Many industries ground to a halt as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation and world. Not so for Alana Kohl, whose AdvisorPR firm kicked into high gear.
“Whenever there is chaos in the economy or financial markets, people have questions as it relates to their finances,” Kohl said. “When people have questions or concerns, that’s when we get busy. COVID was no different.
“Obviously, no one really understood what was going on or how to respond — and the media had questions for advisers too, so we spent a lot of time navigating the conversations with media and clients alike. There wasn’t much slowdown for AdvisorPR.”
Kohl spent 16 years building her firm, which specializes in the financial industry. Recently, it was acquired by JConnelly, a PR firm headquartered in New York with offices in New Jersey and Chicago, and satellite locations in Washington, D.C., and Florida — and now Las Vegas.
Together, they’ve become an end-to-end service provider for multinational corporations and fintech companies through to the individual financial professional who uses or represents these financial products with the retail customer.
Why specialize in the financial industry? Where did that focus come from?
It really found me. I began in the hospitality industry while in college and shortly after I graduated, I joined the PR and advertising department at Caesars Palace and later, Park Place Entertainment. In 2003, I had the opportunity to move to Nashville and join the hospitality industry there. The Iraq War started in March of that year while en route to Nashville and a hiring freeze was immediately put into place. I had to pivot and eventually took a position with a financial services organization. Although young at the time, I had the experience of PR and advertising with a Fortune 500 company, and was able to apply that experience to this small business. While there, I served as the PR and advertising director, and the company grew roughly twelvefold in gross sales in 18 months.
As much as I liked Nashville, it wasn’t Vegas and wasn’t the same for women in business. I decided to move back and start consulting while I found my next role. What I hadn’t expected is word of my departure getting out so quickly, and the amount of phone calls on my drive back to Vegas from my former firm’s competitors and their affiliated financial advisers. By the time I arrived back in Vegas, I almost had a full book of business, so I decided to give entrepreneurship a go. And here we are 16-plus years later.
Tell us about a success story you’ve had with a client.
Most recently, we represented who The Wall Street Journal considers the nation’s “best source on IRA advice,” Ed Slott, CPA, as the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act was coming to light last year. As with any new legislation, it can be confusing to understand exactly what it all meant — for financial advisers and consumers. With the goal of clarifying the impact of the CARES Act as quickly as possible, and with Slott’s expertise, we were able to secure interviews on the topic with some of the largest national media outlets, including USA Today, Kiplinger’s, Barron’s, CNBC, Morningstar, MarketWatch, Reuters, Yahoo Finance and more within the first few weeks, racking up more than 300 million impressions. This is an example of what we’re doing behind scenes to help people obtain the information they need to make informed financial decisions in a timely manner.
What predictions can you make for the next year or two in the world of finance?
The financial industry is cyclical. It’s somewhat of a seesaw — what goes up, goes down and what goes down, goes up. I can tell you when the market or legislature changes, people have questions. And when things are status quo, they don’t.
With a new administration and their docket for legislative changes, I would anticipate financial topics staying front and center in media for the next few years.
Also, because of the pandemic, the country had to adapt to technology solutions at a record pace in order to “meet” with people; whether it’s across the street, town or country, Zoom and related technologies allow people to connect more conveniently than ever before. It’s become an environment where it’s now “advisers without boarders,” and consumers have many more options to choose the right financial professional for them. This even applies to media — financial experts no longer have to go into a studio to conduct a news interview; they can provide reporters financial information quickly from their computer in the comfort of their own office. I think our quick adaption to technology being an acceptable form for meeting and sharing information is certainly here to stay.
What is the best business advice you’ve received, and whom did it come from?
There are three that stand out to me:
1. “No one cares how you feel, they only care how you perform.” I realize this is a harsh statement, but in full disclosure, this came from a coach of a boxing class I used to attend. It’s helped to remind me to compartmentalize my work life from my personal life. Business is business and tough days should have no impact on your personal life; conversely, when you’re at work, focus on work and don’t let personal circumstances impact how you perform your job.
2. “You didn’t come this far to only come this far.” I don’t know where I heard this one originally, but it was a constant reminder that you have to evolve and grow your services to stay relevant and competitive, and once you hit one goal, go on to the next.
3. “Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.” This came from my dad before I even had entrepreneurship on my radar, but it’s a good lesson and reminder that although everything is crazy all the time, you sometimes need to push pause and see what you can do to improve your situation. Whether it’s creating more efficiencies through processes or technology, or analyzing the data to make sure you’re putting time in the rights areas, you’ll never improve if you always just go, go, go!
Is there some business decision you’d like to have back and do differently?
Yes. Early on, I tried to be good at all things. From billing to PR and HR and sales and copywriting and brand strategy and so on. It’s not realistic to be all things to all people, and if I had to do it again, I would have hired my operations manager much earlier so I could have focused more on the things that I’m good at. I would have also learned that it’s OK to say no to projects that didn’t align with our goals or expertise.
What’s the biggest issue facing Southern Nevada?
The school system, by far. I don’t understand how we consistently rank at the bottom in overall education. That has an impact on the types of industries that will come to Las Vegas. We have such a friendly business environment, but if larger tech or health care companies can’t source talent locally, Las Vegas won’t be on their radar. This all starts with the school system and making sure that all students get the education they need to be able to compete.
What are you reading right now? Or binge-watching?
When the pandemic started, I decided to be “more productive” with my free time. Netflix used to be a favorite pastime, but I opted to take that time and energy to read instead. Before March of 2020, I hadn’t read a fiction book since before I started the company. I joined the “book of the month club” and got caught up on great literature that published over the past 15 years or so. Right now, I’m catching up on my pile of books (I had to put them down when I started the transition to JConnelly), but definitely favor the suspense/thriller genre.
What do you do after work or on weekends?
I’m a true soccer mom these days with my son playing club soccer. He has a “nuclear foot” so it’s fun to watch him doing something he loves. My daughter is big into theater and music. Before it was put on pause due to COVID-19, she was cast as Jane Banks in the Super Summer Theater production of Mary Poppins. She sings around town whenever she can, most often at First Fridays where locals like Imagine Dragons and Panic at the Disco got their starts. She has an incredible voice for an 11-year-old, so whenever she gets a call to do the national anthem, or warm up the crowd at a fundraiser, we’re there.
What is your dream job, outside of your current field? Why?
I picked my college major at the age of 13 and never changed my mind, although I’ve picked up other related skill sets along the way. In truth, my dream job is the ability to do what I love while being able to support and be there for my family to do what they love to do too.
Whom do you admire and why?
It’s not a person, per se, but rather a mindset. Those who want to create or build something, and then go out and actually do it. No excuses. Simply starting with a good idea and applying hard work and dedication to see it to fruition. I love good success stories and always root for the underdog or budding entrepreneur. It’s people like this who have made America what it is today.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I’m the oldest of four kids and was raised in a military family. My dad eventually retired as a colonel from the Air Force and my brother and younger sister both followed in his footsteps. My sister is a pilot in the Air Force now. I started school in Europe at a German kindergarten at the age of 4. I used to translate German for my family when out and about. Because of this, I was always a year younger than my class growing up. By the time I graduated from high school, I had already lived in South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Germany, Virginia, Utah again and Nevada.