Unlike the many entrepreneurs who learn the ropes by working full time in their field before striking out on their own, Miatta David, the 33-year-old founder of New York-based public relations and event planning firm MVD Inc. (www.mvdinc.us) honed her craft in a different way. Rather than becoming versed in how to convince reporters and editors to publish news stories about her clients, David relied on her skills as a financial journalist where she’d learned firsthand what media organizations were looking for. That knowledge helped to get her entertainment clients covered by media outlets that other public relations professionals wouldn’t have thought about. “I didn’t think like the typical publicist,” she says. The three-employee firm made $580,000 in 2008 and expects to make between $800,000 and $1 million in 2009.
While still a journalist, David often gave friends in the entertainment industry free advice about selling their stories to the press. In the process, she realized she had a knack and passion for public relations. Some suggested that she join a PR firm to get more experience but, “my father said if you feel confident that you can do this on your own, why not build it from the ground up,” she recalls. So she used her 401(k) savings to pay for living expenses, and since there are few overhead costs in PR, she spent only about $5,000 taking business classes and setting up shop in 2002.
The risk and the pro bono work paid off: Her first clients were the friends she’d helped out before—managers for rap group OutKast and R&B singer Donell Jones. The company began to grow slowly via word-of-mouth, serving clients such as recording artist Kanye West, GQ Magazine, and Def Jam Records.
But in 2008, David noticed that public relations clients, who typically signed two-year contracts worth about $96,000 a year, started opting for one-year commitments. And event budgets, which earned the company a minimum of $50,000 apiece and made up about 60% of the company’s revenues, also dropped off. MVD’s experience was typical of PR firms around the country. According to a study released earlier this year by the University of Southern California Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center, half of respondent PR companies had smaller budgets to work with, 20% were anticipating layoffs, and 21% would reduce salaries.
To get clients planning events again, David changed the way she marketed events. “We proposed that they add a little more to the budget and rather than having that one event in New York, we’d have maybe two or three smaller events that were consistent with what they were trying to promote throughout the country.” As a result, clients would make an impact through repetition rather than glitz, which was losing favor in the recession. To augment the public relations side of the business, David secured contracts from downsizing companies that had laid off their PR employees. The young entrepreneur says that despite popular opinion, the recession do es not have to be synonymous with revenue loss. She asserts, “It gave me the adrenaline to push harder.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.