Carla Tracy is everywhere. Well, more specifically, she’s everywhere that I want to be.
Whenever I sit down to plan an adventure in Maine, as I start digging into the details of our trip and figuring out the logistics of our stay, where we’ll eat and the dreamy adventures to be had - there’s almost always a common thread when I look at our itinerary. And that’s Carla Tracy.
Carla Tracy serves as the PR person for some of the most celebrated spots in Maine and the ones that sit at the top of my must do list. And it’s not a coincidence that these places are my most saved instagram posts or serve as the next getaway of your dreams - it’s because she’s really good at her job. She’s good at her job because Carla understands that behind all of these establishments are hard working, conscientious Mainers that all have their own story that are deserving of their own spotlight. Getting to know these people - their personal triumphs, goals, worries - is what informs the type of awareness she creates for her clients. It’s individualized, it’s personal and it’s so very Maine.
And when I say she is everywhere, I don’t just mean listed on her clients websites as the PR contact. She’s actually out experiencing and immersing herself in Maine, not just pitching about it. She’s probably sitting next to you at that new restaurant opening and she definitely has tickets to that event that sold out months ago.
I had asked her if we could do a 15 minute interview and we ended up chatting for an hour. She’s incredibly easy to talk to and it’s no surprise to me why someone would be drawn to working with her. She lights up talking about her love of Maine, the adventures with her husband and two boys, and of course, her clients.
From my perspective, this isn’t just her job, this is just her. She loves Maine, and she wants you to love Maine too.
How did you get started in the PR world? What was the transition like to become your own boss?
CARLA: So, I got started in PR in 2003 in New York City. I was an intern at what would become the only place I've ever worked - Laura Davidson Public Relations. It was a luxury travel PR Company that I discovered when I was sitting in a communications class at Marist College. I was trying to figure out whether to major in PR or Journalism and one of the students in front of me raised her hand and kept talking about her internship and how she was writing a press release for this private island and working on something for Australia. And so after class, I remember this so vividly, I grabbed her and I said: “Can I just ask you where you're interning? This sounds really fabulous.” Long story short is I got the next internship after her. I started there in January 2003 and was hired as the president's assistant right after graduation in May 2003. And so I worked there for 13 years and left as the Vice President.
The transition to working for myself really was born when I decided to move to Maine while still working in New York. I decided to try the work part-time in New York/work part-time from Maine thing and was out to prove to my boss: I can do this. I can do two weeks in Maine and two weeks in New York. I'll fly in for client meetings if I have to. I was doing that for a while but then once we decided to have kids, I was like, okay, this isn't going to work anymore. And when you're with a company for that long, you start to write your own Exit Plan.
When I was working in Maine, but still with LDPR, I had heard a rumor that a hotel was going to open at the top of Exchange Street and Congress. I said to my boss, I know we don't ever cold call or anything like that but if I could find out who's responsible for this - would you let me just dig around a little bit on it? And the next thing I know I find myself in Jim Brady's office giving him a PowerPoint presentation about why he should hire LDPR because we're a New York agency but I live right here in Portland and I understand everything local. We won the business. I remember it was December 5th. We started January 1st and the hotel opened May 2015. A year later in July 2016, Laura Davidson was incredibly generous and suggested to the Press Hotel team that they go with me when I leave LDPR and start freelancing on my own - so it was the push I really needed and I’ve been their PR partner ever since.
And also I realized that I really like specializing in New England. I found that there was definitely a need for smaller businesses that can't afford the often expensive monthly retainer of agencies - but that have a really cool story to tell. And so I started taking more of these smaller clients and it's just been great. I love it.
I also think there's a trust factor with having a niche. Like, oh, Carla’s the person to go through for Maine things because I really do pride myself on only recommending things that I've either done or I've heard are really great - but the trust also comes because I don’t only recommend my clients. If it's not the right fit for the writer, I’ll say you should contact so and so, she’s the PR person to go through.
What does your typical work day look like?
CARLA: Generally speaking, my typical work day has a couple of conference calls with clients to do some PR updates. I use my calendar as a time management tool so, I’ll say, okay I’ve got this number of hours per week - here's what's on deck for some clients and I block out chunks of time to pitch per client. So, if I'm working with Luke's Lobster, or Vertical Harvest, Tops’l Farm - I'll plug in hours that I'm pitching those clients. And that's the most fun part of the day – the pitching, talking with the media and brainstorming with them.
That’s what I think separates people who move here from New York – they’re bringing those contacts and relationships with them. And especially in COVID – because you can't go out and have lunch and coffee with people. I still go to New York, Boston and other cities to meet with people once or twice a year normally and I had actually just done that in January of 2020 - so I had just come off this amazing media desk-side appointment week in January and then the world shut down in March. But I still had all of these fresh conversations, I knew what people were up to and that’s the only way to really build that relationship - because you can’t just do that on email. You can a little, but I wouldn't call it a relationship. So, that’s really the best part of any day.
So! A lot of pitching, a lot of planning, ideation and brainstorming.
I really appreciate your transparency, advocacy and openness on instagram. I think it’s easy, especially when you are responsible for cultivating your own client list, to try to appeal to everyone. I never get the sense that you censor yourself or remain silent on crucial, important topics - and frankly, it’s refreshing. That’s really more of a comment, but welcome your thoughts.
CARLA: I just want to say thank you. Social media is still a thing that can make me nervous because you never know how something is going to be perceived. So, I appreciate that.
I sat in on a workshop you hosted (“How to Make Your Business Media Friendly”) through CEI Maine and you were so generous with all of the practical tips you gave everyone in attendance. If you had to boil some of that great info down into one major tip or practice a business could take tomorrow to make them more media friendly - what would it be?
CARLA: I think the essential thing is to make sure you have a good website. Which doesn't always feel like a PR thing, however, let's say you didn't have a public relations person or even a communications person - anybody can find you. So when they do find you, make sure that they can get the information that they're after. You'd be surprised by how many websites do not have a clear email address to contact or someone who's not monitoring that email. It's definitely hard to boil it down to one thing because there's a lot someone could do, but like you said, if you could only do one thing: it’s make sure you have a good website.
Your client list is basically my dream collection of places to stay, eat and adventure in Maine. What would you say is the coolest part about working with these Maine gems? Favorite perks of the job?
CARLA: It’s the people. And that's the beauty of working for yourself is you can really decide is this a person I like and want to work with and are they open to learning how PR works.
A lot of times when a PR relationship doesn't work it's because people think oh, I've hired my PR person, they are a vendor, I can go away for a little bit now. And in fact when you hire a PR person you are going to spend more time on PR yourself because there are a lot of things that we need from you. Interviews, photos, to host someone. Someone who understands that is just the best. And also just the joy of seeing the results for clients where I know that PR has moved the needle in some way for them either sales-wise directly in revenue or helped change a perception of something that they wanted to change.
And then the perk of the job is I'm a traveler. So, in my agency days, I would go to Africa, China and Australia and all over the US and the Caribbean. I actually led the Caribbean team at one time for the agency - we had so many amazing clients there; some of my best travel memories are with my colleagues from those days.
But Maine travel is just amazing. And I've only just scratched the surface of it.
I imagine this is an impossible question - but, I am going to ask anyway. What would your perfect day in Maine look like? Or, what’s the last family adventure you had that was just pure perfection?
CARLA: I love all the seasons for different reasons, but summer in Maine, there’s just nothing like it. I refuse to travel outside of the state in the summer. But a perfect day for me in Maine - probably has some type of water adventure like going out on a boat to an island, having some really good food, and always, I would have my kids in tow.
One really good day was when I introduced my boys to oysters for the first time. Ben Hamilton was a new oyster grower at the time for Love Point Oysters and we were one of the first people to take his oyster tour. They had this great boat and it was just a picture perfect day. We went to The Goslings and I'm always learning something new about the geography of Maine and my kids are like slurping oysters and throwing the shells off his boat, and we’re just learning a ton about the oyster business.
I would also say we just love to go to the midcoast and do even a one or two night stay. We’re going to Tops’l Farm this weekend and we're renting one of the Cottages and doing their winter picnic. My kids talk about Tops’l Farm like it’s this faraway magical place - and really it’s like an hour and a half from Portland. That’s what I love about living here.
What would your last meal on earth be?
CARLA: The first thing that came to mind is the Spicy Night Market soup at Long Grain in Camden. I got introduced to it by Joe Ricchio and he was like, trust me on this, you’ve just gotta do it. And now my mouth is watering just even talking about.