Coffee Break: Michelle Mekky, owner of Mekky Media Relations Inc., Chicago
Q: What made you start your business?
A: I started the agency in 2016, after recovering from cancer. It didn't happen immediately and I stayed in agency life to support my family while struggling to recover but realized I was hiding in the shadows and I needed to pursue my passion for creative storytelling and begin to build my own company. I had worked for over 12 years as a TV news writer, reporter and producer and over 10 years at small and large public relations firms, and I felt after my long career that I needed to branch out on my own and deliver my own brand of powerful PR for organizations that are doing great work and could benefit from added exposure in my results-driven process that I know to be successful.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: The most difficult obstacle is never being able to shut down. Work is always on when you are a new entrepreneur, and this has often made me feel disconnected from my family. I have an incredible work ethic, but I had to dig even deeper and run on a whole new level of energy in order to get my business off the ground. And that has continued as we've taken on many new clients. Another challenge has been identifying the areas that are not my expertise, and finding trustworthy people to help me with these things, such as the complex financial management of the company. I always knew I needed to surround myself with people smarter than I am, and I am very grateful for my talented team.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: I enjoy the diverse organizations we've been able to partner with -- from startups to established businesses to nonprofits -- and the relationships and partnerships we've built with each other along the way. We work hand in hand. I started with one client at my dining room table three years ago and can hardly believe how that has grown and how many incredible people have signed on to work with us since then. I also enjoy seeing our clients grow and achieve greater success after we develop and execute strategic PR plans that result in media coverage and enhanced social media attention.
Q: What's new at your business?
A: One thing I'm really excited about is that we're having our first-ever Masterclass on Nov. 15 in Chicago. It's for professionals of all levels who want to enhance their skills in areas such as public speaking, networking, media interviews and even getting media coverage for themselves or their businesses. The Masterclass is Nov. 15, and more information and ticket sales can be found at www.mekkymedia.com. This one-day workshop will feature insider secrets from industry veterans, and I believe it will be transformative for anyone looking to take their career or business to the next level.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I had some inspirational English teachers in high school, and they helped me realize my passion for storytelling. I joined the newspaper at Niles West High School and worked on some video projects, and that's when I realized I wanted to work in television journalism. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to be when I was in high school. But before that, I wanted to be a professional dancer like Jennifer Lopez! That route didn't quite happen.
Q: Who is/are your mentor(s)? Why?
A: Women who seem to do it all and break through barriers are for sure mentors of mine. Oprah Winfrey was someone I have watched since I was very young and always dreamed of working for her. She has always inspired me and continues to. And on a very personal level, Chaya Friedman, who loaned me start up money when I was at my lowest and scared and unsure what to do. She is a successful tech entrepreneur and close family friend as well, and she gave me the confidence to make that first move. I will forever be grateful to her.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes, we are currently in growth mode which is definitely our vision and I plan to hire staff as we grow to meet the needs. In addition to current long-standing clients such as Abt Electronics, Wealth Management Group, Susan G. Komen Chicago and Joe's Imports Wine Bar, we are partnering with new clients all the time, including many more leaders in the nonprofit arena, which I'm really proud of. This includes Chicago Lights, IES Abroad, MALA (Muslim American Leadership Alliance), Devices 4 the Disabled, Holiday Heroes, National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Center for Enriched Living.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: The integration of traditional and digital media is continuing to change the landscape and affects everything we do. The way we tell our clients' stories has grown and expanded so incredibly -- we target bloggers and influencers and micro influencers, we're not just pitching traditional reporters. We really have to be on the cutting edge of what's happening in the digital sphere, and consistently interacting with key writers and influencers who are beneficial to our clients because it changes all the time. We're also doing a lot more with video and new media technologies as part of publicity campaigns.
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: Find a mentor who has more experience than you, someone you feel comfortable with and can get advice from. This was invaluable for me. Also an accountant you can trust! And be religious about getting enough sleep -- I don't think I slept for three years. I am just starting to try to get more of it!
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Every day is a new day. This is my personal and business mantra, to help me navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship and encourage collaboration and understanding among team members, because PR is a challenging industry and I want everyone to always strive to do better with each new day.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: In 2014, while balancing being a mother with working as a successful PR executive, I went in for my annual checkup and was shocked to learn I had a tumor on my ovary. I was rushed into major surgery and found out I had ovarian cancer. It was a traumatic time and a huge turning point that made me realize the fragility of my own life and think hard about how I wanted to spend the rest of my career. I was blessed to be one of the few women who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer at stage one. Since then, I have felt my life was spared for a reason. I've dedicated myself every day since then to pouring my heart and soul into connecting with clients that reflect my passion.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Watch my son Adam play football and my daughter Hannah play soccer and dance! I also love yoga, working out and listening to dance music whenever I have the time, and I'm passionate about travel.
Q: What books are on your nightstand?
A: "Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth" and "Open, Honest and Direct, A Guide to Unlocking Your Team's Potential."
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: Teaching yoga on the beach, while handling PR for Jennifer Lopez. She's my idol!
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Working at a kosher bakery in Skokie.
Owner, Mekky Media Relations Inc.The Wrigley Building, 410 N. Michigan Ave., Suite N700, Chicago, IL 60611(312) 414-1883www.MekkyMedia.comNumber of Employees: 10
Industry: Public Relations
Year business started: 2016
Family information: I'm married to Sam Mekky, and I have two kids who are in high school, Adam and Hannah.
Hometown: From Chicago's Northwest side, I grew up in Morton Grove, and now live in Mount Prospect.