University of California at Riverside, B.A. Political Science
Raz Public Relations came into existence simply because someone asked. Karen Raz, who had her first foray into the world of public relations while promoting a video game, founded her firm after a former colleague with a startup asked her to work for him. Initially declining, Karen stuck with her current job until her persistent friend suggested she start her own firm. So that’s just what she did — and took him on as Raz’s first client!
“Luckily, it all worked out for the best,” Karen recalls. Seventeen years later, Karen still loves her work and the relationships she’s continually cultivating. While networking is a crucial component to successful PR, it’s also allowed Karen to foster lifelong friendships that make work feel a lot more like play. “I like meeting new people,” she confesses. “And with experience in and around the same industry for more than 20 years, I count friends met through work as some of my favorite people in the world.”
A perfect example of doing what she loves both in the office and at home with her three boys, Karen Raz gives us some insight into how she makes it all work.
I make it a priority to hire exceptional people, then trust them to do a great job.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. How did you go from college graduate to founding your own PR firm?
After college, I thought I’d pursue a career in journalism or broadcast news production and interned with both NBC News and MTV News. Those experiences led to a position with a Japanese multimedia company in the earliest days of the Web, and at the beginning of what was to become an explosive time in computer graphics and interactive production. As part of that experience, I got to produce interview segments for a TV show about creative technology innovators and also got to work on the localization, marketing and promotion of a game title. That was where I first got my feet wet in PR — and loved the experience.
From there, I went to work as part of the PR team for ElectricImage, a 3D software developer whose tools were used to make visual effects for film and television. I worked with some great people there who really helped guide my career path and also gained exposure to the then-burgeoning world of digital visual effects. After several years with ElectricImage, the commute from Pasadena to Venice was taking a toll. Around that same time, a former colleague was starting up a dotcom and asked me to join. I wasn’t ready to leave the world of 3D animation and visual effects — and all of the industry connections I had made in that realm — so I declined. A few months later, he asked me if I would think about opening my own PR firm and taking his startup on as a first client in exchange for office space. That was 17 years ago! Luckily, it all worked out for the best.
Was there a moment that helped you discover working in public relations was meant to be?
Not really. I was so busy and took on a bulk of the workload myself for the first 10 years, learning on the go. More recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how, despite the crazy changes we’ve seen across PR, media and publishing, I still really love the work and feel like I’m always learning something new. Pretty sure that means it was meant to be.
With so many competing deadlines, how do you organize your day, and what does a “day in the life of Karen” entail?
I organize my day by relying very heavily on shared calendars, a great team at work and at home, having family around to help and having everything in close proximity—home is three blocks from the office, which is less than a mile from all of the kids’ schools. This makes the juggle much more manageable.
I generally wake up at 5:30 a.m. and fit in exercise, then get three kids fed, ready and dropped off (last year at three different schools!) before getting to work. On any given day, I’m juggling a host of client calls, writing projects, planning, research, new business and collaborating with the team — currently four other women — on reviewing drafts, program plans and assignments. There are a lot of competing deadlines and everyone works really well together; each has certain specialties that map to client and company needs in complementary ways. I get home by 5:30 p.m., do homework with the kids, have dinner with the family when my husband gets home and on a particularly ambitious night, might even attempt the task of clipping 60 dirty little finger and toe nails. After the boys go to bed, I have a few hours to get back online to work, prep school lunches, go to the supermarket and cook (with three boys, I’m constantly amazed at how much we consume).
As a woman in PR you need to constantly network. What do you find is the best way to create new relationships and then cultivate them into one that is sustained?
Having worked in such specific markets for so many years, much of our new business comes from our existing network. There’s a lot of crossover, as contacts move around from one company to another. Additionally, the way that we do B2B PR today doesn’t require the same level of face-to-face networking or travel that it used to. By focusing on hitting five-to-ten key events a year, I’m able to connect with almost all of the client, media, analyst and influencer contacts that we work with regularly.
I like meeting new people, so creating new relationships is exciting. Cultivating and sustaining them has to come naturally, and with experience in and around the same industry for more than 20 years, I count friends met through work as some of my favorite people in the world.
With what we can imagine to be crazy hours, is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
It’s taken a long time, but work/life balance is in a good place. With an iPhone and Internet connectivity from pretty much anywhere, my work hours don’t necessarily have to be M-F, 9-5 and in the office. I definitely don’t let the little things get to me the same way that they used to earlier in my career and am much more hands-off as a manager. I make it a priority to hire exceptional people, then trust them to do a great job.
What is the absolute greatest aspect of working for yourself?
Flexibility and the fact that after almost twenty years of this, I’ve never felt burned out. I’m still constantly challenged and love coming into the office every day.
What is your personal code of conduct that you live by?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Nothing is more important than health and family.
What qualities do you feel it takes for someone to be successful in your line of work?
In no particular order: excellent writing, research and good listening skills, curiosity, open-mindedness and confidence. Be personable, resourceful, generous, gracious and have good judgment.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Sitting at a desk all day long will ruin your back. Exercise daily and take advantage of this totally unencumbered time in your life to get out and see the world.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully in five years from now, I’ll still be working with the same team. RazPR will have grown to handle more business, have a full-fledged, more formal intern/mentorship program in place and have built more philanthropy into the company’s charter. I’d love to extend our client pool into some new and/or adjacent markets and add some level of video production into our service slate.