Meet Silicon Valley's Public Relations superstar, Candace Locklear!
As the co-founder of Mighty PR, she's been an inspiring industry veteran for over three decades, helping drive PR strategy for global giants like Google, Patreon, Pandora, Samsung, SoundCloud, Evernote, and Facebook. We have the wonderful opportunity to sit with her and discover the secrets behind her journey in the world of PR. Here are some highlights from our enlightening conversation:
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and career journey? How did you get started in PR?
It's an interesting story. I was getting my MBA and met one of my girlfriends who was dating a Businessweek reporter. He told me that I should be in PR. I didn't even know what PR was. I was focusing on marketing for my MBA. So, there was some natural synergy there. This was in 1995, and he said, “I work with all these PR agencies on the West Coast. Why don't you just fax your resume there?” I did that, and because I went to Dartmouth for undergrad—having an Ivy League bachelor really stood out—I got six interviews right away to come to California and interview for these tech PR firms. So, it was because of who I knew, not necessarily what I knew.
I also had a pretty strong background in communications. It wasn't that hard to get a job. And back then, the software industry was about to explode. In fact, my first clients were Sun Microsystems and Oracle, which were huge even then and just continued to really grow and take off, so I got an incredible introduction to PR through those companies.
For entrepreneurs with very limited budgets, what are some creative and low-cost PR tactics they can implement to gain visibility?
I've counseled many companies of various sizes and stages. Sometimes, it's very hard to get press. There are fewer and fewer journalists all the time. Furthermore, when you do get an article in a place like the New York Times, it's often behind a paywall, so it doesn't really spread or get the SEO juice from Google like it used to. This is the same for everyone, so especially in the early stages, get your own channels up and running. And that's your blog and your LinkedIn presence. You might want to get your own channels on TikTok and Instagram too.
This is where you control the message, the frequency, and the quality of what you want to say. Get those things up and running, and get an audience to look at those things. And that way, the press has something to look at. If you're pitching them, they get a sense of what the company does—why you're different, or how you're innovating—by looking at your social channels. Invest in someone who has great writing skills and understands social media, and pay them a lot of money to keep it running. Also, another thing is don't outsource your social media. It's inauthentic. You need to have someone who's at the company, living and breathing what you do for a living, to tell that story in the most authentic way. So even if it's someone who's super junior or even an intern who's very savvy in social media: train that person, immerse them in your culture and what you're doing, your products, and your services, and get them on it.
As startups grow, their PR needs may change. What strategies should entrepreneurs consider when scaling their PR efforts alongside their businesses?
You've hopefully got a social media person and a marketing person who can wear a PR hat in the early days of your company. That marketing person can manage marketing, advertising, promotion, events, and PR. But as you get bigger, have a larger staff, and have a bigger story to tell - you should hire a PR consultant or someone who just does PR purely on the inside as a full-time employee. Then you usually graduate to hiring an outside agency, and the PR person will manage the PR firm for you.
For companies that are getting a Series B round and above, it's time to hire an agency, especially if it's a very competitive market. You need a lot of help with messaging and positioning to differentiate from what's out there and cut through the noise. You need specialists who know how to do it. That's how you graduate [your PR efforts for your business].
Having worked for established companies for most of your career, what prompted you to change track and co-found your tech PR agency?
I had been in PR for many years and had hit the top of my game at a really great PR firm called Spark PR. I was running a practice group, and it was for all our mobile technology clients. I was doing PR in the mobile world way before the iPhone. And I really understood what the handset makers needed, what the operators needed, and what the developers of apps were doing. I really understood the mobile ecosystem. So I ran that practice, and did it for a few years. Eventually, I got too senior at that agency, as did a friend of mine who also ran a practice group at Spark. We decided to just jump out and do our own thing.
We were very well connected in Silicon Valley. We knew a lot of the VCs, who encouraged us and said that they would send us business. So we planned for about eight months while we had a job. We developed a business plan, we got an identity, we figured out a logo, we put a website together, and we really figured out who we wanted to focus on. This was in 2011. And so there were a lot of mobile app companies seeking PR. There was a ton of business. So it was just a great time to go out on our own, take a risk, and build a new PR agency. In fact, a lot of boutiques spun out of larger agencies around that time because there was just so much work. It was super frothy, especially in mobile, in 2011. So we felt confident in doing that.
What has been your most memorable professional experience?
You can't nail it down to one in 30 years of doing this job, but one of the coolest things I got to do was repping SoundCloud. SoundCloud has been competing with Spotify for a while. And they were about to launch a subscription service much like Spotify had. And SoundCloud was cool; it's a streaming music service and directory. It had a lot of up-and-coming hip-hop performers as well as EDM and electronic music. So there were two massively different genres you could find on SoundCloud. Talent was breaking out and being discovered on SoundCloud.
So we were about to have a huge launch of this subscription service, and I was able to get Bloomberg Businessweek interested in that story. They did a whole photo shoot in New York City with all kinds of creators who had found success on SoundCloud. And it was just a really cool photo shoot; I think it was a six-page print spread in the magazine. We also had a big party at a brand new club in Manhattan, and we had Bob Moses and Chance the Rapper come and perform, which showed the EDM and the hip-hop side of SoundCloud. We got all kinds of press to come to this cool club and see these performances and hear from the founders, who also spoke on stage. We got to party with these celebrities, get a bunch of press attention, and get a big print piece, hello! All of that wrapped up in one thing was probably the most exciting event I've been a part of, that had to do with PR.
Can you walk us through a typical day in the office for you?
I'm one of those people who's on a screen from the minute I wake up until I go to bed. And so, the eight-hour day is a fallacy, especially if you're a knowledge worker. It doesn't make sense anymore. There's no such thing as a nine-to-five job. So if you want to go to yoga at two o'clock, go to yoga; walk your dog, or do your errands; don't worry about it, because you're going to be working late at night. I am using seven messaging apps. So I'm constantly going from Slack to SMS to Facebook Messenger to Telegram to Signal. I am getting messages from all points—from clients and colleagues. I'm on email and, of course, Zoom. I try not to do too many meetings. I think four is my maximum number of meetings per day.
Otherwise, I'm reading or looking at the news. I hit the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and tech publications every single day, multiple times a day, to see what's going on. I also try to schedule lunches or get a drink with people, just doing the in-person thing and mixing up the day that way. I'm an extrovert; a lot of PR people are. So, I need to be around people, and hence, getting outside of the house is pretty important right now.
What kind of skills are necessary for a successful career in PR?
There are three things. One is clear communication, and that means succinct writing ability. Being able to express your thoughts succinctly is key. Public speaking—I put a lot of emphasis on how to stand in front of a crowd, to be persuasive, to convey your idea, and to convince people that you're right. That's the second thing. The third thing is the ability to listen and be curious. Listening is a lost skill. People are always formulating what they want to say next and not really absorbing the conversation that's coming their way or the line of questioning that's coming their way. I see that, and it's very unfortunate. But let's learn how to be a better listener and also how to ask really smart questions, show curiosity, and learn what their beliefs and perspectives are. Intellectual curiosity, listening, and being able to express yourself—you've got to have that stuff on lock to be a good PR professional.
What kind of advice would you give to university students who are interested in working in PR?
Ask your colleagues for feedback. Send an email to somebody and ask: Does this land? Does this make sense? Did you get it? It is all about practice. You can tell from the reactions you get from people. Also, if you're a great communicator, then people want to be around you. It helps with your likability and how you connect as a human being to other people. It's not just PR; it's also human relations. It's not just media relations. It's how you relate to other people around you. And if you're paying attention, you'll know if you're doing it right.
What are some common misconceptions about your line of work?
Some people just assume that PR is the same as advertising—that I'm coming up with ad copy and putting it on a billboard. No, it's a totally different discipline and a totally different group. So that's pretty common. I have to sort of educate people who don't really know. PR is a machine. It's a machine that's under the hood. It's not really talked about, and some people also call it dark art.
There's a lot of persuasion that goes into telling a story convincingly and focusing on the good stuff, but that's what it is. It's not just media relations anymore. It's also internal communications and informing your team about what's going on. Not just external, but internal. So it's also how to get one of your executives to give a keynote speech at a big conference. We also do award programs, we do social media programs, we write blogs, we ghostwrite blogs—we do all of that as an integrated approach to PR.
If you could restart your entire career, what advice would you give yourself?
I'm pretty happy with where I am. I've had a lot of success. My father told me: be your own boss. I went to get my MBA so that I knew how to run my own company. And that's what I've done. I'm an entrepreneur; I'm a founder. So I don't know if I would have done anything else.
Well, if there’s one thing, I would have spent more time as a mother. I have a daughter who's nearly 20. I went back to work when she was four months old. That's a regret because I was probably at the peak of my career as far as proving myself with elevated stress levels when she was two. And I don't know if I bonded with my kid enough. It was hard to juggle being a mother and a stressed-out PR person in a very competitive game where I was very well compensated, and it really skewed my priorities. So when I give advice to women and men who are having young families, I just say to spend as much time bonding with your infant as you can because you'll never get that time back. That's more of a regret looking back. That's what I would tell my younger self—to spend more time figuring out how to be a mom.
To learn more about Candace, please visit her LinkedIn profile at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/candacelocklear/.
Candace's Mighty PR Agency is currently seeking new graduates and college students with prior experience in PR or journalism to join as interns. To find out more, click here: https://mightypr.com/careers/.
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