Amy Levy is one of the leading public relations professionals in the marketing industry, boasting an unsurpassed track record of delivering strategic, results-oriented campaigns for her clients. Amy launched her firm in 2002. Since then, she has worked with clients ranging from gluten-free products, restaurants and private-label food manufacturers to fashion and jewelry designers, wellness professionals and filmmakers. Amy's diverse client list has included: Venice Bakery, Ethos Water, Sodexho, Stack Wines, Not Your Daughter's Jeans, Dr. Cathie Lippman, Peak Corporate Realty, BMW, Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, Big Sugar Bakeshop, zpizza, Maui Maid GF Teriyaki Sauces, Oh Yes! Foods, Cookies Con Amore, Mina’s Purely Divine GF Baking Mixes, Luce’s GF Artisan Bread, Wine Savor, Coral Tree Restaurants, PureNaked Yogurt and Nutburgers, among others.
How did you get into the industry?
I have had a lifelong interest in the marketing industry. From the first time I watched television, I think I was memorizing and reciting commercials. I loved looking at advertising in the New York Times and New York magazine, the two publications that always came to the house. I headed off to college, eager to learn the business and graduated from the University of Hartford with a BSBA (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration), majoring in marketing and minoring in mass communication.
During college, I had five internships in my major. The summer after my sophomore year, I walked into a small ad agency in my mother’s office building on Long Island called Arthur Kramer Advertising seeking an internship. The company’s receptionist had quit that morning, and upon first sight of me, the owner promptly showed me to my desk. We chatted for five minutes and she said that I seemed so eager and since I was willing to make minimum wage, the job was mine. I answered the phones, created a fancy media library out of a gigantic pile of magazines in their storage room and typed ad copy for the Creative Director.
That lead to a gig the following summer at a large advertising agency in New York City called AC&R advertising where I worked on national accounts including Estee Lauder, Marshalls stores and Johnston & Murphy shoes. I loved it. The energy, the people, the photo shoots and the thrill of knowing about new products before they hit the shelves.
I also worked at two marketing research firms. One in Hartford, CT and one on Long Island. Both were doing surveys, not selling. We got bonuses for getting the surveys done and not getting hung up on. I was pretty good at getting people to talk to me. That proved to be a good skill later when I started working in PR and was pitching the media.
My last internship was at a leading insurance company called Connecticut Mutual Alliance doing marketing, PR and advertising in-house. I was extremely focused and I wanted experience in all areas of the communication process.
When I graduated from college, I immediately moved home to New York City and landed my first full-time job was an account coordinator at Della Femina McNamee reporting to three account executives. I asked a lot of questions and begged my bosses to let attend meetings and new business pitches. I read everything. Adweek and Advertising Age became my weekly bibles. I knew who had which accounts and which accounts were up for grabs.
At my second job at DMB&B, I worked on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising campaigns. My team was led by pioneers in the field. I learned so much about what the FDA would let us say and what was forbidden. After three years, I moved on to another agency where I worked on food and beverage accounts and found my calling. I help produce video news releases (VNR’s) and pitched the stories to television stations around the country. I was extremely aggressive and I got a thrill every time someone said “yes.” I still do. I took continuing education classes in film and television at night at NYU while working full time, as I had an interest in moving to Los Angeles to work in entertainment.
I moved to LA and worked at a talent agency, a movie studio and at the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit organization that fights bigotry and prejudice. I directed all of the marketing, advertising and public relations there for our programs in the West and was the entertainment industry liaison for ADL’s thirty regional offices.
While a good PR or advertising professional can “sell anything,” if I don’t feel it in my bones, it’s not as easy. I found that it was hard to work on an account if I didn’t genuinely believe in the product. I knew that someday I would have my own company where I could work on things that I love. So I started Amy Levy Public Relations Inc. in 2002 and have never looked back.
Any emerging industry trends?
When I started my company 15 years ago, my world was all about glossy magazine stories and beautiful press kits.
I remember assembling these kits with bios, press releases, FAQ’s and tons of photos of my client’s products. During this time, it could be five days before a reporter at Good Housekeeping got samples or information about our clients. Now, it’s all about tweeting to reporters, getting celebrities to interact with your brand, product placement and paying bloggers to write about your client’s cookies. For example, a home-based blogger who likes your client’s soy sauce and has a following of 20k on her social media account can drive traffic to a specialty foods store faster than a magazine would four months from now. That entire landscape doesn’t even resemble what it was years ago.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
I find it difficult to find people that can write well and pitch the media with charisma, tenacity and genuine enthusiasm. Ours is a fast-paced industry that requires a certain kind of personality. Recently, social media has opened up lines of communication with customers and manufacturers, making 2017 a very exciting time to be in this business. One of the biggest challenges we face is the measurability of results. It is hard to attach a number to PR and marketing efforts sometimes.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Over the past 15 years, my love for working with natural products has made me expand my niche and I am happier than ever with the clients I have. Today, our specialty foods division and gluten-free marketing team boasts an unsurpassed track record of delivering strategic, results-oriented campaigns for our clients.
We have worked with clients ranging from filmmakers like the late and great Paul Mazursky to launching the “Tummy Tuck Jean” from Not Your Daughter’s Jeans to countless gluten-free flours, cakes, marinades, pasta, cookies, bread mixes and pizza crusts to art galleries, non-profits and housewares designers.
Our diverse client list has included: Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, BMW, Rahaminov Diamonds, Big Sugar Bakeshop, zpizza, Venice Bakery, Write Wisdom, Gluten-Free Nation, Cappello’s, Stack Wines, Cookies Con Amore, Ethos Water, Bake Me a Wish Gourmet Cakes, PureNaked Yogurt and Nutburgers, among others.
When I get to visit industry trade shows like Natural Expo West or the Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Foods Show, I feel like I am going to a camp reunion; I get to watch how companies have grown their businesses and it’s absolutely a thrill for when I have personally contributed to that growth.
My inspiration for starting my own business was that I wanted to help companies market their businesses in a unique way. I wanted to make clients feel nurtured, where they had personal attention and knew that they had somebody with boundless energy singing their praises. I like that the industry changes. People ask me, “What is a typical day at Amy Levy PR?” I always tell them that there really isn’t one. One day we could be doing outreach for a jewelry client launching a new collection at a trade show and the next, it’s all hands on deck promoting a restaurant opening. There are days when I spend hours on the phone pitching. However, every night I come home to my family with a story - something exciting that I did or someone interesting that I talked to.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
I launched the gluten-free division of my company seven years ago. I expect this division to continue to grow as more consumers are following restricted diets. I want my company to develop an even deeper foothold in the specialty food business in the near future.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I always listen to my clients. They have been at their companies since Day 1. We do all kinds of research about their industries. I require them to give back to the community if they want to be represented here. I believe in having a diverse team. I learned that at the ADL. My interns are so technologically advanced and sophisticated and I learn from them daily. I appreciate their patience and I try to have patience when teaching them. I was never afraid of change, after all there was no Facebook in 2002.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (And what did you learn?)
I started my company when I was single with no children. This company was my first baby. The first time I went back to work after the birth of my now 10 year old daughter, I needed to find a new way to define my work and life balance. That was very hard for me. I learned that when I am at work I need to focus on work and when I am at home I need to focus on my family. Unless there is an emergency, I need to keep myself very focused on where I am at the moment.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Tons of media coverage and a rise in sales after a month of working with me. Our client Stack Wines had a story in Time Magazine and a spot on Dr. Oz in the first month. That was great. When Oprah, Diane Sawyer and the ladies on the View tried on Not Your Daughter’s Jeans and sang their praises, I had tears in my eyes.
How do you motivate others?
I show them how satisfying it feels to have success in your media relations. Even after doing this for 25 years, it still excites and invigorates me when I have something to talk about. I am also motivated by money. I enjoy making it for my clients and my firm. I love when my efforts turn into increased sales for my clients. I motivate others by showing them that hard work pays off. I tell everyone to merchandise their efforts.
Career advice to those in your industry?
If you are new to the industry, be better than all of the other staff at your level. Ask questions of every guest speaker in your classes or at industry networking events. Get their business cards and email them to thank them for coming. Listen very carefully when you are invited to a meeting and take thoughtful notes. Start getting internships sophomore year of college in your major.
If you are starting your own company, have a highly specialized talent mix so that you can meet digital social media and content demands. Have fun during the week so that you are excited to go to work on Monday, not sad because the weekend is over. Smile when you are pitching the media. They can hear it in your voice. Get involved in volunteer work so that you can make like-minded friends who also give back. Visit our website to learn more at www.amylevypr.com