I had the pleasure of interviewing Olga Gonzalez, a communications specialist and gemologist with over ten years of experience within the jewelry trade. The CEO/Founder of Pietra PR, she applies “think outside of the box” strategies for designer jewelry brands, manufacturing companies, trade non-profits, diamond grading laboratories, and other companies related to the gem & jewelry industry, both B2B and B2C. A certified gemologist (FGA DGA) and jewelry appraiser, Olga Gonzalez is the Immediate Past President of PRSA-NY and Director of Networking for the Women’s Jewelry Association NY Metro Chapter. She is a regular contributor to trade and consumer publications on gem and jewelry-related topics.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time when it all clicked. In graduate school, I was living in London, working as an intern in the curatorial department of The Goldsmiths’ Company. There, I had the opportunity to organize a press preview event for the Treasures of Today exhibition. It was my first experience combining my favorite things — metal and jewelry met personal relationships, and I found it exciting to work with editors, follow-up, and get them excited about the art, convincing them to attend the preview and write about the exhibition. At the end of my internship, the curator at the time sat me down and said “jewelry is your calling.” I loved public relations from my experience there, so from then on jewelry PR was what I wanted to do.
While finishing up my thesis, I began working with the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), the longest established gem educator in the world, and was put in charge of the directive for PR, marketing and events to celebrate Gem-A’s 100th anniversary in 2008. A full rebranding campaign accompanied a year of celebratory events, and I delved into the PR world in London, working to highlight the association’s work and members.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
On a fall evening in 2015, I got a call from the Immediate Past President and head of the nominating committee for PRSA-NY. The Public Relations Society of America is the largest professional organization for communications in the US, and I was serving my first year on the board of the New York chapter, as a Director. When I got the call, my assumption was that they wanted to discuss me working closer with our student chapters (PRSSA), as I had hinted to some members that I was very interested in working with and young professionals coming into the PR industry — both with mentoring and creating events and opportunities for them to networking more with mid to senior level professionals in the chapter.
Instead, I was told the nominating committee wanted to put my name forward on the slate for President-Elect. I told them I was sorry, but they had the wrong number…except they apparently did not! Fast-forward a few years and it has been one of the great privileges of my life to serve on the PRSA-NY board. My favorite part was chairing the first 15 Under 35 Awards, which celebrates up-and-coming talent and gives honorees exceptional professional development and leadership opportunities. Next year will be the 4th year we hold the annual awards, and it is exciting to watch it not only grow, but thrive. For example, one of the honorees from the inaugural awards is going to be President-Elect next year, which is incredible to see and support.
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?
If you go to a jewelry trade show, don’t ever think about showing up ANYWHERE with chipped nails. At my first US trade show, I showed up with a paint-chipped situation and I got schooled. Everyone is looking at what you are wearing (jewelry-wise). Lesson learned — always travel with polish.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
When starting a business and building up clientele, it is key to keep overhead as low as possible. For me, it was important to have full control of the business, and always be in the black. I was lucky because I had been doing freelance PR while working full-time before starting a business, and those clients convinced me to start my own company in the first place. It was never my plan to be an entrepreneur. Because I already had clients, my business was profitable from the beginning, though in day-to-day life I spent very little to keep it that way. Any money made went back into the business — especially for trade show travel, memberships, and education.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I am working on both a fashion + design and inaugural gemstone conference, which is very exciting. I love working with conferences, exhibitions, and events — anything where you can invite editors to step out of the office, meet and greet, and enjoy interesting conversation and beautiful art. In addition, I work with some of the most talented and incredible jewelry designers out there. As a certified gemologist (FGA DGA), my clients know that I really appreciate stones and understand their chemistry, properties, and style. It is a treat to work with talented, award-winning artists to help build their businesses.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Be niche. The industry is competitive, and you are valuable as an expert in your field. Whether your passion is fashion, sustainability, non-profit, crisis communications, animal health, sports —
the possibilities are endless, but delve into a category and know it inside and out, not just on paper. Know all the players, from the makers, to the executive assistants, to the CEOs.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I love networking, and sure! I think the key to great networking is to ask questions and listen. People like to talk about what they are doing. Ask them about their work, ask them about their personal lives, and actually care to build relationships. It isn’t enough to go to networking events — you need to keep in touch, have coffee, and send thoughtful notes. Also, if networking isn’t your thing, get a networking buddy for accountability! Go together and invite each other to things. Like the gym, sometimes it is easier to get into the groove when you have someone to work at it with you.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
For me, the bible has given me the principles that I live by in my career. At the end of the day, it is all about love. By treating others the way one wants to treated there’s a path to a fulfilled and balanced life. We all have many dimensions to us, but what truly matters in life is our relationships. So much success in PR has to do with having strong relationships. That all starts with everyday kindness.
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 a first-generation Latina — my parents are from Puerto Rico, and I love that island. If I could start a movement, I would encourage people to invest in Puerto Rico. It used to have a thriving jewelry industry, and I grew up with grandparents that ran a beautiful coffee farm in the mountains, where we had more produce (bananas, oranges, etc.) than we could export. There are incredible tax incentives; the people are hard-working and intelligent (inc. bilingual!), and the island is beautiful. Puerto Rico is a gateway, and it had the misfortune of sustaining a natural disaster that critically changed the lives of our citizens there. There is opportunity and it is a win-win to believe in it, invest in it, and bring businesses and jobs to La Isla del Encanto.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
People come first. Make sure that everyone that works with you and supports your business is cared for. Make sure they are eating their lunch. Make sure they get enough sleep. Make sure they take time off when they need it. If your team’s well-being is in the right place and they are happy, everything else will fall into place.
~I’ve had people work with me that will not eat/take a break. They get so caught up in working hard that they lose all sense of time. I’ll stop them and tell them to go get food and come back in an hour, or if I suspect they aren’t eating, I’ll sometimes order in for the team online.
Work hours are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when you have your own business. The idea of mentally checking out at 5pm is non-existent for business owners.
~My clients have my mobile, and they use it at all hours. Most of them have their own businesses too, and there is an understanding that we all work at strange hours. Sometimes, it is when the best inspiration comes along.
Pick up the phone and ask someone out. Is there a publication you want to get your client in? Find the editor you want to have a relationship with, and take them out to lunch. Stop the endless pitching and get to know them first. If they say no, keep trying. Eventually their schedule will free up for some tapas bonding.
~Relationships are built at tables. Think of your friends and family…you eat together. Everyone loves good food.
Have accountability for late payments. Being able to collect payments in a timely matter is critical to business cash flow. After I included a fee for late invoice payments, it has never been an issue again.
~ Every business owner has dealt with clients not paying at some point. It isn’t fun, but an accountability system to reduce the risk of that happening is key.
When going into a pitch, or even a job interview, if applicable — wear the brand’s product.
~This is something subtle that people pay attention to. I look for people that love accessories, since at Pietra PR we focus on jewelry PR, and I notice those who wear them and don’t. If I am pitching a client that designs with pearls, I wear pearls. If they design with gold, I wear gold etc. It makes them comfortable to know I am a consumer and advocate for a product like theirs.