3 Things Triathlons Taught Me About Running My PR Business

I started my PR firm in 1992. At the time, I knew nothing about running a business — nothing about bookkeeping, hiring staff, preparing contracts or writing proposals for new clients. I had to learn all these skills while I serviced my clients.

More than 20 years after I started my business, I decided to incorporate exercise into my life. I started with running, which then morphed into triathlons. I’ve been competing in triathlons since 2014.

When I signed up for the New York City Triathlon in 2016, I felt out of my element. An Olympic-distance event, requires athletes to swim nearly a mile, bike 26 miles and then run a 10K. I was extremely nervous about jumping into the Hudson River. I also didn’t think I could bike it up the hills of the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Several weeks before the race, I went to breakfast with one of my PR clients.

“What are you worried about, Hilary?” she said. “You’ve jumped in water before and you climb hills in your business every day.”

Her comments put things into perspective for me. She was right. I jump in water every day and I climb hills constantly. What was I afraid of?

In this “aha” moment, I realized that participating in a triathlon is like running a business. In my new book, “From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete – A Portrait of a Non-Athletic Triathlete,” I bring together all the lessons I’ve learned, including how my business has evolved since I started running and participating in triathlons. The book also includes what I’ve learned in my personal life.

Here are three lessons from the book that apply to business:

Lesson 1: If you want to make a change, start today.

Don’t let the voices in your head bring you down or tell you that you aren’t worthy enough. If you put your mind to it, then you can achieve your goal. Take a small step and accomplish that first. Slowly build up each week until you reach your goal. Don’t wait until tomorrow; start today.

Although I wrote this for a triathlon, the advice also applies to starting a PR business.

When I worked at Ogilvy & Mather PR in 1984, I knew that I wanted to start my own business. I learned everything I could from my experience there and later worked at Ruder Finn/PR and Hill, Holliday/PR. The more I learned, the more I knew I would be able to start my own business.

The only things stopping me were my own inhibitions. I didn’t feel I was good or worthy enough to start a business. I went back to school and earned my master’s degree. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I knew the time was right to start my business. So I went for it.

Lesson 2: Life is a series of curve balls.

Try to go with the flow and, if something drastic happens, remember that this is just a moment in time. You will get through it. No one is spared in this world. There are always positives to every negative situation… Lean on your support system. And if you don’t have a support system, then seek out help. You will get through it.

Being in business for more than 30 years has thrown me lots of curve balls. Things happen that are out of your control. Just keep going. Don’t let setbacks bring you down.

If you find your business is suffering, remember the situation is temporary. Keep hustling. If you need support, then coaches and groups can help you grow. Let people in.

Lesson 3: When things don’t go how you expect, be flexible and reinvent the situation.

When my business went through a downturn in 2008, I wrote my first book: “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media.” After the book was published, my business soared again.

I tried to replicate that experience in 2019 with my book “Branding in a Digital World.” Unfortunately, the timing was off this time. The book was released in January 2020, right before COVID shut down the world. I knew there was a reason for the setback to my business. I didn’t let it defeat me.

During the pandemic, I started a virtual networking group, which helped our business significantly. When times get tough, don’t stress that things are terrible. Fortunes turn around. Be flexible and look at the big picture.

I never thought that competing in a triathlon would compare to running a PR business, but it does in more ways than you can imagine. If you’re patient, and persistent with your training and your business and continue to educate yourself, then you will cross that finish line.


Hilary JM Topper, MPA, is CEO of HJMT Public Relations Inc. in New York, an award-winning firm in business for more than 30 years. Her new book, “From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete — A Portrait of a Non-Athletic Triathlete,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

[Photo credit: yingyaipumi]

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