If there's one thing that means more than anything to me, it's family. Family doesn't have to always mean the people you're related to, it can be those you work with or gain strength from. Over the course of the year I've had the opportunity to work with Amanda Ruisi and her team at AKR PR, who I'm proud to say have become like family to me. From the moment I received my first email from Amanda's colleague Samantha, to the time I was interviewing one of their clients, Rochelle Gores Fredston of Arcade Boutique and spoke to Amanda on the line, I knew that they were something special. When I was approached to interview Amanda, I was thrilled. Not just because I think she's a great person, but because of the company she runs, her strength and determination and how she handles her clients and business. You may know Amanda as the 'Reality PR Guru', DJ Pauly D's (of the 'Jersey Shore') publicist or through the brands and shows she's helped create while working throughout her twenties at NBC. For only being 29 years of age, Amanda has not only accomplished much in the world of entertainment; she started AKR PR in 2010 at the age of 27, and says she owes it all to her mom who she lost just six years ago. For Amanda, family is everything, she treats her clients and everyone she meets as family, which is why I'm happy to share my interview with her today.
Candace Rose: Did you always dream of a career in Public Relations and at what age did you realize this was something you wanted to get into?
Amanda Ruisi: "Love that question! It's actually all because of my mother. In middle school and high school I was known as a bit of a social butterfly. I was in high school at the time and I was a freshman, and my mother said to me 'you know you would make a great publicist one day' and I was like 'publicist, what's that?' My mother had worked in the advertising industry for years as a producer and an advertising executive so she was on the creative side; she really gave me a great intro into what this industry would be like.
Later my mom helped me get my first internship in Entertainment PR at NBC in 2003. I then worked my way up and was hired full time four months later. From there it took off and I was at NBC almost my entire career, and I've been doing this now almost 10 years."
Candace Rose: What was that experience at NBC like?
Amanda Ruisi: "Oh it was amazing. I absolutely loved the people I worked with, they really cultivated me and made me become the publicist I am today because of the experiences and mentors I had at NBC.
I worked with phenomenal corporate communications executives and amazing talent at NBC and all its cable properties such as: USA, Sci-Fi Bravo, Oxygen.
The first show I ever launched for NBC was a show called 'The Apprentice' and I was then with that show for eight seasons. In addition to handling PR for NBC’s signature drama series, ‘Law and Order’ and ‘Law and Order SVU,’ I was also in charge of all PR for all the east coast specials, The 'Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade', The 'Christmas Tree Lighting', 'The Dog Show', 'New Years Eve with Carson Daly,' ‘Miss Universe,’ ‘Miss USA,’ and ‘Miss Teen USA.’ I did a Madonna music special, and when you do these specials you're so fortunate because you're able to work with a variety of different music talent each year. So one year it would be Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Gavin DeGraw, John Legend, Jessica Simpson, and Britney Spears. So I really got to work with a tremendous amount of people and those were just my specials, in addition to the series and the other alternative and reality shows that I represented like, ‘The Celebrity Apprentice,’ ‘The Original Apprentice,’ ‘I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here,’ ‘Conviction,’ ‘Kidnapped,’ The Restaurant, ‘Last Call with Carson Daly,’ ‘Revelation,’ and many more.
As I kept growing within the company in addition to my PR responsibilities, I handled all the Talent Relations on the east coast as well. I was the only one on the east coast who handled both PR and Talent Relations and that really gave me an amazing opportunity to work with such incredible talent on the network.
I am still able to work with NBC, recently I launched a show with them and Craig Plestis of Smart Dog Media and Friday TV, called ‘Minute To Win It.’ I really feel lucky to have had that growth within NBC, as it really enabled me to have the relationships that I do now."
Candace Rose: At what point did you decide you wanted to go into business for yourself, because that's a huge decision?
Amanda Ruisi: "Yes, it was a huge decision, but it was also an exciting decision. At that point I had realized that I loved the ability to cultivate and build a brand. When I worked on 'The Apprentice,' I helped build that show as its own brand. The element of product integration with the sponsors within the show was a great opportunity for me to work alongside amazing brands. Throughout the seasons I really immersed myself in the brands and integrating them on the show and the celebrity PR side. I felt that I would do such a great service to my clients or prospective clients if I were to go out on my own and help build celebrity brands.
I wanted to focus on cultivating those who have these unbelievable platforms, whether it be on a TV show or however they break into the industry, and help them sustain that with longevity within the industry.
Candace Rose: And you're always trying to keep them on their best behavior! I absolutely love your AKR approved tweets.
Amanda Ruisi: "Yes, yes. It's very funny I do these #AKRApproved or #NotAKRApproved tweets, we monitor our clients twitter accounts 24/7. My first thing I explain to every client, I'm a very big advocate for social media, I think it's a very crucial part of everybody's brand. I think it's important to be concise across the board, so the message that you portray of who you are in the media, on television, in public, in your personal life is the same message that needs to come across via your social network. AKR PR’s motto is: twitter is an extension of your voice.”
Candace Rose: Do you feel during your time at NBC you learned about social media or have you just learned about it as you go along?
Amanda Ruisi: "Yes, I actually did my last year at NBC. My friends always laugh at me 'how do you have so many followers' and I tell them – I've been on twitter for forever (laughs). I joined twitter when I was at NBC. I remember signing up 'The Apprentice', Donald Trump, and NBCSVU twitters at the time. Twitter was really at the forefront then and I was an advocate for live tweetathons, so when an episode of one of my TV shows was airing we would have certain cast members do live tweets to engage the fans and viewers throughout the show.
I spoke recently at Lincoln Center at Fashion 140 about social networking and entertainment because aside from our services of PR, our company handles social media activations – which are organic paid tweets. This is where we align a brand with a certain celebrity that fits in their demographic and then we do an organic endorsed tweet so it's another avenue of exposure where as a celebrity would normally go on a talk show and say 'oh I love so and so, I love this lotion' we're now tweeting about the lotion. So it is a direct message line to the fans/followers/consumers."
Candace Rose: What's a typical day like for you?
Amanda Ruisi: "The day starts usually at 6:30 and goes till – hmmm (laughs). I tend to never go to sleep before 2:30 in the morning. I'm just a night owl as it is, but having many clients in LA and with the time difference, I'm always on the clock. I always say PR is 24 hours. My phone is never off. I have office lines, a home line and two cell phones because of that mere fact that I always am reachable and I always want to be. Whether it's the media or my clients, it's important be able to reach me 24 hours a day.
Each day brings something different but a typical day is planning the logistics for the upcoming press launches we have or creating the strategies of new product activations or taking brand meetings with clients or looking for the right celebrity brand ambassadors. As I touched on earlier, when I was speaking about social media activations, aside from celebrity personal/TV PR, we specialize in brand PR. We work with a myriad of Fortune 500 brands and we help align them with a celebrity and we will do social media endorsements or organic photo opportunities, which is a great way to do a one time brand ambassador activation. It's not a major endorsement with a celebrity, it's on a tailored down level, you get instant immediate media impressions and ad value from it. We take a 360 approach: we secure the talent, the photo shoot, place the photos within the media and ensure correct brand messaging.
As a publicist because you're overseeing the image you really are in the throws of it. I love being apart of every aspect of their brand and their image. It's an exciting thing to be a part of because I love to see my clients grow.
Candace Rose: And at just 29 years old you're known as the "Reality PR Guru". Did you have any idea growing up that you'd be this successful at such a young age?
Amanda Ruisi: "I feel very lucky to have worked with the clients that I have, and I always laugh because I love reality television by nature but when I first started at NBC the first show that I ever worked on was a show called 'The Restaurant' with Rocco DiSpirito and Mark Burnett. When NBC aired 'The Restaurant' everybody was curious, this was fairly new and it was really right around the time when 'Survivor' had just taken off and nobody really knew what to do and what to make of these reality shows, so to have been on the ground level of reality TV and see where it is now is really incredible.
Through my experience at NBC I had found a niche in the PR world of reality television. Prior to starting AKR PR, one of the last shows I worked on was 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' and I was working with phenomenal casts and I had just been working on 'Celebrity Apprentice' with Khloe Kardashian, Joan Rivers and Melissa Rivers. Some of my first clients after launching AKR PR were Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt who were on MTV’s 'The Hills' at the time and the Kardashians for their skincare line ‘Perfect Skin,’ Vinny Guadagnino from the 'Jersey Shore' and Jill Zarin from 'The Real Housewives of New York'. Along with working with NBC, launching television shows with them again, it evolved into DJ Pauly D from ‘Jersey Shore,’ Doug Reinhardt, the Gastineau's and working with Rochelle Gores from ARCADE Boutique, who you have interviewed as well. I feel fortunate to have been able to tap into each one of these reality phenomenons in some way.
Candace Rose: You are a big advocate on behalf of animals which you know, I absolutely love. How is Ruby, by the way?
Amanda Ruisi: "I love her. Ruby, my King Charles Cavalier Spaniel was a gift actually. I'll tell you the story. I was at NBC at the time and one of my very dear friends was on the show that I was working on called 'Lipstick Jungle', her name is Lindsay Price and she actually gave me Ruby. I adore Lindsay we are still very close, Ruby is the best gift I've ever received.
My new years resolution is (I tell my clients this too) we all have these unbelievable relationships and abilities to get messages out there and I do it through my social networks a ton, I constantly am tweeting about animal charities, rescues and abuse awareness. I always say that animals are the ones that have no voice so however I can help. I want to make that this year coming I'm doing a lot more manually versus just the tweeting of, but that I'm physically out there doing more, so that is my goal."
Another passion of mine is cancer organizations, very near to my heart. Unfortunately we lost my mother to a rare form of cancer in 2005 and ever since, each year we'll do a charity event or we'll do the Avon Cancer Walk in honor of my mom and help wherever I can. Whether it's just me volunteering somewhere or hosting and helping bring together some celebrities to host an event and raise more awareness and funds for research because it is so important, anything I can do I am happy to help always.
Candace Rose: Do you have any advice for those looking to start a career in PR?
Amanda Ruisi: "Yes, I love twitter for this purpose because I love when I get asked PR questions on twitter. I will respond to every PR question I get. If somebody is asking 'what is the best way to get into PR'? Which I think is the question everybody asks, I always say the best way is to think about what area of PR you would like to be in because there are so many. You could do corporate, sports, entertainment, fashion, consumer, or you could be doing the finance side IR (Investor Relations), etc. There are so many different facets of public relations, its important to test out a bunch, I think the best way to do this is through internships, work-studies, etc. That's what I did. I tested fashion and when I got to the entertainment, the television side, I just knew it was for me, it fit like a glove. Everything you try and everything you do is an experience that later becomes something you can delve into and reuse the tools that you learned.
Recently, I've been doing college speaking, it's wonderful to talk to the students and to hear their questions and see what their perception is. It's interesting because I'm only on one side of it. It's great to sit there and listen to them and to ask them how they view publicity and what they think it is, and where they see themselves going. I'm a creature of information and learning right along with them and taking it all in. I'm constantly working on growing, myself, and my company, personally and professionally."
Candace Rose: So I just have to ask, what is next on Amanda's list?
Amanda Ruisi: "I think that it'd be to continue to grow my company and work with great people. I always say 'who I work with become like family to me', we get vested with our clients, especially when you are working so closely all day everyday. It's really an incredible thing to be able to build these types of relationships with these individuals and to watch them grow. For me everything I do is a testament to my mother. When I lost my mom to cancer – that was the hardest thing ever. My mom was my best friend and such a supporter in everything I did and having her start me in this industry gives me that drive and I want to make her proud any way I can in her name. The reason why my company's named AKR is because my mother's middle initial was K, as is mine. We have the same middle name- Kathryn so I wanted to include that as tribute to my mom, as everything I do is in her honor.
Candace Rose: I love that, and I know that your mom's proud of you. You're an amazing person, Amanda.
Amanda Ruisi: "Thank you, you're so sweet."
Candace Rose: It's the truth. You've inspired me on many occasions, so I have to thank you for that.
Candace Rose: Where can people go for more information?
Amanda Ruisi: "My website actually right now is under construction but it is AKRPR.com, but then I also have twitter and facebook, which we are very active on. Thank you so much for your time Candace."