It takes sheer passion, commitment and a lot of courage to become an entrepreneur. And a perfect blend of all these traits is Michelle Mekky, founder and president of Mekky Media Relations. Known for her extraordinary leadership skills, Michelle is a living example of passion, teamwork, authenticity, creativity, trust and commitment to excellence. A distinguished media and PR veteran, Michelle started her entrepreneurial journey in June 2016 with the launch of Chicago-based Mekky Media, a boutique PR company. Within just five years of its establishment, Mekky Media has experienced tremendous growth and has become a business that people in and out of the PR industry look up to.
Below are the highlights of an interview conducted between Aspioneer and Michelle.
PerceptivX (P): Tell us a little bit about your organization? What makes it unique?
Michelle (M): “Mekky Media is an award-winning boutique public relations agency that is dedicated to delivering powerful publicity using trusted experience, innovative ideas and personalized attention. The agency provides PR strategy, media relations, media training, event promotion, social media strategy and influencer outreach for a diverse range of clients in Chicago and throughout the country. Six core values provide a foundation for all of Mekky Media’s work: passion, trust, teamwork, authenticity, creativity and commitment to excellence. I believe my company is unique and stands out due to the passion and drive of our team, which is made up of former journalists and professionals from some of the best PR firms in the country. We are totally committed to achieving results for our clients. They are our top priority. We build close relationships with them and become their strategic partner, a true extension of their team. Every person at Mekky Media works with a relentless drive to achieve success for our clients. This is just part of our culture, and we’ve been widely recognized in the industry for our success.”
(P): Were you always a part of the PR industry? How did your journey unfold?
(M): “I got my start in television news. I spent more than a decade as a senior producer and news writer in Chicago. I then transitioned from journalism to PR and marketing, working at top agencies. But in 2016 I took the leap of launching my own agency, which had long been a dream of mine. I wanted to bring my own approach to PR to clients, and I knew that I could make an impact in this industry if I could get things off the ground. So I finally decided to make it happen. Thankfully, I had a close family friend who encouraged me and provided some initial funding. I started the company at my dining room table with no clients. It was a scary time, as I also had recently recovered from cancer. But it was the best thing I ever did. The company grew quickly as word of our early successes got out. I’m thankful every day that I took that risk. I couldn’t have imagined how far Mekky Media would come in just five years.”
(P): Please tell us a bit about your team. What kind of relationship do you share with them? Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, how do you ensure you stay in touch with them?
(M): “I am passionate about fostering a business climate that stands out for the way employees are valued. In fact, I am incredibly proud of the team I have built and the culture of our organization. We hire based on the core values I set when establishing the company — these values truly set the foundation for all we do, and we make sure the people we hire check those boxes and are comfortable being held to those standards. So, when making hiring decisions, I look not only at experience but also at whether candidates have the passion it takes and can commit to being authentic, both with clients and colleagues.
Not only are my staff members incredibly good at what they do, but they are good people and have really bonded and connected with each other. We have hired a lot of our team during the pandemic, so a lot of this has happened while we were not even working together in the office! When quarantine first hit, I was terrified. I worried about my team members prioritizing their Mekky Media responsibilities while their own health is threatened and there are so many other worries. But we pulled together and made it through. My team really stepped up, and I had to spend even more time focused on leadership as well. This included recognizing who needed flexibility, understanding and compassion. This is a word I want to emphasize. As leaders, we must have compassion in order to motivate and succeed.
I’ve worked really hard during COVID to build a positive culture, by making sure we connect frequently and in a meaningful way. This includes weekly Zoom staff meetings where everyone has the chance to open up about personal and professional highlights and challenges. We also use tools like Slack to stay connected throughout the day. And I carve out time to connect one on one with each person as much as I can. But a major contributor to our culture is the Wellness Series I developed. We hold regular sessions that promote wellness and give us all a chance to connect, take a breath and take a break. These have included things like yoga, meditation, and wine and chocolate tastings. They’re very popular and, I think, a big contributor to the positive, trusting culture of the agency.”
(P): How do you manage work stress and stay productive?
(M): “There is a great deal of stress that comes with being an entrepreneur and running a business. For me, I have found that carving out some quiet time in the morning is essential to managing that stress and making sure I’m productive and focused the rest of the day. I always try to take time before things get too crazy to meditate and enjoy my coffee without looking at email or talking on the phone. I’ll even get up super early to make sure I have time to do this. I also think it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right people who can help you prioritize and can take some of the load off of your shoulders. Of course, it can be hard to let go and delegate. But I have found that my trusted team gives me a lot of peace of mind because I don’t have to manage everything on my own. I tried to do that for a long time, and it was not healthy for me, physically or mentally. I absolutely love working out -walking, running, biking, cross-training, yoga – all of it. Taking care of myself gives me great joy. I love hiking and going to the spa too! Massages are one of the only ways I can truly relax.”
(P): What as per you is the real reason for your success?
(M): “Honestly, I feel my success comes from so many years of grit and hard work. I have never had anything delivered to me on a silver platter. My parents were immigrants. They had little money to support my dreams of higher education. But sheer grit and determination made it happen. I spent hours in the library researching scholarships back then and got what I needed to fund my Northwestern University education. I took loans to gain my Master’s Degree which only added to my credentials. But I never really saw myself with an advantage or disadvantage being a woman. I think now that I own a successful business it has helped show the world we are real and I am tougher than most think. All of the amazing career moments I had and the challenges I overcame led me to this point – and I do feel we are just beginning!”
(P): Having achieved stupendous success, where do Michelle and Mekky Media go from here? What advice you would like to give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
(M): “I want to continue to grow Mekky Media to be an incredible organization focused on producing powerful publicity for clients around the world. We would love to grow even more in the LA market and have an office there as well. For me personally, I aspire to speak to audiences around the world on entrepreneurship and overcoming challenges. I also aspire to grow our media training practice so I can conduct training for larger groups and even create an online course. I also wish to start my own podcast. To all emerging female leaders, my advice is to fight through the challenging times and you will overcome and succeed. Believe in yourself and know you are infinitely more talented than you think you are. Just work hard, surround yourself with the right people and make it happen!”