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For the next four weeks, the Observer will highlight people who work behind the scenes as organizers, publicists, managers and activists to better the Dallas arts community, with a focus on cis women, trans women and those who identify as gender-queer.
When Amber LaFrance says, "I’ve always been a hustler,” she's telling the truth. The co-founder and owner of PR firm CultureHype pursued a career in ballet and dance for 18 years, at which point she dramatically changed course and headed toward the land of PR.
“My dream was to become a backup dancer,” she says. “I was taking classes from Marty Kudelka, Justin Timberlake’s current choreographer.”
When she was 16, LaFrance had reconstructive surgery on her ankle, which derailed her ballet career. A few years later she encountered another roadblock, when dance classes proved too expensive for her parents to manage. LaFrance got a job in retail to help pay her way.
“I had the top sales because I wasn’t afraid to hustle," she says. "The other girls were pushy, so I learned the soft sell approach, something I still use today. Persistence is key.”
After receiving her bachelor of arts in marketing from the McCoy College of Business Administration at Texas State University, she worked at music festival Bonnaroo as a coordinator and artist and then as an intern with Juice Consulting in Austin, who gave her her first shot at PR. She still freelances for them.
“I interned at a PR firm here in Dallas when I moved back here and met Jarrod Fresquez, who encouraged me to start my own PR firm," she says. "Everyone thought we were crazy.”
In a single year, LaFrance and Fresquez executed about 30 event and PR campaigns for clients like vitaminwater, Red Bull, Hilton Anatole and Ducati.
“Jarrod went back to handle his dad's financial business four years ago, so I decided to run with it on my own," she says. "I changed the name to CultureHype and hired my first freelance employee. Now I work with UNT/Wade on internship programs for school credit each semester to teach them about the real world of PR.”
Now the weight of the whole company sits squarely on LaFrance's shoulders, and she likes it that way.
“I’ve never liked people telling me what to do," she says. "I can take clients telling me what to do. It’s not that I have a problem with authority, I just have a problem when people don’t respect me. But it was terrifying at first. But why would I go back and apply for a corporate job when I already have it now?”
Today, CultureHype represents clients within music, art and fashion. LaFrance says there are generally two types of people who seek out her services.
“Musicians and visual artists need a PR person when they are tired of doing it themselves," she says. "They feel like they’re stuck and they need to take it to the next level. Or, they’re brand new and they have no idea of who anyone is in the scene and they need to pop out of nowhere.”
This year alone, LaFrance has worked with musicians Kirk Thurmond, Charley Crockett, NEONNOAH, Larry g(EE), LEV, 88 Killa and newly minted M83 singer/keyboardist, Kaela Sinclair. Her impressive client list has been featured in blogs and magazines, and on TV and radio.
“I’m good at reading people," she says. "My dad was in sales and an entrepreneur. I get a lot of traits from him. I genuinely want the people that I work for to succeed. I want to work together and not cut each other out.”
Sinclair, 88 Killa, LEV and Thurmond work with LaFrance through her position with the Sheffield, England-based label DEFDISCO. LaFrance was sought out by DEFDISCO rep Cliff Simms, who is in charge of the label's Dallas location. LaFrance's first campaign launched in March.
“It was supposed to be a medium-sized campaign for Kaela Sinclair; now I’m leading all PR internationally for the label, with several artists on our roster from here to London,” she says.
The label has helped Dallas artists get face-to-face meetings with an international label, giving them a legitimate shot at getting signed.
“They said they had been looking for someone like me," she says. "I felt validated that people were noticing what we were doing right here in Dallas.”
LaFrance says DEFDISCO was a good fit because they wanted to grow with her. As she successfully completed each campaign, the label brought her closer in, expanding her role and building a bigger presence for the label in Dallas.
“They liked my hustle,” she said.
Just recently that hustle paid off as she landed her biggest feature to date, a placement in Forbes magazine for her client, Black Fret, an Austin-based organization raising money for Austin musicians. LaFrance read an article by a writer for the New York Observer on the Dallas music scene, and she quickly went to work on social media, tweeting the writer about what was happening in Dallas and Austin.
“I contacted him on Twitter about DFW artists on the rise and a music charity I work with in Austin, Black Fret. He decided to interview Black Fret on their solution to the music industry problem in Austin and goals to expand nationally.” The article came out in late August. It highlighted the business issues faced by musicians, particularly in Austin, and introduced the organization's music patronage model.
The founder and publisher of online fashion publication DFW Style Daily also recently appointed LaFrance as her successor.
LaFrance says everything comes back to good PR, and that entails a lot more than sending out press releases.
“My background is in sales and marketing and I think that worked well for me," she says. "It was a happy accident that I got that background and ended up in PR. I see things as more of a full picture. Yes, you’re hiring me for my contacts and I can handle your press but I don’t really work in a traditional way. I also help people put together album releases or fashion shows. I am more involved in a process. I don’t just take the product and pitch, I try to make it into something that can sell.”
With this philosophy intact, LaFrance feels like she does PR different than anyone else.
“It’s not about who I can get over; it’s about respecting each other in the workplace. Maybe that’s because I feel like women don’t always do that. I have tried to create that.”