Putting the PR Back in Entrepreneurship isn’t just her book title, it’s the bedrock of Ronnika Ann’s mission in life.
At just 27 years old, the Southern Belle publicist has garnered several big name clients almost as quickly as she speaks. This experience has made her a self-proclaimed “protector” of the industry. She guards the principles of public relations with a ferocious tenacity and insists that if you’re going to do it, do it right! This belief led her into businesses to train teams hands-on, to then expanding her influence through intensive seminars she dubbed “PR For A Day” for individuals who couldn’t afford to hire a publicist but needed valuable PR advice, to becoming an author when her tip-sheet for the seminar began to look more like a book.
For Ronnika, it’s not just about big accounts, it’s about empowering everyone with an understanding of how to use PR to their advantage.
In her interview with Her Agenda, the CEO of IGNPR, and founder of “PR For A Day” workshop, author and public speaker blessed us with not only some PR gems, but also motivation in a style that is entirely her own—bold, spiritually-based, and on fire with passion.
Her Agenda: Tell me about the first book.
Ronnika Ann: So the first book is Putting the PR back in Entrepreneurship, Part 1. It only focuses on the inside of the business, because like I said it was only supposed to be a tip sheet. Something real short, sweet, and to the point. So the first book discusses social media, different things you can do to pitch yourself to the media, such as how you [can] build a media list without buying one. Well, you just go to an event that has something to do with your industry, you network, you meet people. You Google and you figure out who is writing the stories on your industry, who are the contact people at your local news station. So I’m teaching them how to handle it a little bit on their own, from a local perspective. Also I gave them an example of a press release in the book and an example of a pitch email, which is important because everyone is busy and sometimes long emails don’t get read. How can you write to them very briefly and get your point across? So that’s in the book as well.
I also talk about the difference between PR and advertising because a lot of people don’t understand that every aspect dealing with marketing is needed. Marketing is the big umbrella, integrated marketing, so you need branding, that’s part of it, you need advertisements and you need public relations. So some people think PR will change their life and sometimes they need another aspect of marketing to get where they need to be. My whole purpose is for you to understand it so that if you hire me or you hire any other publicist you understand if they’re doing the right thing, because everything that we do as publicists isn’t seen.
The second book was all about how you structure your business. If the inside isn’t right, eventually it will show on the outside. The reason why my business, IGNPR, is about to survive it’s fifth year is because the inside of my business is structured, so that if something falls there’s a means to support it. And that’s what’s important. We have to know how to manage our money. We have to know if we need an LLC. We have to know what is a trademark? What is a copyright? I’m not giving legal tips because I’m not a lawyer, but I’m telling you what you need to do to structure your business. A lot of people can’t structure their business because they’re too busy trying to grow it. They don’t realize that you have to focus on the inside. So I give tips on how to do both at the same time.
Her Agenda: That’s so true because you have so many people who want to be entrepreneurs today, but maybe don’t have that business or marketing savvy they need to scale their business.
Ronnika Ann: And being an entrepreneur is a great idea, it’s a wonderful thought. But you never know how it really is until you do it. I have days where I think “Okay, is this for me or is it not for me?” And then I remember why I started. But the quality of your work goes into that. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur if you’re paying people under the table. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur if you aren’t paying people. If you can’t afford it, don’t hire a lawyer or publicist. Everything shouldn’t be sponsored. What should you sponsor, what should you not sponsor? You don’t want people to only work for you for free. You want to have a payroll and you want to have it the right way. So what are some financial processes that you can use for your payroll? How can you keep up with your money without checking your account everyday. I use freshbooks.com. I literally just filed my taxes with my accountant and all I had to do was download a spreadsheet because it manages every income I have for $12/ per month.
A lot of people don’t know about these things and they think Paypal is okay or transferring funds is okay. They don’t realize that if they continue to go that way, that’s how people end up owing taxes, and losing business and filing bankruptcy and as a business owner sometimes we forget that our business should be our first client. Learn how to grow revenue. Learn how to give other people opportunities. Learn how to grow your vision and that is how you can call yourself an entrepreneur.
I just started calling myself a CEO. I didn’t for the first three years of my business because I wanted to earn that title and do things the right way. So now I’m proud to say I am the CEO because, I’m over marketing, over finances, and everything else.
Her Agenda: So many people don’t realize how hard it is to make that five-year mark.
Ronnika Ann: Right, I’ve had to change my business name during these years, get rid of teammates, and really learn who I should do business with. I don’t take every account that comes across my desk and I research you. I send you a questionnaire and if you can’t answer it or you cannot pay for a consultation then something is wrong. Just like we research restaurants, you should research publicists before you hire them. But I’m very open and I love to tell people why they need PR, or if they don’t need it I’ll tell them that too. Some people are not ready. If you’re dealing with a trademark battle or lacking a mission statement and you can’t give [the public] the same answer consistently, then you’re not ready. When media outlets reach out to you, you want them to be able to back up what they’re saying. Therefore they won’t look bad when people go to look you up after reading about you. Sometimes we are here to protect the brand as well. Of course we want to get interviews, but we do crisis management, we manage content development, we manage speech writing, SEO marketing. Anything that the public can see, a publicist can help in that area.
Her Agenda: It’s interesting. It shows just how passionate you are about PR, because it’s almost like you’re giving it away.
Ronnika Ann: No, I’m protecting it. I’m not giving it away, I’m protecting the industry. Because we do have people that say they’re a publicist, just like you have people who say they’re a personal trainer, but they’ve always been skinny. You want to protect the industry, because I’ve seen it. People don’t think they need a publicist or that it’s a luxury and I don’t like that. We’re needed.
But as an entrepreneur I also have to think of ways to bring in more income for myself. I’m also getting married this year. So when I saw that a lot of people who couldn’t afford PR were coming, I thought okay Ronnika write a book. And literally every week I have book sales. What if I never would’ve written that book and I only went for the big accounts? As an entrepreneur I’m missing out on those [smaller] accounts. I’m very grateful for the platform I’ve been on, because I do remember just starting off. People now reach out to me and ask me for advice because I am so passionate about it and I just want to protect it, I really do. I admire all the publicists in the country, but I do think this is my lane and my calling and I’m enjoying it so far.
Her Agenda: Can you tell me what it looked like when you were first starting out?
Ronnika Ann: It was just an idea I created in my living room. One of my really good friends was featured in a movie and she needed help with her social media. And actually before that I was always the spokesperson for my family. My mom, who is active in the community throws a lot of events and my twin brother and I have a nonprofit together. So when I went to college I became Miss Jackson State and I really enjoyed journalism, but when my friend got the movie opportunity I knew that PR was for me. I really feel like I’m supposed to be behind the scenes to help people get in front of the scenes.
So when I started I used Ronnika_PR. Then I thought of my first business name, which is ‘Ingenious PR.’ I was still working at a newspaper at the time and I did do a lot of ghost writing. I worked at a small desk on a computer that could break at any moment. I ended up meeting people that tried to mess with my credibility. So that’s why I say if you have haters then that just means they believe in you more than you do. So the people that were trying to push me down became the footstool to where I am to today.
Her Agenda: How do you find the energy to keep going?
Ronnika Ann: I just kept moving. I was growing while I was working at the newspaper. And I was growing my business and getting my degree in business and marketing. I knew that I was supposed to be an entrepreneur. I was at my job creating different services and helping the manager with something totally different. I was paid for one thing and doing something else. I knew that working for corporate America was going to put me in a box and I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be out there to make mistakes and develop myself. So years later when my brand started to get better, I started to connect myself with great media outlets who taught me the ins and outs of Atlanta. And then from there I quit my 9 to 5 and because of my faith, and consistency, I feel as though that is why I’m here today.
Now that’s a very short version, but you want to make sure your heart is okay and your heart is in it, and that your mind is okay and your mind is in it because if those two things don’t collide you won’t prosper. Your heart has to be in it because you can’t change who you are for somebody else. And your mind has to be in it because you can’t let somebody come in and change who you are. And don’t change who you are for money. Don’t lie to people for money.
Her Agenda: Your faith is so entwined in everything you do.
Ronnika Ann: It truly is. I feel like if I don’t go to church, if I don’t tithe, if I don’t check up on my pastor, then I’m not doing my job because my church saved my life and saved my business, so [those acts] are offerings to God. So yes I have to have a job and make money, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it in the wrong way. So I want to represent churches and gospel artists, because they are producing God’s work and I feel like I can be a publicist for God. So if I have to post an inspirational quote or scriptures, I’m going to do that because someone needs that. I feel as though a lot of business owners are struggling out there and they are the tiger of their circle, but sometimes the tiger doesn’t have anyone to lean on. So if you can go to my page and get some kind of inspiration, because you are that tiger, I’ve done my job. As entrepreneurs we hold everyone up, but who’s holding us up? For me it’s my God and my Church so I want to share that with others.
Anyone that knows Ronnika personally knows I don’t like to drive, but I would definitely drive to my church for inspiration because it’s like food for me. If I’m not getting food, I feel weak.
Her Agenda: There’s no substitute for that.
Ronnika Ann: And “PR For A Day” is educational, but has also become inspirational. I’m 27 but I’ve gone through so much in my young years and I feel as though if I’m not inspiring someone, then technically I’m not really educating them. I can’t just say save your money, I have to say pray over your money, pray over your finances, pray for wisdom. Yes, you have to make your own choices, but when you don’t know what answer to choose it’s the Holy Spirit that guides you. I truly believe it.
Her Agenda: So when did you begin to feel that IGNPR was becoming trusted?
Ronnika Ann: I would say at the beginning of last year. We had the best 2016, not just in terms of revenue, but also clients, partnerships, and connections that we made. And it happened because I was obedient in changing my name. I thought it was going to hurt me, but it helped me. I started to understand my worth in my financial work, spending time to create quality and working with quality clients. It wasn’t just about paying my rent or my car note. I said no, I’m going to take quality clients. So if this is your retainer, I’m going to give you the best hours so I’m not underpaid. I had to see value in myself before someone else could have value in me and I’m so confident in my prices because I know you’re going to get good work. If an issue happens between a client and me I will fix it and get to the bottom of it.
And I’m not perfect, but I think my company being structured is what helps. If I leave for 24 hours, there’s an automatic email that says I’m out of the office. I let my clients know I’m taking off time around my birthday in June, my anniversary in September, and Christmas in December.
Her Agenda: And on the topic of balance and making time for yourself—is that something you decided early on was a necessity or something you realized over time?
Ronnika Ann: For the first three years, IGNPR was priority #1. Then I realized how lonely I was. I was missing birthdays, graduations, people growing up, getting jobs. But then I got a boyfriend and things changed. I then wanted to make sure I was done working by 5 so that I could go on a date. So it’s all about priority. And you have to know what is priority in your life right now. So I got engaged in November. Before I got engaged my business was priority, then boyfriend, family, then friends. Now that I’m engaged, it’s boyfriend, family, business, and friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, you just have to understand when you’re going to prioritize something and why, so you don’t feel bad about it. Like my grandma is a priority to me. If my mom calls me right now, I have to go. Being engaged is one of the happiest times of my life. I love whom I’m engaged with. So IGNPR is still here, but at the current moment for the next nine months IGNPR will be third on my list. That doesn’t mean I’m going to slack. That just means my family will hear from me more, my boyfriend will hear from me more. But that wasn’t the same last year. You can organize your priorities and switch them out when you need to. As an entrepreneur you can do whatever you want as long as you understand the rhythm of your business and your money. By that I mean, when do I get the most money and why?
Her Agenda: How does your team feel about that?
Ronnika Ann: They love it. We’re planning my wedding. We started a division, Ingenious Weddings. IGNPR’s bread and butter is public relations. However, we do very well with events and we have a graphic designer on staff so we are able to do a lot of things that are outside of public relations. Now the graphics team is going to be taking more projects, because we decided we’re going to take more branding clients than PR clients. And now the graphic designer and myself are working on my wedding. We decided to create a division that plans small weddings called Ingenious Weddings. Anyone with a small budget or who needs an assistant planner, we can do that. We’re talking to other partners about getting on board. We have our first partner already, who’s helping me execute my wedding. And many of my partners from IGNPR are moving over to Ingenious Weddings as well. So literally me getting married started another stream of income. And I love referring people, I really do. Building my team really made me a stronger entrepreneur. They look to me and I look to them.
Her Agenda: So 2016, seemed to be a very important year for you. What’s one of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?
Ronnika Ann: The Steeple Awards launched last year , which is a local award show here in Atlanta, that represents preachers and churches. However, we do recognize artists as well. So last year for the first show we totally sold out and now we’re getting ready for the second award show and it’s more on a national basis because now we’re getting preachers interested that are outside of Atlanta. Helping to produce that initial award show, got me prepared for 2017. Then we have the RICE awards which is another local award show for nonprofits which we’ll also be doing in 2017. So I push to do yearly projects. PR is not just a six month gig. The purpose of me taking this project is to encourage clients to continue their project and continue telling their story.
[Editor’s note: This interview published on March 20th, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.]