Tara Ackaway: “No matter how successful you are, people are always going to have a comment about what your next move should be”

When you feel overwhelmed (because it’s going to happen no matter how much you love your job) step away for five minutes. Drop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Walk around, come back, and revisit the task at hand. That couple of minutes will do wonders. As a part of our series about powerful […]

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When you feel overwhelmed (because it’s going to happen no matter how much you love your job) step away for five minutes. Drop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Walk around, come back, and revisit the task at hand. That couple of minutes will do wonders.

As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Ackaway. Tara is the CEO and Founder of Social Wise Communications LLC. She is an Entertainment Publicist, Talent Manager, and Social Media Strategist. She assists small businesses, non-profit organizations, products, places, and people achieve “buzz” by developing and implementing innovative ideas to identify new customers and build loyalty among existing customers. Tara’s clients have been featured in media outlets including Sirius XM Radio, Fox, ABC, Bravo TV, Black Enterprise, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Good Morning America, E! News and many more. Tara proudly holds a Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, in Communication from Monmouth University. She was recently featured by Forbes. In her free time, she enjoys reading, walking her dog, writing and spending time with her family.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Ever since a young age, I’ve always been entrepreneurial, although, I never imagined that one day I’d own Social Wise Communications, an Entertainment Public Relations, and Social Media Management Company.

When I first started my college career I was very much interested in pursuing a law degree. My mind quickly changed after taking just one elective course focused on the “ins and outs” of public relations. I fell in love with the creativity, competitive culture, and hustle mentality a publicist needed to possess to find success for his/her respective clients. Taking that communications elective turned out to be a pivotal moment early on in my education. After the course ended I was hungry to learn more about the communications industry, in an effort to perfect my craft. That obsession led me to pursue a series of internships in New York City.

Throughout my college experience, I balanced a high-profile internship with a television star along with my college courses. I was also offered two additional professional opportunities through networking. One gave me first-hand corporate PR experience. The second gave me extensive experience with hands-on social media and branding. Although it may appear to be, the work wasn’t all glamorous. I quickly learned to appreciate the work ethic required to complete those not-so-glamorous responsibilities. My philosophy was, and has remained the same: Success isn’t handed out, it’s earned!

If you dream big, work hard, and are willing to sacrifice A LOT now (something most aren’t willing to do), you will live a life most will never have. I knew I could learn a lot from these experiences and grow both personally, and professionally. And, I did just that. I may have been young, but I certainly wasn’t naive.

Eventually, it was time to end this really exciting chapter of my life. Of course, the feeling was bittersweet… it still is. It was time to move on, and I couldn’t be more sure of that decision now. While going on interviews in an effort to secure a job, I started to receive freelance requests from contacts I made while working in New York.

Pro tip! Create a business card and hand it out wherever you go. It’s never too early.

Powerful people wanted to take a chance on me. It felt good. And so, I thought why not? Why can’t I pursue a business? At first, I didn’t realize what I was about to take on. I didn’t envision having a company. I didn’t envision much of anything other than getting the task requested of me and completing it to the best of my ability. That was until several individuals came to me with freelance requests.

Zero advertising dollars. No promotion. All referrals.

Then, at that moment, the light bulb went on. I saw the vision and it was time to act on it. Before I knew it, Social Wise Communications was born.

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

Shortly after I graduated from college and started Social Wise Communications, I reconnected with John Morano, a former professor of mine at Monmouth University. John and I always had a great rapport, I enjoyed his classes and appreciated the real world stories he shared with my classmates and I. He’s a professor many admire because he doesn’t teach from a textbook, he teaches from experience. (Well, technically, he does teach from a textbook, but he wrote the textbook so that’s different.)

After catching up, John and I decided to work together on a campaign to promote his novels, The Eco-Adventure Series , in an effort to raise awareness for a multitude of environmental issues. We’ve continued our professional relationship and have truly become great friends in the process. His books are impactful, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to let others know just how great they truly are. I chose to share this story because having a former professor hire you for your professional expertise is one of the biggest compliments you can be given.

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?

Negotiating appearance details for our clients is a big part of my day-to-day responsibilities. Typically, venues will request a specific client on our roster to make an appearance or host a workshop at their location. From there, the negotiation for the client’s appearance fee takes place, and additional requests are discussed. One of the very first appearances I ever booked, the venue representative asked me to send a “rider.” I initially thought this was an odd request, but started researching how much it would cost to rent a Rider truck for the event. Then I wondered, why did it have to be a Rider truck? Couldn’t we just rent a U-Haul van? Surely, it would be cheaper.

After a little more research and some phone clarification, I learned quickly that a rider was an organized and visually appealing breakdown of a client’s preferences including, but not limited to food, beverage, travel arrangements, etc. From that experience, I learned that if you are ever unclear about something, just ask! It will avoid a major miscommunication crisis down the line. Now, I look back and laugh. At the time, not so much!

OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?

I love that as the CEO of Social Wise Communications I can control all creative content that our company produces. That said, I value each of our team members opinions immensely. We all have our own lanes, and oftentimes, I look to my team for their expert opinions.

From the first time I meet someone (whether it be a new client or employee), I always make it clear that I don’t have all the answers, and my ideas are not always the best. I admire when my employees respectfully challenge me. I love collaborative efforts and brainstorming sessions. As the CEO, it’s also extremely valuable to know that I have the ability to ensure that our company is ethically sound, provides a fun work culture, and ensures every client and team member is genuinely happy and challenging themselves for the better each day.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Any type of leadership position holds value. As a leader, it’s your job to guide your team, meet deadlines, inspire creativity, reach success, push limits and so much more. Though many of those responsibilities fall onto the CEO’s shoulders, I’d argue that the responsibility (though not any more or less important) is intensified.

As a CEO, I’d be naive to think that any manager at my company or employee in a leadership position will ever feel the same amount of pressure to succeed as I do. When you create something from concept to fruition, as I’ve done with Social Wise Communications, there is a special bond that an outsider, newcomer, or even valuable team member will never understand. Ensuring that everything is completed to the best of the company’s ability is something I hold near and dear to my heart as the CEO.

I also find it valuable to check in with each of my employees on a regular basis. Sometimes these check-ins will be work related, other times they aren’t. What is important to me is that my employees have a healthy work-life balance, so distractions don’t get in the way of their work performance. I find pleasure in knowing they are working a fulfilled life full of purpose and passion. At the end of the day, we all have one life to live and it should be a wonderful one.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

One of the most exciting parts of my job is rewarding my employees for their hard work, loyalty, and dedication to Social Wise Communications. Without my team, the company simply wouldn’t be able to scale as it has and continues to do. You can only do so much as one person, and I understand that fully. Before Social Wise Communications had a “team,” it had just “me” !

I acknowledge the opportunities my company has been able to take on due to our growing, dedicated, and enthusiastic team members. I value my team and my clients very highly, and their happiness is one of my main focuses daily. I’ve always enjoyed giving, and so, delivering exciting client news and advancements is also something that fulfills me as a CEO.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be extremely difficult at times. For me, it’s a weakness that I do my best to work on time and time again. Because the industry of public relations and social media doesn’t shut down, and the news is always being released, I’m always on call. As you could imagine, that can make having a social life and balancing family tough at times.

I absolutely love what I do for a living, it’s my passion and it keeps me on my toes. Knowing this, I’m not blind to realize we all need time off to decompress and spend quality time with the ones we love. Here and there I will take day trips to unwind and unplug, however, my phone and laptop always manage to find a way into my bag.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Hollywood has done a wonderful job portraying the life of a CEO as ultra-glamorous. Access to private jets, fancy dinners, and free luxury products, is just a start to what is shown on the big screen.

What you don’t see is the 14-hour workdays, missed birthday parties, vacations, engagements, late-night negotiations, and so on. There is so much sacrifice that comes with the title of being a CEO. For those of us that choose this life, there is typically no regret. I feel grateful to be in this space, and the sacrifices are meaningless to me because I can visualize the big picture.

I’ve also seen CEO’s portrayed as “high maintenance” in the media. Though I guess this could be true in some companies, that is certainly not the case at Social Wise Communications. I would never ask an employee to do something I wouldn’t do myself. We are all equal, and will always be treated with the same respect.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

At Social Wise Communications we work with a diverse group of clientele. Sometimes our projects lead us to work in either male or female-dominated industries. Here’s an example of how this can be a challenging space to work in:

When you are a female yourself, representing another female owned brand, in a male- dominated industry, sometimes there is a lack of respect. Recently, our company was consulting for a women owned sports brand. Representing a sports brand as a female is tough. There was a lot of adversity I had to personally go through in order to prove my credibility, and knowledge, as a female in the ever-growing male-dominated sports industry.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

No one can mentally prepare you to take on such a role. Every single day of my career as the CEO of Social Wise Communications there are ups and downs. Then again, life is the same way, and that is precisely what makes it so magical.

I guess because of the way the media portrays the role of several CEO’s, there was a part of my younger self that imagined my life would be stress-free or at the least, consist of minimal stress, because I’d have a “team” to assist me. Though I truly do feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with this job, I’ve learned overtime stress-free doesn’t exist no matter what the job is. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by stress, you need to learn how to navigate through it.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

You must be an innovative leader willing to put others before yourself. It’s not all about you, it’s all about the company, and the people that help make the company a success. You’ve got to have excellent written, verbal, and non-verbal communication skills. Remember, you are representing not only your entire company but you’re also a representation of every single one of the company’s clients.

I’d also say it’s important to be accountable, committed to perfecting your craft, and inspirational. Your clients, as well as your staff, need to feel motivated and determined to take on new challenges and opportunities as they arise. Pretty often, you’ll need to be their cheerleader providing support and guidance as needed. This must be done with an authentic smile on your face and extra enthusiasm.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Take the time to get to know each member of your team one-on-one. Pay attention to their goals and interests. Find out what motivates each of them individually. What makes them want to come to work? It doesn’t have to be all work, all the time. It is important to maintain a professional relationship, but building a relationship is still necessary. At the Social Wise Communications office, I host monthly team building activities and take time to acknowledge team members who are meeting and superseding their goals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For as long as I can remember, my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders. Their unconditional love and encouragement has truly helped shape me into the leader I am today. I genuinely care about others, and that stems from my childhood. I was raised to be kind to everyone and give back whenever possible. My parents have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and have taught me that the only limits in life are the ones we create for ourselves.

When I first decided to start my company, Social Wise Communications, right out of college, I had so many people tell me I was crazy. Tons of people didn’t believe in my vision. Not once did either one of my parents try to talk me out of it. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Both my mom and dad cheered me on every step of the way. I feel so grateful to have them in my life as they continue to cheer me on.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I love sharing my success with those around me. Often times people equate money to success, but that’s not the end all be all. To me, success is happiness. True happiness. When I’m happy, those around me are happy. I love to spread happiness, kindness, generosity, etc. There are so many ways to spread positive energy. Smile at a stranger. Compliment someone you meet at the grocery store. Pay for the coffee order of the woman behind you in line at your local cafe. Say thank you.

It’s the little things in life that become the big things later on. Truthfully, you never know what someone is going through. Your small token of kindness can impact someone in more ways than you could ever imagine.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. No matter how successful you are, people are always going to have a comment about what your next move should be. Put your head down and focus. Block out the distractions.
  2. Network every day. Your network is your net worth. If you don’t have amazing relationships with writers, producers, and editors it’s going to be very difficult for you to get the word out about your clients.
  3. Find a healthy work-life balance. It’s very easy to let your work consume you, especially if you are an entrepreneur. Never give up on your hobbies and passions. Schedule time for your family and loved ones.
  4. When you feel overwhelmed (because it’s going to happen no matter how much you love your job) step away for five minutes. Drop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Walk around, come back, and revisit the task at hand. That couple of minutes will do wonders.
  5. Your time is valuable. It’s something you can never get back. Use it wisely.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d love to see people pursue their passions. I know so many people who are simply miserable because they dislike their jobs, their boss, their co-workers, their home life, etc. I understand that sometimes in life we have to make sacrifices, but even if you’re making sacrifices, don’t give up on pursuing your true passions. Don’t become stagnant or content because it’s easy. What fun is that? Push your limits and bring your dreams to fruition. Successful people aren’t lucky, most of the time they’re extremely hard-working, dedicated to their craft and hungry for more success. I’d love to see a movement where people are fearless in the pursuit of their happiness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”.

Starting a company, and being a CEO, my reputation will follow me wherever I go. I make sure to make good first impressions by always staying true to myself. I instill this value within my team, as well as make a point for them to focus on their goals, peace, and happiness.

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

Sara Blakely, Inventor of Spanx.

I admire Sara for many reasons, but one in particular, is her calling to support women. I find myself constantly reposting her inspirational content on Instagram and LinkedIn. She seems like a breath of fresh, innovative air. Not to mention, she is an incredible entrepreneur and a branding genius. Oh, and I assume a ton of fun! I’d love the opportunity to learn from an industry leader like Sara.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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