Alyssa Baker is the founder and President of the RIOT Media Group, Los Angeles; a results driven agency that believes in seeing a return on investment.
In the interview below, Alyssa talks of how important networking is in the PR industry and in order to follow your career dreams, you sometimes have to up and leave the small town you came from so you can work with the big leagues in the big city. This is something I’ll be doing when I move to London in two months time!
The reason I conduct these interviews is to inspire you, my readers, and fellow PR students to be successful in your careers and business leaders of the future. I have asked the important questions to gain an insight of how these #GirlBosses made it to where they are today, and how we can emulate their successes.
Orlagh Shanks: Hi Alyssa! An easy question to start us off – What is your full job title?
Alyssa Baker: Founder and President of RIOT Media Group.
Orlagh: Can you give me a background of your career and education? How did this lead you to be in your PR position today?
Alyssa: From a young age, I knew I wanted to carve a path in PR and media relations and work with fashion and beauty brands, but I was from a very small town in Indiana and had no connections in the industry. I knew if I wanted to make it in a big city and work for those brands I dreamed of, I would have to work that much harder.
From then on, I solely focused on making it happen – nothing could get in my way! I attended Indiana University for Journalism and Communications and eventually one connection led to another and I landed my first internship at Fox TV Studios, as the assistant to the head of global marketing in Los Angeles the summer after my Sophomore year of college.
After that, I was confident I made the right career decision and made the move to LA for good the following summer. I finished school early and got right to work, working for a handful of PR agencies before starting RIOT in 2014.
Orlagh: How and why did you start your business?
Alyssa: When working in the PR and media world, you learn something different from each agency. Ultimately, I came to a point where I knew I had to try it my way. As an honest, straightforward person, the smoke and mirrors that I saw at many PR agencies just didn’t make sense to me.
I created RIOT to challenge that notion that PR is artful deception – because it’s not. The right PR and media strategy can make or break your brand and that’s what many start-ups today don’t understand.
A lot of the success depends on the client relationship and vision. I pride my agency on having great relationships, not only with the media but with our clients. We think of ourselves as an extension of their brand.
Orlagh: What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your role in PR?
Alyssa: PR is an extremely challenging career choice for so many reasons, but when we secure major placements for our clients, that’s when it all feels worth it!
Between the 24/7 news cycle, increasing demand for pay to play and traditional publications merging and folding left and right, it’s an uncertain time for PR professionals right now.
Orlagh: What do you wish more people understood about PR?
Alyssa: The media landscape has changed very drastically very quickly – and is changing every single day. Much of what you see online is sponsored posts or contain inclusions of brands that also pay for some type of advertising within that outlet.
As PR professionals, we have to stay on top of industry trends and constantly educate our clients so their expectations remain realistic.
Also, small brands are having a harder time competing with large companies because they simply cannot afford the advertising costs, so they put all of their eggs (and expectations) in the PR basket. PR is not a full-scope solution to advertising and marketing. All the pieces of the puzzle must be put together to see the best results and return on investment.
Orlagh: If you were to hire someone for a PR role, what skills and qualities would your ideal candidate have?
Alyssa: Someone who is organised, passionate and intelligent. Common sense will take you so far in this industry! Also, someone who wants to make PR and media relations their career – that is a requirement for me.
I see a lot of girls come through RIOT’s doors thinking it’s going to be an Instagram-worthy party every day. Those girls usually quit by the second week. That is NOT reality. The reality is sending hundreds of emails per day, organising detailed spreadsheets, creative writing, planning events and perfecting communication skills constantly.
I seek out individuals who are self-motivated but also know how to take direction and respect authority. I’m very much for learning along the way – nothing beats experience!
Orlagh: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the PR industry is today?
Alyssa: The biggest challenge facing the PR industry today is our ability to adapt to a shifting media landscape. Traditional skills are no longer as relevant as they once were and clients don’t want to sign year-long contracts like they once did.
It’s sink or swim in this industry right now, especially as an agency owner.
Orlagh: What advice would you give to a student like myself that wants to emulate your success and make it in the PR industry?
Alyssa: The sooner you can get your feet wet in this industry and gain experience, the better. Start applying for internships as soon as you can!
It’s truly hard to learn PR skills, you just have to do it! No type of PR assignment can mirror the realities of working with clients, managing multiple assignments and meeting client deadlines.
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