Michelle Mekky: “It’s ok to make mistakes; you will recover”

Be the light in the room. Be energetic and smile to really make memorable impressions. As part of my publicist rockstars column, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Mekky. She is president and founder of Mekky Media Relations, Inc., a boutique public relations firm dedicated to delivering powerful publicity. Michelle has more than 20 […]

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Be the light in the room. Be energetic and smile to really make memorable impressions.

As part of my publicist rockstars column, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Mekky. She is president and founder of Mekky Media Relations, Inc., a boutique public relations firm dedicated to delivering powerful publicity. Michelle has more than 20 years of experience as a broadcast journalist and PR executive, leading award-winning marketing and PR campaigns for some of the nation’s biggest and most diverse brands and businesses. Michelle is a graduate of Northwestern University, achieving both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the renowned Medill School of Journalism. She spent over a decade as a senior producer and news writer for Fox-TV in Chicago. She then transitioned into a career in PR and marketing, spending more than 10 years at agencies in Chicago. She launched Mekky Media in 2016, with an emphasis on PR strategy and media relations, media training, event promotion, and social and influencer outreach. Mekky Media works with a diverse roster of business and nonprofit clients, ranging from start-ups to established companies.

Michelle won a 2018 Stevie Award for Women in Business, receiving a bronze medal in the Entrepreneur of the Year category. Also, in 2018, Michelle and Mekky Media were selected to be part of the Forbes Agency Council, a prestigious organization for owners and executives of PR, media strategy, creative, and advertising agencies. In 2019, Michelle was named a Crain’s Chicago Business Notable Entrepreneur, and Mekky Media was honored with two Publicity Club of Chicago Golden Trumpet Awards. Mekky Media has received a Women’s Business Enterprise Certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

Thank you for joining us Michelle!Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My English teachers at Niles West High School inspired me in many ways. With their encouragement, I joined the newspaper and found the nerve to audition for the school’s cable channel, even though I was extremely insecure (thanks to my braces and out-of-control curly hair). I was picked to be an anchor! It still took me many years to find my confidence, but that experience helped me realize my passion for storytelling and broadcast journalism. It sparked something in me and brought me down a path that would eventually lead to PR.

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

One of the most interesting things that have happened was in April 2019 when we found out that Cubs superstar Anthony Rizzo had agreed to be the honorary chair of Komen Chicago’s Mother’s Day Race for the Cure and that he would attend the event with his mom. We have done PR for Komen Chicago for the past few years, and we’ve always gotten a lot of media attention for the Race, their signature event. But the announcement of Anthony’s involvement took the buzz to a whole new level. There were so many logistics for us to coordinate in a short amount of time, like when and how he would arrive and how he would be incorporated into the program. We also had to worry about crowd control and making sure we got as many members of the press to him as possible. He, of course, was wonderful and so committed to the cause. It was a crazy day for me and my team, but so rewarding to be part of such a newsworthy occasion and help elevate one of our favorite nonprofit clients.

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?

When I was starting my company nearly four years ago, in a moment of weakness, I gave into my daughter’s wishes to get a dog. I mistakenly thought it was perfect timing since I would be working from home. And a friend was fostering an adorable puppy who needed a family, so how could I say no? How wrong I was! Please understand, I absolutely love my dog Champ — he’s become a true member of the family and is the best stress reliever. BUT it was not smart to embark upon the journey of raising a hyper puppy while launching a business. My home office has French doors that don’t lock, and Champ would regularly burst through them while I was on calls and cause all kinds of chaos (in fact, he still does this). He would love to sit under my desk and fart in those early days. It was not pleasant! But he’s come a long way, and looking back, I like to think that he and I started Mekky Media together.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am honored that Mekky Media represents some of the Chicago area’s leading nonprofits, including The Ark, the Center for Enriched Living, Chicago Lights, Chicago Scholars, Devices 4 the Disabled, and Komen Chicago. Since social distancing began, my team and I have been busy supporting them as they meet needs created by this crisis, while continuing to do the incredible work they were already doing. Our nonprofits desperately need the community’s support right now, so we are getting them as much media coverage as possible and helping them tell their stories on social media.

It has also been interesting to partner with the non-profit TCS Education System, our client that has a system of colleges across the country. TCS employs many experts with valuable perspectives on the pandemic and its impact on society. There have been far-reaching media interest, and it’s been exciting to bring this client the national exposure it deserves.

We also just started working with Impact XM, an event and experiential marketing agency that has been in business 50 years and is now pivoting its focus in response to COVID-19. We’ve been sharing stories of how this company is using its event expertise to create modular spaces and digital solutions to help clients reach their customers while people can’t gather face to face.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. You will lose friends. Some people don’t understand just how busy you will be when starting a business. I pretty much had no social life for the first two years after I launched.
  2. Not everyone will like you. As much as I want to be the most popular person in the room, I am not. As a boss, you have to make tough decisions, give authentic feedback, and guide and mentor your team. This was one of the toughest lessons I learned early on when I was promoted above my peers.
  3. Not everyone is a workaholic like I am. I guess I knew this, but I have had to control my tendencies to work all the time. When you have your own business, you have to set boundaries or they won’t exist. I now have a much better work-life balance, thanks in part to the fact that I’ve been able to hire a great team. And to be honest, my work-life balance has gotten even better in this pandemic. Being able to work from home all the time and not attend events or commute downtown has given me the gift of time. I am using it to my advantage to really focus on my mental health.
  4. PR can be toxic. This industry is tough and unforgiving, and there are many days of rejection. I have worked with people who were gossiping about me and saying negative things, and I had no idea. But now I can choose team members who meet my standards of authenticity, true kindness, and support for each other. That’s one reason why starting my own business has been not only the hardest thing I have done but the healthiest and most rewarding.
  5. It’s ok to make mistakes; you will recover. I have always been afraid of failure. And throughout my career, I’ve made mistakes and do have some regrets. But I am grateful for every moment I’ve experienced — the good and bad — because it has all taught me to be the leader I am today. Starting my own PR agency has given me great hope and inspiration for the future.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

  1. Always be your true self. I love connecting with people and using humility. I poke fun at myself to put others at ease and get them to open up as well. This is much more effective and rewarding than pretending to be someone you’re not.
  2. Be the light in the room. Be energetic and smile to really make memorable impressions.
  3. Try to remember one thing about everyone you meet and follow up with them, not to ask favors but to show support or be of service.
  4. Make sure to leave positive impressions every time. I’m always amazed when someone remembers me from many years ago. Making an impact on someone is so important. My network is what has built my business.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

  1. LinkedIn is a gold mine. Learn how to effectively use this platform to target potential customers. Post regularly, offer advice, and reach out to those you really wish to target in a meaningful way.
  2. I set google alerts to the industries I want to target, so I am aware of new projects, new openings, and new initiatives where PR could be a fit.
  3. Attend events and trade shows in your industry to make authentic human connections. This has gone a long way for me.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

“Thrive,” by Arianna Huffington. I have been overwhelmed with the pressures of my job at times. This book really spoke to me and helped me re-frame the way I think about what’s important and what defines success. I’m passionate about my career and my company. But my family and many other aspects of my life also bring me joy, and I must make them a priority as well.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

I was bullied as a kid for not having a wealthy family, for not wearing designer clothes, for having curly hair. I grew up with very little confidence because of this and spent most of my childhood and young adult years trying to overcome my insecurities. I would like to inspire a movement of women supporting women — authentically with no judgment, no jealousy, and no negativity. I want my daughter to feel confident in who she is and not insecure about what others think. It starts with adults setting this example with each other and showing our kids the way. Doing more collaborating and less competing could lead to great things.

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