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Meet Kristel Penn of Ikigai Marketing in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristel Penn.

Kristel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started in the adult industry 11 years ago. I had moved back to Hawaii after living on the east coast for college and was currently in the middle of my quarter-life crisis. By a stroke of luck and random friend connections, I scored a job doing retouching photos for a trans adult company (Grooby). I was very slow at it – on my first day, it took me 8 hours to remove pieces of toilet paper from a performer’s butt. On my second day, the company owner figured out my forte was actually in writing and he removed me from retouching duties immediately. I started first managing the company’s numerous blogs, then webmaster duties, and moved my way up the company to my current position as their Marketing and Editorial Director. I moved to California in 2010 when the company decided to move its office to the mainland.

Back in 2017, two well-known trans performers (who I love and adore) approached me at the AVN show in Vegas to talk. It was very endearing because I consider them both as friends, but they were very set on having a formal meeting with me. They talked about wanting a publicist who understood trans performers and how to represent them in the media. Given my experience at Grooby and as an advocate for trans visibility in the adult industry, they wanted me to start my own company. I mulled it over for a few weeks, discussed it with Grooby’s owner to ensure there was no conflict and interest, and Ikigai Marketing was soon born.

One of the performers who approached me, Aubrey Kate, became my first client. She is arguably one of the most popular trans performers in the industry right now and she continues to break barriers, both in and outside of the adult world.

Currently, I manage ten clients ranging from adult performers, sex toy companies, sex-positive educators, and queer podcasters. In Japanese, “ikigai” means “reason for being.” Each client I manage believes in their brand and how it overlaps with their own reason for being.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has been…colorful, to say the least! Doing PR in a non-traditional market like the adult industry is definitely a great story to tell at parties, but I am often afraid of being pigeon-holed for my skillset when in truth I’ve been working in non-adult marketing for almost 15 years now.

There is still stigma associated with the adult industry and although I am much further removed than those in front of the camera, I know there are people who make misassumptions about my professional skills and abilities based on what they “know” about porn, so I always feel tentative about how much to disclose upfront to others. I am proud of what I do and who I am, but as a queer person of color, I think it’s sometimes second nature to filter information as a way to protect yourself (whether physically or otherwise). There’s a natural inclination to want to make sure someone is “safe” before you show your authentic self.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Ikigai Marketing story. Tell us more about the business.
Ikigai Marketing offers both traditional PR services and purpose-driven business coaching. Even if you don’t need traditional PR services, if you are a professional, chances are you could use some professional guidance and cheerleading.

As I mentioned earlier, “Ikigai” means “reason for being” in Japanese. Likewise, I believe success is the most sustainable when a person’s personal and professional “ikigai” are aligned. I thought this was a particularly relevant point to make when many of my clients were using their bodies as their brands. I didn’t want to give advice that conflicted with their own “ikigai” because, in the end, the journey was theirs to make. The logo of Ikigai Marketing includes a jar of pixie dust. Why? Because belief in oneself is powerful, powerful stuff. It is my job to provide the tools and support for my clients, it is their job to fly.

The tools and skills I use for my adult industry clients are the same as what I use for my non-adult clients. Successful marketing is based on how clearly/accurately you can communicate your product to your projected audience. I focus on authenticity with each client and what makes them unique because consumers want authenticity. I’m particularly proud of the growth of my clients, whether it’s in terms of brand awareness or simply that they feel confident about what they’re putting out in the world.

What sets me apart from other marketing firms? My strength is in helping people name their “ikigai” and creating a blueprint that is in service of it. In addition to the traditional PR services I offer, I also do purpose-driven life coaching. As an MA in Psychology graduate student, I use the tools I’m learning in school, coupled with my professional experience, to operate as a safe space for clients to process their feelings about work/career/purpose. Then using my background in marketing, I help my clients create a plan-of-action we can work through together.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I have a hard time naming which industry I work in, simply because I work with such a diverse set of clientele. Marketing firms will always exist, yes, but I’m sure we’ve seen a rise in firms that specialize in building personal brands in recent years with the popularity of social media and YouTube.

I believe, however, that I do offer something different than traditional marketing firms. The “ikigai” framework I use is something I pride myself in using (although the concept itself isn’t new or secret), but hopefully in a way that’s unique and helpful to my clients.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
XBIZ, AVN, Altomic Visuals

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