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“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a CEO” with Robyn Matarazzo of Illumination PR

Be challenged. Don’t surround yourself with “yes” people. I found that as a CEO, people like to follow what I say but I always respect and appreciate the people who challenge me to see things differently. Always be ready to learn no matter what position you are in. Each generation of people have a different […]

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Be challenged. Don’t surround yourself with “yes” people. I found that as a CEO, people like to follow what I say but I always respect and appreciate the people who challenge me to see things differently. Always be ready to learn no matter what position you are in. Each generation of people have a different vision and you always want to be open to new ideas and direction.


I had the pleasure to interview Robyn Matarazzo. Robyn spearheads Illumination PR with over 10 years in the public relations field. With expertise in business development and public relations industry, Robyn and her team are able to provide clients with work that is strategic, creative and measurable. The Illumination team have elevated clients in their prospective industries and worked with various networks including E!, Fox, VH1, MTV and Bravo, to name a few. In addition, close media relations with Us Weekly, Life & Style, In Touch, People Magazine and many other publications have also assisted in the success of Illumination PR’s clients.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?

What attracted me most at first to be my own boss is that I was able to make my own hours and know that whatever I build, I benefit from.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?

CEO responsibilities include everything from scheduling, hiring, interviewing, accounting, payroll, office moral, policies, day to day and so much more.

What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?

One of my biggest struggles was understanding that I don’t need to be friends with everyone I meet and to choose how to use my heart in business. Turns out that I am respected in my industry for working so passionately for my clients as opposed to looking at them as just a business opportunity. When it comes to negotiating on their behalf, I go harder because I have so much passion behind my clients career, personality and direction.

What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I found in the past when men in my industry were assertive, they were smart business men but as a female when I was assertive, I was considered bitchy. Regardless of the stereotype, I had to learn to continue voicing for my clients and not be overpowered or intimidated.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?

I love being able to plan each day differently.

What are the downsides of being a CEO?

The amount of hours that I put into work. What I would do to be able to turn my phone off for the day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I started my company, I was doing website design and started to dabble in event planning for businesses in NY and NJ. In addition to event planning and web design, I was also waitressing at an Italian restaurant that I wound up buying 15 years later. I still remember the first event I planned for a local restaurant and salon that collaborated for a Breast Cancer Awareness event. I called new stations, local newspapers, magazines. Some outlets confirmed their attendance, and some said they would publish photos after the event. I realized then that I had to hire a photographer but knew I didn’t have money to afford one. To this day, I am still forever thankful to Chris Marksbury, the photographer I hired for my first event that allowed me to pay him in $50 checks that he cashed each week until the balance was paid. He was one of the kindest people that I had worked with and to this day, I’m still thankful for him believing in what I was doing enough to support me in that way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Ten years ago, I was working with a reality star and was working to really generate my companies name. We were working on a cover story for a national magazine and the editor was asking me the talking points and what was necessary to make sure we include in the article. I remember asking “Is there any way we can get my company mentioned at all” and she politely said, “I will definitely do my best, but I don’t think so.” I still work with the reporter to this day and we have giggled about my drive to get my company noticed from the beginning. I was taught the only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask, so I tried. I quickly learned that the notoriety that my company would gain would be through the success of my clients and not necessarily the mention of my business in press. Although, over time, both happened.

Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Being a CEO and being in the celebrity public relations world is so deceiving from an outsider looking in. I remember seeing other publicists post from the red carpet of the VMAs and think how cool it was that they were there and wondered if I would ever be doing that. Cut to being on the red carpet and looking down four blocks in NYC full of press and wondering if I was going to have stage fright talking to all these outlets asking if they are interested in speaking with my clients. From the outside, the job looks so glamorous and you see other people in my field at some of the greatest events that I had only watched on TV for years. Now that I am immersed in this world, I realize that looks are truly deceiving. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and it never feels like I am actually working (for the most part) but I am truly on 24/7, 365 days a week. I always laugh at the memes, “What my friends think I do” and “What I actually do”

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?

Honestly, one of the most specific traits is being able to be flexible and go with the flow knowing that everything won’t go as planned and you have to learn to figure it out and keep it moving.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I have built the most incredible team and I truly believe that these are the parts that have made every female in my office thrive:

  1. There are no titles in my office. A very successful businessman and a dear friend taught me almost 20 years ago, “Everyone puts their pants on the same way” and I never forgot that. I think giving everyone a platform to thrive knowing that everyone in the office is on the same level has made a comfortable work environment with less pressure about “moving up” in status and more focus on growth as a whole.
  2. Don’t be a talker, be a doer. If you want something, make it happen. Do everything you can to achieve it.
  3. Be positive. Put positivity out there and you will get it back.
  4. Understand that everyone is not clapping for you so keep your success and your moves to yourself.
  5. Support one and another. The only turn over, employee wise, that I have had within my company has been from employees that were not 100% team players and from not celebrating each-other’s successes. In my office, we truly push each other to be better than we were the day before and all of us lean on each other to make daily decisions that benefit ourselves and our clients.
  6. Know your worth. Red Adair said it best “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
  7. Always be honest, no matter what. We live in a world of fluff and sugar coating and our clients have respect for us because we always tell them the truth and what the best direction is.
  8. Be challenged. Don’t surround yourself with “yes” people. I found that as a CEO, people like to follow what I say but I always respect and appreciate the people who challenge me to see things differently. Always be ready to learn no matter what position you are in. Each generation of people have a different vision and you always want to be open to new ideas and direction.

Who inspired/inspires you and why?

When I was in my early 20’s I met someone that had changed my view on life and business. I was struggling at the time and didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in. They suggested that I read a book called “Life’s Four Agreements”. It was very helpful in shaping myself and the direction I took with my business. He was and is a tremendous influence and someone that inspired me. My mom, who was an entrepreneur most of her adult life inspired me to be my own boss. From as young as I can remember, my mom was always hustling and working hard, and I know that had a big impact on my direction as a CEO as well. I will always remember my mom imbedding in my head “Never rely on a man to support you, you always have to be able to support yourself”. One of my favorite quotes that resonates deeply is from Lady Gaga “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore”.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my closest girlfriends helped me so much from the beginning of my PR company and to this day. I remember sitting on the phone with her coming up with the name of my company and reasons why I should name it what I did. Every day I would talk to her about what happened that day and she would guide me in a way that taught me not to allow people to take advantage of me. Sometimes I thought she was crazy in the advice she gave me or too hard on certain people until after years of listening to her, I found my own voice and was able to be an advocate for myself. I was a good heart in a cut throat business trying to survive. Many people tried to take advantage of my kindness and I inadvertently allowed them to. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know that I would have been shaped into who I am. I learned that the more direct you are, the more honest you are the more people respect you for not always sugar coating and being a “yes” woman. While I still add my own sweetness to my delivery, I don’t allow people to take advantage of me and I try to teach my staff to be the same way.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I always try to give back and I always try to be the person I needed when I was starting out. I support different kick starters. I like to support different Go Fund Me pages when I see others are in need or raising money for something that can change their life. I truly just try to be the best person I can be each day. Kindness goes such a long way and I believe no matter how crazy this world can be, being kind to one another can change the world a little at a time.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Always have money saved for “just in case” because you never know what can come your way.
  2. Not everyone is clapping for you — this is the biggest piece of advice I learned while in the process of trying to buy my restaurant. I had run into a business owner that I did PR for and when they asked me what was new, I excitedly told them about the possibility of buying the restaurant that I am now co-owner of. I was still in the process of working out funding but thought they would be excited for me. Fast forward to a month later and the bartender of the restaurant called me and said, “Someone is here to meet with the owner about buying the restaurant.” Turns out it was the same person I ran into and shared my excitement with.
  3. You are going to meet people who aren’t what they seem to be. Be cautious with who you allow into your life. I always went into business with an open mind and heart and really embraced people when I met them. I realized after a few years in this industry that some people I had called friends were really trying to stay within my circle because of the people I was working with. I learned quickly that there were friends, acquaintances and colleagues.
  4. When hiring employees, pay more attention to what they share online, their social media etc. I have hired a few interns that I simply looked at their resume and was impressed by their experience and did not check their social media. Had I checked their social media, I would have seen that the majority of their pictures were photos of them with celebrities backstage at events and screaming videos of them meeting the celebrity of their dreams.
  5. It’s always important to work smarter, not harder. Just because you are running around 24/7, it doesn’t mean that’s the most efficient way to run your business. I did that for the first few years and then finally looked at what I was doing, what was making money and what was wasting time and started fine tuning how I ran my business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The Kindness Movement — Inspiring women to pay it forward once a day and for them to inspire others to do the exact same. Do you know how great of a world it could be if that caught on?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” and “Fell down 9, got up 10”. Both are relevant to my life because no matter what my past is, no matter how many struggles I have been through, today I have the ability to change everything. I am not my past. I am not my mistakes. I am who I am today and have the strength and courage to make my future and direction a positive one despite any limitations or struggles.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Ellen DeGeneres — I watch her show and her ending to every show “Be kind to one another” gives me the chills each time. She not only utilizes her status and fame to make a difference in others, she encourages others each show to do the same. I love to be surrounded by positivity and people that inspire you to make a difference so to sit with her for breakfast or lunch would just simply be inspiring!


About the author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke

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