One experience that drove Sharon Páez to found Potomac Waves Media: her work with a campaign that treated African-American outreach as an afterthought, allocating just a small budget in the final days of a race.
“It was very much done 10 days before Election Day and when it was done, the creative just wasn’t good,” Páez said in a recent interview with C&E. “The messaging, I didn’t think, was clear. It was one of those things that just stayed with me and bothered me. So I thought, I’m going to do this myself because there weren’t any other firms that were focusing on such an important community and voting bloc.”
In the 13 years since, Potomac Waves has grown both its client list and its services, now specializing in outreach to Black voters, Hispanics, the AAPI community and indigenous communities. In addition to radio, the firm does TV, print, and digital ad creative and placement.
In the early going, generating business wasn’t easy given that campaigns weren’t as willing to spend resources targeting multicultural communities. The buys that Páez did end up making for clients in the early days of the firm tended to be small and, at best, two to four weeks out from Election Day. And while it’s taken more than one cycle for a shift to occur, Páez said she’s hopeful most campaigns now understand the need to allocate enough resources and enough time to engage minority voters.
“Everyone is listening now. They’re making a commitment to reach these communities,” said Páez. “It was a little disappointing that it took some tragedy and racial and social injustices that have been happening, that are still happening, for businesses and campaigns on both sides of the aisle to really commit to reaching our communities.”
The importance of having culturally competent strategists at the decision-making table is also part of what drove Páez and other partners to form Shatter, LLC last cycle — a collaborative of women-owned firms offering services that range from direct mail and phones to field and digital.
For those looking to make the jump from staffer or strategist to political business owner, Páez said don’t skimp on branding or legal advice. When Potomac Waves first launched, the branding and website was done entirely in-house, and while that produced a website and branding package that did the job at the time, it needed to evolve as the firm and its offerings grew. In today’s environment, investing resources in that package from the start is a worthwhile investment.
“Now that I have so many cycles under my belt and so many things that we’ve achieved — with that comes confidence,” said Páez. “I think out of the gate for a younger firm, [it’s important] to be aggressive, be very persistent, and eventually good things will start unfolding.”
As for business development in the early stages of a firm, Páez advised firm owners to set their sights high, even as they cultivate relationships with down-ballot clients and state and local party organizations.
“Go after the bigger committees and initiatives that you know issue RFPs,” she said. “You know that a year out, they’re going to be looking for vendors whether you’re doing media or phones or texting or mail. So you want to introduce yourself to that committee [and let them know] you want to be on the list when that RFP is issued.”