Powerful publicist in Hollywood

Meet Rhonda Rees, an award-winning veteran in the field of public relations

Meet Rhonda Rees, an award-winning veteran in the field of public relations, representing a wide variety of clients, including authors, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, manufacturers, attorneys etc. She was named as one of the five most powerful publicists in Hollywood by PeopleMaven, author of the book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®, she was also the recipient of the Publicist of the Year honor from the prestigious Bulldog Reporter publication.

"I believe that the recipe for success in this business is to be flexible, have realistic expectations, be detail oriented, show determination, meet deadlines and always strive to be ethical, fair and honest"

Who is Rhonda Rees? define yourself

I am a creative and intuitive person who likes to “think outside the box” in both my work and personal life. I wouldn’t be considered “rank and file”. I like to do things a bit differently, and tend to see the bigger picture in life. I also care a great deal about people, humanity, animals and the environment. Whenever I post messages to Facebook for example, I always strive to give a positive word, or make people take a look at themselves, and really think. The reactions and private messages I have received reflect this. To be positive and a lightworker in people’s lives, and to live by example is something that I am always striving toward.

How were you as a kid?

I was very shy as a child. It seems hard to believe now since I am known as much more social and outgoing. I do have a sensitive and introverted side, and I like to spend time alone and on my own. It is there that I have done some of my best thinking, problem-solving and learning. I remember making my most cherished life-long friends during childhood, and in young adulthood. I’m still in contact with people whom I have known for decades. There’s a nice comfort in that. Our world can seem really fast-paced, hectic and stressful, so it’s nice to have people that you feel have been there throughout many life cycles – and still remain.

You have a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) at California State University-Northridge, why did you chose that course of study?

My Bachelor of Arts degree was in Speech Communications. I studied that major as my original plan was to become a teacher, and it was one of the options at the time. While in college I took a few PR classes, and ended up doing an internship at a public relations agency. What was great is that this same major actually applied to both professions, and I didn’t have to make a switch.

You support many associations contributing your PR services partially Pro Bono to worthwhile causes each year such as to veterans and the military, special needs and terminally ill children. What drives you?

I really enjoy what I do. With public relations, it’s always interesting. When I began my career, I worked at a small PR agency. My boss was involved with helping others, and especially those with special needs. When I branched out and formed my own company, I kept that tradition alive. Each year I like to pick out a different cause, charity or non-profit organization to assist with my pro bono PR services. It’s been a very worthwhile experience. Ballet for All Kids teaches dance to special needs children and adults, as an example. I have also handled many red-carpet events, and helped out the Make-A-Film Foundation, that matches A-list celebrities with critically or terminally ill children to make their film dreams come true. Actors Johnny Depp, Richard Chamberlain and Laura Dern were among those involved in the project.

Some of my other clients have included Valley View Vaulters. They teach equestrian gymnastics on horseback, including to those with special needs. Heaven and Earth Oasis, which provide health and holistic products and services to military veterans. And the late Leon Cooper, who was a WWII veteran, and the subject of film documentaries with actors Ed Harris and Kelsey Grammer doing the narrations. Another project is Space Command, an up-coming original Sci-Fi drama series starring Ethan McDowell, Billy Mumy and Bryan McClure.

"In public relations it’s very important to give the media what you claim, If you promise them a certain guest to be interviewed for example, it’s vital that you never do a “bait and switch” at the last minute"

You are an award-winning veteran in the field of public relations. You were named as one of the five most powerful publicists in Hollywood by PeopleMaven.  You are also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®, and you were also the recipient of the Publicist of the Year honor from the prestigious Bulldog Reporter publication, for a media awareness campaign you orchestrated to help bring attention to online book piracy.  What´s the recipe of your success?

I have been around the PR world for several decades now. In that time, I have seen various trends take shape, as well as the technology to go along with them. I was trained by a veteran in the field, the late Alfred E. F. Stern. He started out as a newspaper journalist, and then handled public relations for the big movie studios back in the 1940s through the early 1960s He had been involved with promoting the original release of the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. He taught me so much, mainly by giving me a lot of responsibility and hands-on experience. He was retirement age when I first started out as a “green” 22-year-old. I was very fortunate that it was a small agency, and I was allowed to experiment, make mistakes, as well as wear many hats. From that experience, I opened up my own PR business, and I never looked back.

The best thing about working in public relations is that it is always “different”. No two days are exactly the same. The variety, challenges, and the potential to “make a difference” in people’s lives, and in the world is what still keeps me enthusiastic, and productive. I believe that the recipe for success in this business is to be flexible, have realistic expectations, be detail oriented, show determination, meet deadlines and always strive to be ethical, fair and honest.

What is the reality of your day-to-day?

In a typical work day, I like to personally communicate with clients by phone conference call or Skype I prefer this type of interaction best. I also do a lot of writing such as creating press releases, pitch letters, bios and fact sheets, press kits, as well as orchestrate media lists. I like to stay on top of things by interviewing my clients and asking them questions that will help to formulate their PR program. I like to keep clients informed of activities on a regular basis. I additionally make use of other independents, freelancers and vendors to help round things out. Examples include a social media expert, IT specialist and media distribution services. Without this type of back-up, I wouldn’t be able to perform the work that I do. This is crucial to my success. Their collective contributions have continued to help me better serve my clients.

Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?

I try to live by the “golden rule”. Do unto others, as you would have them do onto you. Also, when I was starting out early in my career, I came across the classic book by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I remember one of the main thoughts was that people like to feel important. This is true whether for a child, adult, animal or pet. I also like to “mean what I say” and “say what I mean”. Consistency, honesty and integrity are certainly great virtues to live by. Also, with public relations it’s very important to give the media what you claim. If you promise them a certain guest to be interviewed for example, it’s vital that you never do a “bait and switch” at the last minute. (This is a shady practice where you first promise a particular person, and then make a change with someone else). After all, the media have a long memory and their coverage can make or break you or your client’s reputation.

"People should realize that public relations coverage is never a guarantee. However, it can certainly help a business to gain exposure while building up its name, reputation, and brand"

What do you love most about your job? and what is the most difficult part?

I have always enjoyed the interesting projects and variety of clients that I have represented over the years. I really like being able to use many skills to accomplish my goals. PR is a very creative, challenging and fascinating field. There’s a lot of writing involved, as well as media relations work, and organizing events. But the biggest reality and challenge in the PR business has always been to get and keep clients. This is especially true during an economic downturn. Unfortunately, public relations is generally the first budget item to be cut. There is always a certain amount of uncertainty involved.

Each and every day is a “risk” for a PR person, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are constantly striving to come up with the right angle or “hook” for example, to best represent our clients to the media, and gain their attention. Specifically, I handle companies that manufacture products, offer services, or are involved with worthwhile causes or concerns. Examples include authors, celebrities, environmental and safety firms, the military, specialty food companies – even a psychic detective. People should realize that public relations coverage is never a guarantee. However, it can certainly help a business to gain exposure, while building up its name, reputation and brand. Even when conditions are good, it’s always a smart idea to look for more clients and work, and to never rest on your laurels.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years? 

Not to sweat the small stuff. Life is short. Last year my home and office burned down in the big Woolsey fire. I lost everything! It was quite an experience to go through. I found that hanging on too tightly to material things is never really that important. I had to live in 20 places before I was able to finally settle into my new home. It was really a lesson in doing without—and I survived. I feel that I’ve become more of an enlightened person as a result. This experience certainly taught me how to live in the moment more, and to prioritize people, communication, connections and love.

What are your plans for the future?

Last year I was unexpectedly trapped in the woods while I was hiking. I was stuck for 12 hours alone without a phone, water, food or proper clothing. I had to spend the night sleeping on the ground, and made rocks for a pillow. Also, I used my jacket as a blanket, and I remember breathing into it to keep myself warm. I eventually found my way out to safety. After surviving this ordeal, I find that for me, it’s not always a good idea to plan too far into the future. If you live your life one day at a time and do your best, I strongly believe that the future will take care of itself. Also, the older I get, the more I stick by this living and way of being.

There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented the glass ceiling? if yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?

Fortunately, when I was trained in PR, the glass ceiling wasn’t really a problem for me. The public relations profession started out primarily with male newspaper journalists. By the time I entered the field, it was 80% women. Luckily, I never had to prove myself or my abilities. I was given a fair chance. I only encountered an “all boys network” once when I represented a manufacturer in a male dominated industry. I had attended an event with many companies, and I was one of the only females there. It was a bit of a “challenge” to be treated fairly. But all-in-all, “knock on wood”, the fact that I have been a woman in my profession has never been an issue or a problem for me.

What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you in the public relations field?

I think that it’s very important to be sure to get back to people – and in a timely manner. When someone sends you a message, it’s a good idea to never make them wait too long for a response. This is true for clients, businesses and the public. Also, it’s a good idea to show appreciation to the media whenever they grant your client coverage. Sending them a “thank you” note through an email, text, or even by writing a personal message can go a long way.

It’s also very important to keep up with latest trends, developments, technology and current events. Having a good sense of geography, and knowing what is happening around the world is also very smart. I further recommend that young aspiring entrepreneurs practice their writing, telephone pitching and public speaking skills. Also being organized, and aware of deadlines is very crucial. So is staying in regular contact with clients and proving them with a monthly summary report of activities and projects in-progress These are key aspects to being successful in the public relations business. In terms of getting and keeping clients, the best advice I can recommend is to have realistic expectations and patience, as this is still a virtue. Even when conditions are good, it’s still wise to look for more clients and work, and to never rest of your laurels. Remember that a recession might last a lot longer than ever expected -- and it’s vital to prepare for that eventual “rainy day”.

Everybody has had dark moments in their lives, what have you done to get out of that phase?

I have relied on my spirituality, and my trust in God to help get me through. I can say that over the years I have certainly experienced my fair share of “ups and downs”, and unexpected events. As mentioned, last year my home and office burned down in the big Woolsey fire, and I lost everything. It was a day after a tragic shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in my same community. These events really shook us up. There were other fires raging in my state at the same time, and mine was among the largest in California history. I like many others, had to start all over again. These happenings really taught me a lot about resiliency, trust in a higher power and belief in humanity. When I evacuated my home, I felt so lucky just to be alive! I know that this has forever changed me – and for the better. I specifically learned that material objects in life are only “temporary”, and that when you die, you can’t them with you So, it’s important to try to live each day to the fullest, and appreciate what you have, and to also treat others with loving kindness along the way.

I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you really are (personally), and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Rhonda and what´s not?

Sometimes there are misconceptions about the PR business, and this may cause people to have the wrong idea about me, and about what I do. The public may believe that the industry is all about “getting ahead”, and hyping things, without necessarily being credible. Also, big business, politicians and celebrities can get into “hot water, by being controversial, and need good PR to help clear their names, and reputations – these are often the ones making the news.

The reason why I personally entered the field is to try and make a difference in the world. I have always strived to promote humanitarian causes, the environment, and the special needs community for example. Also, many of the products that I have represented have helped to save people’s lives. These are the kind of projects that are more in line with my own thinking. I like to mean what I say, and say what I mean. I also prefer to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk”. I find that to be this way is not only best in the PR world, but also in life in general too

Who is the woman you admire the most and why?

I don’t have just one woman that I admire the most. I would have to say that in terms of non-famous people, it would have to be a combination of my mom and grandmothers, teachers and friends’ mothers that I have known over the years that have touched my life in a profound way. These women were patient, giving, hard-working, and generous, and had an enormous influence in the way that I do things today. They showed me what real femininity and loveliness is all about. In terms of famous people alive and deceased, I would have to say Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Linda McCartney, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana to name a few.

Anything else you’d like to add or share with us?

I’d like to personally thank you and your readers for giving me this opportunity to share my personal story, experience, thoughts, and insights about PR with you. I really appreciate it, and hope that our paths will cross again.

Name: Rhonda Rees

Sector:  Public Relations

Company: Rhonda Rees Public Relations Company

Designation: Founder & CEO

Country:  USA

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