Meet Lisa Simone Richards, Principal at Vitality PR & Communications in Toronto

Meet Lisa Simone Richards, Principal at Vitality PR & Communications in Toronto

Lisa Simone Richards, principal of Vitality PR & Communications, has more than ten years of experience in beauty and fitness PR, first in the lifestyle/CPG agency world and then four years running communications for a women’s-only boot camp brand. After two years at a multinational, multi-million dollar fitness brand, Lisa recently left corporate life to start her own boutique firm, Vitality PR & Communications in Toronto, specializing in PR for entrepreneurs and small businesses with a specific focus on health, fitness and wellness industries. No stranger to health and fitness personally, Lisa is a personal trainer, boot camp instructor and kickboxing instructor. In addition to physically motivating people and brands to live healthier lives, Lisa has experience as a fitness competitor and fitness model, having been featured in numerous print and digital campaigns.

How did you get started in PR?

Ever since I was little I knew that I wanted to do something media-related, but never had an interest in being on the editorial end. I got introduced to the field of public relations during first year at Western University and it sounded right up my alley. By second year, I took on roles as a Communications Commissioner on the University Students’ Council and also VP Communications for my sorority. I held onto that position until I graduated.

I was interested in beauty PR and when Western featured the founder of Cake Beauty on the cover of their alumni magazine around the time of my graduation, I pretty much pestered her until she let me come in and talk to her about creating a PR internship role for me. Luckily, my tenacity impressed and didn’t annoy so she took a chance on me —eventually I got hired on as their PR coordinator!

How did you get the job you have now?

Ten years into my career, I now run my own boutique PR agency, Vitality PR & Communications. Vitality is primarily a fitness PR agency that also specializes in wellness PR and health PR – specifically for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

I spent five years doing marketing and communications in the fitness industry and I loved it, I knew I’d found my niche. While working in a corporate in-house position, I started Vitality as a side business to earn some extra cash and fell in love with working with small businesses that had a ‘get it done’ attitude. After a year of side hustling, now I’m building the business full-time.

What are your primary responsibilities in this position?

As a one-woman shop (for the time being) I am everything – the intern, the account manager and the CEO! The only thing I don’t trust myself to be is the accountant. I’m a very Type A personality, so it suits me fine to be running the show solo and work with a hand-selected team of freelancers.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m balancing working in the business vs working on the business. I’ve got a full client roster between retainer, project-based and consulting clients, but I’m really passionate about maximizing my impact on wellness entrepreneurs by offering online trainings. In addition to client work, I am very much committed to developing the content, branding and marketing strategy for everything to launch my online courses in the coming months.

What is a recent success story that makes you especially proud?

When Vitality was still a side-hustle, I would take vacation days from my corporate gig when my private clients had a media appearance. My clients (they’re a duo) are experts on a national lifestyle TV show and when they’re shooting a live segment, it’s a family affair – mom, dad, significant others and friends are all in the studio audience. It’s thrilling for me to see my clients do a great job on air, building their business and their profile, but also to see how pleased it makes them on a personal level and involves the people closest to them. Helping them build success while making their loved ones proud is always one of my bright spots.

Client Consultation

Consulting with a client 

What are you really good at?

I’m really good at keeping things simple. I despise impossible layers of processes and humming and hawing over the same subject matter incessantly. I make decisions and work back plans and then execute. The great thing about collaborating with entrepreneurs and small businesses is that they’re hustlers, so everyone is keen to get the task at hand done correctly and quickly.

The great thing about collaborating with entrepreneurs and small businesses is that they’re hustlers, so everyone is keen to get the task at hand done correctly and quickly.

Most meaningful moment in your career thus far?

Definitely one of my most memorable moments was attending the IDEA World Health & Fitness Convention in 2014. I had to go on stage to do an interactive brand presentation and who was I following up but none other than Jillian Michaels! I was terrified that after she was done the crowd would disperse, but I was really pleased to keep the room packed and engaged. Later on at the conference, I was awarded an IDEA Inspiration Medal from a fitness writer, Amanda Vogel, whom I have so much respect and admiration for – that was an awesome highlight as well.

Most glamorous moment in your career thus far?

NOTHING beats when I went on a fitness DVD shoot in Hawaii. It was one of the funnest trips of my life – I was with my colleagues who were also great friends, we rented a mansion complete with a pool, hot tub, waterfall shower, walkout directly onto the beach, and convertible Jeeps. Plus, after ‘working’, we took a few days for fun once the shoot was over. Then we got to do it all over again in Puerto Rico again two years later!

Least glamorous moment in your career thus far?

Definitely when I had to take guerilla marketing into my own hands. Due to tightened budgets, rather than hiring a street team to do postering for upcoming events, the HQ staff, myself included, had to hit the streets armed with posters and tape and do it ourselves. I was nervous that I’d get questioned by law officers or yelled at by people for treading on their turf!

PR can be stressful and full of rejection – how do you deal?

Easy – don’t take the rejection personally. Media are simply doing their job and running with the best and most creative stories and pitches. When a pitch doesn’t work, it’s an opportunity to revisit, revamp and simply do better. As far as PR being stressful, the beauty of working in fitness and wellness is that taking a yoga or mindful break is entirely encouraged and a part of my job. I’m generally not the kind of person who gets overwhelmed and stressed out – that kind of reaction doesn’t solve problems.

When a pitch doesn’t work, it’s an opportunity to revisit, revamp and simply do better.

What are three must-have tools, apps, or products that are essential to your job?

  • Freshbooks – my favourite accounting system! It handles all my quotes, estimates, invoices and expenses and my accountant can log in directly at tax time making things super easy. It’s great for its time tracking feature, even though my clients are on retainer I can have an overview of how much time I’m spending on my various accounts monthly.
  • Dropbox – perfect for sharing files with clients and media, saves having to use FTP sites and my files are always accessible, regardless of what device I’m using.
  • Canva – arguably the best tool EVER! My clients are bootstrapping entrepreneurs and we don’t have the flexibility of playing around with unlimited budgets. Canva allows me to do design work for my clients, as an added value service. Not only does that help them, but it forces me to learn new skills, now I’ve graduated from simply creating content, but have designed an entire ebook!

Side Hustler

Client Chivon John of Secrets of a Side Hustler featured in the Toronto Star 

What do you wish more people understood about your job?

I really, really, realllllllllllllly wish that clients would understand that media relations isn’t part and parcel. Everything is part of an overall strategy. So many people don’t understand the work that goes into (seemingly) flawlessly locking down an interview: creating an A+ media list, designing unique, targeted pitches, follow up, back and forth for interview coordination, crafting messages and press releases – publicists can’t just be paid for the coverage that’s ultimately secured, we do a LOT of work that the client doesn’t see to secure media opportunities.

Publicists can’t just be paid for the coverage that’s ultimately secured, we do a LOT of work that the client doesn’t see to secure media opportunities.

What’s the biggest challenge facing lifestyle communicators right now?

Especially for independent lifestyle communicators, a challenge is working in a silo. When solopreneurs are stuck on brainstorming items, difficult clients or other business challenges, they don’t have someone to turn to.

To solve that, I’m a firm believer in collaboration – I often meet up with other (non-competitive) PR pros and over dinner and a glass (fine, bottle) of wine we’ll air out our difficulties and get third party perspectives on potential solutions, all from people who really ‘get it’.

… I’m a firm believer in collaboration – I often meet up with other (non-competitive) PR pros and over dinner and a glass (fine, bottle) of wine we’ll air out our difficulties and get third party perspectives on potential solutions, all from people who really ‘get it’.

Also, as an independent, service offerings are limited. In an effort to be a one-stop-shop for my clients, I’ve developed relationships with complementary service providers including branding specialists, photographers, web designers, videographers, etc. and whenever my clients are looking for a resource I’ve got a trusted partner to offer up. It’s a great form of referral networking that grows all of our businesses.

How do you stay on top of industry trends?

Further harping on my last answer, collaboration is huge to me. I have a solid network of PR friends and we’re constantly sharing what the latest developments in our PR worlds are. Trade publications like PR Couture, PR Daily and Biz Bash are fantastic for staying on top of trends.

What type of person thrives at your company/agency?

Someone who talks the talk, both in communications and wellness, for sure. After years as an employee, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve grasped is the importance of a cultural fit – skills can be learned. As an entrepreneur who focuses on health, fitness & wellness, it’s imperative to me that anyone who joins my team embodies the lifestyle. Not only must someone be a great communicator with solid media relationships and an overall PR rockstar, but they have to be fitness fans who place personal importance on living a healthy lifestyle. Most of my interviews always consist of hitting up a workout of some sort, and then chatting over a green juice.

After years as an employee, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve grasped is the importance of a cultural fit – skills can be learned.

What would you tell someone who wants to be you when they grow up?

I would tell someone who wants to be me that it’s okay to take a different path. Most of my friends were on the road to be lawyers, doctors or in business (I was supposed to be making plans for law school) and then when I went to college for post-grad rather than do my masters, it definitely resulted in more than a few raised eyebrows. I’m SO happy I’m not a lawyer and am successful at something that I enjoy doing on a daily basis. I’d also tell someone it’s totally okay to drop math class to take gym instead in grade 11 – I never knew how well that would work out for me!

Thanks, Lisa! Be sure to keep up with Lisa and Vitality PR on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About This Author

Martha Chavez is a communications professional working in the educational sector, but loves moonlighting in fashion PR for PR Couture.