Conversation with Judith R. King of King + Company
Judith R. King is the founder and owner of King + Company, one of the industry’s leading independent public relations and strategic marketing firms. She stands at the forefront of her New York-based firm’s commitment to bring together the best of traditional and digital public relations, seamlessly integrating the firm’s high-impact media relations with deep social media expertise and strategic communications campaigns.
[What follows is a brief conversation with this leader.
1. How did you get started in public relations?
For many years, I was a very busy advertising copywriter in New York, conceptualizing sharply targeted advertising campaigns and writing highly recognized copy for literally hundreds of clients, including Starwood Hotels, Hard Rock Café, Ian Schrager Hotels, Philippe Starck, amfAR and all kinds of products. I loved the idea of producing work for clients through both the visual and the verbal. I had been an English and Creative Writing major at Princeton University where I won the Francis LeMoyne Page Creative Writing Award for my thesis, which was a novel, and I soon found copywriting very satisfying as a profession.
That was how I made my living until I went to DKC (then called Dan Klores Communications) to become their writer-in-residence. There I wrote, rewrote and edited thousands of press releases, tip sheets, fact sheets, company correspondence and blogs – before they were even called blogs! Not only was I writing, but I was keenly observing how an agency operates and getting a sophisticated grasp of clients’ issues before I started my own company, Morris + King, with my late co-founder, Andy Morris, which ultimately became King + Company.
2. Advertising and public relations had been male-dominated communications fields for a long time. How does it feel to be a woman in this industry, running a woman-led PR firm?
In many ways, it’s becoming more of an advantage, because many clients are seeking a broader and larger knowledge base from the perspective of diversity and inclusion. Many of our clients, for example, the LUNGevity Foundation, the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which we represented for many years, understand that there is unlimited benefit to what a woman’s perspective can offer. Women have an ever-increasing voice at the table now. At King + Company, when we compete for an account, it’s on the quality of our work. It’s our work that speaks to how we get hired, not our gender.
3. What are some of your firm’s areas of expertise?
At King + Company, we have plenty of health and lifestyle clients. We currently are handling the PR for a start-up beverage company’s launch of SESH, a hard seltzer meets cocktail that’s zero sugar and a single carb per can. SESH aligns not only with consumer macro trends (health and wellness, premium and purpose-driven products), but with our own core company values as well.
Our deep expertise also lies in the areas of healthcare, nonprofits and the life sciences. We bring a very specific, personal approach to all of these clients; being a two-time cancer survivor myself, I understand so intimately that there has never been more need for health-centric public relations. Among our clients is Dignitana, the creator of the DigniCap Scalp Cooling System, which offers breast cancer patients the extraordinary ability to significantly reduce hair loss from chemotherapeutic treatment. I experienced this first-hand, with tremendous results. From work like this and so much more, there is so much we can bring to a patient’s experience as he or she endures one of the most challenging moments in their life.
In our work for amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research), we were involved at every level possible, from advocacy to media relations to crisis communications to event management and everything under the PR rubric.
We are consistently recognized for the tremendous value that we bring through our understanding of the entire healthcare landscape from consumer media relations to digital to the ever-changing regulatory environment.
4. How much are you personally involved with strategic work for your clients?
I truly believe that being in high touch with the client every day is de rigueur for success. I’ve learned in previous places where I’ve worked that too many larger agencies go in full blast with a pitch team –and the clients never see that team again! Not at King + Company. I help write every single proposal. I go to many meetings, and I show up on many to most weekly calls. I think having top-level management be there throughout the life of a project cannot be diminished or underestimated as a powerful tool in both client wins and client retention. We have represented the Visiting Nurse Service of New York for 15 years and LUNGevity and City Harvest for five years. That kind of retention is testament to senior management always being there. We’ve also made sure to involve our more junior staff, constantly providing them with mentorship opportunities. I try to always be generous with my time, experience and knowledge.
5. What are some of the biggest challenges you encounter with clients on a daily basis?
Truthfully? That it’s often never enough! No matter how effective the work is that you do on behalf of your clients, they expect something new every day. We understand that, but public relations has its own timeline. It’s not advertising. We work every day for each client, but placements take time. It takes time to build relationships with journalists, to dig up the soil, to learn the community. There’s an enormous amount of research that has to be done. Yet the client’s expectations, no matter how good a job you do, are understandably big. These are difficulties that all PR firms face.
6. Now, what makes PR such an interesting and fascinating profession for you?
One never stops learning. There is a learning curve every single day because clients are so diverse and everybody needs something different. I find myself always alive and awake to the learning possibilities.
7. What advice would you give to Gen Zers as they’re coming out of college to help them succeed in public relations?
Public relations can be a great, great career – and a demanding one. What’s so wonderful is that you have the freedom to discover so much about so many different sectors, whether it’s healthcare, lifestyle, food, fashion, finance or anything else. You can go to a digital firm, a content creation firm or a more media relations-oriented firm. This is the time for young people to pick and choose, depending on their passions.
And you don’t have to be a PR communications major, either. Firms will take you if you’re interesting and you’re interested, and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and go to work. I don’t even recall where anybody in my firm went to college or what degrees they have, but I sure do know they have the wherewithal, the ability to write and a genuine interest in the multi-variable tasks at hand. I’d advise new graduates looking for a full-time job not to be afraid to start at a junior level at a PR firm, knowing that things can change for them according to their individual investment; this is the most wonderful period of time when recent graduates really get to think about what they ultimately want to do with their careers. This is precious time in a young person’s life, and I advise them to use it wisely,
It’s essential to read everything you possibly can and to work on honing your writing skills. Watch closely how all collateral and visual materials are created – and be an open receptacle for learnings across the board. Be involved as much as you can in a first-year position so that you literally inhale all the information. Even at the summer intern level, King + Company junior staffers don’t just pack boxes or file or buy lunch for their supervisors. They have real involvement in our everyday work. There’s a trade-off in trust. We trust them to give us all they have, and, in turn, we’ll give them our all to make the experience wonderful for them.