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Leadership

The experiences, interests and perspectives of Hunter PR’s seven agency principals are every bit as diverse as our client base. Yet they all share a hands-on approach to client service, as well as a love for the “work” and seeing the impact of that work on our clients’ businesses. Learn more about each of our partners.


Grace Leong

Managing Partner

Grace Leong

    @GraceTLeong    LinkedIn

Q1: Although you’ve had many Fortune 50 clients during your 24-year career in PR, you have worked for only one boss. What is the most important thing Barbara Hunter imparted to you?

Client service, client service, client service! The work is never done—you can always think harder, execute better, push further. Barbara Hunter was probably the hardest working person I’ve ever met in my life, next to my mother. Her work ethic is inspiring, and we’ve really created the culture at Hunter Public Relations based on it.

Q2: Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce was your first client in 1989 and is still a client of Hunter PR today. Why are these kinds of long-term relationships so unusual in the industry and how has Hunter PR been so fortunate to buck the trend?

Again, I think the reason clients stick with us for so long is because they get the ultimate in client service, the ultimate in dedication and the ultimate in a staff that understands the industry and the target consumer. We celebrate an average client tenure of six years, and we won’t stop until it’s 10 years, 12 years or longer. Once people are in the family, we want them to stick around.

Q3: You hold an MBA from Rutgers University. With such a passion for marketing and building brands, why didn’t you become a brand manager?

I am a brand manager! And it’s not because of my MBA—it’s because I help my clients manage their brands through a PR lens. What story are we trying to tell about this brand and how can we do it efficiently using the power of word-of-mouth and the media? So, I am a brand manager—just not a traditional one holding a brand management position at a CPG company.

Q4: Hunter Public Relations is certified as a woman-owned business and as Managing Partner, you are a working mom with three kids of your own. What advice do you have for young women who want to “have it all”?

The advice I give is that you can have it all, but it’s not about having it all in every area; no human has that kind of bandwidth. Pick those one or two things you really want and do those really well, and it will pay off for you, because you figured out what was most important to you, and you went for it. For me, that’s being a good mother and a successful business owner.

Also, it’s so important to have the support of others—friends, family and colleagues. I truly have great partners within the agency, and I honestly don’t think I could do what I do as a mother and a business owner if it weren’t for the strong partnership that we have among the team here at Hunter PR.

Q5: When Hunter PR was named by PR News as one of the “Top Places to Work in PR,” you were even more excited than when the firm received seemingly more “prestigious” awards. Why?

Yes, we win a lot of awards for our clients, but this one was so special because it was about the culture we’ve created here at Hunter PR. As a business owner, my job, first and foremost, is to have the best talent want to come here and work hard. And if I was fortunate enough to build an environment that does that, then I should be celebrating!

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Jon Lyon

Jon Lyon

Q1: When and how did you first become interested in PR?

I started as an assistant at a small wine-marketing firm right after college. They needed someone who could answer the phone in French, and I could, because I had lived in France during high school and college. From that role, I grew into other responsibilities at the firm—talking to clients, helping organize tastings for collectors and even going on trips to Switzerland and Italy with sommeliers and journalists.

At the time, I knew someone who worked at Hunter PR, and he mentioned me to Barbara Hunter. I came and spoke with her and she helped me realize that I was actually already doing public relations work. She offered me a job, and that was that.

Q2: Is luxury marketing dead? How has the economy affected Hunter PR’s approach?

I certainly don’t think luxury marketing is dead. In fact, luxury goods are among the fastest growing and most successful brands and products in the marketplace.

In terms of the economy, we’re definitely more aware that in all segments, even in our luxury practice, people are looking for value. People are still buying high-end offerings, but it’s not about spending gratuitously. Consumers are willing to pay, but for a high quality, high image product. For us, it’s just a matter of being aware of what that ‘value-to-delivery’ ratio is and making sure that we’re speaking to people in the right way.

Q3: How did an enormous rendering of Alfred E. Neuman in Lite-Brite pegs make its way to the wall outside of your office?

While working with Altoids, a product that revolves around the idea of being curiously strong, we started thinking about what was curiously strong within the target consumer’s cool, urban lifestyle. We ended up launching the Altoids Curiously Strong collection to support curiously strong artists.

One of those pieces was the giant lite-brite depiction of Alfred E. Neuman by an artist named Steve DeFrank. In the end, we donated all these works to the New Museum of Contemporary Art. As part of that relationship, they’ve allowed us to display some of the artwork on our walls.

Q4: That program had quite a high-end feel for a product that costs less than $3. Do you think any product can be a luxury product?

There are certainly lessons from the way luxury brands behave that any brand can benefit from. One of the tenets of luxury marketing is for brands to behave with a specific point of view, speaking to a certain consumer in a certain tone and manner.

Especially in our discipline, where mass audiences often view the results of our efforts, operating in this manner can help a product seem aspirational. Working on luxury offerings in categories that are historically not considered luxury—such as breath mints—has provided some of the most interesting opportunities I’ve had at Hunter PR.

Q5: You are one of those people who is constantly barraged with requests for restaurant and wine recommendations. What are your current obsessions?

My obsessions do change on a regular basis, so I couldn’t name specific restaurants, but I absolutely love the prevailing ‘no reservations’ microtrend that seems to have taken hold in great restaurants right now. I find that to be a very democratic approach to eating and much less hassle than figuring out where to go, making a reservation, worrying about being late, etc. I prefer to plan my evening knowing that I’m going to be out for the night—going, putting my name on the list, grabbing a drink somewhere for a couple of hours, and then getting a call from the restaurant when my table’s ready.

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Jason Winocour

Jason Winocour

      @jwinocour    LinkedIn

Q1: In your 15 years at Hunter Public Relations, you have spearheaded media relations for Motorola and 3M, two strong players in the consumer tech space. How has managing media relations on behalf of consumer technology products changed?

The biggest and most obvious difference is that when we launched Motorola TalkAbout Two-Way Radios back in 1997, there was no social media; those were the days when old-school, aggressive media relations carried the day. There’s still a big role for old-school media relations today, but with social and digital media, consumer tech companies operate in a fishbowl and news is constantly being leaked. Even Apple, known as being incredibly airtight when it comes to leaks, can no longer keep all the water in the dam. That said, tech companies and brands that are social and digital media savvy (e.g. Dell, Samsung) can reap major rewards.

Q2: Prior to joining Hunter PR, you worked at the Advertising Council promoting their award winning PSA’s, and prior to that, as Director of Public Relations at the Mayor’s Volunteer Center of New York City. How does Hunter PR give back?

Hunter PR has provided pro bono services for a number of programs and causes over the years. Currently, we provide public relations counsel and support to Film Biz Recycling (FBR), a NYC-based not-for-profit that solicits cool, retro furniture and props from TV and movie production companies and donates them to local charities. FBR also has a 10,000 square foot retail space in Brooklyn that's definitely worth the trip. Every time I go there, I'm expecting to see Don Draper and Roger Sterling pouring drinks into vintage cocktail glasses.

Q3: As the head of Hunter PR’s traditional media department, you are a skilled media trainer. Which media-training tip do you find yourself using most in “real” life?

I find myself using bridging techniques quite often in my “real life.” By bridging, I’m referring to the technique of smoothly and subtly segueing from one topic to another to get a point across. For example, it can be awkward to pick up the phone and ask a good friend point blank when he’s going to pay back the $500 he owes you for that roundtrip flight to Vegas. It’s far less awkward if you casually mention that you read an interesting article about the fountains at the Bellagio and then shift the conversation to talk about the money he owes you.

Q4: As many staffers can attest to, you seem to know at least one or two random facts about almost any topic imaginable. How does this love of random knowledge help you as a PR practitioner?

My love of trivia (oops, I mean random knowledge) comes in particularly handy when brainstorming. For example, my obsession with baseball trivia sparked an idea that linked water pitchers with baseball pitchers. Yes, it sounds like a stretch, but the concept was on-strategy and the client really liked it.

Q5: As a native New Yorker, what is the one thing you can’t live without?

When I attended the University of Michigan a few years back (OK, maybe more than a few years back), I became obsessed with the bibimbap served at a local Korean-style diner in Ann Arbor. Fortunately, the bibimbap is even better in New York!

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Mark Newman

Mark Newman

   @markwnewman    LinkedIn

Q1: You started at Hunter PR as a Junior Account Executive. What is the wackiest assignment you’ve ever had?

My thirst for zany assignments that make great Christmas-newsletter fodder was actually almost quenched when working on Kool-Aid. One of the greatest thrills of my life was wearing the Kool-Aid Man costume while riding in the back of a convertible in a parade through Times Square as part of an Advertising Week event. “Oh Yeah!”

Q2: Do stunts have a place in modern public relations?

Most definitely—perhaps even more so today in this age of social media. In the mid ’90s, we constructed giant Flag Cakes in front of national landmarks on Flag Day, using Cool Whip whipped topping. At the time, we were fully dependent on the local media to come down and cover it and then hope they’d put it on their affiliate satellite or share across the wire. Today, an amazing visual stunt (like a Flag Cake the size of two tennis courts) could be viewed by millions of people across the world via social media channels, even if a traditional media camera doesn’t show up.

Q3: You are known for your creativity and big ideas at Hunter PR. Where do you find inspiration?

The key is to always find ways to look at the world differently. Listen to a radio station that’s completely opposite from your favorite station; attend events and activities that are outside your comfort zone; strike up conversations with people you think you have nothing in common with. And take time every day to just stare out the window and think. I feel we don’t do enough daydreaming in today’s world. Finally, when going through the paces of life, always ask “What if…?”

Q4: During your college years at Brigham Young University, you spent two years living in South Africa. What did you take away from that experience that informs your work today?

When I was 19, I took two years off from college to serve as a missionary for my church in South Africa. Even though that was 20 years ago, I still lean on the lessons I learned at that time, including the ability to succeed with difficult assignments, understanding different people's perspectives and learning to focus on others instead of self.

Q5: What has being a father of five taught you about marketing to moms?

Moms are super busy and aren’t going to respond to a marketing pitch that misses the mark. But if the product can make life easier, add some fun to either her life or the kids’, or save the household some money, she’s interested in what you have to say. On a side note, I wish parenting magazines didn’t always set up fathers/husbands as the punch line to all bad parenting stories. Dads are an important part of the parenting equation, and some of us do a pretty good job with our end of the bargain. My wish is someday there will be a magazine called Working Fathers, or simply Dads.

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Donetta Allen

Donetta Allen

      @donettaallen    LinkedIn

Q1: Has your job at Hunter PR always been all fun and games?

Since I started at Hunter PR as a Junior Account Executive, I’ve been fortunate to spend the majority of my time working on kids’ brands. I guess you could say my job is fun & games at snacktime! From Goldfish Crackers to Guesstures, and from Clue to Cold Stone Creamery, I’ve worked on campaigns large and small to remind moms and kids about great iconic family-friendly brands and to introduce new products for them to try and enjoy.

Q2: Your team oversees the day-to-day interaction with hundreds of thousands of fans via brands’ Facebook pages and other social media channels. Why is this a function of PR and not another digital marketing discipline?

One great thing about social media is that it allows everyone to share their opinions and concerns in real time, making nearly everyone an influencer to someone. Because of the speed at which news travels in social media (especially bad news), it’s important to have trained communicators on the front lines. PR pros are the team members who engage in two-way communication with influencers. This extends to the social space, where consumers are just as likely as media to raise questions and ask a company to make a change.

Q3: In such a rapidly changing media environment, how does Hunter PR stay on top of digital and social media trends?

With so many new apps, sites and social experiences introduced on a daily basis, all of us at Hunter PR share the responsibility of keeping up with trends. Each staff member belongs to a specific social or digital media task force (such as microblogs, mobile or geo-social) that takes ownership of researching, watching and reporting on relevant trends within their area of expertise. We’ve found that by sharing this responsibility, we can quickly identify what’s new in the space that will be of interest to our clients.

Q4: How do you say: “Get out of Jail Free” in Japanese, and why do you know that? What are the challenges one might not expect in managing huge global communications programs?

In Japan they say “Keimusho kara shakuho,” which is just one of the things that I’ve learned while conducting global programs for Monopoly during the past few years. One year, we decided to embark on a global vote to determine which cities should be featured on a new global game board. With more than 66 international cities in the running, we worked with teams in Latvia, Japan and Russia. As with any global campaign, we had to take customs, language differences and local public relations and journalism practices into consideration. A news hook that works in Japan might not fly in the UK, and a photo that the editors love in Germany could be a dud in the USA.

Q5: Has growing up the oldest of seven children helped you as a manager?

Growing up as the oldest of seven kids, I learned at an early age that motivating others meant adjusting my approach when working with different personalities. As a manager, I find that the same is true of team members. Knowing who they are, what makes them tick and playing to their strengths rather than pointing out their weaknesses helps make a strong team that works well together at solving problems and accomplishing established goals.

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Gigi Russo

Gigi Russo

        @gigirusso    LinkedIn

Q1: One of your responsibilities at Hunter PR is overseeing the agency’s multicultural initiatives. How has growing up bilingual helped you as a communicator?

Certainly being fluent in Spanish has helped me as a communicator, but what gives me the most insight into this segment is where and how I grew up. I’m part of the growing U.S. Hispanic population, and I was raised in a Texas border town. I spent summers traveling throughout Mexico, and having straddled both countries and cultures, I appreciate the best of both worlds.

Q2: The program you manage for Gallo’s leading Barefoot brand has cleaned more than 200 beaches across the country over the past several years, making them “barefoot-friendly” in partnership with the non-profit Surfrider Foundation. Is cause-related event marketing right for every brand?

In my experience, a cause platform works best when it’s part of a brand’s DNA and never an in-and-out strategy to achieve short-term goals. Consumers are extremely savvy and will sniff out brand inauthenticity in a second. Pursuing a cause platform is an investment in time, resources and passion. My counsel to clients is never to pursue a cause-marketing platform, but to pursue your brand passions. You’ll have a winning formula for success that demonstrates your core values and brings you closer to your target consumer.

Q3: You’ve been to just about every beach in America. Which is your favorite?

Growing up in Texas, my heart belongs to South Padre Island, but I’d have to say that the beaches of Hawaii really blew my mind. Not only are the islands magical, but I was also touched by the people and the Aloha spirit that I experienced there. I still keep in touch with a number people I met in Hawaii thanks to Facebook and Twitter.

Q4: As a new mom, a Brooklynite, and a foodie with a far-reaching network of friends and connections, you’re the personification of the target for many of the brands Hunter PR represents. What is your advice to the marketers who want to resonate with the “Gigi’s” of the world?

Quality products and services and honest communication are key. My time is even more valuable now that I’m balancing work, travel and being the best mom I can be, so I want information that’s fast and clear, and I want products that over-deliver on my expectations (and I want them at a value too)! If a product or service over-delivers, you can bet that I’ll be tweeting about it and sharing my experience with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and even clients.

Q5: Is there such a thing as a good $7 bottle of wine?

Absolutely! In fact, the number one selling wine in the country is priced at $7. The wine industry continues to improve techniques to make great-tasting, quality wines that are priced right so that we can enjoy them everyday. My wine advice: drink what you like, when you like it, how you like it.

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Erin Hanson

Erin Hanson

    @ewbh123    LinkedIn

Q1: Hunter PR has a tradition of "boomerang" employees, but yours takes the cake! What was the most important experience you gained by stepping away after nine years with Hunter PR, and what brought you back?

My five years away from Hunter PR were a great learning experience — I worked on global brand development and had the opportunity to go abroad to Singapore, where I had first-hand exposure to the fast-growing consumer market in Asia. But I always noticed when Hunter’s clients made news, showing me time and time again that they were among the best in the U.S. at driving meaningful brand coverage for their clients. It has been wonderful to return to my “home” here at Hunter – where I grew up in the industry – and be surrounded by the collaborative spirit and unparalleled creativity that are Hunter’s trademarks.

Q2: Over the course of your 15-year career, you've executed integrated, creative programs for iconic CPG brands like Swiffer, Scotch Tape and Altoids. How has the practice of public relations changed in that time?

The public relations profession brings us closer to the consumer everyday. We used to depend primarily on traditional media to get our brand message across, but social channels bring us in regular conversation with the consumers of the products we represent. This brings both new opportunities and new responsibilities, as we hear directly from our passionate fans and influencers what they need and how they want the brands to converse with them. We need to make sure we mine these consumer insights so our PR programming and brand-driven conversation is relevant and meaningful to them, and so that they stay loyal and help us spread the word.

Q3: One of the common threads between the large CPG brands you've worked on over the years is the all-important "Mom" target. What is the most interesting thing you've come to understand about the family "Chief Procurement Officer"?

There is a new understanding of the multi-layered mom who is, so often, our target audience. Whether she’s a mother of one or six, working or not working, her habits as they relate to product purchase and usage are very personal and specific to her needs and those of her family. So it’s critical to have a deep understanding of how your product makes her life easier, or what other challenges she faces in her day. If our moms feel like brands are speaking to them in their own voice and really adding value to their lives, they are more likely to lend their powerful voices to our message, which we know can have tremendous impact.

Q4: You've been instrumental in several award-winning campaigns over the years. Why do industry awards matter?

The common thread between the award-winning campaigns to which I’ve personally contributed is that it’s always a team effort – skilled PR teams, collaborative interagency partners and supportive clients. You always know when you are in the midst of something special; the reward is seeing a great idea come to life with the consumer. Industry recognition is just icing on the cake.

That said, I follow awards closely because the PR and marketing landscape is changing daily, and it’s a testament to PR professionals that we are consistently finding truly new and fresh ways to connect with consumers. It’s what inspires me about this industry, even 15 years later.

Q5: You spent 15 months living abroad in Singapore. What was the most unexpected benefit of this experience?

I collaborated with some truly remarkable colleagues and clients across 14 different countries in Asia and made friendships I will treasure always. But the most unexpected benefit for me was moving overseas with my husband to a place that was brand new to both of us. We made the most of our time in Asia, and we will always remember Singapore fondly as part of our life together. My husband was also so supportive – having him to lean on during the most challenging of times and celebrating victories with him during the most rewarding of times made it all the more worthwhile.

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