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[et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text”]By Marie Bradby

Debra Locker simplified her career by changing it when she started her own public relations business. 

Debra Locker was just like any TV journalist, slogging away at multiple stories on deadline and working long hours and holidays.

But she wanted to have her own business before she turned 40, so in 2008 when she was 37, she started Locker Public Relations. With that move, she has built a niche PR firm that specializes in the luxury beauty and wellness industry. Her Louisville-based agency has even developed the clout to land clients on national TV, including The TODAY Show, The Doctors, and MSNBC’s Your Business; and in national magazines and websites such as Marie Claire, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes.com.

Knowing how to establish and maintain good relationships with key people within the journalism field, became an asset for Debra in the development of the business. 

“As a journalist, I liked helping people tell amazing stories,” says Debra, 44, whose journalism career included jobs at WLKY in Louisville and WKYT in Lexington. She says she’s still able to do that, but now it’s with more time and thought because she is not having to tell these stories on deadline every day. “Now I am telling stories on behalf of my clients.”

Debra’s TV jobs helped her develop personal relationships with hosts and producers who moved to the national level. Later, as a corporate PR specialist with the International Spa Association, she built relationships with lifestyle editors of varying media in New York.

Choosing clients who feel comfortable with her is an important part of Debra’s business methodology. 

As a one-person agency, she keeps only a half dozen small business clients that she carefully chooses. “I tend to work with very strong women entrepreneurs in the lifestyle and wellness area,” says Debra, who with her husband Ron Griffin has a 9-year-old son, Bryce, and two Great Pyrenees dogs, Jackie and Pete.

Debra’s longest running client is the person who was also her first client: Celeste Hilling, founder and CEO of Skin Authority based in San Diego, California. “I put eight to nine months of work into my company before starting it,” Debra says. “I told her, if I do this, would you be my client? She said, ‘Yes!’ For Skin Authority, I was able to use some of the contacts I already had.”

Debra’s resourcefulness and strategic thinking as a public relations specialist has been a big asset for the company.  

How do you pick a great client? A lot of it is knowing which clients aren’t right for you. They have to be very, very comfortable with you. You are the one prepping them and making them feel comfortable. It’s also about picking someone who’s going to be your friend and who you don’t mind hanging out with or talking to on the phone a lot. It’s very much a partnership.

What should a client do before hiring a PR firm? Make sure you know your brand and your story. Until you know those things, you can’t hire a PR firm to tell it.

How do you build media relationships? When you can meet with a journalist personally, do it. Coffee and lunch are acceptable invitations. Additionally, become friends with them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and Google +, subscribe to their blog, and read their articles. Journalists appreciate knowing that people enjoy their work.

How do you get the word out? Everyone you know should know about your company. Ideas for being an effective ‘big mouth’ include: speaking about your business to charitable and civic groups, placing gift certificates and product baskets in charity auctions, and being a resource for schools, nonprofits, and others on your expertise.

What about networking? Make local connections by inviting the community into your business. Partner with a restaurant or like-minded business to make this a larger event. Offer helpful education, light bites, gift certificates for a future visit, etc. Local media may be interested in promoting the event.

How can you drive traffic to your business? If you have a service-driven business such as a restaurant, spa, salon, or clothing store, invite local TV hosts and reporters in for a tour and product testing or treatment. Their word-of-mouth is likely to bring in new customers and possible coverage.

Social media tips? Live your brand. Offer your expertise on social media by putting yourself out there as a reliable resource. Always be positive over social media. You may be having the worst day ever at your facility, but you definitely don’t want to vent about it on Facebook!

How can you handle your Internet image? Google yourself and your business or brand name a few times per month. Make sure the results are representative of the image you want potential clients to see. If they are not, consider being more active on Google + with expert advice and news about your brand. Google + has excellent SEO power.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column]