Kristin Cowart leads one of the brightest PR teams around, building the BRAVE Public Relations agency with courage and determination. A fast-growing company specializing in consumer and lifestyle clients, BRAVE takes pride in the ability to cut through the “noise” out there to focus on brand authenticity. Today, Kristin shares some insight for tackling professional challenges and shows us the spirit that drives her success.
You’re not originally from the area, how did you make Atlanta your home?
Born and raised in Florida, I headed north to Boston for college. After four blustery years, I knew I needed to return south. The 1996 Centennial Olympic Games were coming to Atlanta, and I wanted to be a part of it. Three unpaid PR internships later, I finally got my break and was hired by a company with a number of Olympic sponsors as clients. It was an exhilarating, exhausting time – and I learned a lot. Wanderlust soon kicked in, and I headed overseas for a few years to work in London before deciding to return to the States and open my own agency.
Now that Atlanta is your home turf, what are your local faves — restaurant, shops, sights?
- Restaurants: Kyma for dinner, OK Café for a power lunch, Café Sunflower for a girls’ lunch.
- Shops: I love baby braithwaite for gifts for the little ones – it’s such a pure, beautifully curated store; C Wonder at Lenox Square is my go-to spot for fun baubles.
- Sights: I could spend hours at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. One of my favorite times at the Garden is right around the corner. Garden Lights, Holiday Nights is twinkling, imaginary wonderland. Love it!
As a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian. I grew up on a farm, loved animals and always wanted to take care of them. My downfall was that I am completely squeamish at the sight of blood – not a good sign for a future vet!
How did you get started in PR?
In college, I took a public relations class taught by a woman who worked as a PR professional during the day and taught our class in the evenings. She would whisk into the room, brimming with stories of creative campaigns, breaking news, client crises, and press events. It all sounded terribly exciting and challenging.
When did you decide to go out on your own?
I worked at two large, international PR firms, first here in Atlanta and then overseas in London. While I learned a great deal (especially abroad) about what makes a good PR professional, I had ideas about how to develop a closer client/agency relationship. I decided to move back to the States and open my own shop. It was terrifying! I was a PR practitioner, but not a business owner. My entrepreneurial instincts soon kicked in, and we were fortunate to have big brands take a chance on a smaller shop.
Can you talk about the development of BRAVE PR. What’s your guiding mission?
From the beginning, BRAVE PR has always been all about the customer. I think we offer a great service to our clients, and I love to see the impact PR can have on businesses large and small. My team gets super-excited when they realize the direct connection between their efforts and the public recognition of the brands they’re helping to build. That could never happen without the customer-focused culture we have built at BRAVE.
Who have been your professional mentors?
My first boss at Golin Harris taught me the importance of client relationships – Dean Trevelino now also owns his own shop, Trevelino Keller. I still go to him for advice! In addition, my grandfather continues to be a great role model for me. As one of nine children, his family struggled. He craved more challenging work than on the farm where he was raised, so he borrowed a pair of shoes from a relative, scraped up enough money for bus fare and landed a job as a busboy for Morrison’s Cafeteria. He worked his way up the food line and eventually became CEO of the company (with a 6th grade education). His business strategy was simple but spot on – work hard and treat people with respect.
What advice would you give those starting out in PR now?
Learn to listen! The foundation of good PR is building genuine relationships between the firm and the client — and between the client and the public. That doesn’t happen without being able to truly listen, and hearing what’s said (and what isn’t) enables us to help our clients connect with the public honestly and authentically. I also continually tell my team not to waste people’s time with questions you can find answers to in seconds via an Internet search. Think on your feet and take initiative, even when you’re not asked to. You’ll never make a name for yourself waiting to be told what to do! Finally, read fewer tweets and more books. There are so many great reads about inspiring individuals, entrepreneurs, amazing life stories – make time for it. In the end, it will be more rewarding than an hour on Twitter, trust me.
How have you seen the advent of social media impact the way you do business?
Social media echoes many of the fundamental tactics we use in approaching traditional media. I like to view it as introducing companies like we do guests at a big party. We help them create their image, meet others, share experiences, find connection points and ultimately build relationships. We strive to make our clients the coolest kids at the party.
Hollywood sure shows us the definition of “PR nightmare” on a weekly basis! Pick one, any one, and tell us what kind of strategy you’d have recommended to untangle the knot.
There have been so many stories lately – it’s hard to pick just one! What’s most difficult to watch are the individuals who’ve made bad decisions, but then refuse to take responsibility for them. I think we’re all so tired of this lack of accountability, that those who find themselves in such a situation may be surprised at what kind of reaction they would receive if they simply owned up to their mistakes. Even if that means just removing yourself from your environment for the good of the people around you. A couple of New York politicians come to mind.
Hurdles. Sometimes we leap right over them and hit the ground running; other times we fall flat on our faces. What have been your biggest hurdles and how have you brushed yourself off to keep going?
2012 was a wake-up call for me. I was faced with a serious medical issue that for the first time caused me to truly realize how fragile life can be. It sounds cliché, but until you’re dealing with something that has the potential to forever impact you and your family’s well-being, it’s just hard to appreciate. I remain incredibly thankful to my doctor for listening to me, calling for extra tests and helping me work through my decision, and I encourage everyone to be their own health advocate! As it turns out, the millions of people who say focusing on the positive can help you better deal with the negative were right. Faced with a heavy heart and a number of decisions to make, my friends, family and even clients helped me through that time – and I have no doubt that a positive outlook (combined with much prayer) made all the difference for me.
You are absolutely committed to giving back. What charities are the dearest to you and why?
I am on the board of Variety of Georgia, The Children’s Charity. Our mission is to help children in need who may be challenged by physical and/or mental disabilities, poverty, abuse or neglect. Each time we raise enough money to present a mobility bike to a child, it’s an incredible sight. To see these children realize a new sense of freedom …it’s pretty amazing.
Do you have a secret talent? Serious or Silly?
I’m a pretty good shot! From skeet shooting to targets, I’ve had a lot of practice.
What’s on your bedside table right now?
- I keep a little newspaper cut-out of the children’s and teachers’ names from the Sandy Hook shooting. It reminds me to be thankful for every day we have.
- Setting the Table by Danny Meyer
- My journal
Other than faith, family and friends, what are three things you couldn’t live without?
- My phone
- Sprinkles (on anything)
- Travel – I love the adventure of experiencing new places, cultures, lifestyles and yes, great hotels!
Thank you, Kristin, for letting us get to know you a little better. Thanks also to Catrina Maxwell for fantastic photos!