Happy Birthday, Magrino!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In the 25 years since Susan and Allyn Magrino started Magrino Public Relations, their agency has represented clients as diverse as The Waldorf Astoria, Whispering Angel and Martha Stewart. Tonight, Magrino celebrates its silver anniversary at the Rainbow Room. In advance of that sure-to-be-great party, AVENUE sits down with the Magrino sisters for a look at their agency’s past, present and future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Ben Diamond: How did you decide to start Magrino? Who were some of your first clients?

Susan Magrino, CEO, Magrino PR: Well, I had been at Crown Publishers for many years. I spent a lot of time there working with the publicity department, with authors like Martha Stewart, Lee Bailey and Dominick Dunne, who gave me a good understanding of the social world at that time. When I hit the ripe old age of 29, I decided that by the time I was 30 I wanted to start a business. My sister Allyn Magrino joined me. She’ll fill you in.

Allyn Magrino, President, Magrino PR: Yeah, I joined Susan. When I got out of school I was thinking of going to law school, and I went to work for Donald Trump’s in-house general counsel for a year, then for Robert Maxwell, two of the big moguls. Soon, I felt the publicity bug. I’d always interned with Susan at Crown over the summers when I was in college. And I was doing PR for the French West Indies, and when Susan decided to start the agency, she said, “I want to do travel, lifestyle and books. Why don’t you leave your job and join me? We’ll start the agency.” And our father was a little nervous since she was taking her little sister off on this path. But it was the right move. 

SM: And that was 25 years ago, in 1992. Bill Clinton was running for president. Our first clients included Charlie Rose, when his show was actually live on PBS at 11 pm on Channel 13. The DNC was in New York that year, and Clinton actually went on Charlie Rose. We had plenty of other clients, too. Martha Stewart, who was just getting started with her magazine, and really getting into television; Frédéric Fekkai, who at that time had his salon atop Bergdorf Goodman; Liz Tilberis, a wonderful English editor, had come over from London to remake Harper’s Bazaar. It was a really exciting time. She got Princess Diana on the cover, which was a hot story then. And that’s not counting the many authors that we worked with at Crown. We started to get into hospitality, restaurants, real estate, fashion, luxury and many other categories. We’ve worked with venerable hotels from the Plaza here in New York to the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach


BD: What do your clients appreciate about you most?

AM: I think our size is what really set us apart. We’re a 45-person agency, so we’re still a great size, where Susan and I can be hands-on with clients, but where we’re also big enough to work with global brands.

SM: I also think that we have a great affinity for what our clients are looking for. We spend a lot of time in the same places as our clients. To reach audiences on the Upper East Side, Downtown, the Hamptons, Palm Beach, as well as in Europe and the West Coast, we have to travel quite a bit.

AM: And I’ll say that a number of brands from outside the US have come to us, because we’re very good at translating international brands to the US market. We’ve worked with everyone from Alain Ducasse to Gordon Ramsey to Whispering Angel.

SM: Yes, we’ve been fortunate. When Michelin decided to expand into the US, we were the agency that helped them do that. Which was an amazing assignment. Chefs work their entire lives to get a Michelin star!


BD: How has the agency evolved over the past 25 years? What’s changed, and what’s stayed the same?

SM: Well, in 25 years, you don’t always do the same thing. Social media has been really important. We’ve done twice the amount of work in that space within the last year alone. We and our clients recognize the importance of that. Also, in the last year we hired a full-time creative director. That wasn’t something that public relations firms had had before, but now it’s more important than ever.

AM: As a whole, our digital team has grown—being in the journalism space, I’m sure you understand how traditional and digital media have merged. They’re not running parallel anymore.

SM: To stay relevant, you have to keep evolving. You’ve got to go out every night, get up every day and communicate. We’re in a communication business. I think that’s really critical, and whenever we’re given an assignment we really spend a lot of time thinking, researching and bonding with our clients. For instance, Martha Stewart is our longest client. She’s been with us since day one. It’s wonderful to have a relationship like that, where we all know each other so well that I can look at something and say, “I don’t think Martha would want that.” You really get to know your clients, and they trust you.


BD: What’s the secret to staying in business for 25 years?

SM: I’ve been thinking about this. I think that there’s absolutely no replacement for hard work, dedication, believing in what you’re doing every single day. Knowing that when you’re in a client service business, you have to understand that dynamic and be good at it. You have to enjoy it. You have to be collaborative, yet persistent, yet supportive.

AM: I think Susan is saying that passion is the key. Susan and I are lucky, we get to work with people that we’re really passionate about. If you can do that, you can last for a long time. The personal relationships are important, too. It’s not just phoning things in, or sending out emails. It’s taking the time for conversations and lunches—those things that seem to be going by the wayside in the digital age.

SM: It’s very, very important. People need to realize the importance of communication in a relationship. It cannot all be electronic. There’s an in-person dynamic and rapport that comes from meeting someone in person that makes all the difference.


BD: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve had over the last 25 years?

SM: I think that people really underestimate everything that’s involved in managing and running a business. We’ve had people who’ve worked with us who go off on their own. They’re all excited, but within six months to a year, we’ll bump into them and they’ll say, “Wow, I had no idea! You’re actually entrepreneurs, you’re doing it all yourselves.” There are days where I just want to be creative, or make pitch calls, but there’s a to-do list. You might have to deal with insurance one day, or you might have to deal with your lease or your landlord. Those kinds of things, they’re all a part of running a business.

AM: We do it all. We don’t have a business partner that does that.


BD: What do the next twenty-five years hold? 

SM: I think lots of opportunity. Just look at all the change that’s happening. Whether through social media and different kinds of partnerships, or just through all the exciting things that technology is bringing. Look at Alexa. Alexa wasn’t really on the market two years ago. But now, thanks to technology like that, people are able to make more time to do other things. That’s very exciting for us. What’s also been interesting for us in the past few years, particularly with social, is figuring out how we can learn from our team. As much as they want to learn from us, we’ve learned so much from them, and been able to see different ways to do things. Our new business meetings are important for that, too, People come to our offices, we go to their offices. We learn about entirely new businesses and industries.

AM: We started primarily as media relations 25 years ago. Our clients have come to count on us for so much more than that. Should we partner with this company? Should we go in this direction? These are the kinds of questions that we help companies answer now. In a way, we’ve become brand counselors. We haven’t stayed stagnant and said, “Nope, this is what we do, this is all we do.” We really evolved and we’ve enjoyed it. We get to work with such interesting people which keeps you so stimulated and want to learn the next thing. We’re really lucky in that.


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