After running Warner Communications, a world-class PR boutique, for 20+ years, Carin Warner established herself as an industry veteran in the world of PR.
Carin has helped multiple billion-dollar corporations like BMW, Maserati, and Timberland. After moving on from her previous company, she joined forces with her daughter to establish a thriving PR agency known as Notably, a top 50 PR firm in the country. We had the opportunity to sit down with Carin as she shared highlights of her remarkable career, gave insights into the PR world, and offered advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Could you tell us a bit about your background and career journey?
I began getting into communications in graduate school. My first job out of graduate school was with American Express in New York City. And following that, I started to work in a PR firm on the West Coast, and did that for a while where I really felt like that was my home. After leaving California to head back to the East Coast, I worked for what is now known as Mullen Lowe, which at the time was Mullen. I started their first PR group, and did that for 10 years, working with some amazing brands like BMW, Maserati and Timberland.
Then I decided to start my own PR firm, Warner Communications, and ran that firm very successfully for 20 years—sold it in 1997, to a VC company, had a non-compete for a little bit and then decided to start Notably with my daughter, Carly. So we're going on a little over three years now. And I have to tell you, I'm really proud that we were just named a top 50 PR firm in the country by Qwoted, which is an important agency resource organization. So we're really proud to be up there with the Weber Shandwick.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
I will tell you that it's never dull. We always have client meetings, and then we have internal meetings, typically over Zoom. We also do a lot of communication via Slack and Teams with our clients and internally as well. But for the most part, it's about providing guidance, strategic thinking, problem-solving, being creative, monitoring the news, and using my brain 24/7 to help clients figure out the problems that they're having and help them become more newsworthy.
As a highly successful career entrepreneur who founded and exited your PR agency, Warner Communications, and co-founded Notably in 2020, what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
To sum it up, the one thing that is the common denominator of any entrepreneur is passion and grit. I see many people who have average to above average intelligence, and they can be a tremendous success in life. You can have people with PhDs and all kinds of pedigrees. But if they're not motivated, and they don't enjoy what they're doing, they're not going to succeed typically. So what I would tell anybody who's thinking about being an entrepreneur is you must have your own drive.
Nobody's going to crack the whip and nobody's going to tell you how hard to work. Nobody's going to tell you to do this or do that. Because that's the definition of an entrepreneur—you're taking control of your life. You've got to be willing to do what it takes from a time perspective. And you have to also be pretty brave and fearless and not worry about your decisions. Make the decisions from your gut and your head together, but make them and don't be in analysis paralysis. Go forward, because inertia is probably one of the worst things that can happen to an entrepreneur.
Can you walk us through the process of starting your own business?
The first thing you need to do is really know your craft. It's like anything else—you can't launch a PR firm, if you don't really know the ins and outs of PR. So really know your craft. I found it very helpful to work for another organization for 10 years. I got to the point where I didn't want to ask anybody's permission, I wanted to go and just do what I wanted to do without asking anybody if it was okay. So it gets to that point where you just need to do it yourself, period. So that's number one—have confidence in yourself to be able to do the work and to be able to handle clients and operate the back end and billing and all of that or find the resources that can help you. And number two is to find the right people. I always say, particularly with a service firm, like a PR agency, finding the right people who also are motivated and enjoy what they're doing and want to be part of the team is so critical.
What skills and strategies do you think students should develop to excel in the competitive field of public relations?
The number one thing is determination. It goes back to that because, in PR, we are doing everything. We're pitching stories, we're talking to reporters, we’re suggesting topics. You really have to be scrappy, you can't take no for an answer, and you can't quit. So determination is certainly there. Being a news junkie is also a great thing to have in your skill set. Because you need to see what reporters are writing about. You need to see what is being published, and you need to see what are the trends. So following the news really carefully is essential.
Every minute of the day, I always have a channel on and I've always got my feed up and running. So, I'm seeing what's coming up. And then, of course, you have to be articulate. You have to write well; you have to be creative to come up with ideas for your clients. I'm not just saying this because I'm in the business, PR is one of the more challenging careers. It's not for the faint of heart. But I love it. Because I'm one of those people that I have to multitask, I have to do a lot of things at once, or I get bored. [And] it's never boring here.
What are some common misconceptions about the PR industry?
The number one is that it's all contact-related, meaning that we can get you a story because we know the reporter. That’s so not true. Yes, we do have a lot of contacts. Yes, we do work with a lot of what we call friendlies. And they'll look at our pitches. But we also work more with people that we've never worked with before and land stories every single day. Why? Because it's not about who you know but what you know—understanding what that writer is interested in, how they write a story or produce the show, and tailoring our pitches uniquely to them. So it's very, very customized. The second biggest misconception is that it's easy to do what we do. It's not easy and doesn't happen overnight, typically. PR is a long dance: the more you do PR, the better the results. So I think those two things.
What's your advice to students and young professionals today who are trying to break into the field of PR?
For me, I kind of fell into it serendipitously. I wanted a job actually in advertising, but there was none. And so I fell into PR because there was a job opening. What everybody wants in a PR agency is to hire somebody who knows what to do. It's very rare these days. I was actually in a management training program for American Express when I first started. I was very lucky to have that, as most of the time, you have to do your own training. Essentially that means that you have to find your own clients and start to do the work, and be able to show agencies that you've done some PR and what the results were. I would also suggest an internship, whether you’re paid or unpaid. And I know it's hard sometimes to get paid, but get experience; just get your foot in the door and do it. And they will recognize your talent if you're good at it. And you'll know if this is something for you as well.
What are three books or podcasts you would recommend, and why?
I'm reading “Outlive” right now because I'm getting older. I also just started reading “Authentic Marketing” by Larry Weber. He's the founder of the Weber Shandwick group. And I also just read “The Handmaid's Tale”, which was a dystopian, older story. It was written in the 50s. It's a sort of a 1984 take on more of what might happen in the future to women in an anti-utopian society.
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