Meet Anna Ruth Williams, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based PR agency AR|PR. I had the pleasure of meeting with Anna Ruth while living in Atlanta, and immediately sensed her tenacity and passion for the public relations field. Over the last three years, Anna Ruth has built her team from the ground up, with the agency rapidly growing (They're hiring! Check out the open positions here). Learn more about why Anna Ruth chose to specialize in tech PR, and what she believes the one trait is that all PR pros must possess to tackle the field head-on.
Q: Prior to launching ARPR three years ago, what was your experience in media and PR?
A: Right after college, I jumped into political communications, ultimately becoming a press secretary. It was an amazing experience because I built comms plans from scratch, managed huge PR events, participated in the emergence of brand social media, served as a press secretary in a top 10 market, and learned crisis communications from a fire hose. At that time, the political climate was tough since we were barely seeing the light at the end of the recession tunnel. Much of my job was focused on crafting messages for candidates about their platforms, which focused on “high tech, high wage jobs of the future.” This is when I first learned about angel investing, toured my first startup incubator, and was getting hooked. By my late twenties, I was at a PR firm and I was fortunate to have two global B2B tech brands fall in my lap. I was fascinated with enterprise tech, but wanted to get my hands dirty in a tech company at each stage of its business life cycle from inception to exit. That’s exactly what we do at AR|PR today. I found my passion and feel very fortunate.
Q: Why did you decide to specifically focus on tech clients at ARPR? How do you think that ARPR has fearlessly paved the way to encourage women to work in tech?
A: There’s two reasons we focus on tech:
- Market opportunity. Today, the technology industry is beating the rest of the economy by three to one. When I started AR|PR in 2012, it was a very opportunistic time to start a technology PR firm, and we’ve continued to niche our work by focusing on sectors (like healthIT and cybersecurity) to better serve our innovative clients.
- It’s rewarding. At AR|PR, our team isn’t writing press releases and social media content for new lipstick brands or restaurant concepts (not that there’s anything wrong with those two things. I consume both daily). Rather, we’re deploying communications strategies to help high-growth technology brands conquer serious business needs – like attracting venture capital investors, penetrating new vertical markets and becoming thought leaders on topics that previously didn’t exist. Our work is directly tied to not just the financial success of our clients, but on how their technologies are adopted by the world.
I hope AR|PR’s team of geeks inspires women to pursue careers in tech. Whether you’re an engineer, a sales rep or a marketer, more women are needed in all roles and levels of the tech industry to create an even more dynamic ecosystem.
Q: What is your day-to-day like while serving at the helm of ARPR alongside your growing team?
A: There’s a reason PR consistently ranks as one of the most stressful professions. Pleasing clients, courting journalists and constantly keeping pace with changing media trends isn’t for the faint of heart. Combine those pressures with the management and business responsibilities of agency ownership, and it’s a dizzying workload. I start my mornings with coffee meetings to get networking and business development under my belt before all my employees show up. As soon as I hit the office, I am in an 8-hour sprint that includes client meetings, team brainstorms, PowerPoints, Excel sheets and phone calls. Oh, and email. I average 200 in-bound emails a day. Sound glamorous? Just wait, it gets better. My evenings are spent at networking events or working on my laptop (wine helps with creative writing – no, really); and I always have a couple projects and admin tasks that I save for the weekends. Obviously, this isn’t your typical 40-hour gig, but it’s fun, rewarding, and I wouldn’t do anything else with my life right now. It’s not a job. It’s a passion.
Q: What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a business owner?
A: When I started AR|PR, I knew I was a darn good PR professional, but I had never led an entire business. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that while public relations was second nature to me – running operations, leading company culture, setting vision and mentoring team members was not just natural, it was the most rewarding and exciting thing I had ever done. Giving someone a job offer for a position that never existed before is hands down the coolest feeling. To date, we’ve hired 13 people and I’m already stoked to create our next new position. While I love this part of being a business owner, it is also the most professionally challenging role I’ve ever had. Dealing with cash flow, lawyers, taxes, vendors, etc. is like enduring a self-taught MBA program. Fortunately, I love learning and I’m always curious; so when I encounter a new process or problem, I reach out to mentors and advisors for much needed guidance.
Q: For fellow PR pros looking to take the leap into entrepreneurship and starting up their own firm, what would you say are the essential skills needed to succeed?
A: Tenacity. Okay, so that’s not a skill – it’s a personality trait, which is precisely my point. I don’t think entrepreneurship can be taught. Those crazy enough to do this have a naturally tenacious spirit. It's the voice in our heads that says, “You’re going to do this. And failure isn’t an option.”