I think all leaders and not just female leaders need to develop structure and discipline in their company, and by discipline I mean methods and accountability. All leaders need patience, flexibility, and understanding. You have to be a leader people want to follow. You have to have a mission or a cause that they believe in. As leaders, one of our goals is to bring people to a higher ground be it internally with your staff, or externally with the clients you serve.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Lee Reeves. Kelly a serial entrepreneur having founded her PR company in 2002, a nonprofit animal rescue in 2013 and most recently, a coaching business where she helps entrepreneurs and executives discover their purpose and teaches them to turn their passion into a profitable business from it. Kelly has 20 years of experience in PR and marketing in various industries such as fashion, entertainment, technology, automotive and philanthropy. She has worked with global brands, celebrities, start-ups and entrepreneurs such as DKNY, Howard Stern, Targus, WD, and The Tony Hawk Foundation.She also mentors students in the Masters of Entrepreneurialship Program at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Kelly has received multiple awards of recognition from the Orange County Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, an Award of Distinction from the Communicator Awards and has been nominated multiple times for Women in Business Awards by the Orange County Business Journal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entrepreneurial journey is a rather interesting one. I moved from GA where I’m from and where I went to school — to New York City. This was in the early 90’s. I was waiting tables. When I wasn’t working at one of my waitressing jobs, I would scour the want ads to find a job that would be more career-focused. Back then you had to actually go through the physical newspaper and go through the want ads to find a job.
Anyway, there was an ad for a temp position in the PR department at DKNY, which I jumped on. I also started freelancing for a fashion PR company called Keeble, Cavaco & Duka (now just called KCD) who at the time represented Versace, Ana Sui, Richard Tylor and a number of major fashion houses. I also did some freelance work with a fashion PR company called Showroom Seven who at that time was representing Betsy Johnson.
However, this wasn’t sustainable work, so I went back to the want ads looking for something more fulltime and responded to an ad for Don Buchwald and Associates whose biggest client was (and still is) Howard Stern. I became Don’s assistant. This was when Howard was still on public radio (K-ROCK in NY) and was filming his movie ‘Private Parts’. We were heavily involved in the post-production, PR and marketing of the movie, which of course is what brought me out to LA. Like any ambitious person in their early 20’s who had some exposure to the movie business, I wanted to be in it!
I researched the biggest companies in the entertainment business and faxed over my cover letter and resume to just about all of them. I landed a job on a desk in the Motion Picture Literary Department at CAA, which is one of the biggest talent agencies in the world.
From there I got a job as a personal Jr. Publicist at ID PR, which at the time represented such talents as Natalie Portman, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and a number of other celebrities.
But that is when I started feeling like this wasn’t meant for me. The hours were grueling. Th people were terrible. It’s a pretty cut throat industry. It was so stressful. I started feeling that life’s too short to be so unhappy in my job. My unhappiness showed in my work, which ultimately got me fired.
I thought it was the end of the world, but my sister convinced me to move down to Orange County. The whole dot-com thing was taking off so I decided I would get involved in tech.
I got a job as a Marketing Manager at a technology company where I oversaw the PR initiatives. After the company received a round of funding and went through a re-org, I was laid off.
A friend of mine who owned a tech PR company invited me to come work for him. This was in 2001 and in the advent of wireless networking. We launched the first wireless routers.
However, he lost his biggest client and couldn’t afford to keep me on board, so I was laid off once again.
I took some time off to get married and go on my honeymoon. When I returned, a company I had pitched under my former boss’s company name contacted me and said they wanted to hire me- not realizing I wasn’t at the company any more. I reached out to my friend. I wanted to give him the right of first refusal since I had pitched this potential client under his company name. He said it was too small of an account, and I should take it on my own.
So, in July 2002, I suddenly had a PR practice and my first client.
Then the same former boss referred another client to me, which was a leading Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer who was about to launch one of the first 802.11g wireless routers. This was right when Wi-Fi started hitting the market. It wasn’t quite a household term then. It was a very exciting time in tech!
It all snowballed from there, and I’ve had my PR practice ever since. I have always been focused on tech, mainly the consumer electrics space, but eventually expanded into the automotive, lifestyle, and nonprofit markets.
To continue expanding and scaling, I’ve pivoted to Entrepreneurship and Business Coaching, helping entrepreneurs and executives discover their purpose and teaching them to turn their passion into a profitable business from it.
I also co-founded a nonprofit animal rescue in 2013 and developing a new for-profit business from my passion of helping animals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Gosh! So many, but I don’t have a specific story that stands out, rather things that have made an impact.
From the PR side, I think the most interesting thing I’ve been able to witness is the evolution of technology. When I started my tech PR company, there was no such thing as an iPhone or iPad or VR or AI. We had the 2nd Gen iPod.
There were only 600 million people online worldwide (now there are over 3.8 billion people online worldwide).
The only social media platform was Friendster with 3 million users (Facebook has 2 billion users).
Of course, mobile phones and mobile technology has evolved exponentially. Back then, there was no such thing as selfies, or camera phones, or the ability to record high definition video from a device in our pocket.
Now, we carry around a device that is a computer, cameras, music player, GPS, smart home controller, and so much more all packed into one tiny form factor.
Now we have drones delivering our Amazon purchases. It’s truly amazing!
From the animal rescue side, I get to see the worst and best in humanity every day. I get to see a once homeless, terrified, abused and neglected animal get the care he or she needs and flourish in a loving home. I see people come together to help animals and humans in emergency response situations or natural disasters. I get to see people opening their homes to help an animal in need. I get to see the passion and compassion of people who give a voice to the voiceless. Even though animal rescue is very emotional, and we see some pretty awful stuff, the good stuff- the humanity is what inspires me every day.
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?
The one that stands out is my very first job interview when I first moved to Los Angeles. I interviewed for an assistant position with a very old school entertainment publicist. Some of his clients included Liza Minnelli, Rosemary Clooney, and Sammy Davis, Jr. I was such a young neophyte at maybe 23 or 24 years old. I thought I knew everything.
I go into the interview, and he grilled me about who I knew at the top entertainment outlets: “Who’s the Editor in Chief at The Daily Variety?? Who do you know at The Hollywood Reporter??” I sat there frozen! I didn’t know anyone! I left the interview in tears.
What it taught me was to do my research before any interview, any potential client call, and any endeavor I set out to take.
Now even though I know who the media are at just about any national top-tier media outlet by name, I still do my research.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think I stand out because I help people in so many areas of their life and business — even with their dogs.
Most recently, I helped a fellow PR colleague discover how she can turn her passion of helping people who want to adopt a child into a profitable business. She never thought that was possible. I am so excited for her new venture.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on a few new projects. One is my coaching company where I help entrepreneurs and executives discover their purpose and teach them to turn their passion into a profitable business from it.
My other project is DoggPeople, which will be an online membership portal for people to get help with common health/medical, behavioral and nutritional issues and needs with their dogs, which could save them thousands of dollars in vet and training bills. It will include training videos, how-tos, a private Facebook group with dog experts (veterinarians, dog trainers and nutritionists) and products.
Finally, because of my years of experience in PR, I am working on an evergreen course to help entrepreneurs become their own publicist, which will help them establish themselves as an expert and authority in their field so they can attract more clients and increase their fees, which ultimately means an increase in revenue and business growth.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Funny, I just wrote a blog post about this: How My Dogs Taught Me to Be a Better Leader. I think all leaders and not just female leaders need to develop structure and discipline in their company, and by discipline I mean methods and accountability. All leaders need patience, flexibility, and understanding.
You have to be a leader people want to follow. You have to have a mission or a cause that they believe in. As leaders, one of our goals is to bring people to a higher ground be it internally with your staff, or externally with the clients you serve.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
If you are leading a large team, unity and establishing positive relationships among the team are key. It’s important that everyone understands the values and the mission of the company. I also think establishing a culture of interaction and engagement is essential if you are managing a large team. This helps create a group identity or a “tribe” that will continually reinforce the company’s values and mission.
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?
I have been so blessed to have so many intelligent, inspirational and successful people who have helped me along the way.
The two people who stand out the most are Ken Hagihara. He was my boss who literally handed me my first two clients. I couldn’t have started my PR company without him. I learned so much from him about PR, media relationships, integrity, and having a steadfast determination to succeed during difficult times. He is not only a respected PR colleague, he’s a dear friend. He’s also a public affairs officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and Lecturer for the School of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. He’s kind of a rock star.
Also, Walt Mossberg. He is literally a media God in the tech world. When I was first starting out, I made the huge mistake of using his name improperly in a sales email. He sent me a rather stern message about it. I thought my career was over. I responded to his message apologizing profusely for my mistake. When I next saw him at a trade show, he came up to me and gave me a hug. I think I started crying. Haha!
As a reporter who has as much influence as he does, he showed a total newbie so much kindness and forgiveness. He has no ego. The fact that he takes the time to send a kind response to my pitch emails, whether he is interested in the story or product or not, is a demonstration of this and his utmost sense of professionalism.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I used my success to start a nonprofit animal rescue. We’ve rescued almost 400 animals since we began in 2013. I use my PR experience to bring awareness to the issues of animal abuse, high kill shelters, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), dog fighting, and so many other issues we face in animal welfare.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t always be totally focused with your clients’ results and not your own. I was always so consumed with growing and scaling my clients’ respective businesses that I didn’t grow and scale my own, which made the path very difficult.
2. Diversify — don’t be a one-market PR firm otherwise you may end up pigeon holing yourself. I wish I had diversified my client base sooner.
3. With the nonprofit, be prepared for a lot of “no’s” when you ask for a donation. I thought: “Heck! We’re doing amazing work, and people love animals. Of course, they will always say “yes” when I ask them to donate.” NOPE! People are not always going to donate to your cause or even help. At first, I would get super irritated by this, but then I learned that my passion isn’t everyone else’s passion; or they may have their giving funds tied up elsewhere; or they don’t have the capacity to be “boots on the ground/in the trenches”. I had to learn to understand and accept that.
4. Hire people. Don’t be a one woman band. This could have saved me a lot of time, energy and effort and would have helped me grow and scale my business sooner.
5. Take time for yourself. Like I said before, I was always so focused on everyone else. I didn’t take time for myself. I would wake up, grab a cup of coffee, and immediately get on the phone or computer. That only creates a day of chaos and overwhelm. Now, I wake up, make my coffee, meditate, listen to inspirational videos by Tony Robbins or Abraham Hicks. I start my day with peace and calm, which creates a day of peace and calm — or at least a better response system. I wish I had done that a long time ago.
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 would like to inspire a movement to encourage people to pursue their dreams and their purpose. So many don’t think they can do that. I so often hear people say they feel like they don’t have a sense of purpose, especially in their work, and that’s sad! Life is so short and precious. I hate that people suffer everyday not doing what they were truly meant to do in life.
One of my favorite quotes is by Sir Winston Churchill: “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
I think if more people felt empowered and confident that they can make a difference in this world and in people’s lives, then the world would certainly be a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Again by Sir Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
I have been through so many ups and downs; times of feast or famine; success and defeat. This is so relevant to me because it’s so important to never give up during the tough times, to keep going in faith, knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and things will always get better.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
Hands down Sir Richard Branson. Not just because he is an incredible businessman and humanitarian; he’s a great leader. He’s not afraid to take risks and be fully authentic. He struggled with dyslexia as a child and failed out of school and eventually dropped out, yet that didn’t stop him from starting a magazine and eventually an empire.
To me he represents grit, belief in oneself, innovation, courage, and determination. Plus, he has the same birthday as my mom.
Of course, I wouldn’t mind tea with Oprah because well, she’s Oprah.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
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About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click here to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.