I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Pastrana of Mannfolk PR. Joseph Pastrana is a New York-based public relations consultant whose extensive professional experience runs the gamut of lifestyle: from fashion, art and interior design to beauty and fitness. He began his career handling international pharmaceutical companies Glaxo and Roche, and greeting card giant Hallmark Cards. For a time he was fashion director for trade publication MetroStyle where he covered seasonal Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris and Milan, reviewing collections and profiling designers such as Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Bill Blass, Roberto Cavalli, and many others.
Through his affiliation with Mannfolk PR, he has developed emerging brands and managed numerous accounts including interior designer Warren Sheets, fitness trainer Terri Walsh, and haircare line Scruples. He also acts as Editor-at-Large for New York Style Guide where his features on events, fashion, art, luxury and culture include Van Cleef & Arpels, Saks Fifth Ave, Sotheby’s, Louis Vuitton, and Patek Philippe.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For as long as I can recall it was always my intention to pursue a career in media. While I was still earning my communications degree, I hadn’t quite decided on whether to enter advertising or journalism. But during my senior year, I got a job as an assistant at a startup PR agency and the rest, as they say, is in the press release.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began?
I have so many fond memories including the thrill of seeing my first placement in print. But I think among the most significant was when I was tasked, on the first account I ever worked on, to welcome a major pharma executive client at the airport who was visiting for a medical convention. I was just a kid and I will never forget how much I appreciated the baptism-by-fire responsibility I had been given as well as the professionalism with which that client treated me. From the moment I met him at the gate to settling him into his hotel and all subsequent interactions, he was nothing but personable and in no way made me feel like the neophyte that I was.
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?
Though certain as I am that there were many, I can’t say I remember a specific one. Still, what stands out is this now rather embarrassing sense of thinking you know everything when you’re just starting out. Today I am sure my early press release drafts were way “over written”. It took time and experience to truly understand the value of brevity.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
It may be perceived as a “failing” really on my part to not prioritize “profitability” in my career. The two main factors I consider when taking on an account is the “creative” challenges and opportunities it presents and that the remuneration is acceptable, not just within industry standards but for what I know the value of my work brings to the project.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There’s always something to be excited about in any project. Otherwise, what’s the point of even being part of one? At Mannfolk PR we’re currently working on several emerging fashion, beauty and lifestyle lines that are really defining how brands have to approach business and media in this tumultuous climate.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
I have so many! My foremost advice is to really know your basics. People these days seem to misunderstand public relations and how expansive its scope really is beyond just publicity. Another is to take to heart that communication is at the core of your trade. Therefore, you should be able to determine your messaging with a sense of precision. And if people are not able to truly grasp the essence of what your brand is about and what makes it special, you are failing as a communicator.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I don’t really believe there are networking “secrets”. You just have to be a pleasant individual with a genuine interest in other people and what they do. It shouldn’t be an overriding impulse to only engage people who you feel might be beneficial to your business. They may or they may not. The reality is you never know how any professional relationship you cultivate will develop. And at the very least you still make new friends.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are so many books on communications that one should read. But biographies can be equally illuminating. I recommend Larry Tye’s “The Father of Spin” the biography of PR pioneer Edward Bernays. There’s also Andrew Tobias’ “Fire & Ice” a biography on Charles Revson, whose marketing genius propelled Revlon into an international brand.
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’ve tried to help out in various socially conscious projects from AIDS research to political causes. Right now the most important movement I can think of is to get more people involved in getting the right people elected into public service positions. And I do mean public service and not personal profit.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
*Your contacts are your lifeblood. Clients may pay the bills but your contacts are your most valuable players. Never forget that. I once encountered a contact who had moved to a new title and I was so mortified that being in a new environment made it difficult to recall her name. I kept calling her “sweetie” and snuck peaks at any correspondence on her desk to jog my memory. Eventually I did remember but it was still a lesson to take to heart that these are individuals who are important to know as people.
*(speaking of which) Know your contacts’ market/story coverage. Having worked on the other side of this media coin, there is nothing more frustrating than to keep getting pitched stories that are not in your scope of responsibilities. It such a red flag of unprofessionalism. And from the other side, there is nothing more humiliating than having an editor ask if you’ve even read their stories. And no, thank heavens that’s never happened to me.
*This is probably a no-brainer but proofread. It isn’t just a question of having proper grammar. A missing letter or punctuation can easily change the meaning of what you intended to say.
*Know the core qualities of your brand and understand how to use that in your messaging. As mentioned, I am certain I could’ve spared myself hours of drafting overly-written press releases had I known sooner to focus my message to a more concise and as a result more effective point.
*Always maintain a problem-solving approach. There will always be obstacles. But that doesn’t mean you stop at edge of a wall. Figure out a way around or over it. Otherwise, perhaps it is time to consider a different career.