Some college students go into school knowing what they want to do, some have absolutely no clue and a rare few figure it out by just doing it already. That was the case for Small Girls PR co-founder and CEO Mallory Blair, who brought her super-successful agency to life just after graduating. Hearing her story, it all makes sense: she sees campaign inspiration everywhere, championing the kind of innovative ideas that can’t be taught in the classroom. And that's just the start. Read on to hear about the agency’s growth since its inception in 2010, some of the campaigns that illustrate her team’s audience-driven approach and advice for anyone starting out in marcomms today.
What drew you to the world of PR?
I started my first PR campaign when I was seven.
I wrote a letter to the Empire State Building arguing that they should consider changing the buildings’ color scheme to celebrate Chanukah. The letter ended up all over the news (and they still honor the request each year since!) so I think of it as my first pitch. Pitching new ideas to brands and media outlets has been my shtick ever since.
When I was in college, I was consistently finding press or partnership opportunities for my friends’ art projects and securing them for fun, before realizing that this was a potential career opportunity.
What keeps me in PR now is interdisciplinary thinking: I love being able to connect the dots unexpectedly between what’s happening in culture or the markets with a brand’s mission, and I also love bringing two unrelated fields together to create something new(sworthy).
I also love to explore whatever I happen to be interested in on a given day and know that this will come in handy for a client at some point. Last week, I went to an author talk about a book on “sea-steading”. Do I have any clients looking to build microcities in the ocean or explore libertarian exile? Nope. But will this inevitably come in handy? I’m positive it will. I really have seen that almost anything can serve as inspiration for a campaign, even if it takes a while.
You co-founded Small Girls PR just out of college. How did you get the agency started, and who were some of your early clients?
To paint you a picture, around the time I was graduating, Facebook had only just opened up beyond .edu email addresses and there were still very few celebrities on Twitter. My co-founder Bianca and I were early adopters of a lot of different platforms and spotted an opportunity to creatively connect rising voices on these networks with brands. As a result, we acted as a bridge and broker between brands like Tumblr and Paper Magazine as one of our earliest projects.
Other early work included orchestrating the first-ever digital book tours for Simon & Schuster, creating stunts for Google to promote an open internet, and even going viral for a prom dress company (by wearing prom dresses every day for 30 days straight and live-blogging the experience).
Two of our early clients also included GE (still going a decade later) and Hinge, whom we worked with from launch through three rebrands and their acquisition 7.5 years later.
How has the agency shifted since you launched in 2010?
Since we’ve launched, we’ve grown to nearly 90 full-time employees across the U.S.
We’ve also expanded into different sectors with our work, and created a well-rounded agency where we can explain how to mint an NFT in the same conversation that we map the comeback of low-rise jeans. Our workstreams have expanded, too. We’ve branched out into experiential (including events and mailers), digital (from up-and-coming influencers to top tier celebrities), and crisis management.
SGPR has been awarded so many accolades over the past couple of years, including a spot on The PR Net 100 2022.
How do you keep Small Girls at the forefront of the industry?
Our trailblazer philosophy has always been to meet audiences where they are and to have our work reflect our values. We are constantly looking for the new ways that audiences are consuming media, whether that’s Clubhouse’s 15 minutes of fame or making lasting connections with new TikTok editors.
On another level, bringing “The Big Idea” to our clients (rather than simply promoting news handed to us from a brand) allows us to think and act like an advertising agency, but reach an audience through earned mediums.
We also choose clients and projects that we believe in, from launching Billie as the first razor company to show women’s body hair to partnering with our client It Gets Better to create a “Pride Prom” as an inclusive celebration for the LGBTQ community.
Are there any recent campaigns you feel particularly proud of?
A couple come to mind for me!
A recent fun one was our “McShammed” campaign that we did with Jack in the Box.
We had located a site that tracked broken McDonald’s ice cream machines – something the company has received widespread criticism for in the past. We saw a golden opportunity to prove that Jack lives up to its 24/7 promise to give consumers what they want, when they want it, and point out how competitors fall short. We worked with the site owner to take it over for Jack in the Box, and nearly tripled the site traffic, in addition to 45+ press placements for the campaign and a 48% lift in mobile shake sales for the client. This was a textbook case of SGPR spotting an amazing kernel out in the world that we could turn into interesting storytelling that was clever, cheeky, and true to our client’s brand.
A few other highlights: We came up with the idea for the beauty world’s first ever age-based discount to celebrate Laura Geller’s National Mature Women’s Day. We then amplified this through a press blitz and influencer campaign that resulted in over 3,000+ new customers.
Plus, our ‘Free The Fridge’ idea to highlight digital picture frame Aura’s in-app scanner for Mother’s Day increased the brand’s seasonal PR coverage 80% YoY while driving over 6,500 signups (78% from first-time customers) through an online pledge, encouraging parents to throw their children’s art away guilt-free.
In addition to excellent client work, the company takes good care of the team. Tell us about some of the ways you’ve fostered a safe and productive environment for your employees, like the recent Roe v. Wade-prompted policy.
As a female and minority-owned business, we know it’s important to support the varied communities and identities found in our company. We want to be a company that steps up in hard times to provide a safe space for our employees, and create positive change outside SGPR that will impact the greater community. To that end, we’ve dedicated company time for bystander training, poll working, and space to process collective trauma (from the Derek Chauvin trial to Capitol Insurrection and even the Inauguration). Our staff is deeply plugged into the news-culture cycle, so we view it as our responsibility to allow them time to process the news they’re working with.
We’ve also been involved in efforts to support positive, informed political action: in 2020, we held a “know your rights” workshop during the Black Lives Matter protest to help our employees protest safely, and we also were one of the first companies to institute a policy following the Roe v. Wade draft leak to provide funds for any employee that might need to travel out of state for an abortion.
It’s important to also include mental health when we talk about team wellbeing: I’m authoring this on World Mental Health Day, a day we shut down the office in observance. During regular weeks, we also work with an external provider to host meditation and breath workshops during work hours every other week, allowing employees to both literally and figuratively catch their breath.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
Definitely creative ideation. Starting out a company with just two people, I’ve worn a lot of hats in PR and am involved in all parts of the business, but nothing compares to the energy of an off-the-wall brainstorm. It’s a chance to stretch my brain in new ways and experience the different perspectives of my team, plus it’s one of the most egalitarian parts of the job, where everyone from account coordinators to VPs has the capability to hit on the nugget that sparks an entire campaign.
What are a few local spots you frequent?
In NY: RIP Caracas Brooklyn (the best Venezuelan food and arepas in the U.S.), but you can now trek to the Rockaways to try out their beach shack on a summer weekend.
In LA: All Time, a delicious restaurant in my neighborhood. Lanicure, the best nail art spot in LA. And, Dodgers stadium when the Mets are in town. ;-)
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the PR world post-graduation?
Your creativity is your greatest asset. You can learn the ins and outs of media lists, client comms, and even high quality strategies, but truly innovative ideas are not something anyone can teach you. Make sure you take every opportunity to present an unconventional approach or a new perspective, from pie-in-the-sky goals to tiny details that could be blown up into a campaign.
Be an observer. Some of the most successful campaigns come from finding an aspect of the world around you that you can connect to a campaign goal in an unexpected way. Be open to inspiration wherever you find it, and pay attention to the things that set off your synapses, whether that’s a new food you’ve been obsessed with, a conversation with your mom, or a TikTok audio you can’t get out of your head.
You are your own best focus group. If you’re looking to enter the PR field post-graduation, you’re in a similar position to my co-founder and I in 2010 in that you are the target audience that many brands are looking to impress. Trust your gut on what things attract you and what feels off the mark, because it’s likely a perspective brands are trying to understand. You are a powerful viewpoint in any brainstorm, because you’re an expert just by being yourself.
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