Originally published November 8, 2018
"Don’t get so emotionally invested — this is one of those things that qualifies as my greatest weakness and also strength. Although being invested in colleagues and projects is a great asset, shows you care and want to do well, it is burdensome when you can’t let go and fixate on problems and issues at work. Healthy detachment keeps one focused and productive — personally and professionally."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea McKinnon, a PR executive with over 25 years in the business who has worked on a myriad of projects ranging from network television to consumer products. Over the past few years, Andrea embarked on a freelance career continuing to work with a myriad of diverse clients. She is known for her big picture thinking, utilizing her wide range of contacts and networking ability, and prides herself for creative and not always typical outreach. She has built, launched and stimulated initiatives for products, people, causes and services spanning the realms of entertainment, media, fashion, consumer products and books. Some of her favorites include the Emmy® Award-winning daytime talk show, The Doctors, b+b® Pain Relief w/Heart brand, National Institute of Cannabis Investing, publishing company Ghost Mountain Books, Inc., the a luxury boutique hotel Tierra Magnifica located in Nosara, Costa Rica, and remarkable business women Leeza Gibbons and corporate consultant & speaker Libby Gill.
Thank you so much for your time. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career actually started in Chicago, where I represented actors and models. I initially thought my calling was to be a casting director and as I started reaching out and making more connections in Hollywood, I thought it would benefit my career to move to LA for a year or two and then come back to Chicago to be a proverbial bigger fish in the smaller pond. When I arrived, the job that had been promised me fell through and by mining friends and contacts, I ended up at ICM as a prominent television agent’s assistant. There was no better training ground for how the business of Hollywood and television works! When I realized I wasn’t cut out for the cutthroat world of being an agent, one of our actor clients suggested I call his wife, who at the time was the head of NBC network television publicity. I laughed and said that I didn’t know anything about publicity. His response really set my course for me: he told me that with my knowledge of how the industry works and with my personality, I’d be just fine. So, I called, and started as a Junior Press Manager.
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?
Mistakes can always happen, that never goes away; the hope is that with more and more experience, less of them will happen. And, as much as the newbies in the business don’t want to hear it, they are the ones who make mistakes most often — but that is how we learn. Two incidents come to mind — the television agent I worked for at ICM was out of the office one day, so I got very comfortable at her desk… feet up on the desk while on the phone comfortable! Upon her unexpected return to the office she simply said, “Well, hello Eve.” I was thoroughly confused. If you are, too, check out the old movie classic, All About Eve. It was one of the first, simple lessons about knowing my place and role. It is important to remember that one has to earn each rung on the career ladder.
Another incident was from the first satellite media tour I covered alone. Talent relations was a very big part of our job function at NBC as we dealt with all of the biggest names on the network in those early days of “Must See TV.” I had helped at many a media tour in the past and it was important to make sure the talent was happy, had the food and drink they needed, and to help keep their energy up during these long junkets. I guess I wasn’t paying great attention to the subject matter of that day’s particular interviews or what episode of the one-hour drama was being publicized. When I went in to the studio where the two, quite famous, male leads of the show were conducting the interviews I told them they were doing great but shouldn’t forget to smile, (yes, I told them to smile). They, not so nicely, asked if I knew what topic they were discussing? And reminded me of the murder or other horrific ripped-from-the-headlines story it was. Needless to say, I felt very naïve, silly, and it certainly put me back in my place — look, listen, learn!
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
I think it is important not to take every project that comes your way, even if you are worried there won’t be a next one. To be able to perform to your best ability, give full attention to each client, is worth it in the long haul. I believe I’m profitable because I deliver what is promised, price myself competitively and honestly, and more importantly, realistically. Every project gets priced differently; I really try to evaluate the time that will be needed and custom build each plan and price per project and client. You never want to undervalue yourself, though! I also keep my overhead low; the beauty of our industry now is that team members can work remotely and most of what we do can be done by phone & computer.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The b+b® Pain Relief brand has been a great learning experience, on a lot of different levels, and working with a brand that’s mission is about giving back and social responsibility is very rewarding. I have also been doing some work in the emerging cannabis world, from the business of investing to infused consumer products. Super excited about these.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Have patience — like in any career, you have to do your time and pay your dues. Young people have the great advantage of being social media savvy, a wonderful benefit for a lot of us who were later to the party. However, there is more to PR than social media. Learn from mentors, listen, really listen, and DON’T RELY ON SPELL CHECK!
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I have always preached and practice(d) the saying, “Never burn a bridge.” As hard as that is sometimes, and one often has to bite their tongue and/or swallow their pride, it always pays off. In our business of PR, one never knows who you will cross paths with again in the future — people move around within the industry, up AND down, so you never know if/when you’ll see them again. Chances are you will, and you want to be recognized and remembered in a positive light. Also, nurture your connections — nowadays that is easier than ever with social media. A quick hello with no other agenda goes a long way with someone you once worked with and liked or enjoyed, it keeps a connection that may be mutually beneficial if/when the time comes.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m honestly not big on motivational or self-help books and podcasts. Colleagues and friends are always recommending them! For me, reading is for relaxation, escapism, and calming down at the end of each day — I prefer fiction. Some of my favorites these days are from authors including Ruth Ware, Nick Petrie, Liane Moriarty, Agatha Christie again — I fixate, too, and if I read one book and like it, I’ll read everything that author has written!
Because of the role you play, 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. :-)
This is a charged time in our country to ask this type of question! I would like to see a movement that swings us back to more civility and patience in all aspects of life. Slowing down and enjoying the little things has to have a ripple effect on work-life, friendships, interpersonal relationships, and family.
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 wish time away — actually, I was always told this but never really embraced it until later in my career. Even when things aren’t going your way and you want unpleasantness to pass, don’t wish anything gone. Time passes quickly, don’t dwell and don’t look too far ahead, enjoy the journey! Every experience is a learning opportunity.
2. Trust your judgement — In hindsight, most decisions I made, including taking or leaving a job for example, always turned out to be the right decision and usually my gut. I’m one that likes to solicit advice, though, maybe a need for validation. Trust yourself, no one knows you better!
3. Don’t get so emotionally invested — this is one of those things that qualifies as my greatest weakness and also strength. Although being invested in colleagues and projects is a great asset, shows you care and want to do well, it is burdensome when you can’t let go and fixate on problems and issues at work. Healthy detachment keeps one focused and productive — personally and professionally.
4. ? 5. ?
It is hard for me to find more answers because I had great, even though often times difficult, mentors and a supportive culture around me that DID tell me, 1) you can do anything you set your mind to, 2) you CAN have it all: a happy marriage, family and career, 3) out of sight ISN’T out of mind; when you establish yourself as honest, with integrity, trustworthy and nice, people don’t forget you, 4) be yourself, because that IS enough — stay true to who you are and don’t compromise or sell-out; because if you do, you can’t complain about your situation — you make your own bed, at least most of the time, you’d better be comfortable sleeping in it!
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.