, Westfield Malls, Schmidts, Campari, Skyy Vodka, Pinkberry, FIGat7th, Rip Van Wafels, Sweet Chick, Treehut, Green Helix, Where Los Angeles, Tyra Banks, Mack Avenue Records, and more.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path was actually a bit of a zig zag. I have been an entrepreneur for much of my career- first as a movie producer, then a partner in a clothing company, and finally founding a men’s concept store. I did the PR for all of those ventures, so learned the ropes and made a lot of journalist contacts just by being hands on in the PR process. I also had 2 agencies at various points while I had the store, so I experienced the client side of the coin and understand how it feels to be told the hard truth by an agency AND what it’s like get “PR’d” by a publicist, which has been helpful in dealing with my current clients. My good friend, Elana Rose, saw that I was good at the PR angle of all my businesses and had been asking me to join her company for many years, but I kept saying no. Finally, we gave it a try and I came onboard to work with 1 client, which became 2, and then 3, and hasn’t stopped growing since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I do the PR for Arts Brookfield, the largest privately-funded public arts program in the US. We do all kinds of amazing art installations, and for one, Animal Soul, a large scale inflatable sculpture show, I had to walk through the streets of DTLA in a whimsical balloon creature that had a mask that covered my eyes.. People were honking and waving. It was fun, but also a great opportunity to work closely with artist, Jason Hackenwerth and become a part of a living art installation.
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 might be a more of a dumb mistake than a funny one, but once I sent an email to a writer at Esquire, but didn’t change my email from the one I had sent GQ and it still said, would love such and such to be featured in GQ. Oops. Then I wrote another email saying sorry, typo…it was bad.
The lesson is a basic one. Slow down and read every email through once again before sending. While this is a life lesson for anyone, it is particularly critical in PR, where you are pitching multiple people the same idea over and over, and your brain begins to fry at a certain point.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
I joined the Rose Group after a period when it had been a very large agency and then scaled back. Elana and I both love to work directly with clients, so we don’t want the agency getting so big that all we do is oversee other people and aren’t getting hands on work. It is a delicate balance to bring on enough clients to stay profitable, but not lose the quality of work. So much of it is about choosing clients that you really believe in and can work well with. We have “fired” clients, because they are too much of a drain on the agency in relation to the retainer they are paying. We often analyze how many man-hours we are using for each client and comparing that to their fees. Setting a really tight scope is hugely important in staying profitable. When clients begin to like and trust you, they naturally want you to do more and more for your original fee. You have to be very careful that the work you are doing does not creep beyond the actual scope you are hired to do. Otherwise, you will be spending too many man-hours on a particular client that isn’t paying for that.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am working on the Disgusting Food Museum, which is coming to Los Angeles in December. I did the PR for the Museum of Failure last year and it was so fun, because there was such huge interest from the press and the public, and took on a life of its own once we got the original press out there. I think with DFM there will be even more interest, because while at first glance it is somewhat salacious, there is actually a huge lesson to learn about other cultures, why different people find different things disgusting, etc…
I’m also working with CBD line Green Helix. That is such an exciting industry to be a part of. There is still such an education to be done, even with the press, and I love being able to explain the differences between CBD and THC and sing the praises of all the products, which I actually use and love.
In general, I like to have clients from all different business types, so I can learn about those industries and be a part of a team of passionate people . I am a curious person, so that also keeps me from getting bored by focusing on one industry.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
As with everything else, PR is changing at a rapid pace right now. The old idea of a publicist doesn’t exist. You have to be a publicist, a marketer, an experiential event planner, a social media maven. Even if you don’t directly do all of those things for each client, they overlap, so you need to have an understanding of how they all work. That being said, I think writing and story creation is still at the center of all these media platforms. So, no matter how things change, at the end of the day, PR is all about telling compelling stories. Also, be curious and learn as much as you can. So many of our clients want us to come to the table with big ideas, so we have to be on the pulse of what’s going on in the world, so we can suggest collaborations, or ways to become part of bigger things happening out there.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I think networking comes really naturally to me and I try to keep it organic. My biggest tip would be to find something real that you can connect with people about…not necessarily selling them your client right off the bat. Then, when you follow-up with them, you have the basis for an authentic conversation. Authenticity is so important. People usually know when they are being PR’d.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I don’t know if there is a specific book in regards to PR, but I do read a lot. I read a lot of magazines and newspapers. I like to see what people are writing about and the kinds of stories that are trending.
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 would love to inspire a movement that promoted listening. I see so much anger and in the way people talk about things, especially politics. I would love to have people find a different way to have conversations about things they don’t agree on. A conversation of kindness, understanding, compassion, and humility. I’ve had to teach myself that even in regards to work, where I can get very passionate about my ideas. It’s so much more productive to listen than talk sometimes.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1. As a publicist, you often have to create the story. Being a cool brand isn’t enough to pique the interest of writers with so much great stuff out there. I’ve had some of the best traction when I spoon-fed a story to a writer. I was working with a healthy snack brand, and we came up with the idea of doing a story on how to take your coffee to the next level with our snack as the featured brand. We also had to include other brands, so the story didn’t seem like an ad. We often use benevolent marketing to get our stories told in a bigger context.
2. Clients love to hear your big ideas, but don’t necessarily want to execute them. I had a client who was obsessed with seeing how we thought about things, but never wanted to spend the money to produce anything. We spent days coming up with amazing creative ideas and the client was actually happy with just basic traditional pitching. This can be very frustrating, but I’ve learned to accept it as part of the process, and it is a great exercise in seeing what your client’s boundaries are in terms of thinking and in terms of budget.
3. Find the best writer for a story. We do so much research on writers and editors. Sometimes when a great pitch isn’t working, it’s because it’s not getting into the hands of the right person. 75% of the battle is pitching the right people.
4. Memorialize everything. This may seem tedious, but it is so important in this industry. I often feel like I am writing redundant emails, but in PR, you are the first blamed when something doesn’t go right, a product fails, or there is little interest. Communicating strategies, discussions, and concerns in writing is a huge element in client relations. I had a client once who planned a big event that was not a success. There were many reasons in advance we knew that it might not fly, so my team sent various emails during the planning process expressing our concerns, so the client couldn’t turn around and hold us responsible for the failure. That being said, we also like to suggest solutions in these cases and not just point out what won’t work. There’s no point in bringing up negative feedback without ideas for the antidote.
5. If you pitch 100 writers, you can consider yourself successful if you get 7 potential stories and 3 actual hits. The statistics in PR can be really depressing, but it is sometimes a numbers game. The media industry is so specific right now; many outlets write very specific columns, and cover only super trending stories at any given time. It takes the combination of a good story, the right timing, and some persistence to stay top of mind without being a nag. If you accept that this is how it works, it doesn’t become so overwhelming.