Brenda Urban is a public relations professional based in Los Angeles working in the hospitality industry. She is currently on the hit Bravo TV series Eat, Drink, Love, which chronicles the lives of five single ladies working in the L.A. food industry. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Brenda on her life in PR, and the world of reality television. She shares with us inspiring insight on the challenges and benefits of the industry, while providing words of encouragement to aspiring PR pros. Here’s what she had to say:
1. How did you get started in the field of public relations? What made you pursue a career in the industry?
Work hard, start at the bottom, and don’t accept “no” for an answer. Public relations is one of those fields where you don’t get hired unless you have experience. Unlike a lot of young professionals pursuing a career in PR, I had absolutely no experience. I graduated Mason Gross School of the Arts with a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in dance, and I never did an internship during my four years of undergraduate studies.
The only choice I had to find a job after graduation was to start at the bottom and work my way up. I took an administrative job and my starting salary was $23,000 a year.
2. When you were living in New York, you worked on the entertainment side of public relations. What made you decide to transition into the hospitality sector?
After 6 months of sticking it out, I secured an entry-level position with William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor) in New York as a “floating assistant.” Basically a glorified secretary for whatever department they needed me in. I can’t stress enough how my work ethic really paid off. I worked long hours and did monotonous tasks. Do you know agents don’t ever actually pick up a phone and call someone? I would have to “roll calls” all day so if a client didn’t answer, the agent wasn’t wasting their time.
After a few YEARS of assisting, I decided I needed a change. I had the worst interview of my life with the head of PR at Glamour magazine. She took me to lunch and told me that she would never hire me because I had no PR experience. I thought “what a waste of time that was!” By the time I got home, I had a message from that woman, saying she was recommending me for a job with the first PR firm I ever worked for, Lou Hammond & Associates. Apparently, even though she didn’t want to hire me, I made such a good impression that she saw my potential. Anyone you meet, could be the most important person you meet that day. Treat everyone with respect.
3. What’s your typical day like?
My day typically starts very early, returning emails from the night before, watching the morning talk shows (to see which ones are booking what guests), and reading the news. In order to be a great publicist, you need to be familiar with the producers and journalists that you are pitching. Know what they cover and where their interests lie. Nothing is more embarrassing for the PR industry than people who send out a pitch about a client that the producer or journalist would never cover.
I write A LOT. I write press releases, I write speeches, I write press materials. I cannot stress enough how important writing skills are. My first boss in PR used to mark up my press release drafts with a red pen, sometimes 10 or 11 times! I resented her for it then, but realize now that the tough love made me a great writer, and in turn, a great publicist. PR is twofold – who you know and how well you write. If you write with confidence, clients will appreciate your work and your counsel.
4. As we all know, life in PR isn’t as glamorous as people seem to think it is. What do you find to be the most challenging part of a career in Hospitality PR? Most rewarding?
I often hear that people think PR is a super glamorous job. It can be, but it is also a lot of long hours behind a computer and on the phone to make those moments spectacular. I see a lot of younger PR gals expecting the world on their first day. They want to schmooze with journalists, have cocktails at 5, and stay out late at fabulous parties with celebrities. Haha. Don’t we all! The best part of my job isn’t the schmoozing. It is getting the results of the sometimes weeks or months of pitching, and as a result winning over the trust and respect of journalists and my clients.
5. When you were approached about Eat, Drink, Love, what were your initial thoughts? Were you skeptical at all about bringing your professional life to reality television?
I never wanted to be on reality TV. I was introduced to the producers through Kat Odell, who is on the show with me and writes for Eater LA. I was very hesitant at first, but they made me feel comfortable. I have been a publicist for 10 years, so I knew that my contacts in the industry are strong, and that I could really show viewers how PR works in LA. I don’t think many people realize that behind most great stories is a person who jumped through hoops to make it happen.
6. As a PR pro, you know how valuable Twitter is for our industry. Does interacting with your fan base (which is amazing, by the way!) come naturally for you?
I think having conversations are very important in PR. That is what it is – public relations… relationships with the public. Whether it be through traditional media (newspapers, television, etc.) or social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) those conversations are essential for exposure. I have so much fun with Twitter, and I am lucky enough that those people who follow and Tweet me are (for the most part) nice and supportive. And I think it is amazing that I can reach people I don’t know who live thousands of miles away with 140 characters.
7. How has your career as a PR professional changed since you’ve been on the show?
Something that people don’t tell you is that being on a reality television show most-likely won’t change your life (unless you are Snookie, perhaps). I still go to the office every day. I rarely (if ever) get recognized. The best part about being on the show for me is that I behaved professionally, and now I am getting potential clients reaching out because they saw me on the show. Like I said before, I think the show has been great for showing folks what PR professionals do, and how we really do make a different for our clients’ businesses.
8. In 2012, you opened your own public relations and marketing agency called Urban + Allen, with partner Edward Allen. How has this business venture shaped your career?
I have been incredibly lucky to find a partner as supportive as Edward. We work so well together, and in the process have fun. I no longer get the Sunday night blues thinking about going to the office on Monday. I look forward to everyday.
There has been nothing more rewarding than working for myself. I recommend that everyone do it, if they have the chance. Was it scary? Of course! For the first few months, my income relied solely on when and if my clients paid me on time. But now, I have the freedom to turn down clients I don’t want to work with. And believing in my clients and loving what they do makes my job so much easier. Trust me… no matter how much I got paid, I would never take on a fast food brand as a client. It is just not what I believe in.
9. What advice would you give to an aspiring PR professional?
Work hard. Find a mentor who sees your potential and is willing to take you under their wing. As I said earlier, know who you are pitching and what they cover. You are only as good as your contacts. Find out what interests you, and do PR in that field. I never understood folks that love fashion, but represent healthcare clients.
Thank you to Brenda for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions! She provides us with valuable knowledge about the PR world, and most importantly, shows how dedication and persistence in the industry is crucial to a successful career!
Don’t forget to tune in to the season finale of Eat, Drink, Love this Thursday night at 7/6c on Bravo TV – The Final Course!
Follow @msbrendaurban and the rest of the cast on Twitter to join in on the conversation!
© Copyright 2013 – Image Courtesy of NBC Universal