- Small Girls PR CEO Mallory Blair was a college graduate when she started her boutique firm.
- The agency is now an established public-relations and influencer-marketing agency.
- Blair shared five tips on how new agency owners can build a business in the competitive industry.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
On the eve of her college graduation in 2009, Mallory Blair emailed Bianca Caampued — an acquaintance she’d known for only six months — telling her to quit her job so they could start a company together.
The two first met when Caampued crashed Blair’s 21st birthday party, but they soon formed a connection over their complementary skill sets. Blair had worked several jobs throughout college on media and market research and had her finger on the pulse of culture and consumer behavior, while Caampued was a full-time media and PR manager.
Blair and Caampued bootstrapped the agency themselves. They couldn’t even afford to send press releases over the wire and instead tailored their pitches to individual reporters.
Today, their company, Small Girls PR, is an influential public-relations boutique firm with 33 clients, including General Electric, Samsung, and Olay.
“If you had told me that I’d be sitting here with you almost 11 years later with that same company and now have nearly 70 employees, I would laugh,” Blair said.
The company’s bottom line is also increasing. It grew revenue last year 20% year over year despite the pandemic and projects similar growth in 2021, Blair said. She added that the agency’s revenue had reached eight figures.
Blair revealed five tips PR pros looking to strike out on their own should know before launching a company.
Embrace trends before they become trends
Blair said Small Girls established itself by focusing on influencer marketing and social-media platforms before PR firms had identified “influencer” as a term or a business.
They called it “‘downtown cool-kid tastemaker marketing,’ which is a much bigger mouthful,” she said.
“If you hear from a lot of people, ‘Oh, no, that’ll never work or, no, that’s just a fad,’ that to me is a signal that you have white space and there probably aren’t a lot of other people that are doing what you’re doing,” Blair said. “So why not go hard and lean into that?”
They got into influencer marketing through a moment of inspiration. Caampued, scrolling through a dress site in 2011, said she wished she could wear a prom dress every day. That offhand comment resulted in a campaign for Tiza.com in which Blair and Caampued wore prom dresses every day for 30 days.
Marketers picked up on the campaign and reached out to Small Girls to lead influencer campaigns. It became a new niche for Small Girls, though Blair and Caampued stepped back from being the focal point themselves, letting content creators take the spotlight.
Get inspiration from your obsessions
Blair wasn’t familiar with PR conventions when she and Caampued started Small Girls. But as an early Twitter and Tumblr user, she was passionate about creative communities and fads.
Those obsessions have fueled Small Girls’ unique campaigns for blue-chip corporations like GE, its first major client.
Blair and Caampued worked around the clock for two days straight to come up with the 50-page stunt campaign to win the account. The result was a GE event at South by Southwest in 2013 that used a robot barista to sketch images onto a latte’s foam.
It was challenging, Blair said, connecting pop culture to a massive tech conglomerate like GE and making that message interesting for South by Southwest patrons.
Don’t wait for the story to come to you
Anyone can buy ad placements, but the real trick is earning coverage from journalists and influencers.
“We make news when there isn’t any,” Blair said.
For instance, Small Girls PR helped Olay promote its Ribbons body wash by giving influencers like Sarah Hyland a waterproof book, readable in the bath, featuring content from six women about their body transformations.
The campaign encouraged influencers to post pictures showing how the body wash moisturized their skin, which got coverage in Marie Claire and Glamour as well as social-media traction.
Blair’s criteria for sussing out whether a campaign idea is worth pitching is simple: “Is it the kind of thing that you would text your friends?”
She tends to frown upon certain types of pitches, like contests.
“Would you ever text your friend to enter a contest?” Blair said. “You probably wouldn’t. So it’s probably not actually a PR idea.”
Protect employees from burnout, but owners must embrace it
Blair was always busy. She worked several jobs in college. She was a VJ and guest host for MTV’s college-focused network, MTVU; launched Paper Magazine’s first video channel; and did market research for Apple and Microsoft.
That hustle extends to her work at Small Girls, but the rise of “hustle culture” has met its opposite force: burnout. The pandemic made professionals particularly aware of that threat.
Small Girls limits director-level and junior staffers to three or four accounts, and it has stopped operations during tough news cycles like the killing of Daunte Wright and the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
Small Girls also offers meditation workshops and medical benefits that include virtual-therapy sessions.
“It’s really important to protect the burnout of your team members and your employees,because they are not owners in the business, and you can’t expect them to operate as the owner,” Blair said.
But for founders, different criteria apply. “As the owner,” Blair said, “I never thought it was appropriate for burnout to exist in my own vocabulary.”
Be prepared to fire a client
Blair compared the agency-client dynamic to dating. Sometimes things don’t work out, and you have to let them go.
Sometimes the split happens over creative differences.
A client might want “traditional executive thought leadership,” Blair said. “That’s not going to be the best fit for Small Girls, and we’d be happy to refer that elsewhere.”
Small Girls has also released clients for mistreating the firm’s employees.
“One of my account coordinators said last week: ‘I’d rather take the losses than lose the win,'” Blair said. “It would be shortsighted to be like, ‘Oh, we need this one client.’ Actually, we need these 10 employees. I’m looking at the big picture: What makes you proud to be a leader?”
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