Meet the trailblazing publicist who is changing the face of the public relations industry one cause at a time.
Tanya Rivas is a New York-based social impact strategist and publicist, and owner of PR with Heart, a company that helps clients maximize their media exposure by maximizing their social impact–making the world a bit brighter, better connected, and well, just better.
In this feature, she discusses her career trajectory, what “SR” means in the public relations world, and the unexpected entrepreneur who changed her life.
Tell me about your recent career changes.
At the start of the year, I realized that although we were doing great work in getting pieces of journalism out there that are positively impacting survivors of sex trafficking, arts education, environmental conservation, homeless populations, and youth suffering from anxiety and depression, there was still so much more that could be done. I noticed that traditional methods of public relations so often didn’t work well when clients wanted to use it to amplify their unique mission in making the world a better place. Imagine wanting to do a charity gala or seeking connections to charitable partners to create humanitarian initiatives, and sometimes, the press part or the impact part just doesn’t work. I’ve seen this happen in the industry: a client will invest in public relations services and they’ll pay the six-month retainer only to get zero press or meaningful visibility to move their business forward.
When it comes to the media, you never know which topics will trend, right?
I reflected on this predicament, as well as other aspects I noticed happening in the industry, because if we can’t get the clients in the press…we don’t move forward causes. I decided we’re going to offer PR services, but really what we’re going to be offering as a company at the forefront is: social impact consulting.
I love this—and this is where the acronym “SR” comes into play?
‘PR With Heart,’ is essentially converting PR into SR, which is converting public relations to social impact relations. As we’re seeing right now, there has been a “performative activism” problem (even when it’s well-intended) or campaigns that fall short because they’re “one-hit wonders.” There are many things that can go wrong or that could be perceived in a way that you don’t want to be perceived. SR is special in that it taps into areas of expertise that you won’t find often in the PR industry. We put years of academic and grass-roots advocacy to work.
Your work feels really genuine.
We’re not in it just to make money or to meet celebrities—been there, done that. I’m really in it to help these brands because these are people’s dreams we’re talking about here. It is genuine, and there isn’t superficiality behind it; there’s no smoke and mirrors. I’m beyond thrilled we’re taking on bigger projects that have more at stake. The PR with Heart® methodology starts with making impact first, and since making that shift at the start of the year, we’ve worked alongside individuals and organizations to move forward the Census 2020 in hard-to-count regions, food security for families impacted by the pandemic, and currently a technology solution to take the power back from COVID-19. We’re driving this with humanitarian business leadership, and the bigger vision is to grow a team where you have a lot of people coming into the company with their heart. Together, we’re creating heart-felt solutions for a better world.
COVID has impacted numerous businesses, including PR, in both good and bad ways. How can you help them?
By asking an important question: how do I create opportunities that add value while showing up as my best self? How do we take the inside-out approach of: what you want people to see on the outside is that an expression that resides innately within you? This integration becomes a powerful force, which in turn builds resiliency, and from that place, you come up with unique solutions to new problems. Leading with your heart is how you win. It’s an invitation to end a chapter and open up a new one, to recreate the model that you’re working with, and my favorite: to implement a giveback component. There’s plenty of research that unanimously concludes: people want to support businesses that invest in local communities and the grander world.
In what other ways will your business evolve?
Now the approach is: instead of pitching your heart out and creating inbox traffic to all of these journalists, now you have journalists coming to you because you’ve created something so incredible that is actually helping humanity and has a bigger purpose. We’ve also adopted an approach of “slower PR” which sounds counterintuitive in a fast-paced industry where there’s a 24-hours news cycle at play. But this is not about mail merging, or generating giant media lists and chasing likes. We believe in empathizing our pitches, we believe in less is more, and we believe that when you’re given a mic, that every word matters, as well as your story when helping you shine in the world.
Who inspired you to change your business model?
I was still teaching in the classroom when in 2012 I took an online course with Ramit Sethi, author of, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He was really the first thought leader that I was able to buy into. He’s no-nonsense, and some of his ideas to win include: There’s a game being played around you, and aspire to become world-class. So, I learned to play the game, and invested thousands on my own training. That gave me confidence. He had a money-back guarantee, so I took a chance, bought more courses, and kept it a secret. The biggest takeaway I learned from that investment is the art of networking and most importantly, how to do it in a way where you don’t feel sleazy because his system is centered on adding value and following through. I didn’t know anyone in PR, so I started applying his methodology, and very quickly I amassed a network in San Diego. By the time I got to New York, I was a beast at it. There are so many different voices and books and courses available now, and some will resonate and some will not. But the way you find out if you have synergy is to look through their social media public profiles and maybe you buy the $10-20 book. Notice what you’re gravitating towards, and what’s lighting you up. Notice it because your business model or your career can take shape however you like, even if it’s unconventional.
Where did you attend school?
Loyola Marymount University–and I have a lot of pride in my alma mater. At Loyola Marymount, there was a huge social justice culture. You had to apply to get into service organizations and to go on service-learning trips during Spring Break. I was a Gryphon and I traveled to Northern Ireland to study ethnic conflict and reconciliation, as well as community development in farmworker communities in the Central Valley, CA. It was even competitive because so many wanted to do community service. And I don’t think I’ve ever really heard of this about another school. That’s played into why now I’m doing the work that I’m doing. The school is also proactive in recruiting diversity for their incoming classes and their teaching staff, as well as offering coursework in ethnic studies and American cultures.
We’re so glad we spoke with Tanya from PR With Heart, especially because she’s in an industry where–according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics–the ethnic makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 5.7% Hispanic in 2020. Additionally, this interview was important because entrepreneurs can evolve seamlessly within their “comfort zone” career –you just need the confidence to take that leap.
Learn more about Tanya at https://tanyarivas.com/