In Conversation with Allyson Conklin of Allyson Conklin Public Relations
Describe your business in a few words?
Allyson Conklin Public Relations is a boutique public relations agency for beauty, home, and lifestyle brands.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was at a crossroads in my career. I was days away from my 28th birthday, had recently relocated back to Fort Collins, Colorado, and just learned that I was not getting an offer from the company I had been interviewing with. While it was disappointing, I knew deep down that it was not a fit for me, and if I had gotten the job, I wouldn’t be happy.
Prior to leaving my last in-house PR job, an interior designer at the helm of her own studio asked if I’d ever considered starting my own agency. I was curious, but resistant — what if I failed — but there was also a little voice inside of me that wondered if I would succeed. I realized that I didn’t have anything to lose, and decided to go for it. And that woman who planted the seed? She was my first client.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I started my career in fashion editorial with an internship at Footwear News, then transitioned to advertising at W Magazine prior to finding my way to PR. I held in-house PR roles in both New York City and Park City, Utah, prior to starting ACPR in December 2010.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
In the early years, I referred to myself as a reluctant entrepreneur. I do not come from a family of entrepreneurs, did not go to business school, and prior to starting my own business, I didn’t think I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body.
Reflecting now, I think that I embodied that mindset as a way to protect myself from failure. As the years continued to pass, I began walking the walk, and year after year, we grew. Nowadays I know that there was no other path for me, and that the entrepreneurial spirit has always been alive in me.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
For many years, ACPR was a completely referral based business. I didn’t have a marketing strategy, and we grew simply because of client referrals and word of mouth. It worked, and we certainly experienced steady passive growth, but I knew that it wasn’t a long term strategy. I was so caught up in doing the work that I didn’t have the time to market the company beyond the bare minimum (website and social media). I had vision, but it wasn’t clear. I wasn’t clear on what I wanted, which meant that I wasn’t sure where we were going.
With each passing year, I got more and more confident in my role as a founder. I began dipping my toe into business development — and every time I signed a new client, it boosted my confidence, and I gained more clarity. A big shift happened in 2018, when I really began taking our growth seriously. I can’t say exactly why or why then, but I woke up one day and decided it was time. And I was ready. I began sharing my vision with my team, hired a Business Development Manager to help me bring on new clients, and put a plan and processes in place. Since then, we’ve continued to grow, which I credit to clear vision, a strong plan, and staying open and curious.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Hiring has been one of the most challenging parts of growing a team, and I have made many mistakes. What has gotten me into the most trouble is not following the “hire slow, fire fast” mentality. As a company that places culture first, there is incredible pressure to bring on the right people, and admittedly, I haven’t always chosen the right candidates, which can be painful to remedy. There will always be a sense of urgency when it comes to hiring, but I’ve learned to let go and see what happens, trusting that the right people will come. And fortunately, they have.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
In December 2020, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary in business. In our early years, other entrepreneurs would tell me “just wait until you hit 5 years — then you’ll know you’ve made it.” I approach business ownership with humility, as, with everything in life, it’s a learning experience. I am grateful for every single year, but there was something pretty magical about celebrating 10 years.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble? You can learn a lot about someone, personally and professionally, from this question! For instance, I’m ultra competitive. A pro of being ultra competitive is that I am goal oriented, dedicate myself to training, and work well under pressure. A con of being ultra competitive? I have a tendency to see everyone as a competitor and can easily overdo it, burning myself out.
As for hiring tips, I like to make it a team effort. We all play a role in the interview process. This helps to prevent blindspots and gives everyone the opportunity to buy-in to their future teammates. When all else fails, trust your instincts. I’m by no means an expert, and have certainly made many mistakes over the years, but I had a gut feeling with each of my strong hires.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Publicists are being stretched to think outside of the box now more than ever. Big budget in-person events and extensive mailers that were evergreen tactics are now a thing of the past. We’ve adopted a back to basics approach, which I personally love. We’re relying more now on the strength of a brand’s positioning and the strength of our relationships in order to be successful.
I’m also seeing brands choosing to partner with smaller PR agencies that are capable of more than just media relations. Brands want a holistic approach to their marketing and communications — and they want it all from one place. The scrappy, hustle mentality of boutique agencies like ACPR are perfectly positioned to deliver on the ever-evolving needs of brands while serving them in a meaningful way.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
I have a couple of new business ventures up my sleeve that I’m not quite ready to share yet! What I can share is that we are experiencing a period of rapid growth — our client roster is growing and so is my team. I’m currently exploring opening a satellite office in New York City and am hiring accordingly. As with every year, I have set some lofty goals (financial and otherwise), and I’m pursuing them with gusto!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
There is a lesson in everything, and a reason for it all. Truly believing that and staying true to myself helped me see the silver linings each day.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
It’s ok to not have all of the answers. And no one expects you to have them all! Admitting “I don’t know” or “I need more time to explore this” is totally acceptable.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Meditation, early bedtimes, and my husband, Michael, ground me everyday. I was an on-again, off-again meditator for years, but really committed to a daily practice in March of last year. Even if it’s just five minutes a day, it helps me tune out the noise so I can connect with what’s going on inside of me. I’m devoted to early bedtimes, and most nights I’m in bed by 8pm. Sleep is by far the most critical part of my self-care routine — it’s been that way my whole life. My husband, Michael, is my “gardener.” He’s my Earth, my teacher, my biggest cheerleader, prevents me from sending emotional emails, and keeps me on budget (he’s also ACPR’s CFO).
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
In theory, yes, I believe in work/life balance. But in reality, I’ve disproven its existence many times. Striving for work/life balance can make you crazy (especially perfectionists like me). Instead, I strive to be aware of when I’ve strayed a little too far from my center, then make little changes to work my way back to it. Making massive, drastic changes creates too big of a shock to my system (which always results in the opposite effect I’m going for), so I’m better off with small changes. I tend to be a workaholic, so the small changes typically involve my time, phone, and schedule.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I am obsessed with true crime podcasts — I even listen to them before I go to sleep. What does that even say about me?!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Get real about what you can actually accomplish in a day. Yes, you *can* accomplish a lot — and Entreprenistas more than most. But what does that actually mean for you? When planning my day, I treat it as an exercise in cost/benefit. On occasion do I still book seven calls for one day? Yes. Do I know that by the end of that day my inbox will be overwhelmed, I likely won’t have accomplished much outside of those calls, I may not be able to formulate a full, cohesive sentence by the end of the day, and when I get home I’ll be so exhausted that I won’t have the energy to do anything but take a bath and go to bed? Yes, because sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. But most of the time I know better.
- Know what works for you and stick to it. If you can’t live without your planner, keep using it. If you’re all about that running Note on your phone, keep doing that. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work for me (which is constantly evolving), and I find now that leaning into what’s *currently* working for me is key to staying organized and productive. Right now it’s a blend of using my email inbox as a to-do list, my GCal, occasional brain dump in an undated planner, and random notes and reminders on scrap paper.
- Give your brain a break. As a Capricorn, I pride myself on my ability to power through, but it’s not always in my best interest. I have found that making time for mini breaks throughout the day keeps my productivity high and my sanity intact. Whether it’s a latte run, a walk around the block with music or a podcast in my ears, or a quick meditation (if my lights are off and I’m not at my desk, my team knows that I’m probably sitting on the floor meditating), I aim to break away from my computer and phone regularly throughout the day.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Knowing I could fail, and doing it anyways.