By Oscar Wolfe
She started a public relations business at 22, represents four NFL players, works with Sphero’s BB-8, and has a ridiculously cute chihuahua named Lilly. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s Alexis Walsko. She leads an extremely interesting and constantly changing life while at the same time leading her PR firm, Lola Red. I’ve known Alexis since I was little because my mom used to do her radio show with her, and they’re still good friends. So I kind of knew what she did, but not really. Because of that, I learned a lot from this interview. I hope you do, too. Enjoy.
Can you explain what Lola Red does?
We place earned media stories. So, you know the stuff your mom writes? I work for companies that want your mom to write about them. I tell them what I think a reporter might be interested in, what would be their most interesting news angle. It’s different from advertising because in advertising, you put together all of your messages and say, “Buy Pepsi! It’s so delicious. It’s the best drink on earth.” In advertising, you can kind of say anything you want. In PR, we say, “Pepsi is great because the can has a beautiful design and the taste is great.” But we can’t control the message.
I think comedic ads are the best. Medicine is extremely boring. They show people who are obviously being told to smile and they never laugh. Basically, if it isn’t funny, it’s boring. So what’s your favorite ad?
I have a favorite ad right now. I think it’s for Chevy. They say, we’re going to tell you about this car, and you respond with an emoji that goes up on a screen. I don’t know why I like it, but the car seems like a great deal. And the people responding are youthful, they look fun. I felt like I identified with them, and with that way of communicating.
My favorite ad right now has four criminals trying to escape in a red Prius and everybody has a red Prius.
So if I had Prius for a client, I wouldn’t be making a commercial. I would take that red Prius to a cool blogger or a prominent YouTube person, and I’d say, do you want to take a ride in this Prius? If you want to see everything it can do, we can take you to a test track so you can go drive this red Prius at 100 miles an hour. Or I’d say, we can let you have the car for a week and you can drive it around and tell us what you think about it.
So of all the possible things you could do, why PR?
That’s a good question. I’m not really good at anything else! I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be in business for myself. How I learned PR: I had an internship in college with a skincare company and when I showed up, they didn’t need a business plan or a marketing plan. They wanted to get in magazines and they wanted to get on The Oprah Winfrey Show. So, since I’m a do-er and I like challenges, I figured out how to get them what they wanted. So I taught myself how to do pr.
You got them on the Oprah Show?
I did not get them on Oprah which is very unfortunate, but I did get them in O magazine.
That’s pretty good!
Seems pretty solid.
You said you got your start as an intern…what makes a great intern?
I think hustle makes a great intern. A desire to learn and improve, to be part of a company and make a difference. Our two key leaders today started as interns. They’ve been here six and seven years. I started Lola Red when I was 22. Our key leadership is all under 30—except for me. I think that shows that anything is possible.
How do you even begin to start your own business?
I’m just personally really driven. I really love business. I knew from probably the age of 8 that I wanted to do something to work for myself. When I was little and had friends that would make art, I asked my dad to build a little shack so I could sell my friends’ artwork.
Did he do it?
What did you study in school?
I majored in business administration with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship. When I was in college, I wrote probably 15 business plans. I had a core group of teachers and I had to go and defend each business to them.
What’s next for your business?
We are launching another piece of Lola Red called Lola Pro. We are starting to represent professional athletes. We currently represent four players in the NFL. What we do is help them to build their brand. We learn about them—what they like, what’s important. Then we develop a social media campaign and a marketing campaign. And we look for companies that we think would be fun for them to partner with. Something we recently did for Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings when he found out his wife was expecting twins, we helped him make the announcement by throwing out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins game.
Are you a big sports fan?
Yes, but I don’t specifically follow teams. I like the production of sports. I think it’s cool to watch sports on television —there’s always action, they have good commercials, I like the graphics on the screen. It keeps me entertained. I like to go to sports games—specifically, Minnesota Twins games. I like to see everything going on. For me, it isn’t necessarily about winning or losing, it’s about recreation. Something I enjoy doing. The sports business is hard. The players we represent work really hard. I feel like I can bring my expertise in PR and business to their world.
What about Happy Smile Good?
I like to think of it as a movement. I want to spread cheer and happiness and just goodwill amongst people. I also believe that when I wear a shirt that says Happy Smile Good, everybody that passes me smiles. Maybe I’m smiling too. Right now, it lives as clothing and accessories—blankets, backpacks available at Creative Kidstuff.
What’s the best part of PR?
Impacting other businesses. And working with our team here. They’re really cool and really funny and it’s really fun. So I like showing up at work, it’s like playing with friends.
I’d like a job like that! So where’d you come up with the name Lola Red?
I was driving to a job I hated and thinking about things I love. I love Madonna. Her daughter is Lourdes, and they call her Lola. And my favorite color then was red. I put the two together.
You said red was your favorite color then. What’s your favorite color now?
So what advice would you have for someone that wants to start a business?
Ask yourself why you’re starting it. Determine your goals. Determine your expertise. And then also decide when you’re going to get out of business. What’s the end game.
You want to get out of business?
You know what’s really fun in my job today? We’ve worked on the roles we want to have in the business. Come next March, I will move into the role I want, and it’s not managing accountants and talking to lawyers all day. It’s purely showing up and providing vision. That’s my end game.