The following is a full transcript from the Hispanic PR Blog Webinar, “12 Leadership Lessons from Hispanic PR Trailblazer Roxana Lissa,” available here.
BILL: Not even an accident can stop this interview. This had to happen.
ROXANA: I know. I had to dlm382 köröm díszítő szalagok koaxialní kabel hornbach brandon aiyuk shirt carhartt uk ćwiczenia na rowerze ćwiczenia na rowerze mallas para hombre nike nfl jersey sales aiyuk jersey köröm díszítő szalagok nike calças de treino köröm díszítő szalagok detske lyžiarske nohavice 134 140 kilpi predam kallax korkekiilto hylly blogspot do it.
BILL: Welcome to the second Noticias Newswire and Hispanic PR Blog Hispanic Marketing and PR Webinar. I’m Bill Gato. I’m the CEO of Noticias Newswire. It’s the nation’s only Latino-owned press release distribution service with a niche focus on the Hispanic Market and I’m also the Co-Editor, along with Jay Cruz, of the Hispanic PR Blog. It’s a trade publication covering the Hispanic PR and marketing industry. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing a Latina PR Pioneer, Roxana Lissa, based in Los Angeles but originally from Argentina.
BILL: Let me start at a point in your career, in 2016, when you sold the agency that you had launched in the 90s called RL Public Relations, RLPR, and you sold it to United Collective. I think it’s still around and it’s called Rox United. That was a historic merger that consolidated five agencies. What was it about the industry or the opportunity at the time – or both – that motivated you to make that major decision at that time in 2016?
ROXANA: It was in late 2015 or early 2016 when I was at an ANA (Association of National Advertisers) conference and the whole discussion at that conference was about the Total Market and how a lot of the General Market agencies were acquiring Hispanic shops. And you would see that brands at that time were really focusing on the Total Market Strategy. They were not interested so much in really having the niche marketing agencies, the smaller boutique agencies, which was my agency. So after representing a lot of the top brands for many, many years, I started seeing that the smaller agencies were going to have a harder time adapting to this new dynamic that was happening at the time. I was approached many times by different agencies, by bigger firms, and bigger advertising agencies and big PR agencies. It was a particular moment in time when I said, “Well, I think I’m ready. I think I’m ready to let go of what I was able to build and what I accomplished and really learn this new integrated model which is United Collective,” a group of agencies – digital, public relations, advertising – and learn more about how PR can be part of that new integrated proposition. So that was the main decision, why I decided to sell. John Gallegos and I have been good friends for many, many years. He’s the CEO of United Collective. I remember giving him a call after that ANA conference, and I said, “John, let’s chat. Maybe I’m interested in you buying my company.” We started talking and that was it.
BILL: I want to ask you about that transition from being your own boss at RL to joining a larger collective of agencies, but before I do that, since you brought up the Total Market approach that was very popular in 2014, 2015, and 2016: I remember those days. I would go to those conventions like AHAA (Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, now rebranded as Hispanic Marketing Council) and ANA and those were the big issues of the day for Hispanic agencies. For the benefit of those younger PR professionals that may not know, can you explain what that was about and why that gained traction for a while?
ROXANA: Yes. The Total Market approach gained traction more in the advertising world when all of a sudden you would see big agencies developing campaigns. They would call them multicultural campaigns and Total Market campaigns. They were pretty much generic campaigns that would have some nuances or some elements of Hispanic advertising or African-American advertising inserted into the overall campaign. But if you’d ask me, it was like going back to the 80s, where you would see these generic campaigns that in many cases didn’t resonate with a lot of our audiences. And we now see a shift back again to more a culture-driven approach. I see that happening with many companies. So that’s what happened. You’d see the big General Market ad agencies coming up with campaigns that, in many cases, didn’t really resonate. They wouldn’t be interesting. In some cases, we have seen successful campaigns, but for the most part, it wasn’t really captivating audiences.
BILL: So was there a point where the General Market agencies imagined “Hey, we’ve got access to the same research. We can just translate these commercials, and maybe it’ll work and we’ll save some budget. But then at some point, they realized, “Okay, so we’ve got access to the research, but let’s acquire Hispanic-focused agencies to give it a little bit more authenticity.” Is that what was happening at the time that you decided to sell?
ROXANA: We’ve seen acquisitions, but also we’ve seen an infusion of junior creative directors and Latino creative directors joining these big agencies. And then these big agencies expect that one person can come up with the whole campaign when in essence, it is the same thing that we have been talking about for the last 25 years. It’s not something that is organic, in its essence. It’s something that always seems to be a little bit of an afterthought. And of course, we have seen progress and of course, we have seen agencies doing really good work and committing to the growth and to hiring the right people and all of those things. In public relations, which is my discipline, that I can speak to, more than advertising, we have definitely seen the growth of General Market agencies definitely building these Multicultural practices. We’ve seen Edelman and Fleishman-Hillard and Golin Harris, which has had a very successful practice for many, many years. Some agencies change over time but we have seen consistency. And that has put the smaller agencies at a disadvantage because obviously, the big agencies have the big brands as clients. So obviously they would rather probably work with the same company than hire [another one]. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of model. We have seen different things over the years but I think – going back to your first question – that’s what prompted me to make that change.
BILL: Okay, so now you make that decision and now you’re part of the Collective. What was that like? Was it hard to adjust to going from making your own decisions and now you’ve got [a larger structure]…
ROXANA: It was hard. I learned a lot about how hard it is, after having your own company for so many years, to let go of your old way of doing things, because the goal of selling your company is also to adjust to a new way of learning, a new way of doing things. For me, it was very difficult. It was a good lesson for me. I remember John giving me this book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Sometimes we as presidents are so set in our ways, in our way of doing things and it was a hard adjustment. I was still the president of Rox United but it was difficult to let go, even if I had a lot of the freedom to pretty much handle my clients and new business and different things. Being part of the advertising structure is challenging for a PR professional.
BILL: So if there’s a Hispanic PR professional out there who’s considering a similar move, looking back, what advice would you give them?
ROXANA: You need to really learn about the advertising world first and learn about the different disciplines. That was a great learning experience for me. The importance of a solid strategy department, creative, and the research piece, and all of that coming together into creating a really solid campaign. What I love about public relations is that it’s more dynamic. Our discipline is in its essence more entrepreneurial because we have to act super fast and come up with ideas really fast without the rigor that sometimes is needed in the ad agencies. My advice would be: be ready to just have more process in your day-to-day because, in advertising agencies, while they’re all trying to move faster now because the needs of the market are faster and the needs of clients are certainly faster, there is still this flexibility that we have as PR people that, working within an advertising agency, is more difficult. So that would be the first piece of advice.
BILL: Before I transition to Blue PR, during your years of running RL you also launched a sports marketing agency called Sportivo. Tell me a little bit about that.
ROXANA: Sportivo was an idea that I thought about with Mario Flores, who has been a great partner – an amazing partner – for many many years. At the time, we were working with Nike. Nike has been a very important client of mine for over 15 years. We were actually the agency of record for Nike back then. It was just a lunch meeting. Mario was always so passionate about sports. That’s what he loved. I said, “Well, Mario, why don’t we come up with a sports agency together? You can be the day-to-day and you can be my partner. I’ll give you the resources that we have with RLPR. We give you access to staff and resources and everything.” I love seeing the passion that he has for sports and providing that opportunity and that avenue for him to fulfill this passion. That was very powerful and very inspiring for me, to see someone that was so passionate about sports, and at the same time, create a business opportunity around it. That was the essence of Sportivo.
BILL: And it’s still around, right? Sportivo’s still around?
ROXANA: Yeah. After I sold RLPR, Mario took charge of Sportivo.
BILL: Okay, so then you left RL for a while and you were consulting. And then around COVID you did a two-year stint at Sensis, where you launched a practice there. You worked heavily on a COVID awareness campaign.
ROXANA: Yeah, so after a couple of years at Rox United, I had some personal stuff going on with my ex-husband at the time, so I decided to take some time off. I was consulting. I was able to consult with EFG (Entertainment Fusion Group) and I helped handle the day-to-day operations for the agency, which was a lot of fun and a lot of entertainment clients. At the time, Jose Villa [founder of Sensis Agency] asked me to consult with him on some projects and some new business things. He figured out that I was on my own. I was consulting. He asked me if I knew some folks that can help be part of the PR practice. After working with United Collective, I said “You know what? I really learned a lot about what it means to bring the PR practice into an established advertising agency, so let me put a plan together for you.” And that’s what it was. We came up with a plan together. I created and helped launch what is today called an Amplification practice. With the growth of social media content and influencer marketing, it was divided into two: we have traditional PR, which is still very valid and especially with government accounts, and I can touch on that a little bit later. And also we had Content and Influencer Marketing and Experiential as well. So we had those two arms. I oversaw those two arms, with specific professionals underneath each practice. So we would still tap into the different services offered by Sensis, but it was pretty much an entity within Sensis. Immediately after I joined, Sensis secured the California Department of Public Health as a client in the midst of COVID, and that was an incredible experience. Sensis was one of 150 professionals and I was one of 150 professionals really dedicated to really working on the COVID campaign, particularly in the Latino markets. Our responsibility was to educate Latinos about safety, about how to stay safe during COVID and then all the vaccinations efforts, especially reaching hard-to-reach populations as well. It was an amazing experience and I learned so much.
BILL: I was reading a lot of your LinkedIn blogs, which I really enjoyed. We’ll touch on that a little bit later. You specifically mentioned that because of the work you did for the California Department of Public Health during that COVID awareness campaign with Sensis and Amplification, you learned a lot about the way the government manages DEI and that there’s a lot that the corporate world can learn from the government, that they are a role model for how to do it better. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ROXANA: It was amazing. I was so impressed. I was sitting in these meetings with people from the State of California at different levels of the government. We always have this perception of government people, right? Well, they understand multicultural. They allocate dollars to multicultural communities like I’ve never seen. You don’t have to sell anything. The efforts that they made on multicultural marketing are unheard of. And for COVID specifically, not just Spanish language. The Asian markets. Different languages. Advertising. Community relations. The power of local communities. Understanding the power of research and putting the money exactly where the research is and really listening to that research. That was one of the ideas I would love to do a panel on and bring some of the folks that worked on the COVID campaign to really explain to Corporate America how DEI is basically the day-to-day. It’s what they do and it’s not even something to talk about. It’s part of the reality. You just talk about it, like, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do.” It is a day-to-day conversation. It’s not a plan. It’s not a strategy. It is day-to-day.
BILL: Do you think that the California model is replicated in other states or it’s just because it’s California, which is more progressive?
ROXANA: Yeah, California is always ahead of the game when it comes to marketing and innovation. We have seen a lot of the work in COVID. It’s award-winning in terms of public relations. RSE, which is the leading agency, the prime contractor that secured the contract, they have won awards and they do this campaign, so yes, we see that California is innovative in its approach and understanding. They call it cultural humility. There’s a particular word and actually, I want to go back to that, where there is a true understanding of equity and creating campaigns that achieve that reach into vulnerable communities. I honestly don’t know if other states function the same way, but I think companies and other things really can learn from this model because it was truly enlightening, inspiring and so interesting for me to learn, which I haven’t seen Corporate America do.
BILL: So, if you get a call from a client in Florida or Texas or a state that’s a little redder and they wanted to do something similar, what tricks did you learn that you could apply in states where they’re not as far along?
ROXANA: Formative research is key, but then at the end of the day, you implement. How many times have we seen research from CMOs or brand managers, but then they don’t act on it because they don’t have the resources? Or they don’t have the budget? So formative research is really a big component and the power of community organizations. Community relations have always played a big role but in terms of being true ambassadors of local communities, when you have big issues – in this case, vaccination efforts – making sure to demystify the importance of vaccinations, for example, and educate people on safety measures. The role that community organizations have is crucial, it’s huge. And sometimes we don’t see that. So when it comes to empowering local communities, engaging them, and making sure they are the face of the community for example like a strong community and grassroots initiative plays a huge role in these local markets. You’re talking about engaging the masses right? Engaging a lot of people here. Our goal with the vaccination campaign was to really reach those local communities, those local ZIP codes. We were very granular in our strategy. That’s when you really go local and go hyper-local. You go into the role of community organizations and the local media. Even the radio station that reaches farm workers. We want to go to that station. We want to go to the local little station that speaks in indigenous languages. We want to go there. So that was the big learning, really. How local and how granular can you go? And you can.
BILL: So that leads me to Blue PR. So, you were at Sensis. You launched Amplification. You worked on this award-winning campaign. And then at some point, you decided to step away from Sensis and launch Blue. What was the thinking there?
ROXANA: Well, once you are an entrepreneur, you’re always an entrepreneur. It’s always great, at my age, to have maybe one last opportunity to create something. I love the opportunity to come up with ideas and create something new. Here at Blue PR, I call it “Powering Relationships.” It’s really the ability to use and merchandise all the relationships that I established over the years, whether it’s relationships with clients and relationships with communities, relationships with media, with influencers, and really putting all of that together for me. And not just representing clients. In this new phase in my career, I like the idea of helping other companies also achieve their goals. For example, I’m working on a project right now with a movie premiere, with Sony and a production company in Tokyo. I’m working with Marcella Cuonzo who is the leading person in Hispanic movie PR. We’re working together on a project. I’m bringing different professionals and different relationships that I had over the years, to offer that to clients. I’m establishing a different type of model. A model where I can tap into people that I know are really good at what they do and create opportunities for clients. I’m working in Latin America, for example, right now with different clients, establishing relationships in different countries and working with different colleagues. It’s that idea of tapping into these powerful relationships that I was able to establish and offer a solution to clients.
BILL: I imagine it’s reminding you of your early days with RL when you first launched, like going back to your roots.
ROXANA: Yes, yes. Well, going back to the roots in a different way…
BILL: With a lot more experience…
ROXANA: When I was 25 I had all this energy. I still have it. I was always very good at pitching media. That was my strength when I started back in the day and now it’s different. Now it’s more strategy, more thinking about the business, bringing the right people together. Who can be on my team for this particular project? Who can I hire that is going to be the visionary? Who is going to be able to really execute?
BILL: When I was reading the feedback from some of your friends or colleagues on LinkedIn, there was a consistent theme where everybody was saying, “Roxana’s a visionary leader and a great team builder; she knows how to pick the right people for the right project.” Tell me about that process because there’s a lot of leadership wisdom there that we can share with anyone watching this webinar. How did you become such a good leader and team builder at such an early age?
ROXANA: When I started my company I was fascinated to always have people that knew more than me. Because I started so young, I remember that leaders such as Molly Ireland, who was my boss at Hill & Knowlton and Bob Oliver who, at the time, was an NBC reporter and he was part of my team. I hired those people that knew so much and they inspired me and I learned so much from them. So I realized early on that you are not the one to know everything. The key is to align yourself with people that know more than you. And you shouldn’t be afraid of that, that they’re gonna take your clients or they’re going to go on their own. That never really happened to me. The idea here is developing and nurturing those relationships over the years and giving them opportunities and making sure that you bring the right team to help you and that the work is great. For me, it’s about the work, always. Who can I bring that is going to provide the best results for the project? Who’s going to be different? Who’s going to be trustworthy? Those are the relationships that I established over the years. That’s how I build teams. The people that work for me, they have to be good, reliable. They have to be strong thinkers, independent thinkers too. That’s important. I’m not the one that is going to hold your hand 24/7. You need solid, smart people that can work on their own as well.
BILL: Okay. Do you ever make mistakes, like you thought it was going to be great for the team and then you realize early on like, “This is not going to be a good fit. This is not going to work out.” And are you quick to let that person go?
ROXANA: At the very beginning when I had RLPR, it was very difficult for me to let go of people. I couldn’t. So I always had other people do it, which was silly. But then over the years, you learn. And of course you make mistakes. I let go of people that I shouldn’t have, in the past.
BILL: Oh, the other way around? Sometimes you should have kept them.
ROXANA: Sometimes you act too fast. You act on impulse. Or you let your personal stuff get in the way without problem-solving or without addressing conflicts. Over the years, I learned the importance of [interpersonal] communication. Sometimes it’s really difficult to have these frank conversations, where we talk about difficult [concerns]. It’s really important to just address it when it happens. Those learnings come over the years and with experience. There’s no way that when you launch your company when you are two or three years running your company, that you’ll learn those things. You learn the hard lessons by working with a lot of people, with different personalities.
BILL: I want to go back a little bit to your early years in Argentina. One thing I learned when I was researching you is that you got your doctorate degree in public relations. You must have been like 19 or 20. I’m like wow, man, I don’t know too many people like you that got their PhD at such an early age.
ROXANA: In Argentina, they call it a career in public relations, it’s called Licenciatura en Relaciones Públicas, so that’s what you study. It’s not a major or a minor in PR, or it’s not journalism with an emphasis on public relations. Here in the U.S. it would be more like a Master’s degree. In Argentina, it’s like a whole career. You study psychology. You study sociology. You study group dynamics. You study advertising and business. All of that is in the five-year program, so that’s why it’s called a Doctorate in PR because you become an expert in public relations. So, when I came here to the US and I started to intern at a small PR agency, I was more than prepared. I was totally competing with people from here.
BILL: That was my next question: how useful was your Argentine education in the U.S.? Was it comparable? It sounds like it was a really good school.
ROXANA: It was incredible and, actually, it was better than a lot of the students that I’ve seen that are graduating from different universities because they never get full-on training in PR. In Argentina, we have to study companies and do case studies on companies, do PR programs, do internal PR, doing external PR. We studied. It was a comprehensive that I have not seen here. I have not seen it to this day. USC (University of Southern California) has done a lot on a Master’s level. And the APR certificate that you get with PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) is different. I’m talking about a major, like a Bachelor’s degree. I haven’t seen a Bachelor’s program in Public Relations that is as great as the one that I received in Argentina.
BILL: That reminds me. A few years back I was on the board of the Miami Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) chapter. I was the college recruitment person. I would get a chance to speak to the PR students. I remember asking “Who knows what a press release distribution service is?” I kind of assumed since I run a wire, that every PR person knows what a wire service is. I was surprised, so it’s pretty much an educational sale for us as a wire service. I don’t assume anything anymore. Even if you have a PR degree, I don’t assume that you know certain things.
ROXANA: Yeah. One of the things that I saw here early on is that the hands-on experience of working in companies [isn’t happening]. For example, I worked throughout my career and that’s something that is very popular in Latin America because you live at home with your parents. I used to go to school at night. I would work during the day in a research company. Then I’d go to school from 7 to 10 PM and I would work until 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock. I would go to the university at 7 PM. So that was my day. That was my life. I was always more in the work environment and trying to understand and bring it to practice. This whole idea of working for companies and learning early on, that was a big thing that I did. That’s so important, for young people to just have internships and learn and work for companies in what they want to do. Forget working at a restaurant. Go work in companies. Ask for internships. If you want to be in PR, work in PR, work in advertising, work in communications. Don’t work on anything else.
BILL: You mentioned that you worked for a research firm. How useful was that experience when you came to the U.S. and when you launched RL, just having that research background?
ROXANA: Yeah, it was a company called Editorial de Comunicaciones Públicas and they used to sell – back in the day – these big guides to private companies and government institutions. These guides had all this information available about all kinds of things. So we would have to do the research. At the time it was phone research. We didn’t have computers (laughs). We would have to call and find out all kinds of information. People would call and say, “I need to have a list of the top ambassadors in Argentina that are going to be traveling to the US,” for example, and we would have to put together that list for this particular client. Some of the information would be printed in these encyclopedias. These types of projects or programs. Or other times we would have to just use the typewriter to do it (laughs)…
BILL: You had to be your own Google…
ROXANA: There was no Google. We didn’t have computers. It was all typewriters and the phone.
BILL: I remember…
ROXANA: You had to have good phone skills. You have to understand how to speak on the phone and how to ask for what you want and make sure that they give you the information. So all those skills were really valuable, for sure.
BILL: Roxana, I want to ask you bigger-picture stuff right now. A couple of questions about the industry, what trends you’re seeing right now, and how you can harness those trends. Just a question that can help the PR professionals that are watching this, from your vantage point.
ROXANA: Well, it’s interesting. I learned that in the government, for example, whether you’re working for a non-profit or a government institution, all the experience that I’ve had in the last two years, public relations and traditional public relations continue to play a huge role. That was so eye-opening to me. In the world of influencers, which continues to be very important, and integrated marketing and social media and TikTok, there’s still a huge, huge role for public relations. That was the inspiration for me to launch Blue PR because, at the end of the day, the discipline of public relations is critical. It’s more important than ever. If you ask me about the trends, I see PR never going away. I see the traditional PR discipline continuing to flourish. Obviously, with innovation. Obviously, with AI, that is going to transform the way we do business. The role of PR is fundamentally important in our growth, in the marketing discipline. We see traditional media also continue to play an important role in shaping public opinion. So it’s great that we have this discipline rooted in strong writing, in relationships, in building connections, and really understanding marketing, understanding strategy, and then evolving with the new technologies. That’s why the discipline never goes away. It never goes away. I think for us PR practitioners, the future is learning about all these other things and how to really infuse your PR experience into these new disciplines.
BILL: Along those lines, I noticed you mentioned TikTok a lot. You seem to be a big fan of TikTok.
BILL: Can you give me an example of how recently you’ve used – if you don’t mind sharing if it’s not confidential information and client information — but just some ideas about how you’re using traditional techniques with TikTok influencers? Have you done anything like that recently?
ROXANA: Everybody wants good content and TikTok influencers love good ideas. They’re very creative and obviously, they’re going to do their own thing. For example, we just finished a big promotion with Argentine Beef. We created this “Week of Argentine Beef” here in Los Angeles representing the Argentine Beef Promotion Institute (IPCVA), which is a commodity board from Argentina trying to increase visibility about Argentine beef in the U.S. And of course, we invited a lot of TikTok influencers, regular influencers, to come and experience the whole idea of eating beef. But everything that we gave them was our content, in a sense. So we produced really good videos. We had good written materials. We had really interesting facts. And it was interesting to see a lot of these TikTokers and bloggers using our content too and merging it with their own stuff and making it their own. So that’s what I’m saying. Whatever we do is always going to be good. PR is always going to have a role in this new evolution, whether it’s TikTok today, or Instagram, or new platforms that will come in. Our understanding of the messaging and making sure that everything gets across positively, creating this positive influence and a positive awareness about our clients and about our products, it’s so important.
BILL: And in terms of your optimism about PR in general, does that also carry over specifically the Hispanic PR industry? Any insights you can share?
ROXANA: I think so. I talk a lot about this with many of my friends in the industry. Obviously PR – again going back to what I said at the beginning – we have the flexibility of switching. We don’t do just Hispanic. We do General Market. We do other – and again, who is the General market? – we do these multi-cross cultural strategies with clients and it’s interesting, like, Bad Bunny was in Coachella and he was asking the 100,000 people that were there, “Do you want me to sing in Spanish or do you want me to sing in English?” And he said, “No, in Spanish!” Spanish was always part of this country and it’s never going to go away, so yes, we’re going do more things in English, but we’re going to be doing things in both. It’s going to go back and forth depending on what you’re doing. The language is so interesting to me because a lot of scholars and a lot of people that have studied linguistics over the years say that Spanish is never going to go away.
BILL: It’s the second-largest language in the United States right now. I want to go back for a second. Since you’re a Latina PR Pioneer: who are the women that most inspired you when you were coming up and what advice can you share with women who are starting their careers in PR and who are considering launching their own agencies?
ROXANA: So many women have inspired me. I remember when I started, all the ladies that were part of the HPRA group, the Hispanic Public Relations Association in Los Angeles.
BILL: I believe it started in LA.
ROXANA: It started in L.A. All these ladies. They were amazing. Jackie Diaz-Castro [past president of the HPRA Los Angeles chapter] was somebody that I admired so much back in the day. I remember Maria Contreras-Sweet with HOPE when she was one of the presidents of HOPE, the group Hispanas Organized for Political Equality. I remember seeing her talking and bringing her little kids. Patricia Perez, who has been with VPE Public Relations for so many years. These are all women that I learned from and they’re my friends and I grew up with them, in a sense, because I was so young when I came here. I learned so much from them. And then on the advertising side, look at Norma Orci, look at – oh my God I’m forgetting all the names right now – but anyway, there’s all these amazing ladies that, at one time or another I learned to work with them. Whether we shared clients together or we grabbed a cocktail together and I happened to have conversations. I want to see the younger people. I want to learn where the younger players are too. For me, it’s so exciting to see the young minds and what they can create, so I hope we see a lot of young entrepreneurs and women launching their companies. There’s nothing more that I would love to see.
BILL: Any advice for Latina PR professionals that are thinking of launching an agency today?
ROXANA: I think really working on yourself is critical. I think understanding who you are as a leader and doing a lot of work on yourself. I think that’s very important. Whatever obstacles you have as a person, as an individual, learn what those obstacles are and try to overcome them, whether it’s with therapy or with coaching, or learning your leadership style. For example, I learned early on that I’m not a process-oriented type of leader. So if I’m going build a team or if I’m gonna build an executive team I need to bring people that are going to be complementing my skills. I’m more the creative type of person, the big picture type of thinking ideas. I can also execute, obviously, but we need those process-oriented folks that are going to help ground me all the time and neither one of them is bad. It’s really understanding your leadership style too and the type of people that you need to have around you. Having that awareness early on is really important because if you have a bunch of creative minds and then you don’t have anybody who can execute because you don’t understand your own power or your own secret power, then that is going to put you behind too. That’s one of them.
BILL: You can be really creative but if you don’t have a way of executing that creativity and making it concrete…
ROXANA: Exactly. Let’s say you have five people on your team and you are the leader. You’re the CEO. So let’s say you are assuming you are different than me. You’re the hands-on type, the one that likes to work and get it done. Okay, so who’s going help you bring the business? If you’re not a good salesperson, for example, you need to have somebody that is going to help you grow. So you need to have those types of people in your team if that’s not your strength. And that’s okay if it’s not your strength. You just have to surround yourself with people that can help compliment you. Similarly, the other way around, if I’m good in sales then I need to have people who can execute the work when I bring it in. So just having that understanding of who you are as a leader is very important.
BILL: When you launched Blue PR in January, I read the press release and there was a quote there that really rang out to me. You said, “Public Relations continues to be, at its core, the culmination of thousands of years of human evolution.” Can you share more about this idea of PR’s impact on society and on human evolution? And how does this noble vision of PR influence your strategies when coming up with an effective PR campaign? That’s a loaded question.
ROXANA: That’s a loaded question. I’m a big believer in people. I love – and again it sounds corny, right? — but I think, for me, PR practitioners and PR folks, we have to love people. We have to love who they are as individuals. We have to love history and transformation, always thinking, “What good can this person, can this individual contribute?” So when you talk about public relations, really it’s relationships with different audiences. Public relations – relationships with different publics. That’s why PR stood the test of time. For me, there is something magical about bringing that back into my practice. It’s really understanding that [we are] connecting a brand or connecting a client with the true essence of people – because they’re not consumers, they’re people, they’re individuals, that have needs and have desires and have dreams. For me, that’s what I meant by that. That’s why I called it “Powering Relationships,” because individuals have power. People are powerful. And if I can make that transition, whether it’s a creative idea that is rooted in that or a campaign that is rooted in the values that people are bringing to a particular project or to a particular idea, that’s what I mean by that.
BILL: You know, I share that love of people and I think loving people is a superpower. In business, especially. I hear some people sometimes say, “Man, I couldn’t do that business because I’d have to deal with people…”
ROXANA: And it’s funny because I just love talking to strangers. I talk to people all the time. Even my kids tell me, “Mom, you just have to stop. You talk to people all the time.” But I learn so much. You learn so much from talking to people and for me, that’s the essence of what we do. It’s building that relationship and trying to understand motivations. And you learn psychology, and in this business, psychology is huge. It’s another superpower. Understanding the differences, understanding what they’re facing as people. At the end of the day, we’re all working together. We’re all individuals trying to problem-solve every day and trying to create something and make an impact in our lives and taking care of our families. We all have the same goals. So, for me it’s going back to building those relationships and strengthening these relationships and making true connections. It doesn’t sound super creative necessarily, but for me it’s kind of coming home after all these years of working in this business.
BILL: Thank you Roxana. Two more questions. When I was reading your blog posts on LinkedIn, I found myself hooked. Manny Ruiz and I both had the same journalism professor, [the late José “Q” Quevedo from Miami-Dade College]. I once asked Q, “How do you know when you’ve written something good?” And he said, “When you can’t put it down.” He answered immediately. I never forgot that. He passed away many years ago. I was like, “I can’t put these down. Roxana’s writing is really good.”
ROXANA: Do you like my contemplations? I love it.
BILL: Yeah. There’s a real sense of fun and joy in your writing, and in this interview too. I sense it coming out of you. You seem to have found a good balance between sharing personal experience, educating and entertaining. So, it just hooks you on so many levels. Can you share more about that and what advice you would have for PR pros? We hear Gary Vaynerchuk talk all the time about creating content on every platform. “Content, content, content.” So you’re doing it and then other people don’t do it or they’re afraid to do it. What can you share about that?
ROXANA: I’ve always loved writing. It’s so funny. When I was in Argentina, writing was so important to me. I used to write articles when I had interesting points of view about things. I just loved it and then when I was doing PR, I became afraid of writing a little bit because I had so many people doing the writing for me. I had all these VPs putting all these great English [pieces] together. I was kind of intimidated, so I didn’t write for a long time.
ROXANA: Yeah. My colleagues and friends can tell you, I was being kind of like, “No, you do it first and then I’ll edit it.” I was like “I’m gonna wait.” And then the pandemic hit and I had all these points of view about different things that I saw. I remember my first post was about financial institutions and how they were not helping small businesses. Remember the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans and how the big companies were getting them and the small businesses were not getting them? It was something that I was really mad about. I was like, “Man, I need to write something about that.” So that was my first one.
BILL: On LinkedIn?
ROXANA: It was on LinkedIn. I didn’t have the content page yet on LinkedIn. And then I was on TV talking about it because I told my friend, “You know, I feel really strongly about this.” She said, “Well, Roxana, I think you need to be on TV.” And I’m like, “Okay, yeah, because you know what? It’s not right.” So sometimes that’s what motivates me. It’s when I feel really strongly about something. When I started going on TikTok I found all these fun TikTokers, and I was totally getting into TikTok. Then I wrote about it because it was fun for me, like, I’m an older woman being on TikTok but I find it fascinating and I love it and I learned so much from it. A lot of the content comes from TikTok for me today. Then you have different experiences. Some are more personal, like for example, the latest post was about “1985,” the movie.
BILL: I read that one. And it brought you back to being a little girl and these guys showing up at the door and taking you and your mom to like a jail…
ROXANA: Yes. I got so many comments and messages from people that remember that. I love the feedback because I don’t expect people [to respond]. I mean, I write it on LinkedIn. I don’t write anywhere else, but it’s fun to see if I can help someone with that content, or if someone finds it entertaining or informative, then it’s cool, but I do it for me too. I do it for me because I love it. I was writing every two weeks and now it’s more once a month. And then when the whole World Cup thing happened, that was like so much fun. And that’s when I wrote about Argentine creatives, because I realized that during the World Cup, Argentina came up with such amazing creative ideas. I wrote a whole thing about it and then I acknowledged a lot of the Argentine creatives that have been in this business.
BILL: Right. You listed a lot of them. And then at the end, it’s like, “If I left anybody out, if you know another one…let me know.”
ROXANA: I listed a lot of them. There are a couple of people that were left out. But I need to write about Argentine PR folks because I wrote more about the creatives.
BILL: And that was one of my questions too. What is it about Argentines that has made them so successful in marketing, advertising, and public relations? For years I’ve been hearing that Miami ad agencies were outsourcing their web development, their ad development, and even their TV productions either to Argentina or they were hiring Argentine creatives and bringing them to the U.S. What is it about Argentines that makes them so great at marketing?
ROXANA: I know, right? It’s funny because we are so used to living in the moment – and I realized that in this World Cup – we’re so used to living in the moment, in being spontaneous in our way of living. If you look at what happened with the World Cup and people that traveled to Qatar. Some people sold their car, and they quit their jobs to go. If you ask a regular person here, “Would you do that?” Probably not. “No, I’m going to think it through first and see if I want to do that.” But we’re very passionate people. We live in the moment. We like to create out of nothing. If you look at the inflation – it’s a big dichotomy in Argentina. On the one hand, you have these highly educated people. Education is amazing. Argentina has amazing advertising schools too. Same as PR. We have a very strong education when it comes to this marketing discipline. So, you have highly trained people and then we just kind of create out of nothing because sometimes they’re not going to give it to you. You just do it yourself. And in a country that has high inflation, that now is like 100 percent inflation and the government is a disaster and there’s always corruption everywhere, but somehow you manage to survive that. A lot of people manage to survive, and for that, you need creativity. You need to figure out different ways of doing things. And I think that’s in our culture. That’s in our DNA to do that, to be innovative and to improvise and to live in the moment. And that’s creativity. You have to come up with ideas on the spot.
BILL: Back to your writing: Are you planning to maybe write a book now that you’re back in the writing mode?
ROXANA: I don’t know. I always thought about putting something together about PR anecdotes, like fun PR stuff that has happened over the years. I think that would be kind of fun to do, but right now, I’m happy with my contemplations and see what happens after that. I know I don’t have a big audience, but that’s okay.
BILL: I skipped one question. When you were talking about team building, what do you look for in a in a great PR person? How can you tell this person is cut out for PR? They’re born for that, they’ve got the talent, the raw talent or the training for this. What is your sixth sense about that?
ROXANA: Well, I like to talk about experienced PR people that I hire or junior PR people that I hire, because there’s two different sets of professionals and things that I look for. So, in the younger people, definitely, it’s the commitment, the desire to learn, and the smarts. You have to be smart and be bilingual. For me, that’s very important, ideally. And somebody that is curious. Somebody that wants to learn, and read, that likes to read books and can talk about trends and can talk about what’s happening on TikTok. Those are the questions that I ask. It’s somebody that has to be connected somehow, if it’s socially, with media, they have to have connections, they have to be connected to something. In the more experienced, it’s a lot of the same things. You’re looking for commitment. You’re looking for smart, and strategy, somebody that is available to me. I’m very fast, for example, when I work. I need people to respond to me quickly. They need to be very proactive. There are things that I look for that they have to be good at to work for me and being responsive is one of them because I work on multiple things at the same time. I need people to be responsive and be available and committed. And just that passion too for what they’re doing and enjoy it. And good people, right? I mean you have to be a good person. I just had a case of somebody that, I know that she’s facing challenges and I don’t know what they are. I know, for example, that she’s a really good professional. She’s somebody super strong. And I know she’s struggling and it’s good also sometimes to acknowledge that and to tell them, “Listen, I know you might be going through things but I know you’re good.” Sometimes they want to hear that because they may not be facing a good time in their lives. We all have our share of personal stories and sacrifices and things that we have to go through, so we have to acknowledge that as leaders, like “Listen, I know you’re good. I got you. So take your time or take time off or do whatever you need to do.”
BILL: Roxana, I forgot to ask you. During all your years of public relations, what has been one of your favorite campaigns, if you can share two or three sentences. One of your favorite campaigns? I know you don’t want to leave anybody out, but one that you really enjoyed and just felt like you did a great job on?
ROXANA: One of the most successful campaigns, which was as difficult to do… there are so many. The one that I enjoyed the most, the one that comes to mind, was when we launched the Mexican national team uniforms from Mexico for the US, working with Nike. That was a complex project to do and it was so successful. It was great. We were in Mexico doing satellites and doing videos and shooting it here and making it a huge announcement. We only had a small part to play because Nike Mexico did all the work, but it was a lot of fun. With Nike, we worked on a lot of cool projects and a lot of cool launches.
BILL: That was with Sportivo or RL?
ROXANA: It was with Sportivo. Well, I had Nike before Sportivo, so I can’t remember if it was before or after, but yeah. Then with Got Milk? we worked on so many projects, with the California Milk Processor’s Board. It was a client that we had for 20 years. We worked on so many projects. The most recent one before I sold the company was called California Thrives on Milk and we did a documentary and that was really nice. We went into local communities, talking to non-profits and talking about the importance of eating healthy for kids. So we did a whole film with it and then we did donations, we did refrigerator donations for parents that needed it, so it was a beautiful campaign. And then we did some fun stuff too over the years. I mean, so many. And then some controversial ones too, as well, that we were a part of…
BILL: Something that was controversial before you took it on or it became a controversy because of the campaign you did?
ROXANA: Yeah, it was an advertising campaign that actually Goodby Silverstein & Partners did for Got Milk? We never anticipated that it was going to create a backlash at all. And nobody saw it coming. It was about PMS and how milk can help improve the symptoms of PMS, which is proven. But the campaign was really funny. It had a bunch of guys talking about women and “Honey, I’m home” with flowers. It was really funny and some women took it the wrong way. So you see, the coverage was really good when it launched and then it started getting bad, and bad, and bad, and bad. We created PR but it was so stressful. It was really stressful. Another favorite campaign was with Miller. It was one of my first clients with Miller Brewing Company. It was “Solo con Invitación,” the mystery concerts, By Invitation Only. We did a series of concerts. That was a lot of fun. So organizing everything and getting all the media to cover it. It was a lot of fun. I know so many.
BILL: I could talk to you for hours about all the different campaigns and the lessons learned in each one. And I hope to bring you back in October or September for Hispanic Heritage Month. Just to have several PR professionals talking about different campaigns, in the industry. Is there anything that you want to share about Blue PR, how people can reach you, and the types of clients you’re looking for? Feel free to plug away.
ROXANA: My website is under construction so I don’t have a website yet because it’s being built.
BILL: But it’s going to be www.bluepublicrelations.com.
ROXANA: My email is email@example.com. And it’s all about collaboration. I’m so open right now to really exploring different opportunities in different categories. I’m working in technology a lot right now, which is something that I haven’t really worked on in the past, so I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the government accounts because you learn so much from issues that are affecting communities, and how you can help and give back. So social impact is also something that we’re working with. I’m working on a few projects with the state of California right now so I’m excited about that. So, I’m totally open to continue collaborating with professionals and if anybody needs any advice from someone that has learned the hard lessons of owning your own agency over the years, feel free to give me a ring.