Alyssa Baker runs Riot Media Group, a Los-Angeles based firm known for their extensive relationships with bloggers and influencers in addition to traditional PR and media and events.
Working with Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, Alyssa has developed key relationships with top-tier media, influencers, bloggers and celebrities. Her background in journalism has served her well, crafting stories editors respond to, and quickly putting RIOT on the map since the firm’s launch in 2014.
Name: Alyssa Baker
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Education: Indiana University; B.A. Communications & Journalism
Company: Riot Media Group
How did you get started in the industry?
From a young age I knew I wanted to carve a path in media relations, thanks to an award-winning Journalism teacher I was lucky to have in high school back. From then on, I solely focused on making it happen. One connection led to another and I landed my first internship at Fox TV Studios as the assistant to the head of global marketing the summer after my sophomore year of college. After that, I was obsessed with PR and Los Angeles, and made the move for good the following summer. I finished school early and got right to work, which is what I always wanted anyways. It was an amazing experience and further ignited the fire already burning inside me.
What led you to start Riot Media Group?
I worked at a handful of boutique PR firms before making the jump to starting my own agency, and I learned something different from each one. Ultimately, I knew I had to try it my way. As an honest, straightforward person, the smoke & mirrors I saw at many PR agencies just didn’t make sense to me. I created RIOT to challenge that notion that PR is artful deception- because it’s not. The right PR and media strategy can make or break your brand and that’s what many start-ups today don’t understand. A lot of the success depends on the client relationship and vision. I pride my agency on having great relationships, not only with media, but with our clients. We think of ourselves as an extension of their brand.
As the founder, what is your main focus?
Oh boy, my responsibilities are across the board. There’s honestly not much I don’t do. I work on every facet of the business from managing staff to pitching clients to media, developing new business relationships, accounting, and social media management, to taking out the trash, there’s literally no part of this business that I don’t touch.
I created RIOT to challenge that notion that PR is artful deception- because it’s not.
How is RIOT Structured? What’s the mood like in the office?
We are structured by categories- beauty, fashion, tech, health & wellness and consumer lifestyle brands. PR is a crazy industry and calm days are rare, but we always have fun. There’s no point in working the crazy, stressful hours we do if we’re not enjoying it; that leads to burnout. I love the saying, “this is PR, not ER” but sometimes that’s hard to remember when you’re caught up in a difficult situation.
What type of person thrives at RIOT?
Someone who is organized, passionate and intelligent. Common sense will take you so far here! Also, someone who wants to make PR and media relations their career- that is a requirement at RIOT. I see a lot of girls come through our doors thinking it’s going to be an Instagram-worthy party every day. Those girls usually quit by the second week. That is NOT reality. The reality is sending hundreds of emails per day, organizing detailed spreadsheets, creative writing, and perfecting communication skills constantly. I seek out individuals who are self-motivated but also know how to take direction and respect authority. I’m very much for learning along the way- nothing beats experience!
What has been the most meaningful moment in your career thus far?
There have been so many remarkable moments, but RIOT’s first press preview, our ‘coming out’ party if you will, is probably the most memorable. We took over a huge space in Santa Monica by the ocean and pulled out all the bells and whistles. The support we received was overwhelming and helped give me the confidence to know I made the right move. A few weeks later we were hired to produce Galore Magazine’s Miami Swim Week events. That week was one of the best of my life
What’s a recent success story that makes you particularly proud?
This past summer we were hired to create a series of pool parties for a national radio app in Miami and Los Angeles. We didn’t have the budget to also book A-list celebs so we developed a strategy that included booking specific talent (within our budget) in hopes that their celebrity friends would come along and support the event. The strategy worked and we secured A-list celebrities at no cost to the client. This approach led to more than 4.8 million media impressions, including attention from outlets such as E! News, Glamour, Buzzfeed, Celebuzz, Seventeen and more. I received texts and emails for weeks that we threw the best party of the summer!
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
I read constantly! Inc, Forbes, Fast Company, Fashionista, WWD, Refinery29, The Zoe Report… read, read, read! I’m excited for more brands to dive into video and smarter PR/marketing. I still see such disconnect on so many levels, in fashion PR specifically.
What do you wish more people understood about PR?
We cannot make miracles happen. The media landscape has changed drastically, even in the last 2-3 years. Much of what you see online is sponsored posts or inclusions of brands that also pay for some type of advertising within that outlet.
Small brands are having a harder time competing with large companies because they simply cannot afford the advertising costs, so they put all their eggs (and expectations) in the PR basket. PR is not a solution to advertising. All the pieces of the puzzle must be put together to see the best results and return on ROI.
What’s the biggest challenge facing communicators right now?
The constant news cycle is making it harder and harder for publicists to connect with the correct editor. Hearst just combined 5 women’s focused editorial teams into one! Databases like Cision are not consistently updated and are not as useful as they once were.
Also, unqualified publicists and social media managers are flooding our field and decreasing our worth. Clients do not understand how media works (that’s partly why they hire us) and can have a hard time understanding the value we bring to their brands when we secure top-tier press. When they are then approached by a publicist offering to do a $2,500 job for $500, it’s a disservice to all of us.
I see a lot of girls come through our doors thinking it’s going to be an Instagram-worthy party every day. Those girls usually quit by the second week.
PR Can Be Full of rejection, how do you deal?
Ok, let’s talk about rejection first. As someone who grew into being a perfectionist, I used to take rejection really personally. Now, I don’t. As you grow in this industry you really do realize that everyone has a job to do and goals to meet. If your pitch isn’t working, it’s most likely not that the journalist hates you, it’s just that the angle won’t garner the clicks the outlet needs. Revise the pitch and figure out another way to gain attention and earn that placement.
Now stress. PR is very stressful. As an agency owner I have a lot on my plate. From maintaining cash flow and the client roster to making sure the clients are always pleased with the placements we earn for them, at times it is tough to juggle it all. For years I worked day and night and put my personal life on the back burner and that’s what NOT to do.
This year I really made a point to focus on me and figure out what else I love besides PR. I got a dog and he’s the cutest. I make time for friends. I stopped being a flake on personal obligations and it has helped my stress level big time. Actually, the greatest thing has been my dog Elfie. 🙂
What advice do you have for someone inspired by your story?
You can literally do whatever you want in this life if you work hard enough. I grew up in the middle of corn fields but I had a passion and purpose and worked endlessly until I made my dream my reality. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but we’re all a work in progress in this world. Stay focused, stay hungry and create your own destiny. It’s all possible!
That said, if you want something bad enough, you – and only you – can make it happen. If you come to a roadblock and can’t get through that next door, break the window! Perseverance is what separates the good from great. I moved to LA knowing one person and never looked back. My boss at FOX told me, “Fake it ’til you make it,” and that is the best advice I have ever received. When you get intimidated, because you will at some point, fake that confidence until you believe in yourself as much as other people do. Also, just do great work. If you’re proud of your work you will never have to make excuses for it!