After working as Director of Public Relations for Hyatt Regency Chicago, planning and executing some of the Chicago’s largest events, Noreen Heron launched the Heron Agency with Hyatt on board as a client.
Heron Agency specializes in lifestyle public relations as well as theater and restaurant clients. Over the past 15 years, the scope of the agency has expanded to include corporations, medical practices, sports teams, non-profit organizations, and franchises.
Noreen calls the Heron team “family”, but she also has two children, Connor and Ava, and together they love to travel, dine out, and explore the city.
We’ve often heard that sometimes the agency principal will interview to get the business and then never be seen again. That is not our system here.
How is your agency structured?
Lianne Wiker Hedditch has been with the agency for 11 years, and she is our Vice President, creating strategy and overseeing day to day operations.
We are unique in that every PR campaign that we implement has a complimentary marketing campaign where our Marketing Manager Holly Gustavson (with the agency 7 years) works to obtain partnerships, promotions, contests and other ‘non-traditional’ ways to gain exposure for clients.
Our Senior Publicists Emily Potts and Ann Maher are busy pitching and attending live shots. I like to keep the team busy pitching so we employ writers Amy Oost, Megan Gasper and Ellen Molina to create engaging press releases.
Our Bookkeeper, Caryn Smietana handles financials, contracts, and assists me on Media Buying as we are also a full service Ad agency. We also have a Social Media division.
What is the mood like in the office?
Fun! Creative! Happy. Family like. We trust each other and rely on each other a lot. We sometimes can have up to 10 interns per quarter working here so it’s always busy.
What type of person thrives at Heron?
First and foremost, the person who thrives is a hard worker who is willing to roll up her sleeves and passionately get the job done. I want people that understand how important our role is to our client’s bottom line. That is an enormous responsibility and one not to be taken lightly. The more exposure that we gain, the more service industry employees work.
Also, she should be a team player, smart, creative and hopefully a strong writer and communicator.
Tell us a bit about your role
At this point, I would say that my primary responsibility is new business development, but I also still service accounts, and then of course, perform various HR responsibilities.
I like to work on every account that we have in some way. We’ve often heard that sometimes the agency principal will interview to get the business and then never be seen again on the account. That is not our system here.
What are you working on right now?
We are fortunate to work for some really exciting and glamorous clients! We just opened the Westin Nashville, the tallest hotel in Nashville with country star David Nail and Brett Young performing.
The acclaimed Chef Alain Roby is making the World’s Largest Candy Cane for his shop in Geneva and we always get a lot of exposure on that. We’re opening the Escape Room/Safe House which has been a legendary destination in Milwaukee, and is new to Chicago. Lastly, we are handling the launch for the American Writer’s Museum opening on Michigan Avenue in May.
We have 32 clients currently so that is just a smattering of what is happening right now.
What is a recent success that made you especially proud?
We opened two rooftop decks this summer, Raised and Aire, that we secured on just about every media “Hot” list in Chicago, with additional coverage in USA Today, Food & Wine Magazine and Fodor’s.
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
I network a lot, and due to the nature of our clients’ work, we are seeing the press sometimes weekly at our press openings. That face to face contact with the press is so important. We have multiple subscriptions to various trade publications and newspapers (our poor mailman!) and we regularly have discussions here at Heron Agency on how to remain on the forefront through innovation.
What is the most meaningful moment in your career so far?
I had my eye on our current office building for many years. We have a storefront space on busy Fullerton Avenue that was constructed in 1898 and features the original tin ceiling, exposed brick walls, and vintage light fixtures. Everyone that comes in the office tells us how much they like our space, and we feel that it has a very creative vibe that works well for publicists.
Before all the furniture was moved in, I had a picnic on the hardwood floor with the whole team where we opened Veuve Cliquot and toasted to many happy years to come. I was able to obtain artwork from the theater that I grew up working in and that is still displayed here. I cried the first day I saw it all on the walls. It felt like such a personal space.
What would you tell someone who wants to be like you when they grow up?
Read as much as you can! Knowing what is going on in our world, what is trending, is a big part of PR. You also need to know writers’ beats, so it is helpful on that front. Figure out what you want to be an advocate for every day. Obtain as many internships as you possibly can. Always send thank you notes. Be kind to all. Network as much as you can. Smile!
Everyone that comes in the office tells us how much they like our space, and we feel that it has a very creative vibe that works well for publicists.
What is has been your least glamorous moment so far?
Wow, anyone who is in PR knows that you probably have more “least” glamorous moments then the glamorous ones. Hmmm…so many to choose from :). I appeared in a parade with it pouring rain dressed as a nun to represent NUNSENSE, the musical, and the costume was too big for me and with the rain it was so heavy and just pooled around me. In addition, I had a 101 degree fever, but there was obviously no way to cancel. Myself and the Marketing Director, Eileen LaCario, thought it would be fun to have the nuns on scooters, and I borrowed my boss’ convertible to drive through the parade route. When packing up the scooters to leave, one popped right through his vinyl convertible top. My brother was enlisted to help pass out flyers along this route and I couldn’t find him afterwards. While it shows the lengths that I will go through to promote a client, it goes down as one of my worst memories!
What has been the most glamorous moment in your career thus far?
Accepting the PR News PR Agency Elite Award in 2014 at the Grand Hyatt New York. It was wonderful to win it and accept it for our team here, but the fact that it took place at a Hyatt made it all the more special (after leaving Hyatt, they became my first client and we represented the Eastern and Central divisions of Hyatt for 9 years. We still represent various Hyatt properties in addition to other brands such as Fairmont, Renaissance, Le Meridien, Hampton Inn and more). The VP of Hyatt who hired me in Chicago, Jerry Lewin, happens now to be headquartered at the NY property, so he gave me a hug and said how proud he was of me and our team.
PR can be stressful and full of rejection – how do you deal?
We lean on each other in the office. We commiserate, we unload, we comfort each other.
What do you wish more people understood about your job?
You never can turn it off and you have to be constantly attached to your phone! Miss one text on a crisis situation from a client, or one from a reporter who says that he or she will run a photo for your client if you can get it within the hour, and you hate yourself.
It takes very high energy, persistence and an insane work ethic to be a publicist. It also takes understanding family and friends!