Former news reporter and Melbourne Press Club committee member Alicia Grabowski has done what many women in media consider at least once: she started an agency. Partnering with PR expert Lainie Coombes, they pooled their expertise to launch Project PR & Media, a boutique offering specialising in TV. Mavens caught up with Alicia for insider advice on starting an agency, managing stress and more. Read on for the spin!
You spent 8 years as a news reporter for Channel 7. What was the culture like and how did it shape your work/life approach?
Any newsroom is a high pressure environment but I think in television especially there is the extra pressure of getting to a scene and capturing those pictures first. Whether it be by road or by air there is a constant sense of urgency and a rush of adrenaline that goes with it. This ‘thrill’ is often what journalists miss once they cross to ‘the other side’ into a PR or communications role as it’s hard to replace. The feeling of successfully capturing an exclusive is addictive and it is something that shaped my path into starting my own business. In many ways there are thrills presented via big new business wins or securing unbelieve coverage for a client.
Working in newsrooms from a young age taught me perspective, too. There is a lot of exposure to death, destruction and tragedies that are never forgotten. If there is ever a problem or a drama in the office we remind ourselves ‘it’s PR not ER’ and often that can help solve the problem!
I started working as a reporter in Adelaide but once I moved to Melbourne I felt I was much more surrounded by supportive, inspiring women who built each other up. All of them are still in senior presenting roles today. That culture is something that doesn’t exist in all newsrooms and as a young woman working her way up the ranks I’m so grateful I was able to witness the power it has. We try to empower everyone who joins the Project PR & Media team to be their best and never be afraid to speak up, ask for help or offer us an idea!
What spurred your decision to start Project PR & Media in 2012?
I had seen a lot. I started my journalism career when I was 19, so a decade later I was well and truly hard-nosed and tired of sitting at stake-outs. I wanted a new challenge and I’d often wondered what on earth was happening in all of those PR agencies before they sent over that press release, that to be honest, was not newsworthy. I also felt the media landscape was changing even back then. There was a tightening of crews and budgets and it was a good time to try something different. For those thinking of doing it, the most frightening part is the risk but it is so worth the fright if you are truly willing to put in 100% and give it a red hot go. There is no point in starting in halves.
Looking back at the launch of your agency, what might you have done differently?
I’m a huge believer in having no regrets but learning big lessons. Even my 5 year old proudly preaches ‘mistakes are marvellous’, and indeed they are. I actually wouldn’t change a thing. When things have gone wrong, they have taught me how to do it a different way next time. No one starts a business and knows it all. The more we grow, we realise how little we knew at the start and how much we have learned. It’s incredible.
Always, always, backing yourself and trusting your gut is the best way to do business.
You’ve worked in many high-pressure environments throughout your career. How do you manage stress and what tips can you share for women in similar environments?
Someone once told me if you don’t willingly make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness. After the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 this rang true for me. I was running a business, homeschooling one of my sons and had two other children under 5 at home. My brain almost exploded. I was trying to do it all and the stress got the better of me. Now I exercise at least four times a week and at least two times a month I visit my acupuncturist. This keeps my stress levels and wellness in check to be able to keep growing and creating ideas for the future. Because I believe there has to be constant evolution for a business to keep its head above water.
Lastly, Mavens audience works in advertising and media so we had to ask. What are your top trend predictions for TV this year?
I think 2020 showed us all a lot of ways that we can not only communicate but ‘experience’ virtually and this will continue in 2021. Virtual events, cooking classes and live music streams will all play a huge part in advertising and social media moving forward. Partnerships (or as we call them now, ‘collaborations’) between different brands will be huge!
And lastly I’ve said it before and I will say it again, social media will continue to grow and grow. We tell our clients: if your channels are not up to date, engaging and making people want to jump on and stay on – you’ve missed the point of the entire last decade!
Alicia has more than a decade of experience in PR strategy, media relations, influencer engagement, corporate media training and more. To book a consultation, contact Project PR & Media here.