Claire Topalian is a PR pro and founder of Cove Group.
Claire Topalian’s passion to help others discover, refine, and connect their voices to larger communities is at the root of her work. With a foundation in storytelling, earning a degree from Gonzaga University in English with a poetry emphasis, understanding the power of words and communication has been at the forefront of her career. This passion and skillset are what led her to start Cove Group, a Seattle-based PR and communication agency that specializes in PR, media relations, and storytelling.
Since founding Cove Group in 2017, Claire has helped numerous companies find their voice amid the crowd, using intelligent strategy and tactics to make them stand out and be heard. As the CEO and PR lead, her background and tact have led her to be a PR pro unlike any other.
A lot of the publicists we talk to start their careers with internships. What made you get into this industry?
I studied English in college – specifically poetry – and this helped me to develop my understanding of how stories work, and why they are important. I stumbled into a Communications career for a nonprofit after college, and there I first discovered how storytelling can be adapted for professional services. Since then, I’ve enjoyed guiding clients with their own messaging and PR strategies throughout my career. Today, I lead a PR firm called Cove Group in Seattle, Washington.
What is the most important part of your day? Why?
Setting strategy first thing in the morning is critical for me. Often, this involves no-screen time where I gather my thoughts and consider the key objectives for the day. What are the 3 things that need to happen in order to have a successful day – to move things forward for each client? If I can accomplish only those 3 things, then I know I’ve moved the needle.
What is your favorite part about working in PR?
Making unexpected connections across studies and types of information. It’s exciting to immerse myself in a client’s industry and then identify unique ways to match their story with the right outlet and the right person. Often, the best coverage I achieve for clients is the least expected and relies on a hidden or tangential story that we work together to uncover.
What are some of the trends you saw take shape this year?
Personal branding and content marketing have only continued to grow as an interconnected offering alongside more traditional PR efforts.
We’ve also seen a significant increase in dynamic relationships with industry leaders – partnerships that yield a variety of outcomes for clients. Rather than just securing a mention or feature, many times there’s room for a future co-authored article, a discussion that unfolds on social media, a shared release of interesting new data points, or some other form of “working with” leaders and voices in a shared space.
What tech industry do you think is going to change the most over the next 5 years?
AI and IoT (Internet of Things)
How do you prove the value of PR to your clients or executives?
Clients come to me because they want to be covered in top media outlets, but when we host initial discovery sessions, I’m able to convey the value of story on-boarding and messaging development through workshops and exercises. This is the window in which I am able to underscore the importance of a PR leader to guide the best possible story. Often, it is not the “story” that the client thought they should use when going to media (outside of product launches). Going through this important phase of work always leaves clients feeling more stabilized and positioned in the industry.
What is the toughest part of your job?
The uncertainty that creative pitching presents. We do our best to manage expectations for clients, but response time and publish time for any given pitch project can be difficult to promise
How do you see PR and marketing changing in the next 10 years?
I think we’ll continue to see a merger of related activities, all housed under “dynamic PR” more or less. This is already happening today, but over time, PR firms as we know them could end up looking more like marketing firms with a PR offering. More abstractly, it’s going to be increasingly important for PR professionals to establish their own authenticity when working with clients. We are living in an era where “doing the right thing” or associating with positive entities is becoming more and more important for consumers and audiences. People want to know where others stand on big issues and how companies perceive their role in a society. PR professionals will be expected to guide this branding and storytelling.
What are your must-have tools for your day-to-day work?
Coffee, laptop, and Airpods. I don’t need much more to get my work done.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try to reserve one day outside – skiing or fly-fishing – each week. It gives me something to look forward to and helps me recharge. During the week, going for walks and working out help to break up the day and give me energy.
Love how Claire uses storytelling to get her clients the top coverage they desire? Learn from three other PR Pros about how they get their clients that coveted coverage in our blog Public Relations 101: How To Land Coverage in Top-Tier Publications!