Lead by Example While Changing the Game: Karen Hansen Tells All

Girl working in office

MP recently sat down with Karen Hansen, President and Founder of Bullseye Communications. She is a passionate and purpose-driven communications practitioner who believes in creating and fostering collaborative and dynamic public relations campaigns. Her background includes more than 20 years of professional publicity, talent relations, event management, and corporate communications experience in the arts & entertainment, media, hospitality, sports, and travel industries. Her PR agency works with many household names to impact consumer awareness and the perception of its client’s brands.

Before launching Bullseye Communications, Hansen spent many years in corporate environments, learning what worked and what didn’t work. She led communications teams at Travel Channel and Scripps Networks and worked in publicity at Discovery Communications, PBS, etc. As a publicity neophyte, she began her career at Walt Disney World, cementing her love for media relations and the Disney brand.

Her corporate roles and the teams she worked with were invaluable in teaching her how to handle high-stakes campaigns. She has been afforded opportunities to travel the world with those brands promoting various priorities. From managing red carpet events at The GRAMMYs and Emmy® Awards, planning media kick-off parties at the Playboy Mansion, handling live remote national media in the middle of the Caribbean, to wrangling press and talent during a safari in a private reserve in South Africa, she’s done it all.

MP: What is Bullseye Communications, and what makes it unique?

KH: I lead an incredibly talented and diverse team of professionals with deep experience in public relations, media relations, talent relations, event management, internal communications, and corporate communications. Bullseye’s portfolio spans the arts & entertainment, media, sports, hospitality, and travel industries. Our differentiator is how we structure our accounts to offer specialties in different types of communications expertise specific to project and client needs. 

Our agency values our clients. We see them as more than accounts, but rather as an extension of our team – as partners. This mindset allows our strategic communicators to implement and execute top-notch, traditional, digital, social, and earned media campaigns.

Why did you start Bullseye Communications?

After spending the first decade of my career “in-house,” the time was right to leverage my corporate expertise and bring together the brightest executives in the business. My primary objective in launching the agency was to establish a positive and collaborative environment where people and results are the most valued commodity.

As a working mother – especially during the pandemic – corporate politics and unproductive meetings are not welcome in our culture. Our team has created a battle rhythm that embraces flexibility while simultaneously delivering impeccable results to our wide array of top-tier entertainment and lifestyle clients.

Bullseye Communications has helped some of the world’s largest and most recognizable brands succeed. What was the journey like getting to this point?

As my priorities began to shift, I felt called to take on the next challenge in my career by building a dynamic agency free of corporate chaos. The start of the journey was thrilling, albeit risky. Thankfully, leveraging my decade-long business expertise in networking and building relationships has proven successful. Treating each client as a partner and prioritizing every account regardless of company size or profile allows our agency to keep growing.   

Approaching every day with a positive mindset and personal investment in the work has resulted in business growth for our clients, mutual admiration, and long-term partnerships. We are honored our clients entrust us to help elevate their brand.

Karen hansen of Bullseye Communications
Karen Hansen, Founder of Bullseye Communication / Photo courtesy of Karen Hansen

When did you first want to follow an entrepreneurial path, and why?

Throughout my professional journey, I knew I wanted to grow my career and reach the ranks of a C-suite communications executive. Despite career ascension in traditional corporate jobs, eventually, I set out to create something different with my PR agency. This is more rewarding than I could have envisioned, as we work across various industries on high-level accounts and deliver big agency results with the personalization of a close-knit team.

Running an agency isn’t easy. What’s your typical day look like, and how do you manage your work-life balance?

There is never a dull day! The spiciest stories are probably best to be kept to myself for a good publicist always uses discretion. How’s this for recent things said on a media tour?

“The parachute team is free to jump on my count down.”

“Where is the mountain lion? We are going live in two.”

“You will take turns eating the fried crickets with the show host.”

“The Generals have landed on the helipad.”

“We need the four-person bobsled on stage.”

The public side to this business can seem glamorous, which inevitably sparks interest. To those in media relations, we know firsthand the dedication it takes and that red carpets, fashion shoots, lavish media parties, exotic press tours, and celebrity wrangling are truly a small piece of the overall work.

Before the pandemic, I was often intensely traveling for work. With the shift in how businesses can connect, we are gifted more time to focus on delivering that work: email, writing plans, strategy reviews, executive remarks, and more. Often, I field new business calls and meetings with prospective clients to get a strong sense of their priorities and how our team could assist with their goals. I also oversee activation plans, manage my team, lead communications workshops or any other client engagement that arises.

As a leader, what are your five greatest fears, and how do you manage those fears?

Client Success

One of my primary objectives is to achieve desired client results. As earned media coverage is the currency of public relations, there is sometimes anxiety on elements we cannot control: the current news cycle, editorial shifts, breaking news, and more. We are in frequent contact with our clients to help take advantage of news cycles and ultimately advise on how we can achieve the best results for their campaign.

Decision Impact

As a business owner, you are the sole decision-maker. Often, I am faced with making difficult choices – whether staffing or client-related – and I know the final choice will have a great and lasting impact on the business, brands, and people involved. Approaching each decision with an open mind and a calm headspace ensures I am focused on what’s best for the business with the outcomes.

Team Balance

Creating an autonomous team requires faith and trust, as well as a willingness to not micro-manage. Giving the leaders on my team the leeway to execute to the best of their ability – even when I may have a different approach – is challenging. However, it is one of my daily goals to allow my team to grow, develop and strengthen their skills.

Crippling Crisis

Managing high-profile media campaigns is exhilarating, but it is also nerve-wracking. One unpredictable negative outcome can adversely affect a long-planned campaign. This is one of my biggest consternations, especially since I’ve worked so hard to build the agency to where it is today.

Taking Time

I’m always chasing the never-ending goal of giving 100 percent to both professional and personal commitments. Sometimes, there doesn’t feel like enough hours in the day to prioritize my well-being despite preaching that is essential for my team. The best and most effective leaders are the ones who take some time to center themselves. With such an intense work ethic, it’s a work in progress to carve out time pockets.

Flat young woman and man team at work on design project. Concept businessman and businesswoman employee characters with professional equipment.
Concept of a creative team working on design / Envato Elements

What are five obstacles you’ve faced while growing Bullseye Communications, and how have you overcome them?

Rapid Growth

When I established Bullseye Communications, I committed to give each client personal and individual attention. We’ve been fortunate to grow and maintain our client base throughout the years, but there have been pockets of time when achieving this core value was challenging. It’s a natural problem: How does one balance growing the business with running it? As we continue to grow, I’ve identified a leadership team that embraces and delivers our agency’s guiding principle – the “personal touch” – to each client. As the business has grown, we’ve made room for additional headcount in back-office administrative capacities that have allowed our publicity and communications professionals to focus on what they do best. Regardless of support, running a business is all-consuming, so any entrepreneur needs to be prepared for that reality.

Cultural Fit

Creating a team dedicated to the core values and mission of the agency is paramount. I’ve seen instances across my career where people were part of a team that was not a good cultural fit and have noticed the compounding negative effects. For this reason, I spend an excessive amount of time networking and getting to know candidates before I entrust them with Bullseye Communications responsibilities. 

Evolving Marketplace

The media industry is changing quickly. Addressing the various platforms – traditional, digital, and social – while simultaneously managing shifting client needs. Developing and implementing agile best practices is how our agency adapts and redirects our efforts.

Pandemic Business

Like many small businesses, the pandemic has affected our agency. With a roster of clients across the arts, entertainment, sports, hospitality, and travel, the 2020 lockdown and ongoing social distancing measures – while necessary – resulted in some clients postponing their campaigns. While most campaigns have since resumed, travel is still at a minimum, and we’ve found ways to make certain elements virtual in an engaging way. We partnered with each client to meet their needs and pivot smartly to attract media coverage.

Personality Adaptiveness

Learning to work with a wide range of personalities, executives, talent, teammates, and athletes requires a certain emotional IQ to understand the most effective way to communicate with everyone. We work to learn our client’s businesses as much as the personalities at play so we can mold our style to maximize results.

What are five pieces of advice you can share with people looking to become effective leaders in their businesses, and why?

Know Thyself

To be an effective leader, it is essential to truly know who you are. Take stock and self-reflect. What empowers and motivates you? Once you are aware of your strengths and growth areas, you can better lead and encourage others.

Be Compassionate

Feedback is critical in running a business or managing a team. It is essential to exercise compassion and understanding when nurturing your team and managing client relations.  

Walk the Talk

The adage “actions speak louder than words” is tried and true. Be someone others can respect and emulate.

Mutual Respect

Valuing one for who they are and what they contribute is vital in leadership. Acknowledge and recognize each team member’s distinctive contributions and embrace diversity and differences.

Trust Yourself

Learn what you’re good at and follow that path. Learn what you’re not good at and lean on others. Once you’re far enough along in your career to determine those things, you can trust your instincts, and others will follow.

Flat young men with beard and movies shooting equipment.
Concept of a creative team filming on set / Envato Elements

What do you believe it takes to become the most effective leader who inspires those you lead, develops meaningful relationships with external stakeholders, and empowers everyone to achieve more?

“Pressure is a privilege.”

This is my mantra.

The demand for my time – be it with my senior leadership, a team member, a client, a journalist, talent, or anyone else – is ever-present. There is not a day where I’m not needed urgently to problem solve at the moment. That said, I believe it is a privilege to be so innately trusted by so many.

As a leader and a business owner, I strive to create a collaborative and positive environment that treats everyone – staff, clients, and key stakeholders – with respect and understanding. There is great empowerment in honoring and valuing each other.

What five questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture, and why?

Do I have the personal commitment and capital to start a business?

There is a lot of personal and professional sacrifice when launching a business. Be sure to assess your investment before pursuing a new venture.

Do I have the necessary tools to launch a new business?

Before establishing your client base, identify the tools, systems, and staffing required to execute projects successfully. If these aren’t established in advance, it may be challenging to achieve desired results.

Am I passionate about the service or product I am selling?

This is key. It will show if you aren’t truly excited about the service or product you plan to sell. Clients are looking for authenticity and expertise when securing external support. Make sure you love what you do before you do it.

Is there a demand in the marketplace for my business?

Is there a need for your business in the marketplace or your community? If there is, starting a new business is a smart endeavor. If the need isn’t present, you may want to re-evaluate to ensure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.

Is there competition in the marketplace?

Is your business, good, or service oversaturating the marketplace? If this is the case, re-evaluating your offering is essential. Breaking through a crowded marketplace is difficult and requires a promotional expense many new businesses aren’t equipped to handle. Unless you have a unique business proposition or an innovative product, it can create challenges.

Not every business relationship works out well. What are three ways newer entrepreneurs can learn from their failed business relationships and move forward more productively?

Align Objectives

Before entering a new business relationship, evaluate if your goals and objectives align with the client’s. Addressing the priorities will set both your team and the client up for success.

Manage Expectations

Your business was secured because of your expertise. In addition to aligning campaign or project objectives, make sure to also manage client expectations and bring to the table potential challenges and solutions.  

Support Your Team

It is easy to give in to client demands – even when they are off-base or incorrect in their assessments. One of the best things you can do is to support your team. If your team feels inspired and respected, they’ll be more productive and better prepared to tackle client challenges.

Is there any other advice you would like to share?

Be kind, exercise empathy, and always put people first. You don’t build a business; you build people first. I will always focus on enabling and empowering talent to create a more resilient and inclusive workplace.