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The Biggest Challenges in PR and How to Overcome Them

  • October 9, 2020
24 min read
The Biggest Challenges in PR and How to Overcome Them

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Laurie Halter
Owner, Charisma! Communications

Laurie Halter is the Owner of Charisma! Communications, a boutique PR agency specializing in the automotive, HR, hospitality, and technology industries. Her unique working relationships have scored her multiple hits in top publications, like Automotive News, Internet Retailing, Consumer Digest, and The Wall Street Journal.

Laurie is also the host of Carearing, where she explores work/life balance issues for leading women. While she’s passionate about business and entrepreneurship, her true motivation for getting out of bed in the morning lies elsewhere: in sharing her experience balancing work, life, and motherhood.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Laurie Halter, the Owner of Charisma! Communications, shares how she got started in the automotive industry 
  • How Laurie balances work, life, and being a mom
  • Challenges that women face working in PR
  • The ways that COVID-19 has influenced automotive trends
  • Laurie discusses new advances in automotive technology

In this episode…

There’s something important that we need to ask ourselves when it comes to building your business: who do you want to work with? 

Laurie Halter, the Owner of Charisma! Communications, believes that knowing your worth and letting go of the fear around ending professional relationships are key to growing your business.

Join Ilana Shabtay in this episode of Inside Auto Podcast as she talks to Laurie Halter, the Owner of Charisma! Communications. Laurie shares her experience from two decades in the automotive industry and her advice for building a business. She also discusses what it’s like to be a woman in the automotive space, shares the number one trend in the industry today, and reveals her PR secrets. Learn more about Laurie and her expertise in work, life, and motherhood in the resources section below.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to Inside Auto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of Inside Auto Podcast, where we interview top GMs, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. Before we introduce today’s guest, today’s episode is sponsored by AutoLeadStar. AutoLeadStar is pioneering marketing automation in the automotive industry. And we’re replacing basic traditional marketing methods with sophisticated machine learning. I’m excited to welcome Laurie Halter, the founder of Charisma! Communications, a successful automotive PR firm and host of the Carearing podcast, where she explores work life balance issues for leading females, she has a passion for business and entrepreneurship. But what really gets her jumping out of bed in the morning is sharing her experience balancing life, work, and motherhood. She’s also a dear friend, I’m so excited to have her here today. Hi, Laurie, how are you?

Laurie Halter 1:13

I’m so excited to be here. I was just thinking I need you to just like, I need to pay you to just go around introducing me that way. When when conferences started again, you need I’m just gonna pay you to like introduce me in those terms.

Ilana Shabtay 1:25

I’ll add more in there. This is

Ilana Shabtay 1:30

all very true things, though. And I’m excited to get you jumping out of bed today because we’re going to be talking a lot about Yes,

Ilana Shabtay 1:36

life, work, motherhood, and PR

Laurie Halter 1:38

all of your expertise, all my favorite things. Oh,

Ilana Shabtay 1:44

that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule. Yes, yes.

Laurie Halter 1:48

I’m excited to be here.

Ilana Shabtay 1:50

Yes. And now I think of you, you are my PR go-to woman and expert. So just share with us how you got started, how you got how you got into automotive what what it was like, especially as a mother, I’d love to get

Laurie Halter 2:06

Oh, I’d love that. Okay, I’d love to share that. Because so I’ve been in automotive almost two decades now, which makes me feel ancient, but it’s actually It has been two decades now. I got into 1999 with ChromeData, which back in the time was the first one of the first data kind of providers in the space. So they were providing all the data, the Yahoo and just just starting out. And I went in as their marketing assistant, I think and came out three years later as their marketing programs manager. So during that time, I was in charge of meeting with the editors developing all their messaging, all of their branding. And about a few years in I started telling Phyllis McKenna, who is still a dear mentor. And at the time was my boss I just said, I’m just not feeling it. Like I love this industry. I love what I’m doing. I’m just having a really hard time with the nine to five. And so she actually laid me off with a very generous severance package. And they became my first client and I jumped in started Charisma! Communications. Early that fast. Yeah, yeah. So I’ve had the agency 17 years I’ve been in strictly in the automotive tech space for 17 years. And as a result, I’ve seen just a ton of changes. I love the people. I love this industry. I love love that there’s more women coming in. I’ve seen more women than I have in the last two years. And I have the entire time I’ve been in the space. And so it’s just been a great ride. I love automotive.

Ilana Shabtay 3:34

Yeah, I love I don’t want to do I miss seeing our automotive friends and family. That’s terrible. You I’m sure it’s killing you.

Ilana Shabtay 3:42

Oh, but you’ll

Ilana Shabtay 3:45

be at the you’re meeting panel at Digital Dealer.

Laurie Halter 3:49

So I’m moderating that panel at the virtual Digital Dealer. And we’re talking about you know exactly what I’m saying like retaining, nurturing, and guiding female leaders in the dealership. And you had asked about being a mom, like, it’s really funny. I have a great story from, you know, when I was when my kids were little. So my kids are now 12 and 14, it was before Zoom calls. It was before you were really able to be at home and be taken seriously. I feel like so there were so many times when I’d be on like with Ford, you know, on the other line, and I’d be like, literally locked in a bathroom. And my like, you know, my two and four year olds are banging on the other side of the door. And I’m like going further and further into the bathroom, ending up in a corner and talking to whoever I was talking to and, you know,

Ilana Shabtay 4:37

everyone now and

Laurie Halter 4:38

now it’s a relief. I actually feel like this is like the greatest time in history for, you know, a professional because we’re all at home. So you have to just let your lifestyle. Everyone’s lifestyle shows and I actually think it’s fantastic. I love it. I love it

Ilana Shabtay 4:54

too. It’s become socially acceptable to just have your kids at your meetings

Laurie Halter 4:57

completely in the background. Totally or your dog or, you know, whatever happens happens, you just have to roll with it, which I think makes us all so much more human. And at least for me, I feel like it makes everything a lot more relatable right now.

Ilana Shabtay 5:11

It is true, there is something nice about Yeah, a little glimpse into people’s lives as you’re trying to talk to them and break

Ilana Shabtay 5:21

it down. Yeah. Um,

Ilana Shabtay 5:24

what was your are you I’m sure there’s many challenges in PR and building your own company, what what are some of the challenges that you faced? And how are you overcoming them?

Laurie Halter 5:34

Sure. I mean, well, early on, it was exactly that like being a woman in automotive and young mom, I mean, I would go into rooms of like 60 and over white males to try and plead my case for public relations, I and sometimes it worked. Not. And so I think that was the biggest challenge, starting out was like really showing that I could do it, and that I had the chops to actually handle their business. And then as I got larger and larger clients, then the interesting thing is that became some of the large clients, I’m not going to name names. But I’ve actually been hired to work under a national PR firms. And they said, like, we need you because you have the relationship. So we know you can get the news where you want to go. But we need the name of a national PR firm. So like they would need due to being a large business, the larger firm, but the larger firm wasn’t getting it done. So I was like coming in as a hired gun. And that was difficult, because I was getting them all of the news, but it was the credit was going to the other PR firm. But you know, at the end of the day, it’s all about what the client making the client more visible and making their message more visible. So however, that happens is fine. But you know, I would just say being not being thought of as small. And also pricing was a huge thing. When I first started, I think back in oh my gosh, when I started out my first bid, I did $500 for a month worth of PR. And I did not get it because I’m pretty sure the company was like, uh, we’re pretty sure that what we need can’t be accomplished with $500. So I think just knowing just knowing the space, knowing what you’re worth, and knowing and going after it and having the confidence to ask for what you know, your worth, is a huge game changer for me.

Ilana Shabtay 7:25

Yeah, that seems like a huge sign that I’m sure that’s changed over the years.

Laurie Halter 7:30

Yeah, that’s take well, and it helps to have now almost all of my well all of my business comes referral based and I just mess when I talk to them, I know that I can accomplish their goals. And I know that I can ramp them up quickly. So I think just with as my confidence has grown in my time in the space, so has my paycheck,

Ilana Shabtay 7:50

I a business where everything’s probably since the real dream, I guess that is everyone’s dream to just get referrals because the retention is higher and the cell cycle shorter.

Laurie Halter 8:04

Yeah, and one thing I actually always have totally, and I still live by this, if I feel from the beginning, like it’s not going to work, I just cut it off. So I literally been in the middle of a proposal ready to sign. And I’ve had like not a great call with the owner or I’m not, I’m feeling a lot like it’s not going to be a match. And the times that I’ve pushed through that feeling and gone ahead and done it anyway. And within a couple months, I’ve had to say, Oh, this isn’t working. So the other thing I’ve learned is just, if there is something that feels like it’s not right, it’s not going to be right at any point during the transaction or during the relationship. So it’s best to just like, cut it off there and let them go find someone that’s going to be a good match for them.

Ilana Shabtay 8:48

I think that’s a really important message because it’s like respecting your own time and your business and your goals and your values and also not jeopardizing relationships, existing relationships. That’s kind of like saying, you know what, this isn’t the best fit before you even get into anything. I love that. Yes. I think that’s appropriate for any growing business to take away. I totally agree. And

Laurie Halter 9:11

you and I tell my business. Oh, let me tell you, I threw away after a month one of the biggest one of the biggest monthly clients of my entire career. But, you know, I was getting numerous calls on Sunday if one thing didn’t go wrong, he was starting pitching a fit and I was just like, you know, it’s not worth it. It’s not and you know what, I’ve made that up threefold sense because the relationships that I have when I’m excited to work with the client that shows through in the work and everybody’s happy. Yeah, so

Ilana Shabtay 9:45

yeah. Getting back to PR a little bit although I love your I love your your business advice you’re you’re always looking at automotive and you’re always looking at the trends and what’s happening what what is trending right now. What can you share with us? What is caught your attention. I’d love to talk a little bit about the automotive trends. There’s so much going on in life.

Ilana Shabtay 10:06


Ilana Shabtay 10:07


Laurie Halter 10:08

you know, I think there’s a couple of different trends. And obviously COVID has changed the entire game. So it’s been so interesting to watch it over the last six months, I think the biggest trend probably of all has been the digital the seamless transaction, you know, in the fully digital transaction. I just was reading something from Nora Naughton, the other day in The Wall Street Journal. And she was saying in the article that some of the dealerships, she’s talking to have had their best summer ever and this was during COVID. And she’s saying, it seems to be that the kind of the litmus test is, did they have digital setup beforehand? Did they have the technology in place, and for the dealerships that have had the technology in place, they didn’t even have to push the button, they just had to be ready to deploy it. They’re having some of their best month ever. And then, of course, the others are being left in the dust of it. If you were not ready to go fully digital, these guys are playing catch up, and it’s showing in their sales. So I think that’s number one, like just this whole digital transformation has been amazing to watch. Yeah, um, I think the second Sarwant Singh is from Frost & Sullivan. And he wrote a piece for Forbes. And he talked about some of the trends will be impacting us in 2021. And one of the things that really resonated with me was this idea of personalization. So personalization, not just in cars, although that’s going to be a major theme, like, his thing was, our cars are actually almost in our homes, right, since we’re all working remote. cars have become actually a major part of the whole home based business. And so he talked about that, but also personalization, from advertising, from messaging, you know, the Gen Z generation that’s coming up, they’re used to getting things personalized and handed up to them on an individualized basis. So I think we’re just going to see more and more and more of that. And this isn’t just for automotive. I feel like this is just like across retail and marketing.

Ilana Shabtay 12:09

Yeah, for sure, you know, to say about this, I’m waiting for you to go. Okay.

Laurie Halter 12:15

I think the third biggest trend is probably just and this is overall for transportation, not just dealers. But I read somewhere that 50% of people have gone away from mass transit this summer, they’re right over the last nine months. 50%. So from a dealer perspective, you need to be thinking that Where are those people going? Are they going to ride sharing? Are they going to subscription based rentals? Are they coming into dealerships to buy cars, and I would say probably a good 50% of that 50% are going to buy their first car, and they’ve decided that they don’t want to be on mass transportation anymore. They want their own individual vehicle. So I think any messaging that can kind of speak to that is gonna is gonna do well right now as well.

Ilana Shabtay 12:57

Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen an AutoLeadStar’s done some research on this, as well as many others, of course, but the emerging markets that are coming out of COVID are in favor. They’re favorable for automotive, because it’s a private vehicle, especially people that never had one before. And I was talking to a client, who was on a previous podcast episode, Mike Renaud from Leader in Cars. And he was saying, and I don’t remember if he was talking about this on the podcast, or when we were just catching up before but he was like, there are his dealerships are in New York. And he’s like, there are people walking into my dealership with learner’s permits and being like, Hey, can I get a car? Like they were like, yes, the car. And so I think it’s very obvious that there is the NVR seeing it. And going back to what you said about The Wall Street Journal article, I think that that is so incredibly true. Any dealership that had the means in place to personalize and setup digital infrastructure that speaks to every single type of buyer are the ones that are going to be there winning that winning rate, so it doesn’t have to be checkout process. Correct. A lot of us are still not ready for that,

Laurie Halter 14:08

including me. I was just gonna say and then we can’t forget the illustrious Ilana Shabtay WardsAuto article about being a millennial. A perfect example of what I’m talking about, like you may not be fully ready to buy the car, but you’re ready to have a large portion of that process online.

Ilana Shabtay 14:26

Yeah. Friends are ready. And so it doesn’t matter as long as the dealership is ready to speak to every single type of type of buyer the way that they want spoken to, which is like interesting, because it’s almost like the dealerships don’t need to change anything in their business model.

Ilana Shabtay 14:42

Because if you look at like,

Ilana Shabtay 14:45

what you know, whenever before websites, even you know, someone would walk into a dealership and the dealer would be able to see like, okay, is this person wealthy, they have a kid right? Married right? And see, okay, like, let me now sell to this person who’s standing right in front of me. That’s it. technology’s doing it’s just giving that back to the dealers giving them the lender that online. And the shopper needs this, the shopper needs this show chewed out to different messages. And so

Laurie Halter 15:10

it’s like, Well, today it might even be harder, right? I think technology’s even more important because that wealthy customer might be walking in and a hoodie with like, you know, totally. It’s like, I think the other thing COVID has done is it’s kind of erased. It’s blurred the lines of socioeconomic status. Yeah. So more so than ever before technology is actually going to be what gives you those litmus tests, not like someone walking in off the street?

Ilana Shabtay 15:34

Totally. Actually, that’s a that’s a really good point. I hadn’t even thought about that. Yeah. But it is just it is really important. And I think that dealerships that are not investing enough in technology oriented marketing, whatever that is, and they’re they’re going to be slower to come up, because the dynamic market is so fast changing. Yep. They need the technology to back up all the efforts. And that’s that’s just such a clear thing that we’re seeing. Yes. I’m glad you brought that trend. I totally agree.

Laurie Halter 16:06

Yeah. I mean, it seems to be like kind of pervasive. If I were to pick one trend of the three that I talked about being ready and able to do digital retailing is number one, right now. That’s that’s absolutely the top.

Ilana Shabtay 16:19

Yeah, for sure. And would you buy your car hundred percent online? I always talk about how I would you

Laurie Halter 16:25

know, it’s funny, I’m totally I don’t know, it’s hard to say I want to say no, but I am such a junkie for like my husband last like anything in a box like this whole, like, Blue Apron like dinner in a box. Yeah, Stitch Fix clothes in a box. Like I’m all about the convenience factor. So I might I Well, you know what, and I should say, I leased my last car. Now. It was new. It wasn’t used. But I leased my last car entirely over the phone from a company that was or from a dealership. That was two states over. And then they delivered it to me. So I guess I basically did

Ilana Shabtay 17:00

it. It sounds like you would do like a subscription model. You love this. Yeah. Then Blue Apron like every month. Eat up your car.

Laurie Halter 17:07

Yeah. Did you know and those are coming, which is like, so cool. I feel like So Kevin Frye from Jeff Wyler used to talk a ton about this

Ilana Shabtay 17:20

years ago. And I love the idea. Like, Hey, I’m going on a date night. I need a nice impressive car.

Laurie Halter 17:30

I’m like, just give me the minivan. Let’s just do this. I’ll take a practice. Yeah, totally, totally.

Ilana Shabtay 17:38

Awesome subscription model. I think it’s I think that’s

Laurie Halter 17:41

genius. I’m big. I’m big on it. Like I basically if you sell me something in a box, I’m also like, experience

Ilana Shabtay 17:48

of just like opening something new. Yeah. Do you exactly. I did Stitch Fix for a while. But then I I stopped doing it when I Well, I was pregnant. That’s why so I yes. It’s too big for

Ilana Shabtay 18:04

experience of opening it up.

Ilana Shabtay 18:08

Right. So I would probably

Ilana Shabtay 18:10

subscription based online. Sure. It’s also there’s like a commitment. There’s like a commitment. That’s not there. When you when you actually you’re right. That’s true. Well, yeah,

Laurie Halter 18:21

Buying a car is going to be much different right than renting one for the weekend or trying one out for a month. If you don’t like it, give it back. I mean, if you’re buying your car, you have that. That’s a large investment. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. That’s great.

Ilana Shabtay 18:34

And I know you work with a ton of automotive technology companies in space. Yeah. And what you’re seeing in the in the mainstream space, anything that we should know about that’s coming out from any technology I know, I saw you actually write about a new a new company entering the space, which I love. Yeah.

Laurie Halter 18:55

Yeah, so I actually just launched one the other day, that was all about training. And the training is more community based. So it’s so fun. It’s going to be like a Peloton-based model. And yeah, so they’re building a community and then like sales, and training teams will be able to compete head to head and gamification for prizes. And they actually have two screenwriters that created like this training storyline method. So it’s like a whole new way for training to come into the picture. And it’s, I’m super excited about it. For automotive. It’s specifically for automotive right now. I mean, it’s one of those that can probably go into different industries as they go, but automotive is where they’re starting. And they’ve had their leaders have had like, decades in automotive. They came from Pat Ward their trainers in the space. So they have

Ilana Shabtay 19:48

so they win their official launch, can you can you share their names that we know? Yeah,

Laurie Halter 19:52

yeah, I didn’t know if that was okay on the podcast that Quantum Five. They’re officially launched. The trainings, really cool. What I’m most excited about from the tech space is I am seeing huge, huge interest coming back from the tech space. And the way I kind of see it is like, if there’s interest in my services for the tech space, then that means there’s interest for the technology and the dealerships, which means dealerships are selling a lot of cars. So I think the good news for all of us is, I’m seeing a huge uptick. I’m not sure what you guys are seeing on your end, but I feel like automotive is roaring back right now. For sure. Yeah. I mean, it’s just it’s bananas. Like it’s the busiest it’s probably the busiest fall I’ve ever had.

Ilana Shabtay 20:37

That’s, well, that’s amazing to hear. And yeah, it’s also I mean, I agree, I think that automotive had amazing recovery, recovering. Yes. Predicted anyway, because I’ve just noticed I come back stronger no matter what.

Laurie Halter 20:51

But it was Yes, yes.

Ilana Shabtay 20:54

I think that’s great. And I always love ending on a positive note. So

Ilana Shabtay 20:58

knowing that business is good, that automotive is strong. I think that’s great. Anything else you want to share with us today? any last minute, tips, tricks, PR secrets for our listeners?

Laurie Halter 21:11

Whoo, whoo, let’s see PR tips, I would just actually, you know, what I would say is just right now, it truly is all about being bring your authentic self. So whether that’s on LinkedIn, whether that’s on your ads, the videos, you’re posting, the podcasts you’re doing, I think people are just really responding right now to authenticity. And it goes back to what you and I were talking about earlier about the Zoom calls, you know, bringing this whole new level of humanity. I’ve just found that the more people are willing to be themselves and show their true personalities, natures and their business acumen. They’re just doing so much better. And I think it’s based on everyone’s kind of, I feel like COVID kind of lifted the veil. And we’re all looking at that, you know, man behind the curtain in Oz. And those of us that are okay with that seem to be doing really well. So just be your authentic self in business and in life, and I think you can’t go wrong.

Ilana Shabtay 22:03

I love that. I love that. Well. Laurie, thank you so

Ilana Shabtay 22:05

much for joining us today. Thank you. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to Inside Auto Podcast. Thank you again, Laurie.

Laurie Halter 22:13

Good to see you. Thank you for having me on.

Outro 22:19

Thanks for listening to Inside Auto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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