Creating Digital Experiences that Connect with People, Meet Kelli F. Kelley, CEO of Kelley Brand Communications
Q: Can you share with us what made you decide to have a career in Digital Marketing?
KK: I started my career in traditional public relations about 15 years ago, so long before we had social media or really a lot of digital marketing going on. About 6 years ago, I noticed my PR clients were asking more and more about Facebook and if that was something that we could handle for them as well. I then started doing heavy research on how to use social media platforms for business and was blown away at how much control a business has now over getting their message to the end user by incorporating a solid digital strategy. You didn’t have to wait for an editor to select your product/service for coverage, you could do it yourself in real time. I also liked that it was measurable. When running the analytics of a digital campaign, you get very clear black and white numbers to see it it’s working or not. That’s not really the case with PR.
Q: At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known?
KK: I wish I had known that none of the mistakes were the “end of the world”. I would come down on myself so hard about little mistakes that it kept in a very insecure state for so long. It wasn’t until later that I realized how insignificant it all was. The important thing was to learn from it, focus on a solution and move on. Do not dwell.
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
KK: My job in this industry was with the Walmart brand Faded Glory in New York. I was fresh out of college and had big dreams of moving to New York to work in fashion. At the time I had a boyfriend who lived there, and I would go see him about every other weekend. While there, I started trying to make connections and set up meetings with anyone who I thought could help me. I got a meeting with the stepmother of one of the clients at the salon I worked at in Atlanta. The salon client told me that her stepmother worked in fashion merchandising for a Walmart brand and that she would sit down and talk to me about my goals. By the end of that meeting I got an overwhelming spirit that said I should ask for a job. I asked if they were hiring and they said yes for a receptionist. I met with the VP and the CEO within 15 min and was offered the job on the spot. I moved to New York two weeks later.
My time in New York was life changing. The city and the people taught me to be confident, to speak up and to push myself in pursuit of goals.
Q: What are some of the best practices you have employed to enjoy a successful career?
KK: Some of my best practices for enjoying a successful career is first and foremost, getting clear on where my interest lies. There are a lot of areas in communications and I’ve worked in quite of few, but I am most passionate about digital by far. Another best practice is continued education in my field. There’s no way to be successful in the industry replying on what worked for your Facebook ad strategy 6 months ago. These platforms are changing all the time, so you have to keep your skills sharp. And lastly, being a self-starter. I don’t need anyone to tell me to start anything as long as I am clear on the scope of work. I’m so passionate about what I do, so I am always looking for bigger and better methods to satisfy my clients.
Q: Can you share with our audience what your potential clients can expect when they work with Kelley Brand Communications?
KK: They can expect a team of passionate, dedicated experts who are just as focused on the client’s bottom line as the client is themselves. We are in a creative business, but we still understand this is a business. And anything we execute on needs to align with those goals and objectives.
Q: What are the core capabilities of Kelley Brand Communications?
KK: Our core capabilities include social media marketing, email marketing, content marketing, website design, podcast production and reputation management. We do have an integrated approach when it comes to our services as we’ve seen great success when our clients execute on a combination of these to move their target through the buyer journey.
Q: What types of companies do you serve, and in what industries or markets?
KK: We serves companies that generate at least 1-2 million in revenue per year. We’ve worked with clients in healthcare IT, tech, real estate and law. We are currently in the process of building relationships with VC/PE firms to be a resource for their portfolio companies.
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments your career?
KK: One of my most memorable moments was being selected for the Women’s Entrepreneur Initiative which is very similar to an incubator. You’re required to submit an application and pitch for a chance to be selected for a 15-month program that really helps to guide you as a business owner through mentorship and resources. This was during a period of time where I had gone back to a 9-5 because I struggled with post-partum and lost most of my business. My confidence was the lowest it had ever been. So, to be selected for this group, by people that didn’t know me or have any reason to “hype me up” was a profound moment.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
KK: Being accountable when you make a mistake and also taking the initiative to make it right. We all make mistakes. The best way to handle it is to admit it and have a few solutions to correct the wrong ready to share.
Q: What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?
KK: I would say my drive to succeed most certainly contributes to my success. Whether back in my bartending days or as a business owner, I always want to be the best. When tasked with something, I always strive to go above and beyond to deliver to best of my capability. I also require this of my team. Now more than ever as technology threatens to commoditize us all, I find that going the extra mile helps to keep relationships tight. For now, at least, lol.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
KK: Ava Duvernay is a huge inspiration to me. She’s strong, outspoken and not afraid to push the status quo.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
KK: I think one of the biggest challenges is being generally overwhelmed. We usually take the lead on a lot of domestic responsibilities: cooking, cleaning, childcare, elderly care…and then you put career/business on top of that and the load can feel unbearable. I experienced post-partum after my daughter was born and completely lost my drive-in business. This is definitely something a man will never experience in this way. It took a year for my hormones to balance out and as a result I lost my business.
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
KK: Don’t lose your voice. Early on in business, I found that voice would literally “shrink” when communicating with men. I had to unpack what that was about and work to correct it.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
KK: I would tell them that they have to become self-starters. Take the initiative and do some research first if you don’t necessarily know how to do something. We have the internet which means we have access to an ungodly amount of resources that you can use to show your bosses that you are prepared to try.
Five Things About Kelli F. Kelley
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
A one-on-one with Gary Vaynerchuk would be a dream come true. His content really helped to pull me out a dark place during my post-partum. It gave me something to focus on about an industry that I was super passionate about but not really able to participate in for the time being. There are also similarities in how we think. For example, his initial thoughts about YouTube being a gamechanger by way of allowing anyone to essentially become a media company, were similar to my initial thoughts on YouTube back in 2006. Funny story, back in 2006 when I discovered YouTube, I thought it would be cool to create my own reality show about trying to make it in New York fashion. I even had a videographer come out and record “footage” of different photoshoots I did, but I never committed to seeing it through. Way to sacred and insecure at time.
2. What place you always dreamed about visiting.
I have always dreamed about visiting Savannah. I’ve always romanticized that city, even as a little girl growing up in Los Angeles. I’ve also always loved sweet tea even before I ever set foot in the south. Maybe in a past life I was born and bred Southern Belle.
3. Who had the most influence on you growing up?
My mother definitely had the most influence on me growing up. I was her only child and she was a single parent so there were a lot of life lessons early on about self-sufficiency, accountability and independence.
4. If they made a movie of your life, who’d play you?
I’ve been told that I resemble LaLa a bit but as far as personality, something tells me Sanaa Lathan would be a good choice. She seems like a pretty lowkey person but definitely about her business.
5. What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you?
Self-doubt stifles the genius.
Kelli F. Kelley
Kelley Brand Communications