IN CONVERSATION WITH KRISTINA SPIONJAK ・PR ESSENTIALS

Kristina Spionjak is a woman I always have time for. When her name shows up on my phone or in my inbox, this is a person who always has my undivided attention and like a woman in lust, I respond back immediately. Just like many of my most celebrated friendships, we were linked through Twitter and spent a year or two forgetting to connect in real life, despite both being based in London. When I finally meet Kristina at The Hospital Club in London’s Covent Garden, I instantly see and feel she is exactly my type of person. Not only is she fiercely professional, she’s a woman who knows the in’s and out of the Public Relations business. There’s no bluff here.

Kristina moved to London from the Slavonia region of Croatia in her early twenties, she barely spoke english, her connections  and knowledge of the PR world no where near the level it is at today. In life we are often given two ultimatums, to have a boss or to be a boss. Kristina chose the latter and despite the lack of language skills and ‘grooming‘ most people have upon entering the world media and PR, she jumped into the deep end and won.

This is a success story that I admire because it hits close to home. I too, know what it’s like to move to a city with a dream and limited language skills and also having barely have any useful contacts. We both have a love for stoic philosophy, both recommend 48 Laws of Power by Robert Green and are often reading the same book at the same time, without realising.

I was really excited to send some questions over to Kristina and get a better insight on how she has built her businesses from scratch, what challenges she has faced  and how she overcame them. This is a really rare and fascinating interview with a woman who I truly look up to.

We often hear people use the phrase, “I’m not ready, it’s not my time.” Considering you started your career by launching PR agency in London over 7 years ago. How “ready” were you when you started?

With hindsight there really wasn’t much though about whether I was ready or not. It was more a case of choosing between a low paid job and being miserable (as that’s what you’re faced with as a foreigner without reasonable language skills), living from paycheque to paycheque, being an intern i.e. working for free (which I could not afford, as London is very expensive), going back to Croatia, or starting something of my own. Facing all these choices, it wasn’t hard to decide to work for myself! If I was going to put in the long hours and struggle then I wanted it to be all for me.

I look at you and seriously see a one woman wolf pack. After getting to know you over the years, I really began to respect your hustle because you spent so much time alone building the businesses that you have. Your focus on the end result is intense, which I love. What does your work life balance look like? What advice do you have for a woman who is struggling to maintain personal relationships but really in the prime of building her empire?

I would say that my work life balance is reasonably good now. I used to feel very guilty for not working, but also guilty for working (picking up calls, answering messages and emails from clients or press members) out of hours while with friends or a significant other. I don’t do this anymore. I make sure to find time to switch off and enjoy the present which makes me much happier, more relaxed and more productive when I get back to working.

The advice I would give to other women is to structure their day and have at least an hour for themselves a day which should not include getting ready or meals. They should prioritise those relationships that matter and take time to keep them strong. Otherwise, what on earth are you going to do with your sterling career if you have no one to share the best parts with or you’re so overwhelmed by work that your health is in jeopardy?

You read a lot, this I know because we often laugh at how we have read the same books. Which 3 books have you read that have changed the way you see the world and manoeuvre through business?

Oh my! Where to start!? I read at least one book a week so the list is always changing. However, every time I’m about to start a new project or help a client with structuring their business, I always go back to Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and several other authors. It’s provides a great blueprint for various business strategies. It’s an easy to follow and very helpful book so I highly recommend it!

Recent books I’ve read, some I’m still looking at:

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts

You’re a big Marie Forleo fan, what is your biggest takeaway from her teachings?

Authenticity (she practices what she preaches), consistency (she’s been around for over a decade hustling and doing two jobs until her business took off) and genuinely cares for the wellbeing of her students/listeners/fans.

You moved from Croatia to the United Kingdom before your career began. What misconceptions do Croatians have about living in a country like the UK in terms of money and business?

Haha How much time do I have? Some of the biggest misconceptions that I’ve come across and I’m most annoyed with are that everything is easier here in the UK, that money just falls in to your lap, people see the glitter and highlights of your work but not the hard grind of working 12-14-16 hour days that goes to produce it.

How different is the PR business in the UK opposed to Croatia? Or are they similar?

In a nutshell, the PR world is the same (telling stories to relevant audiences in distinct and compelling manner), only the audiences and the scale is different.

What advice do you have for an upcoming brand or influencer from Croatia looking to get recognised in the UK market? Is it difficult to break into media in the UK?

Focus on your niche, create superb quality content or a product, build you fan base, serve your audiences/customers excellently, be consistent and play the long game. It’s not hard to break into the media of any country if you have all of the above. For more concise tips your readers can always tune in to my PR Essentials podcast.

 

“Focus on your niche, create superb quality content or a product, build you fan base, serve your audiences/customers excellently, be consistent and play the long game.”

What do you wish you knew before about starting a PR business that you know now?

I only wish that I realised much sooner the right relationship between pricing and value provided. By that I mean that it took me much too long to price my services according to value I provided my clients. I undersold myself. I think this is a common error for most people who start out by themselves. I would advise people to ask around, hit the forums to pick up some realistic idea of basic pricing structures and strategies, how to adjust them as you improve and manage who you choose to work for. Other than that, everything within the  business grew nicely with every client on board. I wish the process was faster, but on the other hand it probably had to happen that way for us to be where we are now.

 

“By that I mean that it took me much too long to price my services according to value I provided my clients. I undersold myself. I think this is a common error for most people who start out by themselves.”

Did you face many setbacks early in your career? What were they and how did you overcome them?

The major setback for me at the beginning was my lack of language skills. It is hard to be a publicist without decent command English and mine was non-existent! I’d studied German for 10 years before moving to London, but after a year of English studies I was much more comfortable communicating and had teamed up with a wonderful copywriter to help me out with client’s projects and press relations. He still works with me and is my CCO (Creative Chief Officer) on all of my client projects.

Last year, the UFC appointed you as their media representative for Croatia. How did an opportunity like that shape the future and direction of your business?

More than anything helped my personal and professional growth. It really allowed me to see the scale of value that I can provide to my clients and that I’m easily capable of working on such large projects.  Other than that, not much changed. I still pick and work only with handful of projects and clients that I believe in, am excited about and brands that I know I can bring real value to.

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