Interview: Soda Pop PR’s Dyan Dolfi-Offutt.

“Work harder than anyone else in the office, don’t complain about long hours, always go above and beyond what they give you to do, be likeable, and don’t get involved in office drama or politics!”

Dyan Dolfi-Offutt, a public relations professional, started her own small public relations agency in Los Angeles a year and a half ago: Soda Pop PR. This four-employee agency focuses on hospitality and food public relations. When asked about her company mantra, she explained that her basic approach was “honest and fresh, without all the fizz.”

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“I named it Soda Pop PR because I wanted something fun,” Dyan says. She elaborates that she didn’t want to use her own name (“It’s pretty hard to pronounce!”) and that she wanted to find something related to the hospitality and food PR vibe. The name came about after bouncing names off of her photographer friend. “When I said it, our eyes just lit up!” Dyan remembers.

Dyan graduated from Ohio University and immediately went to work at, in her own words, a “boring suit job,” doing customer relations for an insurance company. “Have you ever seen the movie ‘Office Space’?” she laughs. However, Dyan said she was smart enough – or crazy enough – to have the realization that she was “too young to have a real job” and decided to pick up and move to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of acting and singing professionally.

Once in Los Angeles, a friend hired Dyan to work on an advertising account; she never looked back. She then moved forward to pursue her lifelong passion for food and cooking; coming from an Italian family, these things seemed natural for a career path. Dyan soon found herself practicing hospitality PR at Wagstaff Worldwide, a large agency that focuses on food and travel. Afterwards, Dyan worked for Bread and Butter PR, another hospitality agency, where she began her work with Tillamook Cheese.

“Tillamook was just such a good fit in so many ways,” Dyan remembers. “It was supposed to be a three- to four-month project; they needed help breaking into the Southern California market.”

Several years later, and after starting her own agency to better serve Tillamook, Dyan and the brand are as close as ever. Soda Pop PR is now the agency of record for Tillamook, helping with consumer and trade strategy, as well as running Tillamook’s “Loaf Love Tour,” a promotional tour featuring Tillamook’s famous orange modified Volkswagen vans they call Baby Loaf buses. This orange brigade hosts cheese tastings and blogger events in various cities around the United States to promote the Tillamook brand.

Dyan explains that she strives each and every day to approach PR with a sensible, hands-on approach that is personalized. For example, her most recent task for Tillamook has been to develop relationships with a brand new audience: dad bloggers, in addition to maintaining Tillamook’s strong relationships with a variety of mommy bloggers.

Dyan and her staff worked to identify key influencers in the blog world using a slow and steady approach. Dyan explains, “Dad bloggers are more particular in what they cover so you have to be smarter in your approach.” Soda Pop PR uses mainly Twitter and Instagram to determine the authority of an influencer, looking at a combination of the number of followers and the level of their engagement. Dyan mentioned one key website: “HowToBeADad,” a blog based on fatherhood anecdotes. This website gave Tillamook more than 2 million impressions through blog and Twitter posts alone.

Dyan’s main recommendations for dealing with bloggers are to create experiences and to not ask someone for something the first time you meet them. As a metaphor, Dyan relates this to a dinner party, “If you come over to my house I’m not going ask you to cook dinner for me!” She goes on to explain that these relationships with bloggers are built upon trust and often develop slowly. “You have to be very thoughtful nowadays, because so many different brands are reaching out to these bloggers. They’re becoming brands themselves… it’s a constant learning process.”

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Image courtesy of Dyan’s LinkedIn page.

Here are Dyan’s key pieces of advice for students trying to break into the PR force:

  • On agency size: “Starting at a medium or larger agency is rewarding and smart; you definitely have access to a lot more information. But the benefit of smaller agencies is that you can start as an intern and it’s easy to move up; you’ll be humbled because you’ll be like, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing!’”
  • On “majoring” in PR: “I would argue that you can’t exactly ‘study’ everything about PR in school. You can be a good writer, but street smarts are super important in this industry. You need to get right into the profession and begin learning from your mistakes.”
  • On personal social media: “Social media on your own is very important. We want to know how social media savvy you are before we hire you. My generation relies on younger generations to teach us about social media. At the same time, it is important to be thoughtful – clean up your language and don’t use 15 hashtags. Show that you are mature in your online communication.”
  • With regards to AP style: “I personally value creative sensibility the most. I look for a sense of style and creativity in people’s writing. And a simple, well-designed and concise resume with no typos is what attracts me.”
  • Tips for success: “Work harder than anyone else in the office, don’t complain about long hours, always go above and beyond what they give you to do, be likeable, and don’t get involved in office drama or politics!”

Fun fact: Being Italian, Dyan’s favorite food is the only recipe her mother ever wrote down: homemade spaghetti and meatballs.

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