Career Guide

Building a Boutique Agency: From PJs to Power Suits

I’m not going to say that I never steal away a day here and there to work from home in my PJs, but my days now are filled with power suits and lots and lots of meetings.

I’ve come a long way (7 years to be exact), from those first weeks on my own as a solo PR practitioner, taking conference calls in my PJs and juggling media calls with tumble-n-play classes with my 1-year-old. But I treasure those days, as they are why I left a nice job with a great agency to strike out on my own and see what I could do with a company that bore my last name.

In December 2006, when I left the agency world as a senior PR account executive, I had visions of working part time and having the best of both worlds – one foot still in the PR biz and the other staying at home with my 1-year-old. I have since learned that is pretty much impossible to do if you just can’t say no to the work and clients. I do have PR friends that have made this happen, but they are masters at the word “no” (they also have somehow managed to figure out how to keep a toddler quiet during a conference call). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), I have a hard time with such a simple and short word.

Once on my own, I found the opportunities to be endless and the work exciting – creating strategy for clients, making decisions based on how I saw fit and not having to wait to make things happen. It was intoxicating. It was fulfilling. And I knew this was something I wanted to stick with, grow and call my career.

Ghidotti Communications is now comprised of four employees and growing. We have two key strategic partnerships – Eric Rob & Isaac, an advertising/marketing agency in Little Rock, and PRConsultants Group, a national network of senior-level PR practitioners representing the top 50 markets. We have a downtown office with a coffee pot, printers and no PJs. And, most importantly, we have amazing clients who value our knowledge and skills and let us help them move mountains and create real business results.

This new blog series is focused on helping our members make transitions in their PR careers. Making the jump from agency worker bee to boutique agency owner is full of ups and downs. Here are some of my top tips to consider when making the leap:

  1. Always put client service as a priority. I truly believe that the success I have had is because we focus on client service. Yes, we bring the big ideas, and, yes, we have mastered the tactical action plan, but what sets us apart is that our clients see us as true partners in their business. Let’s face it, clients can go anywhere. There are lots of people who do what we do and do it well, but there’s much to be said for doing it with a smile on your face, a willingness to get in the thick of it (and put tablecloths on tables, serve drinks, hold signs or whatever it takes), and a drive to get it done come hell or high water.
  2. Know your limits. For me, that meant hiring a payroll service when there were only two of us. Some people would say that’s crazy to pay a monthly fee to a company to write a couple of paychecks every two weeks. But I know my limits. Keeping track of paying someone every two weeks and figuring out the taxes is not my strong suit. That is literally the best money I’ve ever spent. Thank you, Betty Jo! I know my employees thank you profusely!
  3. Hire the best. Hiring your first employees can be extremely stressful, but very rewarding. It has taken me time to build the amazing team I have, and they can all attest that it wasn’t a quick process. Take your time in building the right team for your clients, your business and your needs. It’s easy to rush into a hire with the work piling up and clients calling, but hire freelancers in the interim to make things happen and take the time you need to put the right person in that full-time position.
  4. Grow strategically and grow together. A year after I went out on my own, I struck a partnership with an ad/marketing firm in town. Together, over the past six years, we have built strong and powerful businesses that benefit our clients and us. It has allowed us to bring the best talent to the table, while building our own brands. I would encourage anyone looking to grow a boutique agency to seek partnerships that are win-wins for both parties. The benefits are numerous.

Natalie Ghidotti, APR, is president of Ghidotti Communications, based in Little Rock, Ark. She is a past chairman of PRSA’s Independent Practitioners Alliance, past co-chairman of Sections Council and a past president of Arkansas PRSA Chapter. Find her on Twitter at @ghidotti or visit her website,


Are you an independent practitioner or do you prefer to have a large agency behind you? There are many paths to PR industry success. Which is yours?

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