A conversation on entrepreneurship, work-life balance and motherhood, and the challenges of building the peRfect boutique team.
I worked with Emily Reynolds digitally for months until I finally met her in person over coffee in April. Coffee spilled into lunch, lunch spilled into mid-afternoon, until we finally realized what time it was and that we needed to get back to our desks. We talked for hours. We connected about the things that really made us both light up: our city, our businesses, womanhood, marriage, family, fitness, passions, work-life balance, and being Italian. I left the neighborhood coffee shop feeling as though I had gained a new friend, a big-sister figure, and a professional partner to lean on for guidance as I follow my inner magnet (a phrase Emily coined in conversation that I have been borrowing ever since).
What inspires me most about Emily is her can-do spirit, no matter the challenge. She garnered the grit to build her own boutique PR business that is now R PR Firm. She assembled her own team, won an impressive roster of clients, and she pours her passion into them daily. All the while, she has possessed the grace to raise two children pretty much on her own. I am always in awe of how women rise to the occasion to overcome obstacles, and Emily is a beautiful example of how to define what it means to you to have it all, and then run full speed ahead to pursue your dreams.
You’re a New Yorker. What brought you to San Antonio, and what has kept you here?
Yes, my family is originally from Lake Placid with roots in New York City from my dad’s side. I love New York state. I went to college in central New York, both at Hartwick College and then Syracuse University for part of my graduate degree. However, I am not a cold weather person. I think once you go South it’s hard to move back to the cold. My blood got thin, and I fell in love with the city of San Antonio — the culture, the vibe and the pioneer-spirited individuals in the hospitality, fitness and fashion industries. They drive me each day and give me roots here. It’s intoxicating to be a part of a city that is growing, evolving and shifting to its greatest potential. It just fits who I am.
What was the dream career you envisioned for yourself when you were in undergrad?
I was a unique undergraduate student. I think my friends, family and professors would all agree with that. I never ventured on a beaten path. I took myself off the meal program during my sophomore year and made food in my dorm kitchen. I tried new restaurants in Oneonta, and to this day the Autumn Cafe is one of my favorite places on earth. I say this because I essentially created my own major, “Holistic Health and Wellness.” I wanted to take all of the courses at Hartwick that had something to do with writing, philosophy or food without being hindered by a major. Looking back I think I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and do things my own way.
What professional position(s) have you held that you feel really prepared you to own a business?
I think working for the Jason Dady Restaurant Group, specifically Crystal Dady, empowered me to venture out on my own. I was their Marketing Director, and just watching the Dady’s work both as a family unit and operating their restaurants in the way they do inspired me. Crystal Dady is the most vivacious, creative, loving person I have ever worked with. She embodies the ideal boss. I loved working for her, and I still look to her as an example of what a strong woman who owns multiple businesses and raises her 3 kids with SO much love, can be. Both she and Jason constantly guided me to grow to be the best person and professional I could be — even when that meant doing my own thing. I would not be where I am today without them opening doors and being as supportive as they are. Then there was Julia Rosenfeld, of San Antonio Magazine and Food Chick Tours. Although not a boss directly, Julia was and is someone who helped me jump from working for other people to working for myself. I still remember the day she called me to say, “You can and will do this. You have all the tools. Now go!” I will treasure her and our friendship always for that preparation and support.
At what point in your career did you find your true passion for building brands?
When I went from working for the Dady’s to a public relations agency in Austin, I quickly realized the difference PR can make for businesses and brands. I remember the moment I landed my first big pitch for a national publication and how happy the client was. It was addictive. I was hooked on the power of editorial collaborations and creative reputation management. To this day, I love creating wish lists for our clients. Asking them what lights them up has always energized me to provide for them. So you want to be featured in GQ? Let’s make that happen! You need help with increasing lunch sales? Let’s make that happen. And the cool thing is that we DO!
What has been the most profound lesson of self-discovery that you have learned through venturing out on your own and launching a boutique PR firm?
That I cannot do it all on my own. Going from being a freelancer to actually having a team of professionals around me each day was a BIG awakening. I am a fiercely independent person, and I often find myself to this day feeling like I need to do more, give more, work harder. People trust ME to give them the best service and to help their brands and businesses grow and succeed. I lose sleep over making sure we honor that promise. What I have learned is that in a team there is power. I also see that having boundaries for myself and my family makes it so I give the best me to both my profession and my family. That has only been possible by working with a group of people. I have to be a powerful and empowering delegator, and I’ve had to find other passionate people to work with R PR. I am no longer a one woman show, and every day I am grateful and humbled to work with the people I do and serve our clients collectively.
What do you find most rewarding about representing clients who own small businesses?
Oh I love this question. Every small business owner we work with has BIG goals and visions for themselves and they have literally put it ALL on the line. Most of them have investors or they jumped from a big corporate job, or in some cases they’ve worked two jobs to start their businesses. It’s inspiring to me to see the leap of faith they all took to start a business, and then some of them open more businesses after their first. I love that all of our clients have integrity. There’s not a business on our client list without it. That is really important to me and R team. We look for people that align with us, and we give them the world.
What has been a challenge you have faced as a leader and an entrepreneur, and how have you worked to overcome it?
I would say my biggest challenge was similar to that of being a single mom. I run my business on my own, and I run my family on my own. The work-life balance is not easy for me, and I have found that through time I have found a great rhythm. But without my parents and brother to support my dream, I would not be here today. My brother Grant constantly reminds me I can do this, and I do not have to save the world everyday. I can do great work and be a great mom with patience and perseverance and aligning with the right people. I would also say that finding the right fit for RPR’s staff has also been a challenge. I was so used to being a one woman show that jumping from no “kids” (aka staff) to a team of eight and growing was not easy, as I did not know what or who we needed. I was building the company culture at the same time as allowing people to come and see if it was a good fit, which at times made it difficult to retain the right staff for the job. We are in a groove now with a team of content professionals, digital and visual professionals and a touch of marketing. I had to listen to our clients to really get what was needed and that took some shifting and growing.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young women aspiring toward creative careers who currently feel lost in trying to find their sense of purpose?
Don’t just grab the first thing that comes along. It’s like dating. Make your list of what you want. Your wants and desires are valid. YOU ARE VAILD, and do not settle for anything less. It may take some trial and error but keep looking for IT and the fit will come.
What are your main sources of inner strength?
I am a go-getter, and I refuse to take no for an answer. If I see something that can benefit a client or someone on my team, I want that and only that for them. And I will find a way to make it work. My dad always told me “there are no problems, only solutions.” I loved this advice because it reminds me to find a way. I also find strength in my motherhood. I was raised by a fiercely loving single mom. My mom’s work ethic and the way she cared and still cares for her patients as an ER nurse always made me so proud. I wanted to give that passion in my profession to my kids and to tell them, YOU can live your dreams. I wanted to really show them that it is possible through living my own dreams. I also think my generosity and genuine spirit come from my mom. They are sources of inner strength, and I always seek to make myself better while being happy with who I am right now.
What excites you most about R PR Firm when you think about its future as a company?
R PR has really grown over the past year as we have increased our offices from San Antonio to Austin, Nashville and New York, and that is exciting to all of us. I love the growth met with service that we provide to “R clients” as we call them. It inspires me to work with such talented people like Julie Cohen, my partner who is an incredible writer and editor, and Crystal Henry who is also so talented. Bringing on support staff and a digital media team means we are really taking off and offering the best of the best when it comes to Relating and creating for our clients and the communities we serve.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I have always loved Dolly Parton. I love her zest for being herself with both beauty and song writing skills that amaze me. She is much more than her iconic physical assets. She is a woman who gives, who creates, who loves and who just seems so cool. A lunch with her in Nashville would be a dream come true.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.