It was like working on an assembly line for Rachel Ayotte and Meredith Vachon when they started out at large public relations firms.
Unhappy, they started their own firm, Bread & Butter PR, in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles; its clients are in the hospitality and food industries. That was six years ago. Today, the firm has six offices, two that recently opened in Texas. Its seventh office is scheduled to open in Las Vegas early next year.
It’s fairly unusual for a small PR firm to open satellite offices across the country instead of expanding at headquarters. But the co-founders said they prefer to have reps in the same city where they have clients, and those professionals understand the local market better than someone who flies in from Los Angeles.
Besides Los Angeles, the offices are in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas; San Francisco; and New York.
More offices bring higher overhead costs, of course, but there are fewer travel expenses. And Ayotte said the company opens the offices to match the business they do.
“We grow to accommodate our clients versus bringing on clients to grow,” she said.
For example, clients such as L.A. celebrity chef Susan Feniger, and Fabio Viviani, who appeared on reality TV show “Top Chef” on Bravo TV, were often working with New York media. So it made sense to open an office there rather than fly back and forth each month, said Ayotte.
Plans for the Las Vegas office also grew out of a need to accommodate current clients.
“We’ve had clients like Elizabeth Blau’s Honey Salt and California Pizza Kitchen who enjoyed working with us, but expressed the need to hire a local Las Vegas firm,” she said.
Jerry Swerling, professor of professional practice and director of public relations studies at USC, said opening satellite offices instead of building one large firm is an interesting model but it also raises some questions.
“A big question mark will be who exactly is going to be staffing these offices and their level of expertise,” Swerling said. “Just as clients want easy access they want outstanding people, and the who is more important than the where.”
Ayotte acknowledged that the biggest challenge for the firm is staffing the regional offices. She has been focusing on hiring local talent with knowledge of public relations as well as emerging restaurants and chefs.
Ayotte and Vachon met in 2004 while working for Wagstaff Worldwide, a hospitality public relations firm in Los Angeles.
Vachon, who served as Wagstaff’s executive director, said they instantly bonded as both were from the South and each owned a pet Chihuahua.
But Vachon moved to Austin to get back to her home state of Texas and Ayotte joined public relations firm Weber Shandwick’s L.A. office.
Ayotte would leave Weber Shandwick and work as a freelance publicist for clients such as Warner Ebbink and Brandon Boudet, co-owners of Dominick’s, Little Dom’s and 101 Coffee Shop in Los Angeles, all now Bread & Butter clients.
Vachon was also working as a freelance publicist in Austin. Both were working out of their living rooms. So they started Bread & Butter in 2007 with a little more than $1,000.
“I remember texting her and saying, ‘I think we just started a company,’ ” said Vachon, who realized it after ordering company business cards and creating a website.
Since then, they have built a network of more than 50 clients across all six offices with a total staff size of 25. The majority of their clients are on a monthly retainer, but some hire the firm for projects such as the Wine Riot festival in Los Angeles next month.
The L.A. office handles 20 clients and pulls in more than $1 million in annual revenue, said Ayotte.
She supervises the L.A. headquarters, San Francisco and will handle the Las Vegas office when it opens. Vachon oversees the three offices in Texas. They share management duties for New York.
They said their colleagues advised against them going into business together, saying that opening a business with a friend is risky, but Ayotte and Vachon believe it was the best decision.
“It’s really scary to (start) a business by yourself,” Ayotte said. “You want someone else’s opinions and thoughts but … as much as you value (advice from) your mom, your husband, if they don’t understand what you’re going through on a day-to-day basis, it’s not as meaningful as someone who is right there in the thick of it with you.”
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