I interviewed Sharon Zeeve Poole from Agent 99 late last year to get the inside scoop to creating publicity for your brand. Sharon shares her learning experiences of growing and expanding her business and goes behind the scene to what it took to make her business so successful today. She paints the picture of what the landscape of 2021 has install and so much more. Sharon’s knowledge is worth it’s weight in gold, do yourself a favour and take a listen.
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On today’s episode, I am talking with Sharon Zeev Poole, the founder and director of a highly regarded boutique PR and communications agency, Agent 99. She has grown her company from a one-man show to a full-service award-winning agency located in the thriving creative hub of Surry Hills in Sydney. Sharon has worked all over the world on high-profile brands, such as Warner Brothers, Pitchers and Starbucks coffee, just to name a few. Today’s episode, we are diving into what a publicist does and some things you can do today for your business to get more eyeballs on your brand. It’s a jam-packed episode, full of wisdom. Sharon shares some amazing learning experiences that she’s had over the last 14 years in her business from quality over quantity, to storytelling, to learning from your mistakes. It’s a jam-packed episode. So let’s dive in.
Hello, Sharon, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Hi Lizzie. Thanks for having me.
I’m excited about our conversation today, but before we dive in, I would love for you to share what it is you do and how you ended up doing it.
Yeah. Look, I started off, Oh, I’m going to age myself a bit, but about 20 years ago, I basically had graduated from a commerce degree in Melbourne at Deakin Uni. I kind of did three majors cause I’m very indecisive and I did management, accounting and marketing, and I knew that marketing was really for me, but I just didn’t know the area I was going to work in. I started working for my dad and his business actually. He was a national Paint distributor and manufacturer. I did a lot of B2B and selling into trade, etcetera, and doing all the marketing. About three days later, I was like, well, I need to see the world. I need to get out there. I went to London as a lot of Aussies do, and I got my first job in PR and I didn’t even know what PR was and I just kind of fell into it, but I really fell in love with it.
What I didn’t realize was that I was doing a lot of PR in my role at my dad’s company, by writing opinion pieces and, connecting through the written word, which is what we do in PR a lot. I just learned that skill in that role and then continued on and I moved to Canada because my husband’s Canadian and I fell into a huge worldwide advertising agency that had a PR component to it. And I was in a team there. My first two clients were Warner Brother’s pictures and Starbucks coffee. So massive clients. I just cut my teeth on the best possible types of brands to work on. I mean, on my last day at my job, before I moved back to Australia, organized an interview with Tom Cruise on the day and, just listening to him I just thought, that’s kind of, that’s my work. That’s what I’m doing. I’m getting the word out there about he’s an awesome new film. It’s just, there have been so many career highlights during that time. When I came back to Australia, I worked at, a midsize company PR agency and worked on clients like IMAX theaters and Nudie Juice and Jenny Craig. It was just, I was very fortunate to work on some incredible brands.
About three years later, I thought that’s it, I’m ready for it. I saw the good, bad and the ugly of all sorts of agencies and I’m ready to start my OD. That’s when I started Agent 99 PR and that was, Oh geez, almost 14 years ago now. I had a few jobs and then I kind of, fell into something but fell in love with it. And it became my world. To this day I still get up every single day and I’m really excited and I’m surrounded by an awesome team.
Now I did it on my own for the first year and then started hiring. I’m still very passionate and still very connected to all of our clients because I love seeing those results. I love saying us changing the business and positioning them in the market and then driving leads and driving results. It’s just such a passion of mine and it’s really fun to do it every day to be really creative.
Well, and I feel like it’s ever changing as well. Like media is just, Whoa.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s changing in so many respects, but at the core of it is storytelling, which will never actually change. I have to admit that a year or so ago, I was actually quite worried about the PR world because so many media outlets were closing down. I mean, if we don’t have media outlets to pitch to where do we go from there, but it’s actually changed so much because it’s not just about, I mean, I’m on a podcast with you today and that’s a way to connect with audiences. You’ve got podcasts and blogs and you’ve got, all sorts of social channels and you can become your own publisher as well. You’ve got so many avenues to connect and I’m not at all concerned about the PR industry at all. In fact, I think I was just telling you before that, we’re about to have our biggest quarter yet on record, which is phenomenal, just coming out of COVID, which was a really hard time for us.
It’s been an enormous recovery and it’s just been so lovely to see because it really excites me about the future in 2021, about the ways that we can connect with audiences for our brands.
I love it. I think, I’m having so many conversations about, the excitement for 2021, the landscape of, the whole world has changed, like be it media online, everything has changed. What you just mentioned as well with storytelling is a part of what a publicist does. There any other thing you want to add into that of like what a publicist does?
It’s so multifaceted. I mean, at the end of the day, it really has to start with the business that you’re either working for. If you’re in-house or the brand you’re working with, if you’re agency side, what is it that the business is actually trying to achieve? Because there’s no point in a publicist running off and getting some coverage when they don’t really know why they’re doing it. What’s the why? So what’s the bigger picture and how does PR as a tool support that and support the company moving forward to achieve whatever goal it set itself. For us, it’s being really strategic and being able to, hone in on that and become a business partner and really understand what our client’s trying to do. A publicist really needs to understand that and then create the key messages that are so, they’re the ones that will help the client to position themselves in market.
We’ll also help to drive that action that’s needed, whether it’s a mention of a website, whether it’s, understanding what the company does and where it sits against its other competitors, that’s where it came. Messaging is really important. You do that with your client as a publicist, you form those key messages of what you want said about your, what you’re going to say about yourself. We do a lot of writing in all sorts of ways. We might communicate the client’s product or offering through innovative materials through press releases, through connecting with media on a regular basis. We might create campaigns around a hook. For example, we work with a lot of alcohol brands, for example. So, we’ll gin day is a great one to jump on. If you’ve got a gin brand and you want to do some really fun activation around that, we do actually also as publicists, we create events.
COVID has obviously had quite an impact on that. What we found ourselves doing is transitioning to digital events and we’ve done quite a lot of zoom launch events for a number of our brands, which have been absolutely fantastic. In some ways, even more impactful than in real life events. That pivot has been just so eyeopening and really fun. And I think that’s actually going anyway. The other thing we tend to do is we work with influences a lot. Influences it’s such an overused word, but there’s a real spectrum of influences from your micro influencers who tend to be, the three up to 10,000 followers on Instagram, for example, who really love a certain category. You want to target them to engage them with a brand that you’re working with all the way up to your celebrities, your Kim Kardashians of the world who charge a million dollars for one post or something like that.
Influencer work is very much a part of that and then integrating into social media as well. It’s really important that the content that you produce from a PR perspective is really well-integrated into social channels. Some of that might be, all about making sure that message is being amplified as best as possible. You know, once you’ve created those myths,
What I love about this, the most that you just shared is like, I feel like there’s a real intimacy that you get to have with a brand because you get to know like, it’s almost like the nuts and bolts, like it’s the root of everything that they do to then actually share that message. Like they must yeah. Really intimate relationship going on.
Yeah, there is. Yeah. And, and I think that the brands that do really well with their agency and their publicists are the ones that see it as a long-term partnership. They, we speak to our clients daily. We’re a part of their business, and having that, it’s not just about, Oh, great. I found an agency and I’ll just sign off now. Off they go, I mean, your story really well. Those little nuggets or the news that’s coming up, that they can leverage for you. If you don’t invest in it, then you don’t get the same kind of results because it’s, for us having to ake out the information just slows the process down. I think taking on a publicist or taking on a, an agency is an investment in your marketing. It’s an investment in yourself because what you’re effectively doing is creating your brand. I mean, there’s so many paid channels.
Now you can go through sponsored content or you can go through paid social, but ultimately consumers are becoming very savvy and it’s old, the old Ganek stuff. It’s all of that unpaid and editorial that really helps to connect because that third party endorsement being the media, obeying influencers who are using your products on a contract basis, that’s where it’s really convincing. It’s a lot more organic. It’s someone else saying something about you versus you kind of saying that about yourself.
Absolutely. It’s creating that authority like that. I have the experience like, look, did you see this? Did you see that? Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. I love it. What has been your biggest learning experience over the last 14 years.
Business? I think it’s just to never give up, I think going into business, I was really lucky because I started off literally picking up a client a month and I’m not just talking about, small clients. My first client was the Hunter Valley region and then my next client was MTV. The one after that was a new har brand that was launching into Australia. I was picking up really great heavy work, so I had a good start, which was awesome because I just thought, Oh wow, why haven’t I done this before? Because it seems so easy. I started getting more clients on board and then I started scaling up and that’s when it started to become a lot more complicated and then layer that with becoming a mom. I had two boys and, one who’s eight now and the other is five. Having kids and not having a business partner was a really, just such a challenging time.
The first time around, I came back to the agency after two and a half months, I was already getting calls from clients one month after having my first son. I had no idea what I was doing. I was clueless. I was very career driven, so I never made any mental preparation for having a child. I literally, I had a C-section on February 2nd and I was still doing our billings on February. I just like did not disconnect from work. I really, in many ways, regret that. So, so having the kids that was really challenging, at least the second time around, I was smarter and I replaced myself with the general manager and took six months off, which was amazing. I came back into the business and there was still a lot of work to do to get it kind of back to where, on the same trajectory that I wanted to go on.
COVID this year, I think that’s been a, such a massive challenge, admittedly, were doing fine, but I did have to take, I didn’t have to make anyone redundant. I was really fortunate, but I did take the team to four days a week, which I’d never had to do before. And that was devastating. I remember the day that we had that zoom call and I literally broke down in tears because I felt like I had let them down, even though it had clearly nothing to do with me, but, and I was just, I found that really hard, but as I mentioned, we’re we’ve recovered fairly quickly. I think that comes down to working hard with our clients, always adding value and really helping them with their own comp strategy and moving them forward. So, and we’re just, we’re really prospering now. I’m so excited about 2021, but the challenges have been huge.
I think that you just learn that you can’t give up, you might have the worst day and all you want to do is just stay in bed all day. Don’t just get up because it always changes. Everything is just a phase. I know it sounds so cliche, but it really is just a moment in time and you need to do whatever you need to do, go for a walk or, talk to someone that is in your family who really supports you and loves you and just get through it because it’s just a phase and it will get better. Perseverance is a huge value of mine. I just don’t give up on anything if I really want something, I just go for it. I think that’s something that if you want to have your own business, you’d need to be prepared for some pretty rubbish times.
And, and, but just knowing that it changes because equally the Heizer, like last week I wasn’t getting to sleep till like one o’clock in the morning because we’ve got so many incredible opportunities. I couldn’t come down from that high. Yeah. Literally it’s mad, happy dances, like many happy dances, how many cool things. Just even seeing my team thriving and just knocking it out of the park where I’m going to meetings, I’m feeling redundant because they’ve just got it signed to control those things, excite me. And that’s awesome. Yes, there’s challenges, but equally there’s tremendous highs. Look, I also love the freedom and the flexibility that I get with having my own business. Therefore I have introduced that flexibility into our business too, because I know that my team values it as well. Yeah, it’s challenging, but it’s so damn rewarding.
Oh, wow. You just like given us more than just, work hard and I keep going, like, what is it quality over quantity when you first started? Yes. You were only landing one client, a month, but you are going for quality and something that you believed in. Like, I think a lot of people just go, I just want, I want the money. Will you seek out something that you could represent? And I loved that. Also with your son, the second time round with baby number two, like you learned from your experiences.
Oh, I certainly did. Yeah. I think the other thing that I was resisting for a very long time was mentoring. I just thought it was just odd. I guess that same too many things with live coaches and people who actually, I didn’t really necessarily respect. Well, I didn’t think that they had that life experience, but a few years ago, this changed for me when an old kind of mindset, her business grew massively. I said, well, what’s your secret? And she said, well, first I got rid of one toxic person who worked in the business that I should have got rid of a long time ago. Secondly, I joined the group, it’s a mentoring group and it’s a business scaling up program called entrepreneurs, organization, EO. There are around the world and I joined that and it was an intensive two year program. Through that, I have completely changed the face of my business and we’re just seeing growth constantly.
I just became a total convert and I’ve got about two or three different mentors that I work with as well. I preach that now the mentoring paces is so important because you get to a point where you cap out with your knowledge. If you don’t solve the problems with other people who have gone through that experience, you’re actually never going to learn. Let’s be honest. So just opening yourself up. That’s something that I’ve learned and has really helped me on my journey in the last few years, for sure.
Wow. There you go. Things like that. I think in business anyway, like I have a lot of people, like, I didn’t want to do a Facebook ad. I want to do a Facebook ad, but then as soon as they do it and they’re like, Oh, I’m like, yeah, like I find them highly addictive, ? Like it’s almost like gambling to me. I love them. But yeah,
Exactly. Just being open-minded and try because let’s face it, what’s the absolute worst that can happen, just be open to that and open to change. I was always so stuck in these ways and I thought that was the right way. And, and that’s something that I’d be able to through that whole mentoring process. It opened my mind and I just thought, Hey, hang on a minute, you thought you knew stuff, but actually there’s so much more to learn. I love that and it’s changed my attitude completely.
All right. I’m going to wrap this up as the last question. Can you share a couple of tips for us on how to get more eyeballs onto our business?
It’s a really broad one because at the end of the day, each business is very different, but only you have that story. You have your own individual story that you really need to try and leverage people connect with people, not with brands so much. You create a brand by putting a face to it. Really digging deep and finding what is that story? What’s your, why? Why did you create the business that you did? You will find a story in there and it’s about, really understanding and try it out, talk to people at a potty and tell them about yourself and what you did, and just notice the times that they light up. That’s the story right there. That’s the story. That’s the thing that you need to amplify, whether it’s through media or through social channels, tell your story. It’s really important. People will love that.
And it’s the quirkier the better. Yeah. They love that because that’s what keeps them interested and the more likely to become a brand user and a brand advocate. One is telling your story and refining it and really working on that. Amplifying that story through social channels. Look, if you’ve got a consumer product these days, I feel like influencer marketing is really key to that. There’s some businesses like high smile, for example, which is a teeth whitening business. They’ve created a $40 million business just through influencer marketing through people trying, who’ve got a following and I’m talking about small followings because at the end of the day, you’re creating brand advocates. These are people who are just getting these products, they trying it out and then they posting about them. Look, it’s not quite as simple as that anymore, quite an industry unto itself. You’ve got to know how to approach them and I’m happy to help anybody do that at any time, even to just have a chat about it.
I think that’s really key, particularly with a consumer product. I think looking for hooks as well, I kind of mentioned before, like your world gin day, if you’ve got a product or a service, there’s no question that there’s going to be a calendar out there of different events that happen throughout the year that are going to be really relevant to Avvo service or your product. That’s a good time to be talking to media. It’s a good time to be creating campaigns on your social because people are interested in the content and it’s quick and it’s fun. You can have a voice, especially if your competitors are not thinking about this, you can’t be, and that can be a real advantage to you. Creating many campaigns around that and creating some messaging and some content, whether it’s a great video that relates back to that time of year or that time of, so I’ll give you an example yesterday we launched pet Hill, which is the first grapefruit aperitif in the world.
And then their tagline is summertime anytime. It was the first day of summit yesterday. We had a launch and we did it all online on zoom and we invited media and influences, and we did it with a bartender at Coogee pavilion and we had the bar set up and we did a master class essentially online. We’ve created all these incredible cocktails and, just because it was the 1st of December, it was a good time to talk to them. It made sense. It made sense in terms of the brand messaging. That just gives you an idea of how you can jump in and look at what’s happening in the world around you. How can you leverage that to talk about your own product or yes, three great tips. Telling your story, amplifying it through socials in whichever manner you need, but then also I guess, identifying the key dates that work specifically for your niche area of your business.
Exactly. Love it. All right. Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given quickly?
Be ready, be prepared, have foresight plan ahead because a lot of people don’t, and if you take that thinking of other people’s plate and do the planning for them, you become indispensable either to your own brand or to others.
Perfect. Sharon, thank you so much for your time today. This episode is just jam packed full of gold. Your wisdom is just incredible. I love it. Thank you so much for your time and thank you so much for being on the show and for everyone listening in the show notes, we’ve got links to agent 99 where you can find Sharon’s business, but we’ll also put a link in there. If you’ve got any questions you can ask her. So thank you. Wonderful.
Thanks so much, Lizzie. It was really fun.