In the latest installment of Savvy Startups, a series highlighting the personal and professional journeys of some of the most dynamic entrepreneurs, YFS Magazine speaks with Kelli Flournoy founder and CEO of Kelli Flournoy PR, a Atlanta-based public relations firm.
After moving to Atlanta in 2006 to care for her ailing mother, fashion publicist Kelli Flournoy’s career took an unexpected turn. In 2007, with the passing of her mother, the young publicist remained in Atlanta. Flournoy, a Florida A&M University graduate, with a Masters degree in marketing from Capella University, was unable to find work and started working as a bartender while pursuing her new startup. The gamble paid off.
“I never thought I had all the answers, but there was this gut feeling that I had to prepare myself for this road and do the things necessary in order to be an entrepreneur.”
“I never thought I had all the answers, but there was this gut feeling that I had to prepare myself for this road and do the things necessary in order to [become an] entrepreneur,” says Flournoy.
In 2010, the fledgling entrepreneur funded her new PR firm, Kelli Flournoy PR, with savings while working as a bartender. “I kept that job and weighed the options,” Flournoy recalls.
“I said to myself, ‘You don’t have to work a 9 to 5; and you may not necessarily like bartending, but it’s two nights a week and you get to do your business — so suck it up and deal.’ That’s what I had to do.”
Today, Flournoy is at the helm of a growing public relations empire. Her Atlanta-based public relations firm specializing in fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands has worked with notable celebrities and gained national attention after being tapped by WE tv to represent House of Curves cast member Kenyatta Jones, an Atlanta-based designer and CEO of Bella Rene Clothing.
Learn how Kelli Flournoy started her PR firm and why she believes entrepreneurs should operate out of passion and purpose, instead of fear and obligation.
|Company:||Kelli Flournoy PR|
|Industry:||Advertising & Marketing|
How I Got Started
I started in PR a decade ago. I was working at Faded Glory, an apparel brand, as a merchandising assistant in their New York headquarters. At the time I didn’t know what PR was — I didn’t really understand it … I was just very young and eager to learn.
Over the years I was self-taught. I would read any book I could get my hands on about PR and marketing. I would ask my colleagues [questions].
In 2006, I left New York and moved to Atlanta to care for my mother who was growing ill. After she passed away, in 2007, I decided to stay in Atlanta. I searched and searched for a job in fashion PR, but was unable to secure gainful employment. In the Spring 0f 2010, I decided to start my own PR firm.
I never thought I had all the answers, but there was this gut feeling that I had to prepare myself for this road and do the things necessary in order to [become an] entrepreneur.
“I was very deliberate in doing tons of research. I met with anybody who would meet with me. I went to countless coffee meetings and lunches and really tried to get a sense of what this market needed.”
I knew that the Atlanta market was not the same as the New York market and if I was going to set up shop in Atlanta, I needed to get feedback from the major players. I knew I needed to build my contacts here. So, for 6 months I reached out to every editor, journalist, socialite and publicist I could connect with and took them all to lunch or coffee.
I was very deliberate in doing tons of research. I met with anybody who would meet with me. I went to countless coffee meetings and lunches and really tried to get a sense of what this market needed.
To get started, I went down to the city hall, got a business license, incorporated the business, and set about soliciting to my network first. I also reached out to other publicists.
Collaboration and New-Found Relationships Pay Off
The Atlanta market is very small, but the fashion [industry] here is growing. We have large communities of people that have bigger budgets now, but our companies are so small it’s difficult (even for my own company) to take on bigger projects. So instead of turning them away I decided to start relationships with other publicists and we [would] work together.
For example, somebody takes front of house, another person would take the media list and someone else would be in charge of event setup … or whatever the case may be. So those were my targets — reaching out B2B and then B2C.
I was also trying to forge relationships and make sure I leveraged the results as well. People need to know that you get results. So I had to carve out time and figure that out. You say to yourself, “Okay that’s great that you got [press coverage], but if no one knows that you got this placement for your client …” You have to find the balance.
The first year was rough. I certainly didn’t know how to charge [for my services] and found myself struggling to keep up. I funded [my new PR agency] with my savings and I was a bartender. I kept that job and weighed the options. I said to myself, “You don’t have to work a 9 to 5; and you may not necessarily like bartending, but it’s two nights a week and you get to do your business — so suck it up and deal.” That’s what I had to do.
A year later, [I quit my bartending job and] I started to see change and growth in my business acumen and my revenue. This year I’ve definitely established some standard operating practices that have contribute to our growth. Now I am working on expanding my clientele to the New York and LA markets.