New Zealand native Lisa Smith has always had a knack for PR and applied it to her career, whether it was running a successful PR agency in Australia (where she also wrote a book, Bondi Style, and ran a site that sold Australian products), or working freelance in the same sector in NYC, which is when the idea for her current business, The PR Net, was born. Lisa believes in the strength of micro communities, so she created one for her peers. The PR Net is a networking site and event-oriented group for professionals in the PR/marketing/editorial space and it’s about to expand into its third city. Social media has broken down the decades-old norms of these practices, which is something Lisa constantly addresses. Today, she believes collaboration is more important than considering your competition. Here, her story.
What is PR Net? Who did you create it for? We’re a members’ network for people working mainly in marketing, communications and media and adjacent industries.
What we do can be broken down into two buckets. One is our events programming, which serves two purposes. It’s venue discovery. Each month or a couple times a month, we gather at a new venue that’s just opened–hotels, members’ clubs, restaurants, and other event spaces, to highlight a new place that we feel should be on the radar of the community.
Then it also serves a networking purpose because you’re gathering together like-minded peers. It means that you can be meeting people from complementary fields, and you can potentially forge partnerships or just talk shop. Even friendships have been forged through those events.
We also do some events with a cultural element. Every year we’ll do something at the Armory Show, for example. Or, when Louis Vuitton had their exhibition late last year, we hosted a private event there.
Then, the other part to it is the website and the newsletter, which has a lot of content focused around those industries. It’s listings of upcoming events, photo galleries from events, profiles on industry leaders, special members offers, and a journal with thought leadership pieces, op-eds about industry trends, and lighthearted pieces.
What led you to launch The PR Net? I’ve always worked broadly in the PR marketing space. About six years ago while I was on a freelance contract at the PR agency Black Frame, they wanted me to find partners for some upcoming fashion week events and look for venues. The nature of PR was starting to change and become more about partnerships and collaborations, and not as much just pitching media. At the time, the industry media and networking events didn’t feel modern–they felt very corporate and kind of staid.
This led me to think, ‘maybe there’s something there.’ So, I started casually meeting up with other friends who worked in the industry and asking them, ‘What would be useful to you?’ Initially, the idea was to have an online resource. We had the site built and we kicked it off with a networking breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel, which had just opened.
An amazing group of people that came to that first event. The hotel’s PR director was thrilled and it resulted in quite a bit of new business for them. Subsequently, we became a roving group of people that moved around new places that were opening.
The events piece is such a huge part of what we do now and that’s quite a compelling thing. Now that everything’s so digital, and we’re just constantly locked into our email and social media, it’s refreshing. And, I think it has a lot of salience, actually meeting someone in real life and having a conversation with them.
It goes into what we once talked about–creating these micro-communities and bringing people together, and why it seems so important now. We need it. It doesn’t feel like we have the time, but it’s important to make the time. I don’t think people create the strength of relationship with someone via email that they would if they actually sat down and face-to-face met them and had a conversation.
Looking back, what did you take from your career before and apply to what you’re doing now? I needed to have that background in the PR and marketing space to be able to do what I do with The PR Net. Like any industry, it’s quite nuanced. To have an industry network, you need to be uniquely positioned in that you need the background in the industry, but you can’t be operating that business at the same time, because it might be perceived as a conflict.
Because of social media, marketing and PR have changed drastically. What do you think are the upsides? What have been the downsides? I am going to focus on the positives first. I think a big change that we’ve seen is there’s more collaboration. People are utilizing partnerships as a vehicle for their work in that space. I think social media’s helped to lift the veil on what I think, historically has been a relatively secretive industry. Now it’s much more open. I think people are happy to share their intel and chat with one another and see each other as potential collaborators, not competitors. It’s important to understand what everybody’s working on. If I know what you’re working on with your company or clients, then I can share what I’m doing and maybe there’s some great synergy there.
I also think that now there are more diverse career paths for people. I mean, who would’ve thought all these influencers now are forging these careers in an industry that didn’t really exist ten years ago. It always blows my mind how many thousands of people there are doing this.
A downside is a lot of people have been laid off because of this rapid change. There was a certain status quo for a long time and then, as that whole paradigm has shifted, trying to reinvent yourself and reestablish a career in a different sort of playing field, I think that’s really tricky.
When you launched The PR Net what came easiest for you? People were very willing to help in terms of providing introductions, connections, and referrals. I find New Yorkers are great with that. I think because many of us have had to come from somewhere else, we know the struggle of when you are starting something out here. It can be tough. So, I find people here very willing to open up their proverbial Rolodex and really pay it forward. The PR Net couldn’t have gotten off the ground without all of that. To this day, most of our business comes through word of mouth and referrals.
What’s been the hardest? I knew it was going to be tough. I had a PR agency when I was in Sydney, and I knew the first couple years would be rocky. It’s definitely a steep learning curve. Getting that initial momentum is the toughest part. Once you have an established entity things become easier. Now that we’re just on four years in, we have a lot more inbound interest and inbound traffic.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: Perseverance and being consistent and diligent with all of my follow-ups. And not letting go. I don’t know if this is to a fault. Also I think I’ve learned to be bold. I don’t attach any ego to anything. I’ll send the email, I’ll ask somebody. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Three words that describe The PR Net: The first one that springs to mind for PR Net is collaboration–that underpins everything from the network. I’d also say inspiration because it’s going to inspiring places, meeting inspiring people. The third element is information–understanding the lay of the land of what’s happening in our industry and learning from one another.
Three words that describe you: I sound very boring, but I would say I’m reliable. I’m punctual to the nth degree. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to call you, I’m going to turn up, I have a very strong standard for myself to do it.
I guess you could also describe me as a connector. I facilitate a number of introductions and connections on a daily basis. It’s just the nature of PR Net. We’re a little bit like a concierge. People will email us, ‘Do you know anyone who does x, y, z?’ Or, ‘Do you have any recommendations for something?’ So it’s a lot of connections. I really enjoy that piece of it.
Then people tell me I’m pretty easy going, which I think is a New Zealand/Australian thing. We tend to be a little bit more easy going, perhaps, than maybe the average New Yorker.
Role models: I wouldn’t say it’s one singular individual. A lot of women inspire me, from a Hillary Clinton level down to just a regular person that I meet day to day. I think anyone who is in their personal and professional life trying to advance feminism as a cause, trying to forge women as a whole forward to have greater equality and opportunity, those people really inspire me. And, honestly, it’s the every man or every woman out there who doesn’t have an easy life. They have, maybe, some tough circumstances they’re going through, or just their lot in life is tough. But they do it with grace and good humor.
Best career advice you’ve received or would share with somebody else: This is definitely very tied into what I do, but to leverage your network. Utilize people that you know, ask them for introductions. Whether you’re looking for a job or you are trying to start a new business, even if you have a job or a business. Because people get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day, and if you have a relationship with someone, they’re more likely, obviously, to pick up your email.
And be aware of your competition, but don’t let that deviate from your vision. I used to have much more of an eye on what everyone else was doing in a similar space. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily helpful. I think you just have to keep that vision of what you’re offering, and what your goal is and mission. That will help lead you.
What do you think has been your biggest success? I would say my biggest challenge, and probably still a work in progress, is reestablishing myself pretty much from scratch in New York. I previously had had a business in Australia and I was pretty established there. Then, when I came here that really didn’t seem to mean much. Eight years later, I would say that has been a huge challenge, and definitely something that I feel I’m now getting a little bit of a grasp on and feeling like I’m in a good groove with it.
I suppose as far as success on a personal level, I’m very happy with the relationships I have with my family and close friends. My two best friends I’ve been friends with–one I think 19 years, and the other’s 23 years, this across different continents and cities. We’ve maintained a wonderful friendship. They’re godparents for my children.
And that my two little ones are well. TBD how they turn out, but so far my toddler son is a great kid … he’s got a great personality and he’s very kind and loving. Hopefully the other one will follow suit.
What do you think your biggest dud, or something that you failed at? What did you learn from it? I have made so many mistakes. But, the thing is I made the decision that I could at the time with the tools that I had. I look back, and I’m like, ‘Why did I do that?’ But you can’t really go back with your mind that you have now and put that onto that person you were 15 years ago. I’m constantly making mistakes. But, that’s how you learn, right?
What motivates you? New York. Living in the city and the energy of this place, motivates me. I think because it feels like people here are very ambitious and have lofty goals. I am always swept up in the energy and momentum of the city.
Also, I’m trying to raise a young family in the city and create a good a life and opportunities for us. That makes me definitely get up out of bed and hustle.
How hard would you say you work? I’m not alone, I think most entrepreneurs, especially with young children, work absurdly hard. Sometimes it feels like you are working every moment of your waking hours.
How do you keep focused? It’s just hardwired into me. It’s in my DNA. Plus, I don’t really have the luxury of being able to take a pause, it’s just the nature of the business that I have and what I do. It’s fast paced and it’s always needing to be replenished.
What’s next? Next month we’re launching PR Net San Francisco. A friend of mine who was part of PR Net New York moved out to San Francisco about six months ago and she has a great network there. It was something that I’d had in mind for a while, but it’s really about having the right person on the ground.
On a greater level, I’ve been working on a new venture which is creating a brick and mortar space for the community–a work and event space for the marketing, communications, and media industries. That one’s just in its infancy, but that’s the next iteration of PR Net.
Life goals: It’s about having the deepest and the greatest experiences that you can have, and experiencing your life, your love, and all the things that makes you a human in the deepest way that you can. I’ve always traveled a lot, and I want to continue traveling and continue keeping that curiosity about the world, which is hard I think as you get older, because you have so many responsibilities. I want to always strive to keep that curiosity and sense of adventure in my life.
Daily goals: Sometimes it’s just getting through the day. A sense of achievement is, ‘Okay. I did all the things that I needed to do as an entrepreneur, as a parent, as a partner.’ As far as work, I like to get the most important things done first. Doing the thing that you least want to do first off in your day, I’ve found that very helpful.
Daily ritual: Coffee. Australia and New Zealand have an amazing coffee culture, so coffee to me is very sacred. I will pilgrimage. It just sets me up for the day, and it’s something I do pretty much seven days a week, 365. I get a lot of enjoyment from it.
Favorite inspirational/motivational read: A friend of mine, who’s a life coach, bought me a book by a very famous coach, Jen Sincero, You are a Badass. It sounds so corny and funny, but it’s actually a very motivating read. It causes you to look at some of your core beliefs and anything that might be limiting you. It gives you practical tips of ways that you can reframe things in your life to get more out of it and find more success.
Favorites sites/people you follow: Well, as you know, The Flair Index…I read the New York Times, The New Yorker and other news sources. For lifestyle stuff, I really love Eye-Swoon, Athena Calderone’s site and her social. Maybe it’s the place I am in my life, but I love reading about decorating and food. Recently, I’ve discovered The Select Seven. I’m increasingly enjoying these sort of more boutique media properties that really speak to me.
How do you unplug? We bought a place in East Hampton’s Springs just over a year ago. It’s pin drop quiet. We’re surrounded by trees and it’s the perfect antidote to the city. Just to be in that peace and tranquility, is so restorative. And then, honestly, playing with my two year old. I think playing with children takes you away from all the extraneous noise of your life–you can just really be silly and have fun.
Favorite charity: I’ve got three that I regularly donate to, which are Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and UNICEF. Our next PR Net event in L.A. is a collaboration with a non-profit called Alliance of Moms. My colleague Shannon who works in L.A. works closely with them. We’re doing a co-branded, co-hosted event with them. I’m excited to see where PR Net can plug into these great causes and non-profit organizations and work with them.
Do you collect anything? I’m so Spartan. I think it’s a product of living an apartment life in the city.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Every season I buy one great pair of shoes. I just bought a pair of navy blue Gucci loafers.
Favorite small indulgence: Aesop hand soap that I use in my house. I’ve always loved their products.
Scent that brings back memories: Those really iconic ’90s kind of fragrances like Aqua Di Gio, Yves Saint Laurent’s Jazz and Opium. I worked in a department store in my late teens in the cosmetics and fragrance area. They evoke that moment in my life.
Lucky charm: I have charm necklace, which just originally had one pendant on it that my husband bought me a long time ago. Then he gave me a ring which has a letter O for when my son Oscar was born. We just added it to it with a little L made from little diamonds when our daughter Lucia was born. I don’t take it off.
Favorite hour of the day: I’m a morning person. Between 7:00 and 9:00 am I get tons of work done. The night before, if I don’t have the solution to something or I feel like I can’t work something out, I’ll sleep on it. And then, the next morning, I always come to the solution.
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