Sleep is actually a requisite. I used to work until I was quite literally falling asleep on my laptop, log the fewest number of hours possible, and then caffeinate myself through my day. But now I know I do my best work when I’m rested and I can actually tackle more things in less time when I give my mind the opportunity to recover.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Finck. Since 2006, Danielle has worked at the intersections of media, communications, entertainment and impact, elevating pioneers who are driving positive change. As the founder and CEO of Elle Communications, a PR agency that represents companies, brands and individuals creating social and environmental impact, she shares her time between the agency’s New York and Los Angeles headquarters. Some of the brands Danielle has worked on at Elle include Invisible Children, UNICEF, I AM THAT GIRL, World Vision, MusiCares, SurfAid, Omaze, Raven + Lily, adidas x Parley, The Giving Keys, Cora, Girlgaze, The Little Market, It’s On Us, Kind Campaign, Rock the Vote, and This Bar Saves Lives. Danielle lives in Venice Beach, CA with her husband and son.
Thank you so much for your time. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for the opportunity! I started my career in the agency world, representing businesses in tech, biotech, healthcare, etc. I found myself most passionate about our agency’s pro-bono charity client, which probably annoyed the heck out of my boss (sorry, Julie!). There weren’t any agencies that existed at that time committed to the impact arena, so I moved into an in-house marketing role for a non-profit where side projects were no longer a conflict of interest. Over the course of the next couple of years, I had a lot of friends starting things in the impact space and I started to help them out in my early mornings and late evenings. Eventually, I found myself with a full-time job and 8 side projects, all while completing my MBA. Something had to give, so I went out on my own, planning to be a freelancer. But I found myself in the right place at the right time and as interest in philanthropy and social enterprises grew, so did we, opening two more offices and expanding into the bi-coastal impact agency we are today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Oh, gosh, my life has been jam-packed with interesting moments since starting my career. Truly, there’s never been a dull moment. I’ve had the immense pleasure to take celebrities on international trips to places like Kenya, Uganda, and India to see our clients work on the ground, I’ve gotten to celebrate in the streets with the residents of Skid Row, I’ve media trained inspiring survivors of many types of human rights violations, and I’ve worked alongside some of the people who I think are the biggest heroes In the worlds of journalism and impact. I get to spend time with the most fascinating people on the planet, who have shaped me both personally and professionally. Today, I’m learning to navigate my new role as a working mom and I’m taking on all my most exciting career highs with a little extra love on my shoulders (in the form of baby spit up haha!).
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?
Two different moments stand out to me. The first was the first client referral anyone ever sent me. I won the business and got straight to work. But a month later, I received an angry email from the publicist who referred me and who was very much my senior, scolding me for not taking the time to thank her for the connection that led to my new client. I felt horrible for having failed to express my gratitude and, boy, was that a lesson I didn’t forget! I carve time out of my schedule every week for sending thoughtful thank you’s to those who are helping us along the way. Second, I recall the first time I was ever scolded by a journalist. I think I’d read somewhere about an idea I decided to test out myself and I started a pitch commenting on how it was a relatively slow news day and I had a more evergreen human interest story I was hoping to work with a journalist on. When she responded, she let me know their paper had experienced the biggest layoff in their history and pointedly let me know how off-base I was with my assertion. I’ve never again assumed that anyone is having a slow day!
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
Luckily, in a service-based business it’s much easier to be profitable because you don’t have products to source, produce, warehouse, etc. We’ve been profitable since day one and have been very conservative in our spending so that when we have slower seasons, we can still retain our full team. Fun fact: I didn’t even have a credit card until about five years into the business!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
It really is hard for me to choose because we only take on projects we think are highly impactful and that we’re wildly passionate about, and a lot of what we work on is confidential until it’s live in the world. Something sitting on my to-do list today is the Oscars party for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled to be supporting their vital work.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Be curious. Wildly curious. Be curious about who you can learn from, how the media industry functions, what are the trends and innovations in the PR landscape, who writes what where, and what’s happening in the news. There’s so much to learn and it is your responsibility to commit yourself to being self-motivated in your professional education.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I feel a little allergic to that word “networking,” to be honest. To me, it implies a transactional nature to human relationships and that’s just not how I like to look at people. I’m an extrovert by nature and I love learning about people and finding natural ways we can help one another or work together. I care less about networking and more about moving through the world with gratitude for the opportunities and individuals I have the honor of encountering.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Again, so many. But I’m currently obsessed with Essentialism and have been enjoying applying its principles to my personal and professional lives.
Social and environmental impact can often feel big, overwhelming, and daunting. A lot of people feel like there are too many issues they care about and the issues are too big, and they’re met with paralysis for how and when to begin. So they don’t. But if everyone took an essentialist approach to impact and pinpointed the one issue they care most about in the world, and then really committed themselves to helping solve that issue, imagine all of the progress that could be made! It’s true that we can do anything, but not everything, and that the world just needs us to show up and do something.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Great people will move on. More great people will come into your life. I used to take it so personally and — admittedly — would get pretty bummed every time a team member or client would let me know they were moving on. But, over time, I began to realize that those departures have always made room for even better opportunities. Now I can genuinely celebrate those pivotal moments because I know that something better is always right around the corner for both of us!
- I love the Mary Oliver quote, “things take the time they take. Don’t worry.” I have a tendency to try to control everything, and historically I would tend to have a little fear and anxiety around things not panning out perfectly. But I’ve learned that there are variables outside of my control and that when I show up with confidence and patience in the process, I’m able to achieve things I never thought possible.
- Unfortunately, not everyone is “in it” for the right reasons. Guard your time and resources.
- Sleep is actually a requisite. I used to work until I was quite literally falling asleep on my laptop, log the fewest number of hours possible, and then caffeinate myself through my day. But now I know I do my best work when I’m rested and I can actually tackle more things in less time when I give my mind the opportunity to recover.
- Good leadership requires multiple types of minds. I’m the furthest thing there is from a micro-manager and, while there are some pros to giving people autonomy, ownership, and independence in the workplace, employees also want a certain level of structure. This is one of many examples showcasing the necessity for there to be balance in the attributes and skill sets of any leadership team.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.