This post is part of a series of first-person Q&As with WeddingPro Educators to find out how they went about building their brands and businesses–from their big goals to top takeaways.
Today, it’s with Aleah Valley. She’s the co-owner of Valley & Co. Events, a Seattle, Washington-based planning, design and floral company. Aleah and her husband Nick Valley started the business 17 years ago right out of college.
From their reputation for throwing parties in college (a 1,000-person Hawaiian birthday party with a door guy for one) becoming published book authors, Pottery Barn wedding experts and featured in dozens of national publications, they have built an incredible business.
Great press hits have been a big part of that success. Aleah’s biggest piece of advice? Figure out who you really are as a brand and business and then connect with publications and partners who can help you amplify that message.
WeddingPro: You’ve never lived in New York yet you have great relationships with editors there and you’ve been featured in just about every publication — weddings and home. How did you start getting featured in the first place?
Aleah: Our press presence really started to take off back in 2009-2010. We embraced all of the newest social channels (several in beta mode) and stayed super active online. We did everything from Twitter chats to Pinterest board partnerships and blogging. Our first big feature was a 2-page spread in Sunset Magazine really happened because we had connected with the editor via Twitter and formed a relationship with her.
WeddingPro: Okay so what you’re saying is that you used your network and social media as a way to connect with editors and potential partners. Which ones did you target and why?
Aleah: We targeted publications that we loved and ones that aligned with our brand. We didn’t waste our time with brands or pubs that weren’t our style. It really helped save a lot of time to just go after brands that reflected our style. And once we did have someone in mind, we would ask ourselves: What is it that they need? And how can we increase our exposure?
WeddingPro: How did you go about getting their attention and pitching?
Aleah: We would get to know them. Either we would follow them online and engage with them by commenting on their posts on social. Or, we might find a connection through our network and establish the relationship that way. Once they got to understanding that we knew what we were talking about, then they would eventually reach out. I still connect with publications and potential partners in the same way today. For example, I might go on LinkedIn and find a mutual friend or reconnect with someone I went to college with.
WeddingPro: How did you get featured so often? Were you just constantly reaching out?
Aleah: I think it’s because we were always very quick to respond to requests. An editor would email us and within minutes, we would reply back saying “Yes! We’re in! ”
And we would not only provide them what they asked for but we would also offer them more than what they asked for if we felt it made sense. Once an editor realized that we were reliable and responsive, they would just continue to tap us for more.
WeddingPro: How many times do you have to pitch an idea to a publication in order to get picked up?
Aleah: I work all the time on our PR, ideas and pitching and we still don’t get responses from editors every time. For every 5-10 ideas we put out there, if one or two hit, that’s success in today’s market. And really this goes for clients as well. We will pitch our clients new ideas if we see a gap in what they’re doing and it gets us new business. With all of it, it’s a matter of understanding who you’re trying to target and then pitching them ideas that work for them, whether it’s an article or planning a pop-up dinner with a publication.
WeddingPro: Any mistakes to avoid when thinking about press?
Aleah: Stay true to who you are as a brand and stay on message. Don’t get swooped up in a piece just for the sake of press. For example, we were asked to contribute to a piece about what trends we thought should go away. While I get that that’s a good headline, I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So in that case, I would answer it with a positive twist. In some cases, you have to just decline to comment. Ultimately think about the message that you’re trying to relay. For us, it’s all about storytelling and our couples.
WeddingPro: Why did you want to do a book? What was the goal?
Aleah: I have always loved books and in fact had created the book outline and framework way back in 2004 just after getting married (though it looked quite different from Storied Weddings). We wanted it to really be helpful. Not a look-book. And we thought if we’re only going to get to do one book, then we wanted to create something that someone could really glean information from. And we wanted it to be for anyone so we purposefully didn’t fill the book up with references to just the bride or just the groom. We wanted it to be helpful to parents, wedding pros and anyone who picked it up.
WeddingPro: Talk about how you first pitched your book.
Aleah: Well the book deal didn’t happen until 2017 but we really started pitching publishers back in 2012 and 2013. At the time we had a few ideas and we were in talks with two publishing houses. We had this idea to do a big entertaining book and a big wedding book. One publisher really wanted it to be very different than what we had in mind. The other was interested in making something happen but we just never felt right with the terms. So we walked away from both and waited.
WeddingPro: So then how did it come to be?
Aleah: From there, we refined our brand and what we really wanted to do. We decided to focus on weddings, because that was our bread and butter and what would be most compelling. In 2017, we connected with a publisher on social media and started a conversation. They eventually asked us if we had ever thought about a wedding book. At the time, I had a fresh, new framework for a book. I sent her the outline for Storied Weddings and we had a phone call to talk through it. About 12 hours later, she called and left a message and said “I want to offer you a book deal.” They didn’t ask us to change one single chapter or one iota of the layout. They gave us carte blanche and really trusted us and our vision and let us use our expertise and experience in doing editorial content to create the book. It was the perfect fit.
WeddingPro: How do you think book publishing has helped your business?
Aleah: It hasn’t made us $1 million dollars but it’s really become a calling card for us that’s enhanced our brand. If a couple or corporation is looking at us, they not only see all of the places we’ve been featured, they see that we have a book. That establishes us and sort of makes us feel like veterans. It also helps others understand that we really care about what we do.
WeddingPro: What would you say to someone thinking about writing their own book?
Aleah: Having a very clear vision of what you want to be known for and what you want to put out there is huge. For us, it was storytelling. We wanted it to be about our couples and their stories, not about us. Owning that and then establishing clear boundaries around that will help you to not waste time with publishing houses and publications.
WeddingPro: Any parting words of advice?
Aleah: In this industry, everyone is so creative. And everyone really truly is so different. So don’t try to be someone else. It might take a dozen tries to reach out and even get a response — and that still happens to us.
Just know that there is definitely a right person and a right publisher for you and your idea. But really understanding and honing in on you is what makes the difference. It’s really easy to get overloaded and overwhelmed thinking that you have to be everywhere and everything to everyone. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about getting your message out and connecting with partners who can bring that message to life.
About the author: Anja Winikka is the former editor of TheKnot.com and The Knot Magazines turned educator and contributing editor @WeddingPro. She’s on a mission to help creatives, community leaders, and wedding businesses own their stories and tell the world about it (follow along via Instagram @anjawinikka).