By Michelle Trauring
Two weeks ago, Nicole Castillo wasn’t at Townline BBQ going over a press kit.
She was celebrating.
Together with her five co-workers, the executive vice president raised a glass to WordHampton Public Relations’ 25-year anniversary — the firm that took her in fresh out of George Mason University, a mile and a half from her childhood house in Springs, and the place she has called home for the past two decades.
“Twenty-five years, that’s a long time — and I’ve been around for 20 of them,” Castillo mused during a telephone interview from her office in Springs. “I guess it’s no small feat for a little ol’ PR firm out here on the East End.”
What started as a basement operation is now a thriving PR company under the trusty leadership of Steve Haweeli, who asked Castillo to accept a new role as partner in 2003. She had been his second full-time employee, and watched the firm grow from its humble beginnings into its current office on Three Mile Harbor Road.
“Those early days were fun,” she recalled. “It feels so archaic, in a way, because everything was so by hand. Steve had a lot of restaurants, as we still do, and we would do press kits for every restaurant — which we still do. And we would literally get 300 or so copies of them made and we would fold them up and stuff them into envelopes and mail them out to a media database we had created.
“The idea was to be the resource for the Hamptons,” she continued. “We were on the ground, we knew what was new and what was hot. Even if they weren’t our clients per se, we have two jobs: serving the media and serving our clients, and we thought it was valuable to pass along that information. At the time, we were the only game in town.”
The industry is constantly changing, forcing WordHampton to morph with it by shifting tactics and inventing original campaigns — wherein lies Castillo’s forte. In 2013, she was honored at the Long Island Business News 40 Under 40 Awards, five years after the firm won the PRSA Big Apple Award for Long Island Restaurant Week, which started as Hamptons Restaurant Week, both of which remain highly successful.
“In the PR industry, PRSA is probably the big daddy — and we beat out really big firms,” Castillo said. “We were like, ‘Wow, we’re this itty bitty PR firm out on the East End of Long Island, and we’re the real deal.’”
Over time, the firm has expanded its client base to retail, service and hospitality industries, architecture and real estate, and Castillo has trained her eye toward the future.
“Our breadth of work has widened, for sure. It’s not just your typical media exposure now, there’s so much more to it,” she said. “At some point, Steve’s going to retire — I don’t know when that’s going to be — and I’ll be running the show, which is a little frightening but challenging. He said he’s going come around and just bug me every day, even if he’s not working. I need somebody to bounce ideas off of.
“I’m so thankful to Steve for trusting me and allowing me to develop and grow with the company, and believing in me in the sense that he would make me a partner and eventually, what he’s built, turn it over to me,” she continued. “He did it all from nothing. He had no PR experience; he was a bartender. So from what he built with his elbow grease, to pass it off to me, I’m very honored. I can only hope to continue what he’s built and live up to his standards.”
For more information about WordHampton Public Relations, visit wordhampton.com.