April 8, 2024 0 Comments

Trust Relations Celebrates 5 Years in Business: A Conversation with CEO & Founder April White

TRUST RELATIONS: Celebrating 5 Years

After working at some of the best PR agencies in the world, Trust Relations’ CEO & Founder April White was fed up with the old way of doing things in PR. In 2019, she took what she’d learned from representing Fortune 500 brands at the biggest agencies in the U.S., and founded the agency that she wished existed. 

She coined the term “trust relations” to replace the traditional idea of “public relations” with something more authentic. She envisioned a version of PR that would be better equipped to champion the real-world actions of brands that are changing the world as we know it, for the better.

Today, five years later, Trust Relations is a place where the best PR practitioners in the industry can pursue their career ambitions, learn from and mentor others, and thrive in their personal and professional lives. It’s a place where clients have transparency into their account services, control over how their budgets are spent, and access to the best advocates to tell their authentic stories to the world.

To celebrate the agency’s five year anniversary this month, we’re sitting down with April for a candid conversation about her journey to disrupt this industry from the inside and how it feels to be one year closer to the day when “trust relations” will be the industry standard. 

How has the PR industry changed in the last 5 years?

These last five years — in PR and in the world — have brought shift after seismic shift. The impacts for the business world in general (like the remote work revolution, changes in influencer and online culture, and so on) have had ripple effects in PR. But if we zero in here on the core changes that I’ve seen, I’d say this: 

  1. First, we have the rise of affiliate marketing and its convergence with consumer PR. To be competitive in the B2C space today, brands need to be on at least one of the major affiliate marketing networks. Affiliate marketing and PR programs are the best way to connect with editors at national publications covering everything from lifestyle and wellness, to consumer food and beverage, to beauty, travel, personal tech, and more. 
  2. Thought leadership is also having a moment. The public wants increasingly to support companies whose leaders align with their views — or to boycott and avoid companies whose socio-political positions they don’t appreciate. This change has coincided with an increased need for contributed content at many news outlets. Newsrooms are short-staffed. And well-written, insightful contributed articles can help editors to keep up with intense content timelines and make PR practitioners a real asset. For brands that are truly embodying their missions and can back up their claims with actions, it’s an excellent time to be investing in thought leadership campaigns.
  3. Finally, consumers are more values-driven than ever before, in terms of where they’re willing to spend their money. Startup culture and ecommerce have given customers endless options and social media has made them savvier to marketing spin. As the public becomes more invested in the social and political positions of the brands they support, it’s imperative that company executives make conscious, measured decisions about which causes they choose to support. And this can’t be done without earning the “street cred” to back it up. Consumers today don’t want to see a brand offering hollow statements or lip service to certain issues — they want to see concrete actions to prove those brands are actually doing something to bolster the causes they claim to support. 

The industry has evolved so much in such a short time. I’m sure the same goes for you, April! How have you changed since founding the agency?

Wow. It’s amazing what five years can do! For me, as a founder, it’s been about confidence.

I’ve always been a bold person. But nobody feels like a pro when they’re starting a new venture, and imposter syndrome is a hell of a thing! When I first started Trust Relations, I couldn’t fathom this image of myself as a leader, bossing people around, calling all of the shots, and being the face of a company. I felt extremely conscious of that gap when I took on sales calls or even podcast hosting, in the early days. I wanted to be behind the scenes, doing all of the work myself.

But life is all about calling the shots and creating the reality you want to live in. And I am proud to have come into my own as a leader. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I’m excited to get out there, make change, and speak to the PR industry. I’m happy to have the opportunity to be the kind of boss, mentor and colleague that I think everyone in PR deserves. And because this team is so incredibly talented, I feel comfortable letting go of the reins on the day-to-day work and letting the experts do what they do best for our clients. 

How has the agency changed?

We’ve grown beyond my wildest dreams — and that’s just in our first five years! We’ve matured into this well-oiled machine, with systems in place that make the work environment and the output stronger every day. In the beginning, we had this scrappy, rag-tag team. Now, we’re still running full-steam ahead, but with so much more precision. We have an infrastructure in place called “Inutitive Team Design” that plays to each team member’s strengths. With all of that momentum, we’re in a really solid position to scale rapidly and continue to take on bigger clients, and to continuously sharpen our skills and expand our work. We still have that competitive edge we started out with, but now we have the mechanisms in place to match our ambitions and turn out cold, hard results. 

With so much growth, you’ve had to pivot a few times to find that North Star for the agency. What has been the biggest challenge Trust Relations has overcome so far?

In such a short time, we’ve really seen the gamut. We’ve come out swinging through a global pandemic and a major economic downturn. Truthfully, I don’t know which one was harder. It all boils down to that constant need in PR to stay ahead of the curve. We’ve taken great care to intuit where things are going in the world, and pivot accordingly. Especially in an unpredictable economic season, different industries and clients have unique needs. To meet those, we’ve expanded our services, learned new skills, adopted new technologies, and really listened to what our clients have needed from us. That’s how the best PR agencies stay relevant, and it’s certainly held true for Trust Relations.

Right. What has been the most gratifying part of that process?

This one is easy because I feel it every day. It’s immensely gratifying to look around and see that the vision I had for an agency has been actualized — right here, in the flesh. After years thinking and fantasizing about all of the ways this industry could be better, it’s wonderful and humbling to see it come to pass for our team. And Trust Relations has become so much more than a great place for highly-skilled communications professionals to work. It’s a strong, viable business model founded on those principles of kindness, trust, authenticity, innovation and excellence that I long to see become the industry norm.

Our team is this beautiful amalgamation of people. We’re a real cross-section of all different walks of life. I’m so proud to cultivate an inclusive environment with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. It’s remarkable to see just how respectful and considerate this team is — and how we’re even stronger for the differences between us. It makes my heart explode.

Let’s zoom out a bit. Where is the PR industry headed next?

PR is becoming increasingly integrated with other marketing channels. It’s not in a silo anymore, and it likely never will be again. PR can amplify other areas, like content marketing, social media strategy, SEO, and so on. As an industry, we have to be on alert, constantly learning everything we can about those other communications disciplines within marketing, how we can be in service to those strategies, and how shared metrics can capture the impact of PR in those other areas. 

I also have some concern around the fractionalization of media. Gone are the days where three TV news channels and a newsstand down the street dominated the public discourse. Today, people are consuming news in different ways and PR needs to change as a result. For clients of every size, PR practitioners must do their due diligence to stay ahead of news consumption trends and identify which outlets and platforms will be most valuable to our clients. Even if those outlets fall outside of the typical “top tier” of media, those alternative channels and publications can be the most powerful avenues to reach our clients’ niche audiences.

Amen to that! That’s great advice. So, what’s next? Can you share any plans you have in place to take Trust Relations to the next level in year six?

At the moment, I am focused on how we can do even more to integrate with the other verticals in the marketing mix. We’re always open to collaborating with industry professionals from anywhere, who are the best at what they do. Whether that means expanding our own services or partnering with likeminded agencies to deliver top-tier solutions, we have big plans to expand in those directions. Part of that process is the integration of the services themselves, and the next level is integrating the metrics we use to measure success. I’m working hard on new ways to help brand leaders see the value in PR, and help people understand how to use PR results within the other marketing channels like digital advertising, content marketing, SEO, and even creative brand activations and events. But that’s all I’ll say about it for now!

Before we say goodbye, do you have any words for the team and clients?

Most importantly, I want to say thank you. I think we’re entering a place in time when so many people are emerging from deep personal reflection, especially following the pandemic. People understand themselves on a deeper level now, and I feel like inclusivity is among the things many more people are striving toward in their lives, personally and professionally.

I can’t overstate how much I enjoy having team members and clients who are genuinely grateful to work with people unlike themselves. Both our clients and our own team members are incredible humans, and they understand how much value the ideas and perspectives of others can bring to the table. That kind of collaboration ultimately makes them, and their brands, and all of the programs they do, much stronger. It’s so rewarding to see that welcoming, curious mindset in action.

To the team — thank you for believing in this agency, for championing Trust Relations on behalf of the clients we serve, and for contributing your wonderful, weird, unique selves to that mission.

And to our clients — thank you for your trust. It’s an honor to tell your stories, and to share your “storydoing” with the world. With every press release, announcement, media placement, and creative project, we are so proud to share your stories.

To cut to the chase: I’ve loved every minute so far, and we’re charging into year six full-steam-ahead. Cheers to five years!!!  

Stay connected with us here on our website, and join the conversation by tuning into the PR Wine Down podcast.

If you’re interested in partnering with us in the year to come, reach out to us here.

We’re always looking to connect with talented communications professionals who share our drive to transform PR as the world knows it. Send us your resume anytime, here.

AUTHOR

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Trust Relations Team