Publicist Rockstars: “This business is about relationships, build them” With Nicole Cueto, VP at Agent of Change

“This business is about relationships, build them– there’s nothing more important in this business than your relationships. You can be the…

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“This business is about relationships, build them– there’s nothing more important in this business than your relationships. You can be the best writer, pitcher, comms strategist or anything else, but if you don’t have solid relationships, your career won’t really go anywhere. And on that note, don’t burn bridges…everyone in this industry knows each other and the word will spread like wildfire!”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Cueto, VP of Media Relations at Agent of Change, an agency dedicated to telling the tech, fintech and startup narratives. A longtime PR pro, Nicole has worked all angles of PR, from Capitol Hill to the corporate sector, and everything in between. As a licensed, non-practicing attorney, Nicole brings a different perspective to her career and clients.

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?

Curiosity brought me down this path that I would’ve never have imagined. I was in my final semester of law school and though so many of my colleagues were securing their next moves as lawyers, I still wasn’t convinced that becoming an attorney was the career path for me. I met the Mayor of my hometown at a law school event and was intrigued by his “Green” policy. I asked him if there was an opportunity for an internship in his office and to my surprise, he offered me a role, mostly doing constituent work and some communications work. And that was the beginning to the rest of my career to date which included a stint as the Communications Director for a Member of Congress on Capitol Hill, a Press Secretary for Mayor Bill De Blasio, the Global PR Director for an international organization, and most recently the VP of Media Relations for a Manhattan-based PR firm.

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

There have been so many great experiences I’ve encountered in my career as a PR professional, but one of the ones that is at the forefront of my mind is being able to attend the State of the Union address in 2014 when President Obama was in office. As I was the one in charge of staffing my boss for press opportunities, I was granted special access to the Capitol and was surrounded by some of the most important people in the world. I’m not star struck often, but to be so close (and interacting with) some of the world’s greatest changemakers, was beyond memorable!

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?

One of the funniest things that happened to me was when one of my former bosses (a male) used to love to wear all kinds of scarves and a specific, well-known outlet called me questioning his fashion choices. I had to think quick on my feet. I ended up saying “Hey, they’re functional and fashionable” and that’s the quote that stuck and my boss praised me for it!

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

I’m currently working on a lot of tech, fintech and startup projects. Seeing as though our world is becoming completely digitized, centered around apps, and being led by completely innovating creations, I love working with these clients because it helps set the tone for my own personal future, as well as my professional future. Although it is an incredibly steep learning curve, I’m loving every minute of it and soaking in as much information as I possibly can to be the best professional version of myself as I possibly can be!

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

PR means so many things these days. The first piece of advice is to consider what aspect of PR you want to get into. School and the real world are two very different places with two very different definitions of PR, but the good thing is, the opportunity and options are endless, and you can really write your own ticket if you play your cards right and align yourself with the right people and opportunities. Another piece of advice is that almost every industry needs PR, so if there is a specific topic/industry you are personally interested in, I would target those companies and see if they are hiring, and if not, reach out anyway and make yourself known…you never know what the future holds!

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

I can’t stress networking enough. I’ve always told my mentees “Your network is your net worth”. My advice is to put yourself out there as much as possible, both digitally and in-person. It is important to build relationships and nurture those relationships, not only with reporters, but other professionals, PR and non, alike. Find a mentor, someone who knows the industry and the people in it. If you show interest and initiation, most mentors will be happy to help you connect with the right people, in the right spaces. Finally, don’t limit yourself to one space or industry. There is a lot of movement, and sometimes even overlap, in the world of PR. Think outside the box when considering who you want to socialize and build relationships with. And if you want even more tips, you can read my LinkedIn post on networking, here!

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

Honestly, the best book that has helped me is not a book at all, but a personal collection of tidbits and pieces of advice I’ve collected over the years from industry pros. I’m a bit old school and like seeing things printed and in my face, so I have a folder with different quotes, sayings and personal pieces of advice people have sent me throughout the course of my career that I like to look back on every so often!

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’m a huge advocate of animal welfare and truly believe they make us greater human beings. If I could inspire a movement, I’d bring shelter animals as part of a partner program in to more institutions like prisons, hospitals, schools, elder facilities and even work spaces. It’s amazing what animals can do to help our psyche and help us heal from whatever it is each of us is personally dealing with. They are very therapeutic in the simplest, but most efficient, of ways!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Don’t take things personally– It is really easy to feel like the world is against you as a PR pro. It is a very cut-throat industry. But you must develop thick skin if you want to thrive and survive.

2. Go out of your way to be nice & help people, but always keep your guard up– the more help you offer, the more help you’ll get (usually), but don’t get caught in a situation where someone mistakes your kindness for weakness.

3. This business is about relationships, build them– there’s nothing more important in this business than your relationships. You can be the best writer, pitcher, comms strategist or anything else, but if you don’t have solid relationships, your career won’t really go anywhere. And on that note, don’t burn bridges…everyone in this industry knows each other and the word will spread like wildfire!

4. Think outside the box– With the way the world of PR has transformed and changed over the last few years, the world is your oyster if you let it be. Sure, there are tons of traditional career options, but there are also tons of unconventional options as well, explore those!

5. Don’t consider yourself a Comms pro, you’re a storyteller– When you think about what it means to be a PR pro, you’ll realize it’s about telling a story and building the “human factor” into the narrative. If you take that approach, you will always have a “news worthy” story, that will almost always get picked up. People like human connection and those are the stories that lead!

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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