Boundaries. it took me a long time to realize you don’t need to always say ‘yes’ to everything to be successful, and that ‘no is a complete sentence’. I’ve found resting and recharging for the things I need to show up for allows me to be at 100% instead of exhausted and running off fumes from giving myself to things that weren’t necessary.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Megan Fazio.
Megan Fazio is the CEO & Founder of Neon Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing firm based in Las Vegas representing hospitality, entertainment, adventure, and non-profit clients. As a public relations business professional with several years of travel & tourism-related industries, multi-agency, high risk accounts, and non-profit PR experience, Megan focuses on helping businesses penetrate targeted markets and attain high visibility in these markets by garnering positive buzz and media attention, but more importantly, she measures her success according to the impact she has on driving her clients’ businesses forward. Megan continues to lead and manage innovative communications strategies for hospitality, business, tech, and crisis management.
A trusted PR advisor at the highest levels, she’s led hundreds of successful media campaigns, develops strategic messaging, builds relationships, and protects brands and reputations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born and raised in a small-town northwest of Houston, Texas. From a young age, I was an observant kid, and always needed to know the ‘why’ but also had the ‘gift of gab’ so could pretty much get anyone to talk, and if it wasn’t adult level speak or a compelling story, I wasn’t interested. I’ve always been a hard worker, holding my first job at age 15 as a gymnastics coach — which was before I could legally drive, but I would coach the younger classes after my own gymnastics practice, so I really enjoyed helping others in a field I was more advanced in. Hence, why I love helping our clients tell the story of their businesses, which as a natural born storyteller with a business mind (my parents were both entrepreneurs), I felt called to do so, so became qualified to do so, graduating with a BA degree in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations and Integrated Marketing.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I was fortunate to know what I wanted to do going into my freshman year of college so feel fortunate to have had that mapped out — I secured apprenticeships all throughout college and was hired at a PR firm I was interning at immediately after graduating. I would contribute my path in PR to my first apprenticeship at the American Heart Association under the Director of Communications who fully believed in my abilities and didn’t leave time or slack for me to not figure out quickly what needed to get done to yield results. Apparently, I respond well to ‘sink or swim’ and didn’t want to drown, so I figured it out quickly. She was relentless and I was dependable — so that primed me and oriented me for entrepreneurialism.
What truly led me to starting my own business was a cross-country move from my job in PR in Houston to the hospitality capital of the world — Las Vegas. I went from working in a small, 4-person team where we all depended on each other and communicated (because we were in a 500 sq ft office) to the largest PR firm in Nevada, and what I found was, there are SO MANY people in large corporations that it is difficult for business owners to even know what is going on with clients or employees, regardless of structure. I saw an opportunity to create a smaller agency with a more hands-on approach for clients who couldn’t afford the large PR firms, or just wanted that more attentive feel.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My company is 9 years old now, so a lot of interesting things have happened, but certainly dealing with a client crisis while on vacation was interesting to navigate. I was working 16-hour days while overseas due to the crisis that occurred, and actually found the time difference helped navigate an influx of media emails. I also learned that being a CEO means you are never truly ‘out of the office’ — and it isn’t a sacrifice to me. The gain is so much greater being able to help clients in their time of need.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Grit. Which is effort x passion. In 2012, I was just trying to figure out how to make payroll — flashforward to today, and I have a small but mighty team of 6 employees and just celebrated our 9th anniversary. It certainly helped being surrounded by business owners and other entrepreneurs who hired me, guided me in an entrepreneurial scope and believed in me, but sometimes it’s the people who didn’t think you could that matter just as much. You gotta have a little “I’ll show you” — and that’s even in terms of taking on clients who haven’t gotten news coverage with 3 other agencies before you. Grit drives me forward and gets me results.
Fast Communicator. You have to be blunt and concise and really good at giving and receiving feedback. I can pull someone in my office to go over a mistake and be very direct, but the next day, celebrate that person’s win and take the whole team out to celebrate. In PR, there are tight turnarounds and deadlines for clients; sometimes clients tell us they’re having an event or dealing with a real time crisis and the news needs to get out accurately and quickly, so that sort of work-think is applied to our office culture too. In our office, we have the tough conversations, take it personally, but move on swiftly and get better and grow as a team. It’s important to be accountable to failure just as much as success and take the gains from each humbly.
Accessibility. I am approachable, and do not believe in shutting myself in an office in an executive wing. I work out in the office alongside my team when I’m not in client meetings or on conference calls. As a leader, it’s easier for me to have a hands-on, tactical grasp of all pieces of my business being next to my team.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Moreover, I think people who are uncomfortable with themselves are uncomfortable with strong women.
We grew up in a society where women didn’t lawfully have equal rights comparatively to men until the 60’s (when my parents were born) and as such, there is still a lack of women in positions of power as a natural result of men getting a ‘head start’. Growing up in households with men who were the ones in positions of power, or the breadwinners of the family, and a traditional mother in that household being the caregiver, this can throw men’s perceptions now ‘out of whack’ when the gender roles are reversed and a woman is the breadwinner, owns a home, pays her bills, and provides or outsources the caregiving. We can do everything — and that is intimidating to tradition or familiarity.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I’ve been to relationship therapy in two different relationships wherein both partners said aloud in therapy sessions that they felt ‘emasculated’ by being in relationship with me. In both instances, I made more money than my partner, and both moved into my house which I have owned since 2017, which made them feel (paraphrasing) like there was nothing they could provide for me that I could not provide for myself or had not already provided for myself. To me, the only reason a man can feel ‘emasculated’ which is to be deprived of his male role or identity, is from a societal or familiar view crafting what that entails in the first place. We were all taught gender roles and these ex-boyfriends could not adequately play that traditional male role with me on the other side, in a way they are ‘comfortable’ with.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Do not make yourself smaller to compensate for someone else’s insecurity. As long as tone and behavior are in-line and respectful, maintaining an assertiveness lets the other person know that you deeply understand your worth and reminds them of your comfortability with it, which can speak volumes. I am always calm, kind and assertive — in that order.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Articles like these. More people speaking about the elephant in the room. Change begins with discussion. Discussion begets change.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Proving themselves worthy of speaking at a table full of men. It’s almost impressive when a woman holds her own in a male dominated industry or conference room even.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
This is tough because I believe it is an emphasis I place on myself as a business owner. There really is no ‘off’ switch when it comes to running a company, but recognizing that and deciding to live your life accordingly and with balance is key. That can even involve unlearning things we inherently tell ourselves are necessary for success — like never taking any time off. For instance, I would approve all my employees’ vacation before considering my own, now I make sure to have blackout dates at the beginning of the year for my vacation. I also use “no” as a complete sentence. Often times we feel we have to say “yes” to every opportunity, which cuts into personal time (personal time can also be “relaxing” and doing nothing to recharge) and leads to burnout, so I say “no” to some obligations that don’t serve me in order to have more personal time which is necessary for me to function at a high level as a leader.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
Being diagnosed with alopecia areata (stress induced hair loss) was a pretty big wakeup call — and there is no cure except for lifestyle changes. My body was literally telling me I was making it sick. There was certainly cumulative burnout and exhaustion that went unchecked, but since then, I have consistently kept myself in check with a good therapist who I’ve been going to for a few years, so I just set boundaries (screens off at 10 pm, exercise every day whenever I feel like it) and gravitate towards ‘me’ time before I feel inundated. I also think communicating to YOURSELF and those who depend on you is imperative when you need a break. Burnout is real and people are understanding.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I think anyone who knows me, knows I like to present myself polished at all times, so I do feel like I place an emphasis on appearance. When I look good, I feel good and feel more confident. Much like a superhero wears a costume, or a man wears a ‘power suit’ I feel like hair/makeup/outfit is my female version of a ‘power suit’ and it feels ritualistic to ‘put on my power’ every morning.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think since PR is considered a ‘creative’ industry, the dichotomy between men and women needing to both appear polished doesn’t really exist in my industry. I am aware that it exists, but there is certainly creative expression in the industry so ‘come as you are’ is more accepted in the workplace.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Boundaries. it took me a long time to realize you don’t need to always say ‘yes’ to everything to be successful, and that ‘no is a complete sentence’. I’ve found resting and recharging for the things I need to show up for allows me to be at 100% instead of exhausted and running off fumes from giving myself to things that weren’t necessary.
2. Grit. There’s struggle and there’s doubt in leadership, but I use determination and goals to see me through just about anything I’m passionate about. I look at everything I do as practice with a purpose, and with entrepreneurialism and leadership, a lot of it is figuring things out as you go, letting go of criticism and doubt and trudging through until you see your purpose through.
3. A Humble Attitude. I’m a huge advocate of accepting wins graciously and moving on quickly and also accepting criticism graciously and moving on. The people I admire the most celebrate their wins but don’t get caught up on them AND can admit failures and have accountability but also don’t get caught up on them. Both instances require a humble attitude and lend themselves to growth in my opinion.
4. Hustle Leadership. Routines and a packed schedule keep me showing up day after day and give me purpose and drive. I tend to thrive off a chaotic schedule and I like my calendar to be full from the beginning of the day until the end of it, which isn’t the preferred method for some people, but to me, motion creations emotion — and my employees see me constantly making use of my time which sets the tone in the office.
5. Vacations. Mental exhaustion is real and usually results in poor work performance. I make it a point to have blackout dates — my birthday and Thanksgiving are dates where my employees are not allowed to take PTO, and I’ve conditioned clients to learn to expect me to be away from my phone during those dates. As a leader, we have to take care of a lot of people which becomes impossible if you don’t take care of yourself first.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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.
Russell Brand — his life experiences have totally lent themselves to his commonsense antics he posts. His intelligence, logic, open mindedness, candor, and oration of it all are really things I admire. He’s the embodiment of passion with purpose to me.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.