A Competitive Debater and ‘Big Talker’ Finds Her Place in PR

by Diana Drake

On this month’s Wharton Global Youth podcast, we explore new Future of the Business World territory: inside public relations. Earlier this year Casey Gottlieb, 16 and a sophomore from New York City who attends Blair Academy in New Jersey, launched her own PR agency to help businesses communicate with the world. Here Casey, who will be traveling to Wharton this summer for our Essentials of Entrepreneurship program, talks media placements, past internships and how competitive public-forum debate has helped shape and amplify her PR savvy.

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello, and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Each month, I invite an innovator to our show to discover more about what inspires young minds, and to explore business and finance through the experiences of teen entrepreneurs.

Today, we’re talking with Casey Gottlieb, a 16-year-old sophomore from New York City, born and raised, who has started the Lumaire Agency, a public relations firm. Casey, welcome to Future of the Business World.

Casey Gottlieb: Thank you for having me.

Casey Gottlieb.

Wharton Global Youth: When I read about Lumaire, I thought this is a great conversation starter for a traditional business service. These days, we’re talking about the metaverse and crypto, data science and AI, and you’re in the business of public relations. So, can you tell us what exactly is PR?

Casey: Sure. Public relations is the bridge between a business and the public. So, all communication, whether visual in writing, or just the message you take away from a company, is public relations. PR is about helping a business shine in the public eye and resonate with its audience.

Wharton Global Youth: When you pitched to Future of the Business World, you said, “Lumaire Agency helps a variety of clients in media placements, content creation, social media management, campaigning and other services. We focus on strategically crafting messages to resonate with target audiences in order to help define our client’s brand image and drive their revenue.” There’s lots of business jargon in there, right? And let’s unpack exactly what you do. First, what is media placement? And can you give us a specific example about the service for a client?

Casey: Media placement is any and all positive publicity for a client. So, whether it be on a list, for example, The best jewelry to buy your mom for Mother’s Day, an article featuring just the company or a new segment, I define as media placements.

Wharton Global Youth: And how do you create a strategically crafted message? What are some of the important steps you take in that process?

Casey: I talk to my clients and try to understand what their purpose is. Why are they running a business? What do they care about? And then once I understand these goals, together, we can determine what their target audience is. Then what we have to do is market specifically to the audience. That would entail using certain social media apps, like for younger audiences, Tik Tok or Instagram, but for older audiences using Facebook, and then using specific visuals and color schematics. Even the tone of the writing the company uses on their social media posts matter. Using slang, or on the other side, really posh, professional jargon could attract completely different clientele. So, in order to create a strategically crafted message, one must figure out all the small details to together create one lasting impact.

One example of this would be Gossip Girl [an American teen drama TV series]. Gossip Girl over and over uses the same language. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but the introduction to Gossip Girl is: “Gossip Girl here, your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. And who am I? That’s a secret I’ll never tell. You know you love me. XOXO, Gossip Girl.” So, this repetitive language, along with just the visual aspects of the show, convey tensions within the elitism or the elites of New York City. So, the show targets “common people” interested in the absurd drama of high school students. But at the same time, this repetitive language uses slang, so it targets these younger audiences and gives a sense of a high ego and entitlement of the writer. Not to put down Gossip Girl in any way. I absolutely love the show. I think part of the reason that I love this show so much is because its strategic message not only resonates in my mind, but in the minds of millions.

Wharton Global Youth: Yeah, so I can see a connection there, too. That’s Manhattan and you’re a New York City girl. Is that part of your love for the show?

Casey: Yeah, I would say so.

Wharton Global Youth: So, do they get it right? Do they get the New York City experience right?

Casey: I think it’s definitely overblown. I don’t think anyone would ever expect or really anyone travels only by limo and has so many employees working for them, but I do think certain aspects of it, especially in the first few seasons, are portrayed more accurately. But as the show went on, they added more and more elitism into the show.

Wharton Global Youth: I want to test your knowledge a little bit more on some jargon. Global Youth recently published an article about the power of brand purpose. Lots of brands these days want to communicate a deeper and more authentic purpose. You talk about defining a client’s brand image. Can you give us an example of this work to help us understand it a bit better? What is a brand? What is brand image? Have you thought about brand purpose? And why does all of this matter in the business world?

Casey: A brand is a composition of both a company’s intended message and the public perception of the message. Then to answer your second question, what is a brand image? I would say brand image is the public perception of a company. And then a brand’s purpose is the motivation, reason, and/or agenda of a company. All of these terms definitely overlap. An example of this is Patagonia. Patagonia is committed to sustainability and preserving nature, all of their clothing and visuals remind us of the outside. But although the owner makes a lot of money, the company donates 1% of its profit to grassroot environmental groups. So, it is a company, they make profit, but at the same time, they contribute back to their purpose.

Wharton Global Youth: Yeah, that’s a great example. In fact, in the article we recently published, the professor whom we were interviewing, her research focuses on Patagonia, and how wonderful they are with brand purpose, right? Their whole purpose is really centered on sustainability and the environment.

Casey: It’s funny that I randomly thought of Patagonia, and that was the same example.

Wharton Global Youth: How clever of you. PR, which is basically creating a positive image for a brand or company, takes excellent communication skills. Tell us more about how you put these skills into practice? How are you flexing the power of communication through Lumaire Agency? What are some specific ways you’re communicating and networking?

Casey: I think one of the most important skills is to always be able to hold a conversation with someone or just be able to cold call. But communicating is not only about talking to someone, but also motivating others to take action. A large part of public relations is asking journalists to feature your clients, but you don’t want to make them feel like they’re doing you a favor. That’s a hassle. But rather, the way you communicate, you want to convey that you’re making their job easier by giving them the next up-and-coming person or innovation.

Then, to answer the second side of your question, I would say LinkedIn might be the best app for networking, definitely, within the past 10 years that I’m aware of. Whenever I meet someone, whether it be a parent at a small school event, or in a business context, I add them on LinkedIn. I will say many business professionals with 10,000 or more followers might not always follow me back. But having that connection of any sort, or even trying to create that foundation of a relationship is essential in networking.

“I’m a firm believer in listening to all sides of an argument. And I’m more than willing to work for those I do not completely and undyingly agree with. But at the same time, I hold my morals.” –Casey Gottlieb

Wharton Global Youth: I’m curious how you got into PR. I mean, this is the first time we’ve featured a public relations person on Future of the Business World. And, Casey, let’s face it, you’re young for such a client-focused pursuit. How did you get into it? Do people take you seriously in this? And do you actually have some clients?

Casey: So, I interned for two companies, more of a public relations aspect. First was just a typical public relations agency, where I was interning alongside of other students, but all college age, they were 19, 20 or so. And after the first week, I was put in charge of training all the new incoming interns rather than the college students I was working aside, which was really funny. But I think that the owner of the company and the other people in leadership noticed that I had a talent for it. And I was good at teaching others and doing the work that they were asking me to do.

Then after that I had interned with a dance company Shooting Stars New York City that I grew up with — they hold a great place in my heart — I was filming some promotional content for their social media. Then, this past January, I decided I wanted some entrepreneurial experience. So, I would start a company and do the nitty gritty like IRS tax forms, the incorporation in the State of New York forms, and all the small parts of a business. And then I had to market myself to clients and essentially start a functioning business.

I do have a handful of clients, I would say, seven or so at the moment. A few of them I’m still negotiating terms and payments and contracts with. But I have been working with some of my clients since February and have had successful results for the ones I have been working for. So, how did I get these clients? I did research on YouTube and on the internet. The internet is an incredible resource for anyone looking to do anything new. I watched YouTube videos on how to get clients for service-based businesses. And I found that LinkedIn marketing and messaging would be a very effective tool in this sense. What I did is, I would join different groups, like entrepreneurial groups, women in business groups, tech and healthcare, discussion boards, and I would scroll through all the chats and see if any of the people posting businesses or ventures interested me. And when I found someone whose venture did interest me, I would message them either on the website or through LinkedIn and say: ‘Hey, this person, I saw this and I loved it. This is what I do. Could we set up a meeting?’ In that way, I was able to get clients. I will say I am full-time in school as a high school student. So, I am not able to dedicate all my time to this. But part of my goal this summer is expanding the business, servicing more clients, and providing better work for my current clients.

I think that those who give me a chance, those clients get results. And they always take those results seriously. So, I’ve gotten from many people, the clients I do work with, ‘Wow, you’re 16? How did you do that?’ But I don’t think that my age should be a limiting factor in any of my abilities in any way, shape, or form. My results and my work ethic prove that I am a serious person.

Wharton Global Youth: Tell me a little bit about why you think you are good at this. What is it that clicks with you in PR?

Casey: I am a big talker. And at the same time, love using my diction to communicate certain messages. I, for the past six years, have been doing public-forum debate. I’m very used to having short timeframes to give speeches and trying to convince a judge to agree with my side. And one of the big things about debate is you have to take both sides of the debate. So, whether you agree with one side or not, you still have to effectively communicate your ideas and thoughts. I think all that experience has helped me be able to help my clients communicate their purpose and [helped me] communicate with journalists to get them features.

Wharton Global Youth: I’m curious how you walk the line of truth and what we’ll call the dazzle effect as an aspiring PR professional? Creating a positive image for brands sometimes requires spin, right? You need to present this business in a very positive light, even if they may not always be doing very positive things. Would you do this for all clients? What if they take a misstep, for example, that doesn’t align with your own values?

Casey: It is important to note that everyone makes mistakes. PR in many ways is spinning clients’ efforts in positive ways and in a positive light. As a PR professional, I must make situations appear better than they are. But I’m a firm believer in listening to all sides of an argument. And I’m more than willing to work for those I do not completely and undyingly agree with. But at the same time, I hold my morals and would not work for someone who has gone too far and refuses to listen to the other side of it. One of the great things about running my own business is that I have the ability to say no. I would not work to promote certain hateful messages and will stand up for myself, if needed.

I actually have a recent example of this. I had a business meeting with a service that I was looking to hire that helps book potential clients into my schedule. But then, due to cancel culture’s presence in our society, I asked how their service could work for me if I did not want to give them my social media usernames and passwords to message people on my behalf. And the owner immediately responded, who I now respect immensely, [by saying], If I don’t trust him, he does not want to work with me. So like this, I do have that power. And I can say no.

Wharton Global Youth: You’re relatively new to the PR biz. What has it taught you so far about business and people?

Casey: I have two answers to this. First, initiative. If you want something done, you do it. The world is filled with so many distractions. So, I cannot rely on others to hold up their end of the bargain or deal. If I want something, I have to go get it. Second thing is what I’ve learned about myself. I never want to stop learning and surrounding myself in rigorous discourse. Funny story. Through my school, I met a panel of alums who worked in the United States Institute of Peace and similar government entities. And at the end, they asked if anyone had any questions, and I ended up getting into a 15-minute discussion about Great-Power Competition and other U.S. military tactics and policies. To me, having these rigorous conversations makes my day, week, and even month. I love learning overall as a person.

Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all our Future of the Business World guests is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Casey: Access to clean water. I believe that world governments and corporations should come together and make sure that every human being has access. Clean water is the most basic human need and comes from the earth. There’s no reason or excuse why this cannot be done.

Wharton Global Youth: And let’s finish with our lightning-round questions. Try to answer these as quickly as you can.

What is your favorite brand and why?

Casey: Starbucks. I think that they have some of the best marketing plans in history. They took a small coffee shop and transformed it into a global entity.

Wharton Global Youth: Define your own purpose in a sentence.

Casey: I want to make a positive mark in the world. Even if it’s just in the life of one person. I want the world to be a better place because I was in it.

Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?

Casey: I can sing, hula hoop, and dance all at the same time.

Wharton Global Youth: The next thing you hope to learn that you don’t yet know?

Casey: I want to learn more about U.S. history because it teaches us so much about the present, but also more about risky investments.

Wharton Global Youth: Which businessperson would you most like to take to lunch and why?

Casey: I’d like to take Ray Dalio [American investor and hedge fund manager] to lunch. He clearly knows so much about the international economic and political world, and I think could teach me so much.

Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. Casey, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.

Casey: Thank you for having me.


Conversation Starters

Name two ways that Casey Gottlieb has used LinkedIn to her advantage? Are you on LinkedIn? What do you appreciate most about this social media platform?

Casey credits public-forum debate for improving her communication skills and fueling her love of learning. How has debate helped you? If not debate, what school club or activity do you feel is preparing you for the future?

Some might say that the communication Casey champions is somewhat of a dying art. Texting is limiting writing skills and virtual communication requires less face-to-face “rigorous discourse.” How do you feel about the future of communication in all its forms? Do you think these skills are still essential and powerful? How are they changing?

3 comments on “A Competitive Debater and ‘Big Talker’ Finds Her Place in PR

  1. Casey Gottlieb is a shining example of entrepreneurial spirit in action. As a fellow entrepreneur, I find myself resonating with many of her insights, particularly the emphasis she places on initiative, communication, and the relentless hustle required to get a business off the ground.

    The Public Relations (PR) industry, despite its traditional roots, wields immense power. As Casey astutely points out, it can be a force for good or harm. PR can amplify noble causes such as climate reform and climate change awareness, or conversely, it can promote less environmentally friendly actions, like buying a new car that increases carbon dioxide emissions.

    In today’s world, we see the impact of PR in the increasing polarization of our society, a phenomenon partly fueled by PR strategies. PR professionals value the voices and opinions of their clients, striving to portray them in the best light possible, regardless of the moral implications. This is evident in the deepening divide between Republicans and Democrats, where TV campaigns are becoming increasingly polarized, making unity a challenging goal.

    This complexity makes Casey’s job all the more challenging. Yet, she navigates these waters with a commendable spirit and a strong moral compass. Her quote, “I’m a firm believer in listening to all sides of an argument. And I’m more than willing to work for those I do not completely and undyingly agree with. But at the same time, I hold my morals,” encapsulates why she is perfectly suited for her role. She refuses to be swayed by potential clients offering large sums of money to disseminate harmful information. Instead, she stands by her morals, assessing whether the messages she spreads through her social media platforms are beneficial or detrimental to society.

    Casey’s approach to PR is a testament to her integrity and commitment to ethical practices. Her story serves as a reminder that while PR can be a powerful tool, it must be wielded responsibly. As entrepreneurs and business professionals, we must strive to follow her example, using our platforms to promote positive change and uphold our values, even in the face of potential financial gain.

  2. I share Casey’s perspective on the definition of Public Relations (PR) as “the bridge between a business and the public,” and I also coincide with the significance of incorporating this tool into marketing strategies.

    As an enthusiastic K-pop fan, I have personally experienced the powerful impact of public relations in the music industry. The artist Rain’s journey with his song ‘Gang’ left a lasting effect on me.

    When ‘Gang’ was first released in 2017, it encountered mockery and criticism. As someone who genuinely admired Rain as an artist, I was surprised and upset at the same time at the amount of hostility towards the song. That was my initial perception. However, I was met with the least expected outcome three years later.

    In the year of 2020, Rain, determined to make a comeback, executed a PR strategy that highlighted his honesty and integrity. His method was direct engagement with fans through social media. Rain participated in online discussions, communicating and accepting the controversy surrounding his music with humor. I was elated when I saw his witty and genuine responses, which eliminated the initial ridicule and created a public atmosphere of positive curiosity.

    I vividly recall the incrementing excitement when Rain further enhanced his bond with the public. Through interviews, behind-the-scenes videos, and exclusive content, Rain showcased his creative process and the story behind ‘Gang.’ This connection created by his PR strategy allowed the audience to view him as a more amicable individual rather than a distant celebrity.

    As the PR campaign unfolded, I was captivated by the dramatic change in public opinion. The dominant negative thoughts had almost disappeared, now restored instead with a sense of immense admiration and support.

    Witnessing Rain’s story with ‘Gang’ and reflecting on Casey’s perspective on public relations, I was astounded by the ability of PR strategies to reshape public perception. The K-pop artist’s revived career has inspired me to dive deeper into the field of public relations, which is how I ended up on this inspirational article.

    Rain’s story serves as a personal reminder that the power of PR should never be underestimated, and this is not exclusive to the music industry. As Casey has addressed, PR is vital to diverse businesses, and these skills are essential and impactful.

  3. The idea that Casey’s successful business plan in part stems from her experience as a public forum debater particularly resonates with me. Like many people, I was initially always afraid of public speaking. I would become extremely nervous, stutter, and struggle to express my thoughts in a coherent manner. But, in the summer of 2020, I was introduced to the activity of Canadian CNDF-style debate. At first, I was reluctant in participating, shying away from speaking anything more than the bare minimum. But as time progressed, I realized that the critical thinking and logical analysis parts of debate were what intrigued me the most, and speeches were just the vessels for communicating the ideas that I wanted to share. From that point forth, I fully embraced the challenges that came with preparing arguments for a motion, improvising points on the spot, and creating effective lines of questioning that target the weak points of the opponent’s case. I realized that the crucial skills learned in debate had a much wider spread impact than just in the auditorium, so, much like Casey’s business, I also applied my skills and took on the role of an outreach and marketing director for a variety of non-profits that I was passionate about. The role of outreach and public relations is often the most delicate yet overlooked position in most organizations, so I took it upon myself to promote the important causes of helping less-fortunate children with free tutoring, for example. In the end, I have come to appreciate the valuable skillset that debate has equipped me with, which provided me with the opportunity to give back to the community in the form of outreach and PR, very similar to the story of Casey.

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