As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessy Fofana, Founder & CEO of LaRue PR.
Jessy Klein Fofana is the founder and CEO of LaRue PR. In 2005, after directing breakout PR and marketing initiatives on both the agency side and as an in-house executive, Jessy founded LaRue PR, a creative PR agency that works with top brands and thought leaders across fashion, beauty, lifestyle, food and beverage, wellness, tech, media and more . With over 22 years of experience, Jessy’s innovative style has made her an industry standout. Featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, InStyle, Entrepreneur, Forbes, House Beautiful and Elle Décor, Jessy is regularly touted as a PR, and Marketing expert.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually began my career in journalism. While working at a magazine, I started a cosmetics company with a friend. I new PR would help raise awareness around our little start up so I began pitching our product and story for press coverage. I landed a lot of amazing coverage in WWD and Harper’s Bazaar and my love for PR was born. I eventually left the magazine I was working at to grow our cosmetics brand which we ultimately sold. After that, I went on to work on both the brand and agency side in PR and eventually launched my own agency LaRue PR.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
There are different phases of growth where you need to hire more people but it’s also a little scary so you end up working yourself to death. Since I grew my business organically and never had outside investment the business had to support new hires, the phase before my first few employees was really challenging. I was working around the clock and had two small kids. I was nervous about adding overhead but also new I needed to make a move to evolve. That phase of working 24–7, doing everything was a tough one. Thankfully I hired up and haven’t looked back
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think I’m a serial entrepreneur and can’t help myself. I’m also a little bit of a juggernaut with work and keep my head down and move forward in the face of tough times. There are so many areas in my life where I’m less confident but with my business/career, I always bet on myself. Not sure if I’m deluded, over confident or just secure. I’m driven by the challenge more than anything. Success is nice but I like the adrenal and high that come with achieving goals.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today things are amazing! My agency has been around for 15 years. We are a team of 12 and have a great little company culture and wonderful clients. 2021 was our best year to date and we have a mega growth strategy in place for 2022. It’s an exciting time!
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?
I landed my very first client the same day I found out I was pregnant with my second child. This was 15 years ago so I had one assistant and that was it. I was terrified to share that I was pregnant because I thought they would be concerned about my commitment and availability. I didn’t take any maternity leave as I was just starting my business and have always been a workaholic. I never shared I was pregnant and literally didn’t tell them until almost two years later. It was like the omission that just snowballed because I wasn’t up front to begin with. I pretended I had one child for two years!!! I’m done having kids (lol) so it no longer would apply but in general I’ve learned to always be upfront with clients. Additionally, I have a team of 12 so this wouldn’t be an issue now as there is enough support.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most of my team has worked together for a really long time so we are close knit and know each other really well which leads to a great company culture and real synergy. I think because we are a team of 12 we are scrappy and nimble and definitely have a creative approach to how we work. Often times when new business leads are drawn to us because they are at a bigger agency and didn’t have success. They want a more “in-house” PR team feel, which is something we can provide. We’ve had fortune 500 companies hire us for exactly this reason. They liked that we were uber involved, readily accessible and weren’t bogged down by red tape. We could really get in the mix and make things happen. We also have no turnover which is something our clients really appreciate.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think having a good team makes a huge difference so surrounding yourself with people who you value and value you is important. I also think it’s important to cut yourself some slack. Most founders/entrepreneurs are type A and goal oriented. It’s important to give yourself a break when you need one and to not drive yourself instance over things you couldn’t get to or mistakes made.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I first started my business I had a 9 month old baby and was unexpectedly pregnant with my second child. My parents stepped in to help manage my daughter and eventually the new baby. My father did it for the first year of my business and my mother took over after that and has helped ever since. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to focus wholeheartedly on work. I would have been worrying about my kids and the level of care they were receiving. I was able to devote time and energy to building LaRue because of them. Fifteen years later, I have a thriving agency and two well-adjusted teenage daughters and my parents played a big role in helping me achieve that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think I make small contributions on a personal level that bring some level of good. LaRue PR always has 1–3 pro bono clients that we work with for free. These are typical BIPOC owned businesses, women-owned businesses or brands with a focus on activism or sustainability. Additionally, I try to be an appreciative, supportive and generous “boss” with my team and create a warm and enjoyable work environment
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Be prepared to take risks — Starting a business is not safe or easy. There are always risks, be prepared to take them!
Don’t expect everyone to share your vision — A founder just starting out needs to be a little single-minded and drive their vision forward. Of course it’s important to listen to input and feedback from trusted advisors/friends but go with your gut and instinct. Don’t be swayed by opinions if you have a vision!
Learn how to delegate — Ask for help. Get help. Hire help. Doing everything yourself is what leads to burn out. In early stages this may be required but;
Invest in yourself and your team — Invest in talent and value your employees! It seems obvious but great team members make a great company.
Hope for the best plan for the worst — Nobody could have predicted covid. It’s smart to have a contingency plan or strategy for the unexpected. I’m naturally a planner so I always function with a plan for the worst case scenario. That approach has helped me navigate different issues whether internal or external.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
When it’s exciting and fun, there is nothing like being a founder. The best feeling ever! But when it’s stressful it’s really stressful. After so many years in business, I now know that what goes up must come down and vice versa. I enjoy the highs and when things aren’t as great, I also keep in mind that it’s temporary and it will get better.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 an impossible question! I feel like understanding creates empathy and kindness. It’s easy to judge others if you have never walked in their shoes. I feel like the world needs some kind of program where people can experience each other’s lives… like wife swap for race, culture, gender, sexuality and socioeconomics. I realize this isn’t feasible but I do think there needs to be a push for understanding and education in a very personal way. Not sure how this could be achieved… I also think the idea of “paying it forward” is super worthwhile. It would be amazing if the world could be tasked with doing something kind for someone else, a stranger, every single day.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check us out on Instagram @laruepr and linkedin.