Suset Laboy Pérez is a public relations professional in Brooklyn. Her job is to share her clients’ stories. This interview is about her story. She grew up in Puerto Rico. She has a doctorate in Latin American Studies. She runs Lalaboy PR with her sister, Maria. She also runs A Little Awareness, a coaching program that helps others beat the hustle. Are you ready to hear from an intelligent woman with a wealth of knowledge? She works closely with brands to help them stretch and grow, and she does the same for individuals. It’s an honor to present here a glimpse into her thinking and doing.
Q. You have a Ph.D. What’s your area of academic expertise and how did you go from academia to PR?
A. One of the connecting threads in my life has always been a passion for writing and for understanding human behavior. When I originally went into academia, I went in with some specific questions about my culture and history. So my expertise focuses on Latin American Studies, through a lens of Global History (which allowed me to study the U.S., Britain, and Japan as empires). My more general focus was issues of race, gender, and sexuality and the criminalization of colonial subjects. Wow, that’s a mouthful.
And yes, I apply all the skills I learned as a researcher, writer, thinker to public relations, especially when our focus is on elevating the voices of creatives and brands of color.
Q. Who owns the brand story? Who should own it?
A. Companies and brands tend to believe they own the brand story. In reality, everyone owns it, as it should be. A brand exists in the conversation between the company/organization behind it and the audience it serves, and that audience includes its employees.
At some point in time, brands had more control over the story, but that’s no longer the case. It hasn’t been the case for decades so it behooves all brands to really grasp that the brand story is shaped by a collective.
Sure, the brand itself is part of that collective and has the onus on upholding what it promises to stand for, but it’s unhelpful to think you can control the entire story. And I think that is wonderful. Brands now have such a beautiful and liberating opportunity to connect more deeply and with more transparency with their audience.
Q. What is the core offering of Lalaboy PR?
A. We offer integrated communications services to future-forward projects, people, and brands inventing a more inclusive and creative world. We work mainly with arts and culture brands and organizations, and see our communications work as a tool for community building, change, and social impact. We exist to help amplify the voices of Latinxs and other minority groups (a term we hate because it is not accurate).
Q. What qualities do you find in an ideal client?
A. There are many attributes we look for in an ideal client, but ultimately they boil down to integrity and openness. A strong commitment to quality and collaboration; to the long-game and strategy; willingness to listen to us and others; and respect for their boundaries and ours.
Q. Which industry or industries are in the greatest need of a makeover? Are there companies you will not represent?
A. Again, the academic in me keeps me from making a definite assertion of what industries need a makeover. What I will say, however, is that all industries would be served by being always in beta mode, consistently going for it, expecting and making errors, assessing and reassessing their approach, and making improvements. This is where rapid learning and growth happens. We won’t represent companies that don’t align with our values (Authenticity, Creativity, Fearlessness, Excellence, Passion, Playfulness, Alternative, Impact/Change, Inclusiveness).
Q. How much pressure do you feel to succeed…as a woman, a Puerto Rican, a New Yorker, a person with goals?
A. I used to feel immense pressure, all the time, to succeed. I have always felt immense pressure to succeed because it feels like your family depends on your success, and later your community. I’ve spent my life, and I think many people can sympathize with this, jumping through hoops to achieve some socially acceptable construct of what it means to be successful. I graduated with top honors from high school, I’m Ivy League-educated, have a doctorate degree that I finished very conscious of the fact that only 1% of Latinos have advanced degrees. So for the first half of my life, I have been the poster child for “person pressured to succeed”.
That has changed immensely in the past decade. Nowadays, while I still strive for success, it is defined on my terms. I see the process more as a game I get to build than a game society imposes on me.
Q. I like that. How do you change the game so more people win?
There’s no panacea for breaking the hustle and each individual is different. In my practice — I use coaching (I trained with Martha Beck), movement, and breathwork (I am certified as a yoga instructor) to help people at an individual level transform their relationship to work, and particularly overwork. While I work with individuals to shift minds and also actions, it behooves us all to end this obsession with the hustle. We live in a society that encourages people to base their identity on their work, how much they produce, and how much they do. This is particularly toxic for historically oppressed and ignored communities as it creates this myth that hard work, extra hard work, leads to success and riches, ignoring the real inequities that lead some individuals and communities to succeed over others. The reality is that privilege, access to wealth, knowledge, education, the right people, simple sense of security, among many others, matter more to someone’s success than hard work.
Q. What was the last best book you read?
A. I just finished The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now, and it was so worth it. It is a hilarious, heartbreaking, and timely (even though it came out a few years ago) look at race relations in the United States. It is uncomfortable, nuanced, complex, and just so beautifully written. If you haven’t read it, you must.
There’s much more substance to this interview, and you can read the entire text in full as soon as Ad Brains: Honest Conversations with Advertising’s Icons, Rulers, and Rebels is edited, published, and made available for sale here.