Heather Ripley: CEO, Ripley PR

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Heather Ripley is the founder and CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in companies involved in the building trades, franchising, health care IT, manufacturing and technology. Ripley is also a contributing writer for Entrepreneur.com.

How did you get into the industry?

It was kind of an evolution. I got my first taste of marketing and copywriting when I worked in a regional department store’s corporate office as an assistant buyer. I later managed PR and marketing internally for several companies including Clockwork Home Services, one of the largest home service franchisors in the U.S. I then moved on to the agency side of things. I worked in senior management for two agencies before starting Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in B2B, franchise and home service.

Any emerging industry trends?

A lot more businesses are realizing why they should have a good PR agency in their corner. Many B2B decision makers do a lot of research online before ever speaking to a sales person. The more positive stories your potential clients read about your company, the more interested they become, and hopefully then they decide they want to buy your product or service. By the time you actually hear from them, they’ve probably already made their decision, and it was largely based on good, strategic PR. Also, more and more businesses are having difficulties with recruiting, and PR can help with that. We often create PR campaigns designed specifically for recruiting. We recently helped an international automotive manufacturer fill 800 positions through our PR efforts.  

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Technology is allowing a lot more companies to automate. Some of our competitors sell the exact same, or similar, products to multiple clients. At first glance, these non-customized products may seem attractive because they’re cheaper—but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Good PR is about strategy and relationships, and that can’t be automated. It’s important to understand each and every client and their business, and to create a strategy and content tailored for their specific needs and strengths. It doesn’t take companies long to realize why this is better.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the business?

Over the years, I’ve hired agencies, managed agencies, and worked for other PR and marketing agencies.  I learned what to do and what not do in a number of situations. And as I worked and learned, I began to envision an agency where senior professionals delivered consistent results with phenomenal customer service. I knew that if we did that, we would get more business through client referrals. One of our specialty areas is home services, and we now have clients up and down the eastern seaboard and all the way out to the west coast. A lot of that came from word of mouth—one client telling another home service owner how much we have helped them. We’re very careful not to cross territories; we won’t represent two clients offering the same service in the same geographic area. We are well on the way to covering the nation. Our other specialty areas are just as strong. With the hard work and creativity we apply to every task, and with our emphasis on client satisfaction, we are making rapid progress toward my vision—to be the top agency in our specialties within five years.

What's next for the business in the near future?

We are expanding rapidly and just moved into our third office in three years. We remodeled an older building in my home town, and there’s plenty of room to spread out. I’m working on the foundation right now, which means hiring the best, proven professionals and working on expanding into some new specialty areas. It doesn’t bother me at all if I’m not the smartest person in the room, or even in the building. In fact, I prefer not to be. I want smart, strong people around me. We’re now in a position to hire the team we want, and that’s what I’m concentrating on.

Your key initiatives for the success of the business?

It all comes down to delivering consistent results. The solution is different for each client, and our job is to figure out the best approach. We have a lot in the works right now, but here’s an example from the past. Before I started Ripley PR, one of my most challenging projects was a city-owned parking garage in a luxury resort area. The sticking point was that new garage would partially block the waterfront view of the residents in luxury condos. I created a communications strategy that included encouraging and seeking input from the residents, so they would have ownership in the new parking garage. We invited them to a series of weekly meetings with the construction company and the architect. The residents were able to ask questions and even help choose the façade. The parking garage ended up being something that the downtown residents were very proud of. That’s the kind of results we’re after for all our clients.

Your most difficult moment at the business? What did you learn?

My most significant challenge is finding and hiring the best people. We’re looking for proven professionals with a great attitude. The right person has to also be the right fit for our team. They must be smart, adaptable, driven, ambitious, and eager to learn. Just because they have the right knowledge doesn’t make them a fit. If they get excited about my vision, they might be the person we’re looking for. Again though, they must have the right attitude and be a positive team player. I have learned to be patient, because the best person might be someone we have to teach and mold. We’re willing to do that.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Our goal is to help each client grow their business, while improving their standing in their industry and in the eyes of the public. We present clients with a PR strategy for their business, and show them how we’re going to go about achieving the desired results. We also create a crisis management plan, so everyone knows how to handle any negative situations. This gives our clients peace of mind that their reputation and brand are protected. We focus on getting them exposure in their targeted media. Earned media is much better than paid media because it can create instant credibility. It also serves as a kind of shield against any future negative events, because we’ve already created a positive perception in the minds of the public. And, we concentrate on achieving a strong online presence because that’s where people get their first impression. We develop and implement strategies to get our clients the best exposure and highest amount of positive online traffic. When all of this comes together, it means higher visibility, better credibility, and more profits.

How do you motivate others?

I start by sharing my vision. We like to hire ambitious and self-motivated employees, and I tell my team that my vision will create unlimited opportunities for them. I try to recognize accomplishments in both small and large ways. Just recently one of our employees was promoted to a leadership position. Other team members took note and understood that next time, it could be them. I push my team to be their best. It’s a painful process sometimes, for everyone, but it’s worth it when they produce work the client is proud of and helps promote their brand.

Career advice to those in your industry?

I work with a lot of CEOs, and I learn something important from each and every one. There’s always something you can learn, at any stage of your career. Soak up all you can from everyone you come into contact with. I meet a lot of people, especially new graduates, who think they already know everything they need to know to succeed. My advice to them is to spend a lot more time listening than talking. Realize that there’s always someone smarter than you. Take advantage of every opportunity. Be ambitious, self-motivated and self-driven. Be proactive; don’t wait to be asked to do something. And never stop learning.