Publicist Rockstars: “PR is more than just the pitch” with Erica Knight

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Knight. Erica’s experience as a public relations professional has taken her from coast to coast, and even overseas. As a student at Arizona State University, Erica traveled to Spain where she became interested in how international companies market to different cultures. After graduating from ASU with a double […]

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Knight. Erica’s experience as a public relations professional has taken her from coast to coast, and even overseas. As a student at Arizona State University, Erica traveled to Spain where she became interested in how international companies market to different cultures. After graduating from ASU with a double major in business communications and Spanish, Erica worked for a Scottsdale athlete management firm.

Working with high profile NFL athletes, she mastered the business of media relations working directly with media outlets like ESPN, the Today Show and Dr. Oz and sponsors like Gatorade, Kellogg’s and 24 Fitness. After four years, Erica worked at a Scottsdale PR and marketing firm where she managed and built her own PR department.

In April 2015, Erica and her husband Cody started The Knight Agency, with the desire to share their values — integrity, informed results and authentic relationships — with local Arizona and national clients. The Knight Agency has grown to a nationally-respected firm with clients in the hospitality, culinary, lifestyle, beauty and technology industries. She has grown her agency with the simple principle of doing business with integrity and always working to fulfill any promises made to clients. Erica brings a fresh perspective having grown an agency at a young age while working with an extremely diverse portfolio of clients and building one of the top PR teams in Arizona.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for taking the time opportunity to interview with you! Public relations, for me, wasn’t a dream I grew up with. During my junior year of college at Arizona State University, after spending two years in the business school on a marketing track, I knew I had to step back and make sure I figured out where my passions were. Writing was something I always knew I had a talent for, so I chose to stay in the business school in a new program they had created focused on business journalism. When I graduated, I started working for a sports agency representing high-profile athletes and was thrown into huge national campaigns at a young age. I traveled frequently and met talented journalists and personalities across the country, and knew that the fast-paced, ever-changing world of PR was my destiny. After working with some of the top agencies in the world on media campaigns, I decided that one day I would own my own, so I went and started working with an established agency in Scottsdale to understand the management side of the business. Once confident that I could succeed, my husband and I co-founded The Knight Agency, a boutique public relations firm specializing in hospitality, culinary, lifestyle, beauty, commercial real estate and events. and we have been focused on growing that business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

We are hands-on agency and part of our philosophy is to really jump in and get to know our clients. One of our long-term clients is Burns Pest Elimination, a large pest control company in the Southwest region, and part of our initial discovery with them was to spend a day shadowing a technician. We spent the day in gas masks, traveling from one crazy situation to another. I came back and got glammed up with another client and spent the evening supporting one of my employees at the Miss Arizona pageant. The work of PR isn’t always glamorous, but it is so important that we work as hard as we can for our clients, and always show up.

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?

I am not sure if this counts as one “mistake” but being really young and thrown into this crazy PR world before the age of iPhones and Instagram, I did a lot of really cool things without documenting it or really understanding the magnitude of my connections. There was one day where within the same hour met Barbara Walters and the real Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog on the set of The View, and didn’t even get a photo! I doubt that anyone would get away with that these days, but I don’t think I fully took advantage of the situations I was in, and have learned to be better about connecting with those around me. In PR, you always have to be one step ahead and always be thinking of how you can leverage situations for your current and future clients.

How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.

We are unique in that we started our business with a few employees and not one account. It was essential for us to figure it out, and figure it out very quickly because a lot of people’s lives depended on our success. My husband, who co-founded The Knight Agency with me, is one of the best in sales and business development out there. He comes from a corporate background in transportation and has helped scale large companies in the past. This allowed me to focus on really refining the operation, and making sure we were producing the best service we possibly could. Growth will always be a focus, but determination allowed us to become profitable in a couple of months. When we opened our doors, we decided that we would always do things with integrity, work hard and not make promises that we couldn’t keep. This resulted in a lot of long hours and a lot of work, but we were quickly able to gain a good reputation in an industry where there can be a lot of negative. We worked hard for anyone that would give us the opportunity, and over the years began refining and understanding what we were great at, and sticking to that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We love food, fashion, fun, and technology — as well as the combination of all four. Scottsdale League for the Arts hosts the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, which is the longest-running culinary festival in the country, and our team is lucky enough to be helping them this year. We love to be creative and it has given us a chance to work on some really fun events for a good cause. Another one of our clients, Jake’s Unlimited, just won the Top Family Entertainment Center in the World at the IAAPA conference, so that’s pretty amazing. Our team has been working diligently to help Jake’s Unlimited with a re-brand and to continue to gain recognition in the FEC space. To top it off, one of our longest clients, RAR Hospitality, continues to grow its portfolio of over 20 hotels, and we are so excited to be a part of their journey.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

PR is a demanding job — I read somewhere that it was one of the top 10 most stressful jobs in America, somewhere alongside firefighters and ER surgeons. That being said, each day brings a new and exciting adventure. It is a job that you truly have to love to be good at. I would highly suggest anyone considering the career path to find an internship that allows for hands-on experience. Our internship program is set up like a mentorship, in that we pair all of our interns with an Account Executive and allow them to dive into their accounts and learn how the PR world really works. Sometimes we will have interns that find their passions (and we love to hire these people), and sometimes we have people that realize it isn’t for them. The best thing you can do is jump in, give it your all and really understand for yourself if you can hang in this fast-paced environment.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Everywhere you go is an opportunity to make great connections whether it be the post office, grocery store or doctor’s office. Connecting the dots for clients can create the added value that allows you to retain them for years. Strike up conversations wherever you are, and always be thinking of how different people can benefit one another. For true networking events, I always go with a purpose. Try to find out who might be there and who you should meet ahead of time. If possible, connect with the individuals who are putting on the event, make sure they know your story and ask them to connect you with anyone that may be relevant to 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?

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is the Rise Podcast by Rachel Hollis — she also wrote a great book called Girl, Wash Your Face. Not necessarily a traditional business podcast, but as a fellow Mompreneur, I think it’s really important to understand how to succeed in all areas in life. Recently, things have gotten so much better, but there’s still a long way to go in the world when it comes to supporting women in their careers. There is so much judgment out there, and I think it’s so important, as women, that we support each other. PR is a definitely a female-driven industry, and I think as women, we do believe a lot of lies the world tells us. It is so important to get up each day, accept the challenge, live whatever life you decide is the one YOU want to live and not apologize for it.

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 think it’s important when you think about helping others, to make sure you are doing something that you are passionate about. For me, my soft spot is helping mom business owners, as I feel like that is a group that suffers the most judgment and criticism in the workforce. It’s also a group that you don’t quite understand until you join it. Countless times I have been told that you can’t be as successful with little kids or you can’t be great at everything. Over and over again, I won’t accept this. I had recently been inspired to work with local business owners who are moms to see how we can support each other. I would love to create a movement where moms can come together and share their businesses and ideas. Being a mom makes me better at my job, and having my job makes me a better mom. There is so much judgment in the world, and people just need to do what they feel is best for their lives, and not feel sorry for it.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Do your research, and then do your research again. In the digital age, it is so easy for people to get lost behind a computer screen, yet it is so easy to go the extra step and make connections with journalists that will lead to stories. By taking the extra five minutes to check out someone’s recent articles or even Instagram and actually connecting with the person you are pitching, it can make the difference in the placements you get.
  2. PR is more than just the pitch. A good PR person knows how to connect the dots for their clients in more areas than just great placements. These days, clients expect so much more, so I being a great writer isn’t enough. A great PR person is thinking about these things around the clock, and it’s often the difference in keeping a client long term.
  3. Pay attention to other boring business classes in college. As an ambitious PR pro, I was led to start my own business, which means accounting, financial planning, human resources, business management, etc. Suddenly those things become one of the most important things about your job. Being well-versed and well-rounded in those areas can help you succeed in business.
  4. Learn to manage your time, then learn to breathe. As mentioned, PR is a stressful job. Tackle on a young family on top of that, and life can be a little crazy. Learning to be a prioritize tasks can be a lifesaver, and when life gets crazy, do a little yoga and breathe through it. Then go back and check things off that to-do list. Sometimes people tell me I can’t do it all, but I call bullcrap on that one.
  5. Don’t take everything at face value, don’t trust everything you hear and always have a plan B. When I first started my career, I believed everything that everyone told me they were going to do, thought every client would stay forever and didn’t really think about what would happen if that wasn’t the case. It is important to prepare for all scenarios because sadly enough, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. I have seen a lot of bad values around, and it has become a really important pillar at The Knight Agency to only make promises you can keep, and do all things with integrity.
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