Karen Swim is a true PR powerhouse, no doubt about it. Not only does she run her successful virtual agency, Words for Hire, but she also has, “the joy and pleasure of leading a professional organization for independent PR practitioners” called Solo PR Pro.
For her, Solo PR Pro is more than a group. She thinks of its members as her colleagues, her silent office workers, and even, “the wind beneath my wings.”
Solo PR Pro originally started as a blog created by Kellye Crane in 2008. Back then, there was no central way for solo practitioners to connect with each other. “People were out there, kind of doing their own thing, and they were feeling alone,” says Karen. “They weren’t really an agency and they were also different from other entrepreneurs.”
The community expanded onto Twitter in 2009. “We ended up having one of the longest running chats for Twitter,” says Karen, who also happened to be Kellye Crane’s first follower. “And then that grew as we saw additional needs and identified different things we could do to support the community. We realized that people like us [solo practitioners] needed resources designed by us and for us. And so that really became our mission—not to take away from some of the other professional organizations, but to come alongside and to compliment those things that are unique to the solo PR pro experience.”
In 2011, Solo PR Pro launched a new member site and Karen was one of its alpha testers. For years, she worked with Kellye behind the scenes on strategy, content, and conference planning before taking over ownership of the organization in 2015.
Karen never imagined she would be running two PR businesses, especially considering she majored in pre-med and went on to have successful careers in sales and marketing before making the transition to PR practitioner and entrepreneur. “I was always fortunate to have really great mentors and leaders who pulled potential out of me, who saw how my talents could be applied in another discipline,” says Karen. “I really benefited from that because I got to take a lot of chances in my career.”
Among those chances was starting Words for Hire in 2005. Asked what advice she’d give to her past self or a professional like her, Karen says, “It’s going to be about more than working in your passion. The thing that is going to create sustainable success is learning how to run a business. Even if it’s a business of one, you must get super comfortable with metrics and numbers.”
Getting comfortable with metrics is a skill Karen would love more PR professionals to hone (and not just the business owners). Unfortunately, it’s one she’s seen the industry shy away from. “I believe the way the great PR person of the future wins their seat at the table is by mirroring exactly what other executives are bringing,” says Karen. “You have to understand how you deliver value and how it can be quantified. That means getting really comfortable making those connections between the work that you do and how it drives the business forward.”
While there’s still challenges, the industry needs to overcome, Karen is excited about the future. “I feel like we’re coming into this awakening of our value. We’re not just earned media people,” says Karen. “It’s a wonderful time to be in PR and it’s a wonderful time to be an entrepreneur.”