This week we virtually sat down with Katherine Rothman of KMR Communications. She shares her views on the impact of Covid-19 on the public relations industry, as well as her thoughts on the future of communications.
Tell us about KMR Communications and what makes you unique?
I began KMR Communications in 1998 when I was 28 years old. I just gave away my age! The firm started in Manhattan, where I spent most of my adult years. We are one of, (if not the first) to represent medical doctors who wanted public relations. Our most common type of medical clients then were plastic surgeons, dermatologists, cosmetic dentists, and ophthalmologists who wanted to operate outside of managed care and devote themselves mainly to elective medicine. As more doctors developed an interest in beauty-medicine, it became a natural progression for KMR to represent beauty companies and medi-spas. From there, we progressed to fitness companies and related products. Overall, what makes us unique, is our very dedicated niche to beauty, health and fitness, our knowledge of medicine, the individual attention given to each client, and the fact that we have likely represented more physicians than any other PR firm in The United States since our inception.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected how you and your team work?
I have never enjoyed the concept of working from home. I am a social person and I look forward to coming to my office and seeing my team members in person. We are like a family and collectively love the camaraderie. For the first time, we were forced to work from home due to Covid for a time and communicate via zoom, e-mail, phone, and text. Because we are so organized internally, this was not challenging for us. I think we all felt a psychological toll in terms of not seeing each other daily and the isolation that comes with that. I know some corporations have purchased sophisticated software to monitor their employees' activities on their computers and other office software while working from home. This is not something I would engage in! My team members stayed motivated in terms of productivity and never lagged for one moment. It made me incredibly proud and grateful for the staff members of KMR. We are all thrilled to be back in the office together and take every precaution so we all stay safe amid the Covid crisis.
Have you been sending out non-Coronavirus related press releases since the pandemic began?
Yes, we have been sending out “evergreen” press releases. Since so many of our clients are physicians, it makes sense for us to send out releases related to Covid.
We represent internists who were on the front lines treating Covid patients in NYC intensive care units at the apex of the virus in New York. KMR has a psychologist who talks to the media about anxiety as it relates to the pandemic and adjusting to the “new- norm.” Our dermatologists address issues like “maskne,” the condition related to wearing masks in the summer heat. While it must be challenging for other PR firms to place clients in the media with so much focus on Covid, right now, there is a huge demand for the expertise our clients have to offer.
Have you found connecting with lifestyle journalists more challenging since they have been working from home, and are therefore less easy to contact?
I have not noticed that journalists have been harder to reach. I think at first, TV stations had the toughest time as they had to adjust to conducting zoom interviews in lieu of in-studio and clients had to learn how to use zoom and position cameras correctly and adjust lighting. Now all of our clients are pros at it and our female clients have become very adept at doing their own hair and makeup for TV zoom interviews.
If a brand was managing their own PR, what’s the biggest mistake they could make when pitching journalists?
The biggest mistake a brand can make at any time is being blatantly self-promotional. Pitching journalists is not like writing advertising copy. One has to eliminate words that are completely subjective. The consumer wants to know, “what’s in it for me?” You must convey to a journalist with substantive information the factors that make your brand unique. Is it convenience? Reduced Cost? Portability? Reduced Time? Innovative Packaging? Greater efficacy that can be backed by studies? Health benefits? If you have a brand and you are looking for a consumer to switch to yours, you need to give the media a reason why they should feature you based on key industry disruptor elements.
How do you think the Coronavirus pandemic will affect the PR industry?
It has already impacted the PR industry and some sectors of it have been hit harder than others. For example, those who are in hospitality and represent restaurants, hotels, and produce in-person events have had a tougher impact than those who are in the tech sector or who represent online entities as opposed to brick and mortar locations that had to close their doors during the quarantine. PR is also a “luxury line item.” Although most businesses and individuals do not want to cut PR from their budget, it is not as essential as paying the rent or your internal staff. There are always companies who thrive independent of the economy or a pandemic and depending on the areas of PR a firm focuses on, the lucky ones who have great reputations and do excellent work can still excel.
Which publications do you have your strongest contacts with?
Today it’s not really about the print media. When we are not busy booking clients on TV, radio or podcasts, we are working with our huge database of online connections in the health, beauty and fitness sectors. The list is too lengthy but some of the regulars include: Allure.com, Newbeauty.com, Wellandgood.com, Byrdie.com, Bustle.com, Oprahmag.com, Instyle.com, Health.com, Realsimple.com, Huffingtonpost.com, Businessinsider.com, Yahoo.com, Totalbeauty.com etc. etc
The print publications were in trouble long before the Coronavirus. I feel we will continue to see more fold independent of the pandemic. Some of the online staffs have consolidated at some websites. There is a huge appetite for news both online and on TV. If we are not talking about print, I do not think Covid will cause other outlets to close, they may just need to “tighten their belt” with staff for as long as the pandemic lasts.
If someone was to send a speculative resume to your company, how would you suggest they do so? i.e. what information should they include?
We receive resumes every day. It is important for young people to feel compelled and encouraged to engage with firms beyond job listings. A hiring manager might be more impressed by you down the line when there is an opening if you had the initiative to reach out even when an opportunity was yet to be announced. I always prefer resumes via email. A cover letter should be included as this gives me a sense of how they write and a little more information about who they are. It is also helpful for me to know what position they are seeking, where they are located, if they are willing to relocate, what salary range they are seeking, relevant internships they have had if they are recent college grads, and when they are looking to start working. Also, if it is not clear on their resume when they list a company, what the company does, it is helpful to have a sentence describing it. For example- If the resume says: Maria Jones LLC- Account Exec. That name may not be familiar to me. If the resume briefly examples the function of that company, that is very helpful.
What advice would you give to your younger self before entering the PR industry?
Odds are if you are working in PR, you majored in communications, and you like to write. I was a communications major in college and started my business very young. Looking back, I would tell my younger self to take advantage of the business classes offered at my university. You may think you won’t need these skills, but I assure you, you will. Whether you start your own firm or work your way up in an agency or in-house PR team, having a solid business foundation will help you recognize weaknesses within a firm’s structure, hone negotiating tactics, learn how to budget, gain operational management and organizational development skills, and ultimately it will help you make wiser decisions for your career and the money you earn.
Which social media platforms would you advise startup beauty or health brands to focus on going forward?
Many CEOs or founders of beauty startups get bombarded by people looking to sell them services for social media management. They end up spending thousands to start a basic profile on a commonly used platform. My advice to any startup would be to begin with your website. You should have someone who is knowledgeable and skilled in launching and managing initial social media campaigns, but your website needs to be your priority. This is your online headquarters, and you want people who identify and like your brand to find value in reading your content and buying your products. You can use a service like mail chimp to capture subscribers on your website and then covert them to a platform such as Instagram. I recommend finding a very qualified SEO company to generate traffic to the website via SEO.
What is the minimum spend you think a startup brand should be spending on PR to get a worthwhile return?
This depends on the nature of the client. Is it an individual such as a physician or a skincare company or a national franchise? There is no one size fits all budget. Be wary of any fee quote that seems very low when comparison shopping among firms. There is a reason they are a “bargain.” Accounts that are products, franchises, or have several locations should expect to pay more money than an individual. Even among boutique PR firms or freelancers, it is highly unusual to find someone qualified for less than $3,000 per month. Having said that, the rates can go up to $25,000 a month depending on the nature of the client and if the PR firm is a boutique or a large corporation. A start-up brand should generally be with a boutique PR firm where they will not be a "big fish in a small pond," and the fees will be more commensurate with their budget. The PR firm that is a good fit for a company like Neutrogena or L"Oreal is not the correct match for an emerging brand.
About KMR Communications:
KMR Communications is a public relations firm founded in 1998 in NYC by CEO Katherine M. Rothman. The firm specializes in beauty, health and fitness clients worldwide. The company’s main office is in Miami Beach, Florida with a satellite office in Manhattan. www.kmrcommunications.com