Wondering how PR can boost your brand? PR pro Kathleen Lucente, Founder of Red Fan Communications, demystifies public relations for startups and small businesses. With 15 years growing her own agency, she shares when to engage PR help and how to maximise value on a budget. Key takeaways include defining your niche, hiring specialists who know your industry, and scaling support as you grow. Kathleen advises crafting an authentic brand narrative, aligning internal and external messaging, and leaning into what makes you unique. Learn how PR establishes credibility, provides "air cover" for sales, and positions you as an expert. Discover low-cost ways to benefit from PR skills early on. This candid, tactical episode empowers entrepreneurs to strategically communicate their vision and values.
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The UnNoticed Entrepreneur is hosted & produced by Jim James.
Jim James (00:02.37)
Hello and welcome to this episode of the Unnoticed Entrepreneur with me, Jim James. I'm in the UK, but we are going to Austin, Texas to talk to a PR pro who actually also spent time in Asia. So we've had a lovely chat about Hong Kong and life out there. But Kathleen Lucente runs a company called Red Fan Communications based out of Austin, also with the company in San Diego, now Asheville, North Carolina. And she really specializes in helping tech startups and entrepreneurs to get noticed.
And we're going to talk today about what is PR? You know, what does it do? Who is it for? And how to make most use of an agency if you haven't got a large budget. We're also going to talk about how she's been building her own business for the last 15 years. Kathleen, welcome to the show.
Kathleen Lucente (00:49.012)
Joy to be here, thanks so much.
Jim James (00:51.086)
Thanks for joining us from sunny Austin. I know Austin, Texas is also a center of high tech and startups. I know you've been giving talks to entrepreneurs about how to use agencies. With your background in running an agency and working with clients, tell us, is public relations really just for rich companies that have got lots of funding?
and it's really not for anybody else. What's your view on who PR is good for and when is it good for?
Kathleen Lucente (01:24.468)
Public relations should be in the mind of any entrepreneur at the very beginning of starting their company. And because public relations is not just the media relations, it's the building of the narrative and the storyline of the company and the story even behind the brand and the name of your company. So all of that is built up and written in copy on your website, right? And so that is the foundation. It is sort of the kickoff field for everything else.
And then later at some point, when you decide to start doing some public relations with media, that is our industry analysts, that's where they're going to go. And so you want to have, uh, the very beginning, a really great writer and someone who can truly look at what's going on with the competition and understand what, what is different about you and isn't just sipping the Kool-Aid. Really is going to kick the tires on this and make sure you've got a solid story to begin with that can scale.
Jim James (02:21.614)
For those people that aren't really familiar with PR and think of it as, you know, sort of just spin. Cathy, what's the role of PR and why should someone that's running a business allocate any time and effort to that compared to say direct marketing or LinkedIn or SEO work? Because often resources are limited. Entrepreneurs are wondering which one to do first and they're not necessarily sure the value
of public relations. Can you just help us to understand what does public relations do to help a business?
Kathleen Lucente (02:57.58)
Public Relations usually is a customized campaign that scales for a company, right? So it can start at a very basic level. A lot of times when I'm meeting with entrepreneurs and they say, I can't afford an agency so I just am not gonna do it. I say, well, you're doing it without doing it, whether you know it or not. Somebody is looking at you and defining you right now based on the conversation you had at a cocktail party or whatever it may do. You are doing PR without having a PR specialist. So...
The best thing you can do is actually, whether it's working with an agency or working with a freelancer who's a great PR person, to at least start having some purposeful dialogue around it so that you know what you're putting out there so you're attracting the right thing. And I believe that, you know, startups do not have to run out and hire an agency right off the bat, but they do need to have a point person internally.
whether it's right now a journalism major that's working as an assistant to the entrepreneur that can at least begin to start to help with this, start to think about who you're hiring now that they are foundational for how you scale and can help you make sure your brand is protected.
Jim James (04:12.174)
So, listening to you there though, Kathleen, you said that PR is what you're doing even if you're not trying to and that you'd be communicating about your business, for example, at a social function. Traditionally, people think of public relations as being media relations, reaching out to journalists proactively, sending press releases. From what you're saying, it's not just that. So what do you mean by that? How do you mean that people are communicating even when they're not trying to?
Kathleen Lucente (04:40.276)
Well, if you think of the words public relations, the public is any, any stakeholder outside of your company, but the public really for a CEO is also their employees because nowadays what they're communicating internally, your internal communications will seep out externally to reporters for reporters interested in your company and they're trying to find something they're going to find it, whether it's a memo from the CEO or a hearsay about a town hall.
So it's really the communication you are doing. It is, what am I telling my employees about my mission as a company? What am I telling them about the goals that we have? Am I using that same communication with reporters? Or do I have a different story or am I packaging it differently? If I want to influence industry analysts, so in the high tech industry, we like to make sure that analysts at Forrester or Gartner are also getting briefed before you go out to press.
You're going in with, you know, here's my slide deck, which I obviously hate PowerPoint and all that stuff, but you have to put those 12 slides together for those analyst firms, it's still a requirement, but it does force you in those 12 slides to have a very succinct story and case studies around why you exist and, uh, data that the analysts can say, okay, great, you're working with these types of companies. That gives me confidence in you. So the next time I'm talking to the Wall Street Journal and they asked me.
about a supply chain company and if they're missing anyone, I'll make sure I mention you. And that's how you also start to get impressed. Really PR is about building a reputation with stakeholders. It's also understanding where you could have a crisis. So when you're a CEO or an entrepreneur, you're putting all your love and attention into building your company or your service, your product.
But understanding where your weak spots are and understanding how you're going to be able to protect that if there's a product flaw, if something goes wrong. Um, it's so easy for a reputation to get torn down, um, very quickly. So making sure you have really these insurance policies in place and, um, whether it's a freelancer or not, um, you can sit down and think those things through in advance and you can rest a lot more knowing those are, those are things are in place.
Jim James (06:58.99)
So one element to that then Kathleen, from what you're saying is that there needs to be written down, whether it's 12 slides or at least a few slides, written down by the founder, what they believe the company is doing, why it's doing it, who it's doing it for. Is that what you mean? So there's some somewhere, other than a sales brochure, there is a distillation of the vision of the company. Is that the basis of PR?
Kathleen Lucente (07:28.52)
At least you have to start there, your mission, vision, values, but also how are you showing that every day, every quarter? How are you showing your employees, remember we said we were going to do this and we've achieved it in these ways. And that's how then you take that data and you're able to package that up and then go out to the external public, as in the media or analysts with that information. But you should be communicating really effectively internally before you're communicating externally. And so that's something that I love.
really love for entrepreneurs to know to do that and also to realize that as they scale, they have to do that even better and better. You start, I call it going from club to corporate. You're a small company with certain behaviors and you need to have those behaviors and best practices scale both internally and externally in your communication efforts.
Jim James (08:18.61)
What would that look like for my fellow unnoticed entrepreneur? They go, great, Kathleen, I get it. I need to write down somewhere what I stand for that's not a product sales brochure. What would that look like and where would they host that or how would they communicate that in a structured way?
Kathleen Lucente (08:37.528)
Well, the mission, vision and values are things that you need to, um, brainstorm with your team about. You can have like a initial set of them, but traditionally you are, uh, the CEO or founder has to start with something and then start to get buy-in into if we're going to narrow this down, if this is what we're trying to achieve, how do we really narrow this down to something we all can really live with that's going to truly impact our goals. And what I like to do is we actually have a practice for doing this with
We help them say, okay, if this is the mission and this is the vision, this is the values, what does this look like and how my sales team behaves when they walk out the door, what does this look like and how they behave internally with our team and how I communicate and what, what does this not look like behaviors? I don't want to see as well. When you set those standards early on as an entrepreneur, you really are helping to establish the foundation for how a culture can blossom still organically, but with some.
uh, ground rules and barriers, right? So things don't get too loosey goosey.
Jim James (09:43.438)
And loosey goosey is a technical term. But I think that raises a very interesting point about PR needing to be part of the growth strategy of the company. That growth of a company isn't just about sales and about organizational growth and scaling up in the traditional sense. It's also about the vision and the mission of the company being understood by everybody.
Kathleen Lucente (09:45.664)
Very, very technical.
Jim James (10:11.786)
in the team immediately and as they grow. So that's, I think, often overlooked, isn't it, really, Kathleen, because the focus is on sales, not on.
Kathleen Lucente (10:18.664)
It is. And I will say, I mean, really, obviously a lot of companies come to a PR agency or a PR professional because they think they need press immediately. There's this pressing issue and it's either because they've got a funding announcement coming out or their sales team is saying, Hey, we're not even getting invited to the dance. No one knows who we are or we're trying to do cold call. So there is still a real need.
to support your sales team, to give them what I call air cover, right? I mean, it makes it a lot easier if the entrepreneur or founder is on podcasts and, you know, in the right vertical publications and at the right trade shows. Those things do matter to that sales team. But you are only as good as your people at a company. And so if you're not fostering great communication early on, it, you know…
All you can do is you can look at companies like the Away Suitcase Company out of the United States and that CEO found herself on her back foot because she was sending out nasty grams through Slack to her sales team and they got annoyed and started posting them on social media. So what I'm getting at is it really, whatever you do internally and externally should really jive. It should feel very connected and authentic.
The other thing is that employees today want to work with companies that are doing good. And so it doesn't matter if you're in Spain or India or the United States, there's this what are our values and are we doing anything good in the community that we are part of. And so I see a lot of times we're helping companies figure out what nonprofit work they can do and not so much just writing checks but volunteerism. So entrepreneurs get nervous like, oh gosh.
Jim James (11:49.663)
Kathleen Lucente (12:07.912)
I can't write a check, I'm just trying to make money here. But you can go out and do days of volunteering and that really brings teams together. And once again, it connects back to your values and shows that you're walking the walk.
Jim James (12:21.482)
Okay, that's wonderful. As you say now, there really isn't a dividing wall anymore between what happens internally and next. And in the old days, of course, you know, staff couldn't talk to the media. And if no one, you know, talked to them, it didn't go anywhere. But now you say really, there's a real time and direct line into the heart of the organization. Kathleen, you know, you run an agency, Red Fan. Not everybody.
can afford an agency. In fact, the very reason I started this podcast was because so many of my friends that are entrepreneurs can't afford an agency, right? Not at the right time. How can an entrepreneur that's growing the company use the strategic skill sets within an agency to help them to grow? Because otherwise it's kind of like there's a nothing and then there's everything. And I think you've got some ideas about how you can help people to transition to being...
with an agency.
Kathleen Lucente (13:17.332)
Yeah, I believe that number one, because I'm a big fan of entrepreneurs, I do spend a lot of time, whether it's speaking at conferences or providing and really helping. This week is Startup Week in Austin, Texas. So last year I gave a talk on how do you scale your team internally and externally? When do you hire and who do you hire and when do you use an agency versus not? And really helping people understand that.
There are a couple of moments in time that I think are really important for entrepreneurs to consider. Really very early on when they're thinking about even building this business and putting a website up, it's a good time to at least establish some rapport with a PR professional, PR marketing professional. You're not looking at a PR professional for press. You're looking at them to have a critical eye on how to express your brand verbally.
Jim James (14:13.194)
Kathleen Lucente (14:13.212)
Um, not physical, not in the graphic design. That's a different thing. A lot of people get really excited about the graphic design and their logo. That's, that's lovely. But if we can't really articulate and, you know, with your trapped in an elevator with a, a funder that you're hoping is going to give you money and you can't articulate what it is that you do in a way that is going to be compelling. Lost opportunity 24 seven without having that language. So having a really great.
a narrative writer, someone who is going to do competitive intelligence and really challenge you on your thinking before you walk out the door. Because we often only have one chance to make impressions with very important people in meetings. So that early stage, I call it the brand positioning narrative work. If you can hire an agency or a person at an agency to do that work with you early on, then you can take that.
and then move it into a website copy, into marketing materials. All that copy will then be defined and you can move it out into your social channels and those types of things. The other times are you've got a major finance announcement or you want to do some, you're ready to launch a product and you don't know how to do the industry analyst relations bit. You could hire an agency or a specialist just to do that bit. So that's really important.
But at the same time, I recommend, like I said, for the entrepreneur not to be the primary liaison with the PR agency or the partner, having somebody on the team that has, um, is very organized, is helping you with your website, your social, and all those things, and can be part of that process is really helpful. It'll be more affordable in the end, if you have someone like that and entrepreneurs are getting pushed in many different directions. And so while they need to be part of the process.
Having to manage it might be a little frustrating, might not be their favorite thing to do.
Jim James (16:05.922)
Kathleen, that's great, great advice. And presumably entrepreneurs can reach out to an agency or an individual that they find on Upwork, for example, or in a local organization and pay either, you know, buy the hour for some consultancy or as a project. So it doesn't have to, it could be scalable according to the resources, right? It doesn't have to be a big commitment.
Kathleen Lucente (16:26.632)
It can be scalable. What I would suggest though, in terms of using your funds well, is try to find people who've already worked within your industry. Because they can get up to speed faster. They're not building a media list from scratch. They already know the right people. So you want to find people who've worked within your industry. That can really make a big difference for you, versus just a generic somebody who's worked in a variety. Maybe they worked in a
I don't know, a bicycle company and now they're trying to understand supply chain or something like that. It's going to take them longer to get up to speed and you're going to want to pay for that. You don't want to have to pay for that. You want someone who is a trusted advisor early on because of their knowledge of your industry.
Jim James (17:09.222)
Yeah, so as a domain expert, it really, really helps, doesn't it? And that's why in a way AI can't really help because you need a third party, independent and objective view, don't you? Rather than somebody who just, or a machine that just slavishly gives you something that's out of context.
Kathleen Lucente (17:12.396)
Kathleen Lucente (17:26.1)
That is correct. I mean, it's fun to see how people are using AI. I'm a big believer in using it in selective ways, but interviewing the sales team and understanding what objections they're running up against when they go out to talk to after like the first few months of maybe being out there, maybe they're running into objections. You might need to go back and tweak marketing language, might need to tweak certain ways you're communicating with. And so that's an ongoing.
marketing and communications effort. You have to stay in touch with your team and not just say, well, it's a one and done thing. Good luck with it. Get out there.
Jim James (18:01.146)
No, exactly. And still the importance of having people on your side. Kathleen, you set up Red Fan after an illustrious corporate career in Asia. As an entrepreneur, let's just get from you, what have you done to be building Red Fan? Because you're a PR person building a brand. How have you done that?
Kathleen Lucente (18:24.576)
I think that it's a mindset. So the first thing when you think about the brand Red Fan is it's not Kathleen Lucente Communications. I purposely named it Red Fan as my sayonara to the corporate world when I was moving back from the United States to the United States from Asia. I wanted to work with corporations, but I wanted to have an agency that had the best best-in-class employees, great clients, great community, and each of those fins on a fan when you look at the visual of a fan.
really represent all of those great things, community, the nonprofit work we do, all the things that come together at the base make it possible for us to continue to be highly successful and lean in on the latest and greatest technologies as we advance. So what we've done is we have been very clear about who we work with. We tend to work with companies that have certainly gotten their A round of funding and beyond. We are looking at B2B companies specifically.
We are focused in the tech business. We've done a lot in the FinTech side, insurance tech, cannabis as well, and lighting technology and agritech. So we've leaned in quite a bit into those expertise. And so one of the things that I've done is I've hired people who are former journalists who are on my team. They can ghost write for our clients beautifully. We find in those vertical markets, there's a lot of need for ghost writing because in the journalism.
sector, there's been a lot of cutbacks and requirements for us to submit articles on behalf of our executives that cannot be marketing language. They have to be very editorial in nature. But in terms of building the agency as a reputation, I would say the company as a whole, we do nonprofit work in our backyard on a regular basis, and that has created a lot of goodwill within our community. Everything from the trail of lights, which is, you know,
500,000 people go through it over the course of two weeks. It needed help to become a sustainable event, and we helped bring in the sponsors and all of the elements to make it so that now it is truly a sustainable event. And at this point, it really only needs a publicist. But for about five years, we established that. The world's oldest kite festival is in Austin, Texas. People come from all over the world and fly kites at it. I'm on the board of that.
Kathleen Lucente (20:49.056)
It has international reach. It's really fun. It's also done in one of our large park here in Austin, Texas, and it's very family friendly. And then the music capital of the world, of course, we've done a lot. Austin is known as that, and we've done a lot with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. We've won awards for that work. None of that is directly related to our B2B work, as you'll note. However, we have gotten our clients involved in those things because their employees want to be involved in those things. And so...
There's a lot of benefit to doing nonprofit work. I also have done quite a bit in the crisis work space and I'm kind of on, I would call it like the 911 or a call for a number of companies in town. So most of that you don't see on our website, but people call if they're in a jam, they know that we know how to appropriately address that, make sure they're not the headline in the New York Times and those types of things. So.
We have a solid expertise and reputation around that as well. And then finally, I would say our reputation of bringing companies public, helping companies from startup all the way up to making sure they're doing all the right things if they want to go IPO or go through a SPAC or want a position to be acquired. We help companies start thinking those through those various exit strategies and what they need to do to make their brand equity as attractive as possible.
Jim James (21:47.277)
Kathleen Lucente (22:13.356)
That's kind of how we've run the agency and I love what I do every day.
Jim James (22:18.09)
And it comes across as that as well. And, you know, going for 15 years, it's credit to you Kathleen for doing that. Now, with your experience, I will ask you that question that I ask everybody, which is a little bit awkward and it's not meant to be embarrassing in any way, but what do you think does not work? Or what in your experience have you done with Red Fan that didn't work out in terms of getting noticed as you might've hoped it would have done?
Kathleen Lucente (22:48.8)
I think that getting noticed, I would say, for me, I've found that referrals have been our strongest, even though we do a incredible copy in our newsletters, those all work. It hasn't been, for example, spending tons of money on Google ads or something like that. That is not the thing that brings us the best clients. And then the other thing I think that I've learned and learned early on is, you know, say no.
Um, when it's appropriate to, uh, incoming inbound companies that, um, are just desperate for your help. Um, I'd rather have coffee with the founder and give them some free guidance than take on a client that's not in our vertical expertise or, uh, you know, might not be, um, have the right funding to, uh, craft to the type of staff that I have, we really are a senior consultancy, um,
We don't have a lot of early, early stage, you know, people coming out of university, working at our company. There are people who have been in the industry a long time. And of course that means that our cost is a little bit higher. And so respectfully, I try to just rather give away that time than try to take on clients that where it's their last dime, you know, that's no one wants to be in that position.
Jim James (24:03.69)
Okay, so great. So if I could summarize, maybe it's sort of choosing or not taking on the wrong kind of clients would be the thing. And Kathleen Lucente, if I ask you as a final piece of advice, then you've built many brands for big companies on the inside as a corporate council in Asia, and now you're running your own agency back in the U.S. If there's one piece of advice for my fellow unnoticed entrepreneurs
Kathleen Lucente (24:09.141)
Jim James (24:30.582)
What do you think people should really do? What do you think really works when it comes to getting noticed?
Kathleen Lucente (24:37.064)
I think the number one thing is to determine what you want to be known for and lean into that. Lean into that with all your might. Recognize that might be your superpower and whether it's having your own podcast, it's getting on other people's podcasts, having a blog, really don't just dream about it. Put energy into it, some muscle into it.
As an individual, you need to do that. As an agency owner, I need to do that every single day. That helps my staff get the great business that we want to work with. It lets us have choices and the clients we get to work with, it's the same for you as an entrepreneur. So consider what you want to be known for. Remember, you need to be a subject matter expert before you can become a thought leader. And that means you have to start and invest in that time. And I've got...
A great article on Fast Company about how to become a thought leader, but you need to start somewhere. Subject matter expert. Let's see your expertise shine. So, I'm going to start somewhere.
Jim James (25:38.51)
Well, then yours is definitely Sean today. Kathleen Ducenti, if you want to find out more about you, where can they go?
Kathleen Lucente (25:45.332)
I would recommend that you go to redfancommunications.com, which is our website. You could also find me on LinkedIn. It's Kathleen and then Lucente, easily. I spend quite a bit of time on LinkedIn. I can't help myself. And those are the two main places that you're going to find me.
Jim James (26:02.358)
Well, and thank you. And we found you on my podcast. So thank you so much for agreeing to come on today, Kathleen. It's been brilliant. Thank you.
Kathleen Lucente (26:09.624)
It's been a pleasure.
Jim James (26:11.594)
Well, we've been listening to Kathleen Lucente, as you can tell really, we're blessed that we've got some of her time because she's very much in demand by many people, not just in America, but around the world. And many, many takeaways, one of which of course that final one about what do you want to be known for as an individual, but also as a company? And I think also what Kathleen's touched on for me is the importance of having that written down so that it can be shared.
because so many founders have it in their own mind what the company stands for, and they ask everybody else to kind of guess or they assume that they should know, but actually they don't. So if you haven't got it written down, get it written down, what you'd stand for, how you help your clients, and let everybody in your community and everyone responsible for delivering that value to know it completely. So you've been listening to the Unnoticed Entrepreneur with me, your host, Jim James. Thank you so much for listening. If you've enjoyed this, do please.
leave a review or rating on the podcast player because it really helps. And follow the show because I wouldn't want you to miss another great guest like Kathleen. And every Tuesday and Thursday, this show comes on air. We've got over 750 episodes now. So there's gotta be at least one or two tips in there for you to get noticed. Thank you for listening.