Owning and operating her own public relations firm is both rewarding and challenging in meeting her clients’ needs, said Ari Washington. “I’m a woman-owned agency since 2011. Running a business period is hard, even more so on the PR side,” noted Washington of her Atlanta-based Double Coverage PR Group. “But as a woman, you are a brand yourself. You got to watch everything that you are doing.
“I started my firm when I was 22 years old” and barely a college graduate, said Washington, a 2011 Michigan State University graduate. Through her intern stints with two NBA teams, a minor league hockey club, and working in the MSU men’s basketball office as an assistant for Head Coach Tom Izzo, she gained invaluable experience and forged important connections She soon realized that running her own program is far better than being a part of someone else’s.
“When I read through contracts…[employers] want me to go out, recruit the client, pick the client, and do all the work, but I got to give you a percentage of it,” she recalled. “If these big agencies have the confidence to hire me, why not do it my way?”
Washington’s clients over the years include NBA, NFL, MLB and MLS players. At first, she did “a lot of stuff…pro bono. I was charging the guys nothing, just [getting] my name out there,” because a lot of PR is about word-of-mouth, she said.
“I’m not an agent. I’m a publicist,” she explained. Among her services are event planning, crisis communications and management, public affairs, public appearances and media relations.
You can add social media to that list as well, as pro athletes use them for their promotional means, Washington said. “That’s a challenge for anybody, not just athletes. I tell my clients if you don’t want your parents to read it, don’t tweet it. If you don’t want your parents to see it, don’t tweet it.”
She wouldn’t speculate just how many women-owned PR firms are out there, but she assured us that more than one are working with MLB, unlike falsely reported in a recent ESPN interview with a female agent in recognizing Women’s History Month. “I know that there are women agents in MLB that have their own agencies,” said Washington. “I had a problem with [ESPN] not fact-checking.
“I personally know of five Black women in MLB that are either agents or, like myself, do PR and marketing for athletes and not necessarily working for a team,” she continued. “We’re a minority in baseball. There’s not a lot of us.”
Operating her Double Coverage firm these days under pandemic conditions is challenging as well. “You have to be more creative,” said Washington.
Nonetheless, she is looking to expand her business. “We are in the midst right now [of starting] a WNBA and WNSL department. Last year I think a lot of women athletes in both the WNBA and WNSL spoke out a lot about things they are passionate about.
“I think it is important for these women to get their stories told,” said Washington. “We are definitely interested in bringing on women as clients.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.