21 Aug Getting to know the entrepreneur that propels Gravitate PR: An interview with Lisette Paras
Every year, August 21 marks World Entrepreneurs’ Day. The purpose of the World Entrepreneurs’ Day is to create awareness for entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership throughout the world. In the spirit of raising awareness and celebrating those that chart their own path, we thought it would be the ideal time to get to know the founder of Gravitate PR a little bit better and understand what sparked her entrepreneurial spirit.
Below is a conversation between Senior Account Executive Krystal Peak and Gravitate PR founder and president Lisette Paras.
Krystal: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur? What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Lisette: No – absolutely not. Even after I started my business, I didn’t necessarily see myself as an “entrepreneur.” Initially it started off as just me and one client, so I think I saw myself more as a consultant in the very early stages. Being an entrepreneur struck me, in the past, as being a very high risk role, and as someone who does not gamble (I’ll cry if I lose $5 on the chocolate wheel), it didn’t seem like a position that I craved or relished.
But, perhaps it was how I crafted the concept of entrepreneurship in my head that needed some modernizing. Entrepreneurship is about having a clear mission, goals and vision and seeing it come to fruition. And PR is really about being able to tell compelling stories, and I could do that!
As a kid, I loved the art of words. I’d spend hours reading books. Any free moment, my head was in a book; whether I was sitting at the kitchen table, walking on the way to school, or snug under the comforter of my bed, chances are a book was at hand. So, reasonably, I thought I wanted to be an author. If not an author, I thought maybe a war correspondent or a translator for the United Nations. Clearly finding and communicating stories has always been a love of mine.
Krystal: What brought you to the world of PR?
Lisette: I studied media and communications at university with the ultimate goal of becoming a war correspondent. When the reality of how hard and long it would take to get a job in that field finally set in (not to mention the looming reality of the danger and isolation that comes with such a career became more real), I started thinking about roles in other subjects I studied as part of my degree – including public relations.
I got my first public relations job scrolling through the Yellow Pages in Australia (when physical copies were still a thing). I was that person cold calling PR firms to ask if they had any vacancies. Serendipitously, a boutique tech PR firm I sent my resume to just had someone quit a week later, so rather than putting a job ad, I was interviewed for and offered the job. The rest is history.
Krystal: Tell me about how you came to move to the U.S.?
Lisette: I’d been working for a global PR agency called Ogilvy (yes, the Ogilvy who Mad Men is based upon) for over 4 years and realized that I was working with a number of global tech brands running Asia Pacific PR across 13 markets. While their presence in APAC was substantial, the strategy and higher-level positioning was being formed more in the U.S. I wanted to be closer to that! When I told my employer, they managed to find a role for me in San Francisco, which made sense given its proximity to Silicon Valley.
Krystal: What inspired you to start your own PR firm?
Lisette: After five years of working in the U.S., I’d had the chance to work with global companies, play a central role in the communications for a number of IPOs and M&As, and launch startups from scratch. I’d worked in a big global agency, a scrappy mid-sized firm, and an in-house role. After the in-house role, I wanted to find a new and uncharted experience, and I realized that starting my own PR firm made a lot of sense.
When I started Gravitate, my vision was to establish a true, globally-minded agency that has a broad range of capabilities–from messaging and media relations to analyst relations, social, content, and digital marketing–but still maintain a tight, personal connection to each client.
I saw this happening by bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and experiences to be successful – rather than hiring from the same pool or network of talent – to uncover “non-obvious” topics and trends through our wide lenses. This perspective is still very much at the heart of Gravitate PR today.
Krystal: As a woman, a woman of color, and an immigrant in the largely white, male world of tech and PR, have there been experiences you want to share about some of the hurdles or challenges you’ve faced?
Lisette: I think particularly early on my career in Australia, and even in the early days of Gravitate when we hadn’t built up the client portfolio, I encountered some uncomfortable situations where people didn’t take me as seriously. I’d typify them as microaggressions. Like when I first started the PR agency, someone said I “looked too young” to have a business. Even more recently, a PR founder complaining about not being able to find people of color to hire said that the problem was that “we’re all white.” When I chimed in to say that I am a person of color she quickly retorted, “You’re Asian you don’t count” and proceeded to talk over the top of me.
I realize that in Silicon Valley, there is a high percentage of tech talent (like engineers) who are of Asian descent and perhaps this is where the lack of acknowledgement came from, but it’s a very different story when it comes to PR.
The PR industry has long struggled to improve on diversity & inclusion (e.g. the 2019 BLS data shows that advertising and PR agencies are 82.6% white in the U.S.), and while I’m proud of some of the initiative we’ve taken, we all still could do so much more.
I’m hopeful that this year, following the tragic events surrounding George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other senseless deaths in the Black community, companies are starting to embrace and enact greater positive change and action – including in the PR industry.
Krystal: You are passionate about mentoring and resources to give other immigrants a path to success. Can you tell me what that looks like?
Lisette: Sure! One of the nonprofits that I’ve volunteered with since the end of 2016 is Upwardly Global, which supports immigrants and refugees who want to contribute their professional skills to the U.S. workforce. Today there are millions of immigrants who are college-educated but are unemployed or significantly unemployed. Upwardly Global provides customized training and support for these new Americans, giving them an equal opportunity to find and secure jobs that help them achieve their full economic potential. For me, that means helping to review resumes, conduct mock interviews, or provide English coaching skills. Even something that seems so simple to many of us, like the job interview process, can be completely foreign to immigrants, as the experience could be markedly different in their home countries.
As a two-time immigrant myself (my parents and I migrated to Australia from the Philippines, and I now have been in the U.S. since 2011), I recognize how hard it can be to find your footing in a new country, so it’s personally and professionally fulfilling to me to be able to support and mentor others.
Krystal: Of all new entrepreneurs in 2016, 29.5 percent were immigrants. More than 20 percent of new and established business owners in the U.S. were immigrants in 2014. This representation is far above the immigrant community’s 13.2 percent of the U.S. population. How do you think we can better highlight these entrepreneurs and their stories?
Lisette: That’s a really interesting and impressive statistic! We see these stats reflected with our own clients as the technology sector has many examples of co-founders and CEOs who are immigrants. In the few years we’ve been in business, our clients have included execs from Israel, the UK, continental Europe and Asia Pacific. I think at Gravitate, it’s made for more enriching and fascinating experiences in partnering with clients and other firms around the globe, giving us different perspectives and ways to tell stories.
I think another important point in telling stories from all walks of life is to celebrate people’s diverse backgrounds and experiences and how it’s gotten them to where they are today. Unfortunately, I’ve read stories where rather than celebrating these differences, the narrative has been an “us” versus “them” dynamic – like talking about how immigrants will take jobs away from others. It’s a worrying generalization when you see that these stats actually show how entrepreneurs – including new immigrants – are contributing to society and the economy. I hope bringing these individual stories more to the fore will help to really humanize some of the achievements in our communities.
Krystal: What would your words of advice be to the next generation of women, BIPOC, and immigrant entrepreneurs?
- Believe in yourself – keep moving forward and stay resilient, even in the face of adversity or struggle.
- Celebrate your differences and diversity. Multiple studies have shown that diverse teams are more successful. Having a more cosmopolitan and inclusive team can help continually inject fresh ways of thinking into your business, stand out from the crowd, sharpen your performance and yield more satisfying results in the long term.