The recession doesn’t seem like a good time to start a business. In fact, a lot of businesses floundered and went under during this tough economic period. But those trying times only strengthened the resolve of Abbi Whitaker.
The Abbi Agency was started in Reno in 2008 as a small public relations company. The company’s first office was the dining room table in Whitaker’s home, and consisted of a few laptops and a landline.
Fast forward to 2017, and The Abbi Agency is an integrated marketing communications team. The 26-person full service agency now owns a two-story building in Reno’s Midtown district. The company also has offices in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
“We went from being a PR-only shop to now building engaging and educational campaigns for a variety of companies, from tech to travel to consumer packaged goods, and have begun to break into policy and public service campaigns,” Whitaker explains.
“Our goal is to improve how brands and figures communicate with their audiences: we want to be the connectors between people and brands, and build experiences through means such as technology and media.”
PASSION AND PURPOSE
Whitaker is British, but she moved to Nevada at the age of 11, and her love for the Silver State is apparent. “We have been the agency of record for North Lake Tahoe for a few years now, and we’ve also worked with TravelNevada, the tourism entity for the state of Nevada.”
Whitaker considers it a privilege to be able to promote and share her state with the world. “As an agency, we are allowed to be representatives of our home, and in doing so, get to showcase its wonders, authenticity, and try to break down misconceptions.”
Las Vegas is the most famous destination in the state, but Whitaker says, “Tahoe is world-renowned for its scenic beauty and outdoor activities that most of our staff are somehow connected to – skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, paddle boarding, etcetera.” As a result, The Abbi Agency is able to bring a level of authenticity to their Nevadan clients.
The company also promotes entrepreneurship in Nevada. “I feel like Reno is still the nation’s best kept secret and we don’t want to ruin the gritty vibe that we all love,” Whitaker says. “However, I think it’s important to own our story and use PR as a way to educate technology companies on why they should look at relocating to our little mecca.”
Whitaker’s passion has resulted in a high level of excellence, so it should come as no surprise that Reno News & Review Magazine named Abbi Agency the best PR firm, and Whitaker was named the Best PR Person. Also, the company, which she co-owns with her husband, was named Nevada’s Family-Owned Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In addition, the company’s creative department won five Addy awards.
As hard as she works, Whitaker’s passion also extends to the local community. The Abbi Agency was chosen to lead the SOS (Save Our Schools) Washoe Campaign, a sales tax increase initiative to provide funds for building new Washoe County schools. Residents voted to pass the measure, and Whitaker says, “There is a huge need for education funding and advocacy in Nevada and we felt that telling that story and shedding light on the need was important.”
Nevada also has the country’s largest population of homeless youth and Whitaker strives to make a difference in this area. “I am working with The Eddy House and Nevada Youth Empowerment Program to educate the community about this need and help raise awareness about what we can do as a community to combat this epidemic.”
But Whitaker’s influence is most evident in the agency itself, where she creates the type of work environment that fosters creativity and team building. “We’re not afraid to be ourselves: we wear our quirks on our sleeves, don’t cover up our tattoos, and encourage people to express themselves,” she explains.
“We want our staff to feel connected to the agency, empowered to explore their talents, think outside of the box, and approach every project together knowing the end goal.”
Many companies say that they care about their workers, but Whitaker ensures that her actions are consistent with her words. “We do things like offer a fitness day each week in the summer, and plan and pay for activities or fitness classes that the entire staff can attend for free,” she says. “We offer work from home days, allow dogs in the office, and let employees speak freely in front of the owners and staff.”
The Abbi Agency also makes sure that employees have the opportunity to work on the types of projects that they enjoy and are passionate about. She admits that not all of the client work is fun, but the company always ties to include exciting activities. “Getting to plan a specialty press trip, create an interactive wildlife map, or film a testimonial video that our staff can pour their passion and vision into is an important part of the work – if you care about what you’re making, it’s going to be done well, and that is a big part of employees’ pride and happiness at the agency.”
ADVICE FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS
While there’s a tendency for women to try to fit in, Whitaker doesn’t recommend this approach. “Never apologize for who you are – there is something refreshing about owning your faults and embracing your flaws,” she says. “As PR people, we sometimes try hard to cover up things that we don’t consider ‘picture perfect,’ but I believe we honestly try to do the opposite at the Abbi Agency and work hard to encourage all women to do the same.”
Whitaker concludes, “Your flaws are part of your character and your story – embrace them.”