A native New Yorker, Farissa relocated to Chicago in 2007 and founded RLM Media in 2008. RLM is a full-service advertising agency that specializes in integrated marketing communications and additionally, uniquely services and works closely with other communication firms that do not have full-service capabilities in-house. The key, niche client categories RLM specializes in are Politics, Health Care, Recruitment, Higher Education, Finance, and Government contracts.
Additionally, Farissa founded WhatRUWearing in 2012. WRUW is a production house that focuses on a one-off, series, and cinematic video within the fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and reality space, having created the original series, PRGirl, focusing on young women in major markets living and working in the world of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle public relations. Farissa is the creator and Executive Producer of PRGirl.
Before Farissa was in business for herself, she worked in advertising sales. Farissa began her career in local radio sales at Cox Radio in Richmond, Virginia for the Classic Rock radio station WKLR-FM where she was able to learn the foundation of some of the same skills she uses today in her own companies. From there, Farissa went on to do national radio sales for Interep in New York and Chicago which, at the time, represented over 2000 radio stations across the country. Farissa lives in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood with her husband and two daughters.
Farissa received her B.A. in Communications from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA in 2003.
Tell us a bit about your background and what made you choose your career?
I was born and raised in the Bronx. My family moved to Richmond, Virginia on my second day of high school and I was forced to evolve into a different version of myself to fit in. I learned a lot about the real America (racism, ignorance, etc.) during my high school, college, and early working days in VA. It’s also the time in my life when I fell in love with the art of communication and found the advertising world.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Honestly, sometimes as Black people, it’s just enough that it’s one of us doing it for it to add some good disruption into the mix. I play in the world of business creation, nurturing, growing; producing and directing; and content creation- all fields still dominated by white men- I’m disrupting this industry, by using these hips to make room at all the tables.
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?
It’s hard for me to think of a funny mistake. From the moment I started my first real job, I spent way more time watching and listening to people that I admired for one reason or the other. I also learned things from them or got comfortable enough with them, to ask questions. But I will say, the biggest mistake I have made as a business owner is not paying myself for years at the beginning of my business in order to invest back into the business. It helped grow RLM Media, but it made it appear as if I had no income, no credit, and no ability to stand alone financially. That scared the mess out of me and since then, I have been paying myself first. As the owner, you are the one with the biggest risk, so you deserve the paycheck; you can afford to pay yourself.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve had many mentors in my life. My journey has been very non-traditional. It hasn’t been until recently that I now have two grown women who have lived a similar life to mine where they can give me professional, life, and mindfulness advice. As a Black woman, having these two women of color in my life has been life-changing. They have already lived and endured the life I am living and experienced this world in the same skin- that level of advice and experience is beyond valuable to my soul.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
This is a great question. I think about this issue in a simple way. When looking at the industry, systems, and/or policies and deciding if it makes more sense to disrupt it or find a different approach, one needs to start by looking at the origin of the system. Was it one created with lots of diversity in mind, experience, and realities? Or one that only includes the thoughts, feelings, and experience of a select few? If it’s the latter, it’s safe to say it’s not the best idea, structure, by definition, because it doesn’t consider or include everyone as a whole- so go shake things up! This pretty much applies to everything real today. For me, being a Black woman who owns an advertising agency and choosing to be just as loud as the firm to my right and left, is step one in the direction of disruption.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Here are the best pieces of advice/truths I have learned along my journey:
1. Other people’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings about you are just that- their thoughts, opinion, and feelings- and they have nothing to do with you.
2. As a leader, you have to be just as good at developing the plan as you are at pivoting to a new plan when it’s warranted.
3. Telling the truth. There are many ways to deliver it. I’ve collected these options from a mixture of personal work with my therapist, learning things along the past 12 years in my day-to-day running businesses, and meeting lots of people along the way.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m just going to continue to use my voice, become more persistent, and harder to ignore in everything I do and touch.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Ha! How to be a woman while doing all these things. The system in which we live in was built around women being wives and mothers- and nothing else. So we as (women) have decided we would like more ingredients to choose from, we’ve had to create things to become part of this society to make the other options we want attainable. Birth control, child care, mother’s rooms in offices, #metoo, bank accounts we have opened ourselves, voting rights, etc. Men have not had to make anything ‘man-friendly’. Women have had to carve the way for other women to excel in a man’s world. That’s the real work of a woman disruptor.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Not really. For me, this is the personal work I do in therapy. I really believe that the more time we spend getting to know and love ourselves with no judgment, the better we show up in the world and can extend compassion and love towards others. We are our biggest competition and hurdle. Once we get over the things we have created to be in our way, we become unstoppable.
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 recently got asked this very question and my answer is no different. I would make being smart, cool. People are living at the highest level of ignorance ever and in most cases, happy about it. People need to learn how things, decisions, and laws impact them so that they make better decisions- like the decision to vote!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What’s done in the dark always finds its way to the light”. – Claire Huxtable. This is so true! Keeping this in mind, I try to approach everything I do as if everyone is going to know about it. Every email I send, I care about. Every conversation I have with a friend, client, or employee- I give 100% of my attention- and when I am alone, I don’t use that as an excuse to slack up on the quality I try to bring to things. It makes major differences in the outcome every time!
For more information, please visit www.farissaknox.com
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.