Tell the truth. The biggest PR mistake anyone can make is to be afraid to speak their piece and stand by their word.
Long-time journalist, entrepreneur, and owner of Inkandescent Public Relations, Hope Katz Gibbs started her career as a newspaper and magazine reporter after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. After working at The Miami Herald and New Miami magazine, she studied for her master’s degree in educational leadership at The George Washington University before launching her freelance writing business in January 1993. Hope’s articles have appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The National Press Club wires, dozens of industry and alumni magazines, and she continues to write book reviews for Costco’s business magazine, The Costco Connection. See her published clips at www.hopegibbs.com.
Hope and her husband, illustrator Michael Gibbs, www.michaelgibbs.com, have two teenagers — Anna Paige, 18, and Dylan Zane, 14.
What are you working on right now?
We are in growth mode at the Inkandescent Group, LLC. A PR, marketing, and publishing company that helps entrepreneurs get more visibility, we’re growing nationally and representing more professional services firms that have the expertise reporters want to hear about. This ultimately helps them grow their businesses, because as the media picks up on a new expert, so do clients and customers who want to do business with their firms.
And, in January 2014, our first Inkandescent Book will hit the streets: “PR Rules: The Playbook,” www.PRRulesPlaybook.com. Our goal is to help thousands of small business owners grow their companies by increasing their visibility using the tools of PR, marketing, advertising, social media, and sales.
To be successful at DIY public relations, you need to first understand the game. So in Part 1 of the book, we outline this PR Playing Field with eight experts and examples of success in each segment.
In Part 2, we offer insights into our 8 Steps to PR Success, which start with Create a Stunning Website (Step 1) and end with Pay it Forward (Step 8). This is also the meat of the speech I’ve been giving in cities around the country to help entrepreneurs better understand how to launch and manage their PR campaigns. In fact, I’m answering these questions from Logan Airport, on my way to speak at a four-day conference in Houston. Fun!
And finally, in Part 3, we feature eight of our favorite Inkandescent Interviews with entrepreneurs who have knocked their companies and brands out of the park — including Bert and John Jacobs, founders of the Life is good Company; Fast Company founder Alan Webber; and Chemistry.com’s Dr. Helen Fisher.
Where did the idea for The Inkandescent Group come from?
I started my career as a newspaper and magazine reporter after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. I won awards for feature and column writing for articles that appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Miami Herald, Costco Connection, and dozens of business, education, and general interest magazines, newspapers, newsletters, blogs, and websites.
In 2000, when I saw my beloved industry going down the drain, I transitioned into a new field that enabled me to use my writing skills and maintain my integrity as a reporter. My journalism background, combined with my graduate study in Educational Leadership at GWU, helped me land a job I held for 10 years as a PR specialist for the City of Fairfax Schools.
During that time, I realized I could do for lots of organizations what I was doing for the City Schools.
So in 2006, I landed a new client — a futurist think tank in DC called Social Technologies. In the 18 months I worked for them, they went from one press mention / year to 25 / month, including feature articles in Washingtonian magazine, The New York Times, TV Guide, Foreign Policy magazine — and three appearances on CBS’ “The Early Show,” to name just a few. We also launched a news magazine that featured futurists’ views on the trends of the future. The owner ended up selling the company for millions, and while that certainly wasn’t all my doing, all the press didn’t hurt.
In 2008, I incorporated The Inkandescent Group — figuring lots of small business could use the kind of PR assistance that I provided the futurists. In the five years since, we’ve worked with hundreds of small business owners — from $100 million companies, large professional services firms, nonprofits, and restaurants, to solopreneurs — including authors and artists.
How do you make money?
We have a variety of revenue streams:
Our PR services bring in the bulk of our revenues, and most of our clients buy our Inkandescent PR Package, which gives them access to all of our services for $4,000/month.
We design a lot of websites, as well, which is a great option for clients who are start-ups or need to rebrand. Those are $1,250 / page (with a minimum of 10 pages) and include the design of the site, programming, writing, editing, and a photo shoot.
Other clients who can’t afford or don’t need a full-throttle PR package buy a monthly column ($500 / month ) on our business magazine, www.BeInkandescent.com, which gets more than a million visits/month. Plus, clients who buy a year’s worth of columns have the opportunity to have us turn those into an e-book for an additional $2,500. We’ll turn the e-book into a printed book for $10,000 more, which includes 1,000 books.
Others buy a radio show on our Inkandescent Radio Network, www.InkandescentRadio.com. Those shows are $500 /month for one episode, or $1,500 for a weekly show.
We also sell ads that appear on our networking website, which lists great business events happening daily up and down the East Coast, from New York City to Miami, www.InkandescentNetworking.com. The ads click through to their websites, and are really affordable: $500 / 6 months and $750 / year.
What does your typical day look like?
It’s fun! I check email first thing (despite advice to the contrary from our favorite organization expert Julie Morgenstern, who was our first Entrepreneur of the Month in January 2010 when we launched our magazine, www.BeInkandescent.com).
Then I look online at about 300 reporter queries and match up our clients appropriately to help get them in the news. I also manage our assistant editor, Ashley Freund, who writes our press releases, creates our reporter lists, and helps us reach out to media.
It takes about five days for my managing editor, Kathleen McCarthy, and I to finish up our monthly magazine; we also work together on business strategy and PR plans for each client. She’s my right hand, and reads everything we publish — which is no small feat since we write about 50,000 words a month.
And, several times each week I record podcast interviews for InkandescentRadio.com, which our radio producer in LA, Michael Wilsker, works his magic on. We post two or three podcasts every week.
In between times, I supervise our Inkandescent Interns, who help us manage and maintain the www.InkandescentNetworking.com website. They divide up the seven cities we cover and post dozens events in each throughout the month. Ashley trains them and does a great job keeping that site up-to-date.
I also spend time each day working out the details our TrulyAmazingWomen.com TV Show. We’ve got more than 300 women profiled on the site, and with our videographer Steve Barrett, and director Sonya Gavankar (a DC news reporter, the face of the Newseum, and a former Miss DC), we are launching this Internet TV show in 2014. We’re starting it off featuring Truly Amazing Women of DC, with the ambition of reaching out to women in other.
But what I’m focused on right now is finalizing the text of our book, “PR Rules: The Playbook,” and consulting with our designer, illustrator Michael Gibbs. We have five more books under contract for 2014, so launching “The Playbook” — and promoting it — is mission-critical to our growth.
Last, but not least, Kathleen and I are also in the process of expanding our speaker’s bureau, www.InkandescentSpeakers.com. We represent about 18 authors, futurists, and business experts, and increasingly this service will become a flagship for The Inkandescent Group.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I started the company knowing I wanted to create eight services (which are described in the “8 Steps to PR Success” section of our Playbook) because I realized that to grow a company, every company needs to incorporate these steps into their strategy.
Essentially, I consider myself a business strategist with savvy communication skills. By looking at where a company is today, and where it wants to be in two to five years, we put the 8 Steps into effect to help them turn their goals into reality.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The Millennials. They rock. I don’t get why some business people call them lazy. They are creating a forest fire in the business community. What they want, how they behave, and how they’ll live their lives will change how America does business. It already has.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was hired to be the managing editor of a newsletter company. Turned out what they wanted was a copy editor. I stink at copyediting. Yes, I know you’re supposed to avoid dangling participles and run-on sentences. But I write fast and furiously, and I make a million little mistakes that I know can be cleaned up later.
When I was the last line of defense … that wasn’t a good fit. I lasted less than six months.
What it taught me is to always hire a copy editor, because that’s not my gift. That’s one reason why Kathleen is so important to The Inkandescent Group. She reads everything more than once, and not only checks grammar and spelling, but has keen eye on the content, as well. When she flags something that doesn’t make sense to her, we discuss it and think it through together.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Except maybe get to the gate at Logan Airport 10 minutes earlier. I got held up at check-in (who knew you had to check in twice at Logan?) and missed my flight to Houston, so I am now finishing up these questions from Connolly’s Publik House in Boston instead of landing 20 minutes from now in Houston. Alas … it happens.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Tell the truth. The biggest PR mistake anyone can make (in their business, in their relationships with colleagues and clients, and in their personal lives) is to be afraid to speak their piece and stand by their word. Sure, people get upset when you don’t agree with them. They get mad when you disappoint them, or don’t go along with their ideas. But so what? We all make mistakes. We can learn from them. When you stay true to yourself, and stay on your path, and tell the truth — everyone wins, especially you!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Launching www.InkandescentNetworking.com in 2011.
We started The Inkandescent Group in 2008, just as the recession took hold. The good news was that business owners had resources — and they had hope — and they were willing and ready to invest in their PR campaigns. By 2011, they’d run out of resources and their hope was but a whisper.
So my big idea was to create a networking website where people could do PR on the ground. If they could no longer afford the PR, we’d help them connect and spread the word on this site through our Network, ads, etc.
I hired three people to help me — all single moms whom I cared about, and who I thought were hungry and would want to work hard. I was wrong. Sordid details aside, it taught me a huge lesson: No one will work as hard on making an idea come to life as the creator of the idea. And, I learned that throwing money at something isn’t the best solution, either.
I’m eternally thankful to those women, though. They taught me one of the great lessons of management: Hire slow, fire fast. And check references.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In our November issue of BeInkandescent.com, we feature Lou Ferrante, a former Mob boss who wrote “Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman.” Among many other things, he says: “Don’t worry about not getting the contract to build Yankee Stadium — open up to other profit possibilities: Sod. Dirt. Plastic seats. Electronic boards. Flagpoles.”
When it comes to spotting new rackets, I see an feasible one in accounting. In my experience, it’s incredibly hard to find a good bookkeeper — at least one who is affordable and will work hand-in-glove with my accountant.
A great business would be bookkeepers who are also accountants and who, for a reasonable rate, will do all of your accounting work — from keeping the books (or teaching you to) to doing your taxes. Yes, there are online services out there that do that for about $750 / month, but that’s too expensive for most entrepreneurs, who tend to have an “I’ll just do it myself” mentality anyway.
If someone can get in there and provide that service for less, they’d clean up! In fact, I’d be their first client and do their PR for free.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d make customer service the most important thing to every business. Not just the lip service that most companies give — but actual, “I care about you as a customer and am going to bend over backward to show you.”
A perfect case is my experience this afternoon with JetBlue. I missed my connecting flight by 10 minutes because I forgot there was a bottle of water in my bag and didn’t realize I had to go through security twice. Yes, it was my fault — but I also spend a lot of money with JetBlue. When I asked a representative for help, they didn’t attend to me but instead told me to wait in a very long line. By the time I got to the front of the line (45 minutes later), they told me there was nothing they could do. After all, it was my fault. And the next flight to Houston was not until 7 a.m. the following morning. And I was on my own to find a place to stay for the night.
Really? Couldn’t they have done a little better job taking care of me? As a result, I will never fly JetBlue again. I have been their customer for five years, and I even have their credit card. Now they’ve lost me forever.
Hotels.com, on the other hand, went the extra mile. I had booked my room at the Hilton in Houston tonight through Hotels.com, and when I called to ask for help they called the Hilton for me — and negotiated a refund for the room in Houston that I can’t use tonight. They also helped book me for the night in Boston in a room that’s only $20 more, and I can walk to the hotel from the airport. Most important, Hotels.com went the extra mile for me. I will stay loyal to them.
The question I pose to small-business owners is this: Are you like JetBlue or Hotels.com?
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
Well, until recently, few people knew my dad was a bookie (a very successful one) in Philadelphia. I wasn’t ashamed of it — I just didn’t broadcast it. But when he died on Father’s Day 2013, I felt compelled to write a eulogy about him, warts and all. I published it in my business magazine: http://www.beinkandescent.com/articles/1801/the-art-of-letting-go
Why did I do it? Because I knew I wasn’t alone in having a tough, tumultuous relationship with a parent, and I thought others would appreciate knowing they weren’t alone, either. Plus, it was so hugely cathartic to get that out. I did get a ton of great feedback — and to those who questioned why I did it, I told them what I said earlier in this interview: Always tell the truth.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Facebook — because I can connect with 5,000 people a day, and when one decides they don’t want to be my “friend” any more, I can friend someone else. It’s the best.
Textpattern — the website database that we use for the dozens of websites we’ve built through www.InkandescentWebsites.com. I am not a fan of WordPress, even though others rave about it. On the other hand, textpattern is an easy-peasy program for non-tech folks to understand. After we build them, in 20 minutes or less, we teach our clients to manage and maintain their own sites.
QuarkXPress — the design program for dummies. It’s sophisticated enough to give non-designers the tools they need to make artwork look great, but it’s not as complicated as In Design or Photoshop, which are expensive and space hogs. We design all of our marketing materials and our books in Quark. It’s fantastic!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
That’s a tough one, as we’ve reviewed about 100 books in www.BeInkandescent.com so far, and I continue to do book reviews as a freelance writer for Costco’s magazine, The Connection — so I’m a bibliophile.
But the two on the top of my list right now are Lou Ferrante’s “Mob Rules,” because his story is so interesting, and his insights are as wise as they are street-smart.
Another one I love at the moment is Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Spontaneous Happiness,” which is our cover story in the December issue of www.BeInkandescent.com. I have been a fan of his for decades, and am thrilled to have interviewed him on Oct. 30 for our magazine.
What I love about “Spontaneous Happiness,” is how honestly he talks about what it means to be happy (that it’s not a constant state of being) and that when you are constantly aware of your mind-body connection, you’ll be able to maintain your “emotional sea-level,” the neutral position on the mood spectrum.
“It’s not happiness, but rather the contentment and the calm acceptance that is the goal of many kinds of spiritual practice,” Weil explains. “From this perspective, it is possible to accept life in its totality, both the good and the bad, and know that everything is all right, just as it should be, including you and your place in the world.”
Great stuff, right?
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
• Guy Kawasaki — Because he’s got great insights into marketing your business with a conscience.
• Life is good — Because they have quality products with an important message.
• Lee Woodruff — Because she inspires women to be Perfectly Imperfect, and she is a survivor.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Today — when I missed my plane. Well, first I screamed a bit, fumed, and generally kicked myself in the tushie for not being smarter, better, stronger — and clearly, faster. But when I got to my new hotel room, I laughed at myself for a good five minutes. Then I brushed my teeth (yes, I keep a toothbrush in my bag, just in case) and took myself to the bar for a glass of wine. Resilience is a very helpful trait for entrepreneurs!
Who is your hero, and why?
My son, Dylan, 14. He is honestly the happiest person I know. He has worn Life is good shirts since he was 8 — and only Life is good shirts — and maintains in his simple, teenage way that every little thing is gonna be all right. When I get blue or worried, I just look at him and know he’s right!
How do you grow a business?
Strategy, guts, and vision. And when you are stuck, stand on the table (figuratively and literally) and look at the big picture from a different point of view. Then ask the smartest people you know what they see. I promise, their answers will be painful. But if three of them say the same thing, they are probably right. Take a deep breath, and do some soul-searching. Then decide if you want to be right, or you want to grow the business. Then follow your gut.
What is the meaning of life?
Hope Katz Gibbs on Facebook: www.facebook.com/hopekatzgibbs
The Inkandescent Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BeInkandescent
Hope Katz Gibbs on Twitter: @beinkandescent
Hope Katz Gibbs on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/hopekatzgibbs