An interview with Phil La Duke
Don’t try to do everything — have a niche. Pick one to three specialties and focus on only those. It’s tempting to want to be everything to everyone. I was there. When you start transitioning from a side-hustle to a full-time company, really be intentional on what you want to accomplish with your company. Craft mission and vision statements, a comprehensive business plan and everything else you’ll need. Hourglass Media had a 15+ listing of service and product offerings when I first started the company. I listened to people tell me, “You’re good at this, so you should offer it,” one too many times. Now, Hourglass Media focuses on three things in order to tell stories: public relations, writing and education. You can show up and be the best version of your leadership self when you don’t have all of your eggs in 20 different baskets. Keep it simple and then expand from there as you scale.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Kaylin R. Adkins-Staten, APR, an award-winning public relations practitioner, writer and business owner based in Huntington, W.Va. Kaylin has 16 years of journalism and communications experience, spanning from her days as a high-school newspaper reporter to present day. She is an alumna of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University and graduated with her B.A. in public relations in 2010. Kaylin owns her own PR-consulting business, Hourglass Media. Previously, she worked in nonprofit public relations at United Way of the River Cities for five years. Kaylin serves as Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)-River Cities Chapter President (2018–2019) and has served as Treasurer and Secretary of the Chapter. In 2015, she served on an accreditation committee for her alma mater, the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University. She released her first book, From Granny’s Kitchen, in 2016. Her children’s counting book, Plastic Cupcakes, was released in 2018. She is a board member for Dress for Success River Cities in Huntington, W.Va. and serves on several nonprofit planning committees. During her career in PR and journalism, she has received several PRSA-WV Chapter Crystal Awards and PRSA-East Central District Diamond Awards, including the Best in WV award in 2011 for her Community Relations work for “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.” Her business’ work on the statewide The Call WV campaign also garnered two Bronze Telly Awards in 2016. In 2010, Kaylin earned the Marvin L. Stone Award for Outstanding Journalist at Marshall University, an award given to only one student per year. In her spare time, Kaylin enjoys writing, reading classic novels, watching “Star Wars” movies, traveling and seeking adventures, spending time with her husband Jared and cat children Ilia Garnet and Meera and daydreaming of Paris.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kaylin! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
My first professional love is writing. When I was a child, I would doodle on pieces of notebook paper before I could even write letters and numbers. Now, I am an extrovert, but I was at times painfully shy when I was a little girl. As a child, writing was my strongest form of communication. I created actual scrolls of illustrations of my favorite animals and wrote my musings in countless journals. I created these fantasy worlds in my writings and would act out anything with Leia Organa from “The Empire Strikes Back.” When I entered elementary school, I did something that changed my outlook on writing: This shy little girl had a poetry and short story reading right in the middle of the school day in second grade. I realized then, at such a young age, that writing was meant to be part of my destiny. It’s surreal to ruminate and discover my high levels of introspection and grammatical skills as a young child. So, it’s very clear to me that writing is a deeply-rooted passion of mine. It’s been a part of my existence nearly every day of my life.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When I was in college, I changed my major from print journalism to public relations. I had a desire to be a hard-hitting journalist, but then it dawned on me: I wanted job variety. I love writing, yes, but I worried that interviewing, writing, editing and other journalistic processes would become stale to me. This was also before many local and regional newspapers began shuttering their doors, but I saw the writing on the wall. I wanted to be a public relations practitioner and use my storytelling skills for good. Public relations was a different way to communicate in a truthful, accurate, effective way without some of the restrictions of objective journalistic writing. Writing is an integral component of the public relations — and any communications — field.
I always wanted to start my own company. My dad is a contractor, so I grew up around the ins and outs of a small business. By proxy, that became part of my own existence. I knew the challenges and how difficult owning a company could be, but I also saw the rewards of sweat equity and dedication. I saw that in my dad, and I knew I had the capabilities to take that skill set and run with it. I would sit in class and daydream of two things: Starting my own company and earning my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).
I started Hourglass Media in 2015 while I still had a full time director-level job at a nonprofit organization. I loved it, but I craved something more. I dreamed of being my own boss and cultivating a company’s mission from scratch. I wanted to have a say in the stories I told and uncover authentic stories around me in Appalachia and beyond. So, Hourglass Media was born in my childhood bedroom after several name-brainstorming sessions and what-if statements floating around in my head.
I remember sitting at my desk at my full-time job and thinking, “It’s time to do this on my own.” It was a constant balancing act between my full-time duties and my growing side hustle. My intuition told me I was ready, so I left the comfort of my full-time job in April 2016 and have been at the helm of Hourglass Media on a full-time basis since. Sometimes, that first jump is all you need to get started.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s an individual trying to make it as the next greatest Instagram influencer or a nonprofit organization with a commendable mission trying to increase monetary donations. I built my company around the idea that stories are powerful and necessary aspects of our society. Of course, there are several ways to approach this, but I wanted to focus on telling stories that other people weren’t telling or ones that didn’t have the awareness they deserved.
During the last four years, Hourglass Media has helped tell stories on local, state, regional, national and international platforms. We’ve garnered nearly one billion media impressions since 2015, working on projects like a statewide children’s dental health campaign, Huntington, WV Mayor Steve Williams’ viral Prayer for Huntington video, substance abuse prevention and recovery, West Virginia gubernatorial campaigns, mental health advocacy, female empowerment initiatives and more. I overcome challenges and find problems with the public relations process of RPIE: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. Its streamlined approach leaves no communications stone unturned.
While being a female CEO has its challenges, I have been very fortunate in that I had leadership experience from my previous job and experiences to lean on. Now, more than ever, female leaders have a platform in which to share their expertise, experiences and voices. I am fortunate to be part of that collective voice of amazing women changing the world. I am a fourth-generation business owner and the first woman in my family to be at the helm of a company, breaking the wheel for the traditional female role expectations that can still reign supreme in Appalachia.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My mission in life is to live what I love. I am a deeply passionate, sensitive person who wears her heart on her sleeve. For a long time, I resisted who I was. I perfected this PR mask, but underneath, I really wanted to do something that set my heart on fire every single day. So, slowly, I started chipping away at that mask to showcase the most authentic version of myself that I can muster. This helps me to be the most vibrant storyteller I can be.
If you have something that you can’t get off your mind, then you owe it to yourself to go down that avenue. Even if it’s a dead end, you will know through experience and have no regrets about never going on that adventure in the first place. Fear keeps us at bay and inside the little bubble of our comfort zone. Ask yourself if your hobby achieves your purpose in life and if you can make money doing it for a living. If it’s something that is sustainable and can be scaled over time, I always advise people to follow that dream but with a realistic mindset and tangible goals and objectives.
The important thing is to just start. No matter how that looks for you. I started my company in my childhood bedroom after moving back in with my parents at age 26. I was embarrassed at the time because of the stigma facing the millennial generation and still living with parents. But, I got on my feet, moved out and continue to grow my company. Now, I have earned my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) and am within the top five percent of the public relations industry at age 31 and with a decade of PR practice under my belt.
Start small. The important thing is to just start, despite fear and feedback from others. Follow what your intuition tells you.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I would be remiss to not talk about all of the hours upon hours I’ve spent dreaming of more productivity and motivation. While I love what I do, there are times in which it becomes a cycle that I would love to escape from. I’ve learned that being productive can happen even without high levels of motivation. I do this through setting clear goals and objectives for professional and personal ventures. I start my days with a morning routine that includes at least one writing prompt, intention-setting for the day through my to-do lists and copious amounts of coffee with a dash of cream. As a storyteller, it’s vital for me to get outside of the box and my own tunnel vision. I write A LOT of social media posts, blog posts, press releases and general content for Hourglass Media and its clients, so I have to have a creative outlet that is just mine. Recently, I’ve started my day with poetry prompts to exercise a different part of my writer’s brain. This helps to keep ideas churning and lessen writer’s block. As a creative, it’s sometimes very challenging to always keep that “on” switch operational. I also look at my calendar at the beginning of each week and prioritize by deadline and obligation, making sure to add some free-form creativity in there, whether it’s related to communications or not. So, if you’re starting to dread something that you used to love, take a look at why you are dreading it. It could be because you crave variety and your days are turning out like Groundhog Day. You could be spending your time on the administrative part of your company and less time on the actual work you love. Ask for help, hire someone for a new position, restructure your days so you have time for a breather.
I’m a workaholic and a perfectionist by nature. It’s sometimes very challenging for me to step away from my work. There have been times I have dreaded going to a meeting or working on a project that I am 100 percent passionate about due to burnout. I do believe work-life balance is a form of borderline-dangerous perfectionism for me. That mindset does not work for everyone, especially when your work and personal life intertwines as much as mine does. What I will say is this: Work hard but also know when to relax. I spent the first few years of my career overachieving and not taking days off, even when I was sick. That will lead to you dreading what you do, even when you’re the CEO of something you built. It seems like more of a burden, an obligation, instead of something that continues to grow out of passion, hard work and collaboration.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love being in charge of the direction of Hourglass Media while also collaborating with clients, contractors, interns, colleagues and various individuals in a multitude of sectors. I have flexibility and can work anywhere with a Wifi connection. I realized how amazing this was when I was on vacation in Paris with my mother and grandmother a couple of years ago. I was able to work from one of my absolute favorite cities in the world, and that is when I realized an amazing perk of owning your own company.
At its core, I love being able to bring stories to light through authenticity, pride and grace. Through my decade-long career, I’ve seen people who have been absolutely terrified to tell their stories, whether it’s a story of abuse, tragedy or somewhere in between. Being able to see them open up in a comfortable format makes it all worth it. Stories deserve to be told, and I’m always honored to help someone tell his or her story.
But, to be honest, I can be my own worst enemy and critic. I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I’ve been this anxious-and-depressive hybrid since at least age three. When you have to ultimately answer to yourself, and you’re feeling anxious or depressed, complacency sometimes becomes the name of the game. I’ve done a lot of work on myself, and I continue to grow as a person and leader. As a “solopreneur”, micro company leader or small business leader, you’re the one who ultimately is in charge of your company’s success, stagnancy or failure. I’ve been on all sides, and navigating through the highest highs and the lowest lows can be a challenge. Everything has its season, however, and slowly cultivating a positive mindset can help to overcome drawbacks and your own critical inner voice.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As a public relations practitioner by trade, I knew that the gig wouldn’t always be glamorous. I have taken out trash and sorted through donations in the morning and then gotten ready for live interviews and fancy events at night. The profession is an eclectic mix of experiences, and that is how I shaped my company as well. I didn’t want to feel backed into a corner and feel restricted into a certain role. I have done every role in my company, and I think that is vital as you begin to scale your hobby to a full-time company and beyond. When you know the ins and outs, you will be efficient and will know what to delegate and what to take on yourself. In my previous role as a nonprofit communicator, I could say the organization’s name and then be automatically welcomed into partnerships with open arms. As a company CEO, it takes more time and effort to earn that right, which is something that was a learning curve for me and was the most striking difference as I began to build my company and its brand.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
The reality is, a side-hustle-turned-company will have its growing pains. You will have moments of glory, like that first really big client you score; however, you will also have lows, too, like losing a client or having to assert yourself over and over just to get paid for services rendered. But, nothing worth having comes easy. I don’t want a job that ends at 5 p.m. Communications are 24/7/365, and I love the unknown, despite having generalized anxiety disorder. If I’m not using my full skillset or brain, I get bored, restless and agitated. So, the challenge of owning a company and really figuring out all of the pieces of the puzzle always keeps me on my toes.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started my company, I named it Hourglass Omnimedia before shortening the trade name to Hourglass Media in 2018. I took the Omnimedia name suggestion from someone whom I considered a valuable part of my company at the time. What I realized is that Omnimedia was not me. I started my company as one person, and the use of the all-knowing “Omni” just wasn’t the brand personality I wanted. I am not Martha Stewart, and I do not have thousands of people working for me. I am Kaylin Staten, and while I aim to be my own form of a storytelling empire, I did not want the “Omni” anymore. As a perfectionist, it caused me to want to do everything instead of focusing on the company’s core storytelling mission. I tried to convince myself it was just an Oz-behind-the-curtain reference. (The Hourglass in Hourglass Media was inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Wizard of Oz,” and the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass.) Plus, people were so confused over Omnimedia. They would still call my company Hourglass Media and write that on checks and other documents. As a public relations practitioner who listens to her audience, I listened to my internal voice and countless others and made the trade name change. It transformed my mindset and my company from that point on. It’s so surreal how what you choose to name your company actually does to your subconscious.
As a female leader, too, it has been interesting to see the dynamics of professional relationships change after I got married in 2017. I love the psychology behind public relations and everything I do, so I took notice of this. As a feminist, I believe that women and men should be treated equally and with respect. So, these behaviors from men threw me for a loop because I always respected them. Most people remained absolutely wonderful to work with. Others were exceptions. I was once at the decision-making table with certain male colleagues, and once I had a diamond on my left ring finger, I was iced out of meetings, events and communications. This was a hard pill to swallow because you learn of intentions and others’ truest colors. My advice to any woman who wants to turn her side hustle or hobby into a company: Do not let that discourage you, and always fight for yourself and for what you believe in. If a life change occurs and people begin treating you differently, find other people who resonate with you and your company. Walk away from toxic situations. There is always someone who needs help from you specifically. Don’t let the negative influences shape your self-worth and the direction of your company.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
The next generation inspires me. I’ve spoken with countless college students, and their energy for the profession gives me added ferver to tackle my company’s goals and objectives. They inspire me to be a great leader because their education, in some form at least, depends on me. In that moment, as an expert, they are gleaning information from your experiences and expertise, and you owe it to them to give them the most accurate portrait of your company and professional life. My colleagues’ high levels of work and dedication also inspire me as President of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)-River Cities Chapter and a board member of PRSA-East Central District. There is nothing like finding your tribe and people who just get it. I learn so much from the professionals in this international network of PR and other communications professionals, and to serve with them in this manner is an honor. I’m very sensitive and introspective, so many other facets of life inspire me to be a better leader, from podcasts and books to family and friends. My husband is 100 percent supportive of me and Hourglass Media, and he inspires me to show up as my best self every day. Without a support system, I wouldn’t have the drive or success I’ve had. If anyone wants to know my personal secret ingredient, it’s my husband.
As an independent and passionate Leo and older sister by nature, it was probably fate that I would grow up to be a leader of my own company and serve on nonprofit and association boards. My shy introverted inner child cannot believe that I chose to be in such a public profession and leadership role, but the other part of me knows in her heart that it makes total sense!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I want to give people a hand up and empower them to become their best selves. In living what I love, I want to help others achieve the same. Hourglass Media is based in my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, and the city has its share of stigmas and issues. It was crowned “America’s Best Community” in 2017, and Hourglass Media always wants to add to the positive stories coming out of Huntington. So many people are dealing with the substance abuse crisis, whether they are actively using, in recovery, or know someone still using or in recovery. Hourglass Media is proud to be involved in telling stories of substance abuse recovery, mental health advocacy, female empowerment, small business successes and more stories that comprise the fabric of our local community and beyond. Every story matters.
Personally, keeping legacies alive is important to me. I come from Applachian culture, and my mom had me at age 22. So, like others around me, I lived during a time in which five generations of family members were alive. I have incredibly vivid and precious memories of loved ones. My Granny, who was my great-grandmother, had a profound influence on my life. When she passed away in 2015, I vowed to keep her legacy alive. In 2016, I published my first book, From Granny’s Kitchen, a compilation of recipes and stories from her life. Telling stories is a rewarding gift, but being able to tell my Granny’s story and see it resonate with others has been one of the best moments of my professional career.
I also want to teach the next generations about public relations and writing, so Hourglass Media is also dedicated to education opportunities as well. Nothing makes my heart happier than to see an intern or younger colleague achieve things. It’s like I am a proud parent in my role as CEO.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t try to do everything — have a niche. Pick one to three specialties and focus on only those. It’s tempting to want to be everything to everyone. I was there. When you start transitioning from a side-hustle to a full-time company, really be intentional on what you want to accomplish with your company. Craft mission and vision statements, a comprehensive business plan and everything else you’ll need. Hourglass Media had a 15+ listing of service and product offerings when I first started the company. I listened to people tell me, “You’re good at this, so you should offer it,” one too many times. Now, Hourglass Media focuses on three things in order to tell stories: public relations, writing and education. You can show up and be the best version of your leadership self when you don’t have all of your eggs in 20 different baskets. Keep it simple and then expand from there as you scale.
2. Have airtight contracts. People love loopholes, and trust me, when someone finds one in your contract and it negatively influences your bottom line, you will make changes quickly. Get advice (legal, if necessary) after you draft your first contract. It will save you headaches down the road. I learned this way too late. One former client hired another agency to do social media work for them and removed me as an administrator on their social channels — all while they were still under contract with me. Don’t be afraid to fire a client when something like this happens or an action doesn’t sit well with you. Make sure to be as specific as possible in your contract and be up front with expectations on both sides at the signing of the contract.
3. Know your worth — and then add interest. Be clear about your pricing structure. All of us want clients when we first start out, but only compromise when you know it’s the right move for your company. For example, take on a pro-bono client if it’s a cause you really care about. Don’t sell yourself short. Do your research and ask others about service and product rates. The right people will see your value and will pay what you’re worth.
4. Get comfortable branding yourself. As a PR person, I’m used to being in the background. I execute public relations plans behind-the-scenes without many people knowing it’s me. That is an excellent skill to have for your clients, but it will not work when you’re at the helm of your own company or brand. You have to market yourself. You have to put yourself out there — not for egotistical reasons but to spread the word about what your company offers and how you could help people achieve their goals.
5. It’s not personal — it’s business. As I said earlier, I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it hasn’t been easy for me to develop a thick skin and an objective attitude when dealing with business strife. It does get better with practice, and I’m still working on this! When someone says no to your product or service, that doesn’t mean either thing doesn’t have value. It just means that it’s not the right fit for that particular person. Move along to others who would benefit from your company’s mission.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
These days, people crave a human connection and authenticity. We live behind a world of screens and growing mental health issues, and I want to show people that you can step away from that for a little bit through consuming stories on multiple platforms. We look to stories to help us escape from reality but to also give us clarity about the world around us.
If I could inspire any type of movement, I would choose mental health. I am a living example of anxiety and depression. I’ve had successes, failures and moments of stagnant activity. Despite any type of stigma, I am devoted to sharing authentic stories about mental health from my own perspective and others’. Millions of people are drowning in stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. I wrote a Mental Health Awareness Month op-ed piece for my local newspaper in May 2018, and it changed my life. I unveiled the heart of my story: I have anxiety AND I run a successful, fulfilling company. I want to inspire others to reach their dreams and not let mental health struggles push them down. I want to be that hand that helps them up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
At Hourglass Media, our Hourglass Principles are 10 things we live by on an everyday basis at the office and through our work. They were modeled after Arthur W. Page’s Page Principles. The final item on that list is one that reminds us of the importance of failure. I am a “Star Wars” geek and have been since before it was “cool” to be geek-chic. So, this quote from “Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” serves as a poignant reminder from a tiny but fierce Jedi Master: “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But, weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.” — Yoda.
I have learned SO MUCH through failure. I have had many successes, but failures teach you something that successes cannot: resilience. I am resilient as a CEO because I have failed. I’ve neglected to put certain clauses in contracts. I’ve trusted clients and colleagues to do the right thing when they did not. I haven’t separated business ventures from personal friendships. I’ve allowed anyone else tell me what to do with my company. Unless they’re investing in it, you can learn something from their comments or you ask their advice (and value it), disregard negative feedback. And always carry a receipt book with you when someone pays you in cash to have a paper trail!
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.
I’ve been a fan of Sophia Amoruso since her book, #Girlboss, first hit the shelves. She has inspired the millennial generation through empowerment, authenticity and an overall Girlboss revolution. She is a wonderful example of female leadership and has inspired me behind-the-scenes at Hourglass Media. So, I would absolutely love an opportunity to have breakfast or lunch with her!
Rachel Hollis is another person who has influenced the way I tackle personal and professional aspects of my life. I’ve read her books and listen to her podcasts. I would love to take a deeper dive into her methodology and stories. Hit me up, sis!
A third person I would love to hang out with is no longer with us, but I’ve loved her since age 7 at least. I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher before her untimely death in 2016, but I wish I could have spent way more time with her. Her mental health advocacy, candid storytelling skills and matching INFJ personality would make for some interesting dinner conversation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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