3 L.A. Agencies You Need To Know & The Women Who Run Them

Author: Sarah de Brun

These days women make up the majority of those working in public relations, and the marketing world is following suit as it sees a strong increase in female employment. (So, you're saying the future really IS female?!) As those numbers rise, bishes are taking business matters into their own hands, launching their own agencies and firms instead of just working for one. With their entrepreneurship comes sacrifices, like round-the-clock hours and zero sick days amongst the cons. But, the upside is the surge of creative control and the bad*ss feeling of knowing that you call the shots, and the shots you're calling are changing the game.

Meet four L.A. women–Priscila Martinez, Chelsea Matthews, Sarah Ivory, and Anita Gatto–and hear their personal stories about come ups, how they started their own PR and marketing companies, and what sets them each apart in their own special way.

Priscila Martinez, The Brand Agency

The Lowdown: The Brand Agency is "A full service, entertainment marketing and public relations firm."

For those who don't know, can you give us insight into PR and marketing?
The industry has changed so much with the advent of social media and technology that it's hard to give a concise answer. The best way of explaining it would be that we talk to press and influencers on our clients’ behalf. We also create headlines that aim to entice press to talk about our brands. This can take many forms: dressing celebrities in our brands, planning events, brokering deals with influencers, or good old press pitching.

Tell us about The Brand Agency and how your company came about.
The Brand Agency was started two years ago. I worked at one of the largest entertainment PR firms here in LA for many years, that was my boot camp. After about eight years there I decided to open up my firm and service clients that I was truly passionate about. I also started The Brand Agency because I wanted to start servicing clients in ways that didn’t necessarily fall under the “traditional PR” umbrella. Having my own firm gave me the freedom to do so, and I’ve been happily doing it ever since!

What does The Brand Agency specialize in and what sets you apart from the rest?
We work with a lot of fashion, beauty, hospitality, and lifestyle clients. Although we service many different industries, all of our accounts have an entertainment twist, I think being headquartered in LA makes this a natural occurrence.  

It seems like we are all constantly grinding these days! Who or what keeps you inspired and driven?
We are! Our personal and work lives have such blurred lines, it feels like we aren’t able to take a pause. It’s also getting harder and harder to break through the noise with our work, because of this, we find ourselves constantly evolving in order to deliver. What keeps me inspired is our list of clients that grows in caliber every single day. I’m also inspired by the changes the industry is experiencing. We used to write a press release and call it a day a decade ago, now you need to be social savvy and figure out how all of that factors into your day-to-day strategies. This definitely keeps us on our toes, and that ultimately makes our work very exciting.

Let's say we took your computer and cell phone away from you for the day, how would you spend those 24 hours?
In Malibu, drink in hand, with my husband and our furry son, Kingston.

Who is your main MISSBISH?
Hillary Clinton, not to get political but….

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
It means getting out of your comfort zone as a female and finding out how to do things your way, and to be successful while doing so.

Fill in the blanks:
A social, or global, issue I'm most passionate about at the moment is... immigration. 

If I wasn't in PR and marketing, my career would probably... involve cooking in some way. 

A dream client of mine is... Alessandro Michele and whatever he touches.

The most amazing thing about women is... that we stick together.

The mantra I live by... "Work hard, play hard." So cheesy, I know.

Chelsea Matthews, Matte Black

The Lowdown: Matte Black is "A brand marketing agency and creative studio."

What drew you into your profession, and what keeps you driven?
I think I’ve always just had a thing for brands, what makes them tick, and why someone engages with them. I started off in event production in the fashion industry--this is pre-social media, mind you--and slowly entered digital marketing as the landscape changed. I became super interested in social media and immersed myself in the culture and the language. Then a few years later I became really interested in graphic design and art direction, and dove head first into that. Then, I just blended the two and created what is now my agency, Matte Black, which has evolved out of just social media into overall brand marketing and creative, but is still very true to our original roots.

Staying driven comes in so many forms for me: looking at great work others create, listening to podcasts about entrepreneurship (shoutout to NPR’s How I Built This), having a great new business meeting, being connected to great creative minds doing rad things… it all fuels me. Over the last four years, I’ve definitely watched how some of the things I’ve manifested--or set intentions for--have come to fruition, and that’s something that keeps me motivated all the time. I guess it’s the feeling that we’re limitless. No ceilings, just opportunity for bigger and better things.

In the marketing world, tough skin is a must. What other strengths are you proud to possess?
I think I have to attribute it down to two things, which are likely the two fundamental elements of having thick skin:
1) I’m not very sensitive, so it takes a bit to really "nudge" me.
2) I’m a "glass half full" person almost all of the time, so even if something doesn’t net out in the way I dreamt it would, there is always a silver lining.

How has social media changed the world of marketing, for the better (and worse)?
Social media is incredible! When else have brands been able to talk to their customers as many times as day as they please, listen to what their customers are saying (or what their competitors’ customers are saying) and have the opportunity to position themselves in so many creative ways every day? Pretty much never. It used to be focus groups, surveys, and email marketing.

But, the flip of that is that it can be overwhelming--especially for smaller companies--to keep up with the demands of social media, whether it’s the amount of content you need to create, the dollars you need to invest, or just the people you (ideally) need to hire. It can also sometimes distract from some of the other key areas of marketing that are needed to really hit return on investment, namely: paid strategies, email marketing and acquisition, brand level campaigns, etc.

What brand promise does Matte Black deliver to clients?  
I love this question. Last year I worked with the team to iron out our core values as a company and one of the leading points is that we aim to be indispensable to both our clients and our coworkers. Ultimately, we want to create an environment and a partnership with the people we surround ourselves with, which is too special to walk away from.

Tell us about one of your projects that was the most exciting to see come to life.
Last year we had the opportunity to produce a full-scale print and digital campaign for an activewear brand that came to life in such an epic way, from the creative treatment concepts, to traveling to Norway to capture it all, and later bringing it all to life in a beautiful 110-page magazine, and then creating a full digital shopping and content experience. It really touched so many facets of the creative wheel that were so fulfilling for our team and all of the people we brought into the project.

Your (incredibly adorable) son is just over a year old. Obviously, motherhood changes everything, but in what ways have you evolved the most where you least expected?
Disconnection. I’ve always been relatively good about not checking emails right when I wake up, but it’s especially relevant now. During the week, it’s the mornings and the evenings that I want to dedicate as much time to him as possible, with as little distraction as possible. A lot of that comes from disconnecting a bit from my phone and laptop.

What are your hidden gems in L.A.?
Mandrake Bar for drinks.

Matteo Factory Store for their bedding on (crazy) discount.

Who is your main MISSBISH?
Oh man, I’m not one for favorites! But here’s a few that are inspiring me right now:

@mircat - She quit her very steady, very well paid job as a lawyer to fulfill more creative pastures, and will soon open an insanely cool wine shop in DTLA.

@punodostres - For being my on-demand art director/web designer/business advisor/creative soul mate.

@listentotrace - A singer/songwriter with a knack for business that has truly inspired me with her ability to go from editor of a magazine just a year ago, to an artist on Spotify with tens of millions of track listens. I mean, what?!

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Ladies who do, make, disrupt, impress, cultivate and most importantly, support one another.

Fill in the blanks:
Without fail, the website that causes me to go down a rabbit hole is... Pinterest.

If I wasn’t in marketing, you’d probably find me... in the Art Department of a lifestyle brand or doing some form of interior decorating.

@marahoffman... has one of the coolest Instagrams I’ve ever seen.

The most amazing thing about women is...  their endless compassion, support, and ability to multitask.

Anita Gatto and Sarah Ivory, Self Employed

The Lowdown: Self Employed are the "Self-starters, cold callers, risk takers, rule breakers." If that's you too, you should probably grab one of these hoodies to represent: Shop Self Employed here.

Tell us about how you both met and your new company Self Employed.
SI: We met on a blind work date. We had a girlfriend in common who knew about what we each were doing and thought we should know each other. I never in a million years would have imagined everything that’s transpired as a result of this one casual lunch. We had strikingly similar career trajectories. We both had PR companies that had recently been acquired by larger agencies, we both had been Marketing and PR Directors for fashion brands, she at Robert Graham and myself at SUPRA Footwear, and we both felt that experiential marketing was the way forward.

What drew you into your profession, and what keeps you driven?
SI: From day one, I have always been an entrepreneur. I actually remember learning to spell that word when I was like, 8, and thinking to myself, that’s what I want to be. Specifically, what I love about what we do is that it encompasses many areas of creativity and business development from product development and licensing, to producing branded content and engaging influencers.

AG: Ditto.

How did you each get your start in your line of work?
SI: I started my first business, a bamboo fiber t-shirt line, when I was in college. I knew I wasn’t a designer, I just had an idea to maximize on this opportunity for this newish material being used in fashion and I ran with it. I ended up securing my own coverage in consecutive issues of Vogue Spain and that led to my initial interest in press and marketing. From there, I got a job at this boutique marketing agency, Noise, as an assistant to the CEO. He promptly told me I took the word ASSIST out of ASSISTANT, but instead of firing me he promoted me to Account Executive and I got my taste of marketing with big budgets and big brands including Chase Card Services, Facebook (picture me, 22 in a boardroom with Mark Zuckerberg) and Bombay Sapphire. Coming full circle, our first major client at Self Employed was the former President of Bombay Sapphire who has since moved on to Hennessy. That’s a beautiful thing, growing with your clients and colleagues and empowering each other for success.

AG: I started my career as a journalist, as I have always had a passion for storytelling. During my last year of college, I started my own magazine called EVE, which helped me land a job at one of Canada's largest media companies. One of my first feature assignments was to interview designer twins Chip and Pepper, and by the time the article was printed I was accepting a job as their PR manager for US and Canada. I also credit Robert Stock, designer of Robert Graham, for believing in me and planting me in New York City at the age of 27, making me the youngest and only female on his management team.

In the PR world (and L.A. especially), tough skin is a must. What other strengths are you proud to possess?
AG: I am proud of how experienced we are. It means we can anticipate worst case scenarios and make contingency plans. I also think it’s important to be collaborative with other agencies and your clients in general--we only compete with ourselves. Last, we have a good sense of humor and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are selling products and services, which is important, but we aren’t finding cures to deadly diseases or fighting wars and sometimes we need that perspective.

What does Self Employed specialize in and what sets you apart from the rest?
We specialize in creative campaigns for lifestyle brands that include brand positioning and marketing strategy, custom events, influencer and celeb relations, product development, and licensing. We also offer Brand Strategy Sessions which are 2-day workshops for new and existing brands. Our people set us apart. We have an East Coast work ethic and West Coast attitude which makes for a friendly, yet fast-acting workplace environment.

Who has been one of your favorite clients to work with and why?
SI: We have loved working with Hennessy X.O. They have been forward-thinking, adventurous, and they just plain get it.

What are your 3 hidden gems of L.A.?
SI: The Wood Spoon downtown, Health LA, and the new Monrow shop in Venice.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?

SI: It is validation that we are not alone in the journey and that we have a kick-ass community of women who we can turn to for inspiration and creativity.

Fill in the blanks:
SI: If I wasn’t a marketer, you’d probably find me... being a full-time beach bum.

SI: The most amazing thing about women... is our ability to multitask. 

AG: A dream client of ours would be... Apple.