Rusty Foster is the founder and owner of Bow Tie Strategies, a public relations and events management firm. Rusty has 16 years of experience in public relations and fundraising. He founded his company off of a whim when he was helping two of his friends in the Marine Corps who were walking across the country throw a parade and fundraising event. The president of an advertising agency that represented Middlebrook Bank requested Rusty’s skills as a consultant. Though originally he declined the offer, Rusty changed his mind and Middlebrook became his first client. He continued to work his other job in addition to Bow Tie for two and a half years before “taking the plunge,” and hasn’t looked back since.
Rusty primarily deals with small business owners who understand the demographic and landscape of Loudoun County. “That side of the business is what’s exciting,” says Rusty. “Rather than dealing with the multimillion dollar clients…the smaller side you get to know the people, and that’s what makes my business and what I do fun.”
Understanding Public Relations
Many companies neglect to add PR into their budget on the assumption that it will be too costly. However, continuously presenting your business to the community is important to keeping your customer base interested and reminding them to keep coming back, and it may even be significantly less expensive than you think. “When you’re talking about public relations, everyone can afford it in some form or fashion,” states Rusty. That could mean anything from help with social media to writing a press release or redoing your website. It may even be as simple as tweaking a few words to more effectively address your core demographic.
Rusty advises finding an effective platform based on your product and audience, then focusing on growing that rather than scattering your social media presence across as many platforms as you can. “Accomplish one thing and do it right first before you go and do something else,” he says. “Every day you have a new platform of some sort that is invented that becomes available, and it needs to be tested and tried and everything.” Instagram is best for visual products and Facebook is better for businesses that want to get a conversation going.
Public Relations as a Career
For those who may be interested in making a career out of PR, it’s important to accurately identify your strengths and weaknesses to determine if it will make a good fit. According to Rusty, “if you’re going to be in public relations, marketing, events, the restaurant industry, whatever, you’ve got to be able to know how to work with people because you’re going to deal with many egos, differing personalities, you may have somebody who is very upset…I like to say you have to be a chameleon because you have to be able to relate to the janitor, the CEO of a company, to a small business owner or entrepreneur.” Public relations isn’t for everyone; there’s no getting around that you’ve got to be a people person.
The hardest part of running a business in PR is getting clients to back down and accept the changes they need to make in their business in order to succeed. According to Rusty, “when you start making recommendations, they get very defensive because they know what’s right for their business. And granted, they know their business better than I do, but I know people and my business better than they do.” Rusty is always blunt with his clients about the changes they need to make, which can be hard for them to hear, but necessary in order for them to improve. “It’s all about taking that onion, peeling back the layers and finding what’s raw and what’s real and what is going to sell in newspapers and makes that person sexy. And find out what your niche is and get people to come in the door,” he says.
Bow Tie Strategies is known for putting in work to get to know their clients. According to Rusty, what sets Bow Tie apart from other PR agencies is their prioritization of taking the time to understand and get to know their clients. “Being in public relations isn’t just about the media,” he says. “It’s about the people.” Rusty doesn’t believe in making transactional relationships, which is why he doesn’t limit his connections to business and invites you to reach out and talk with his team. To get in on the conversation, visit bowtiestrategies.com or search for Bow Tie Strategies on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.