For some people, leaving the work you already know to beat down a new path can be daunting. For Nikkia McClain, her confidence in her purpose made the journey so much easier. Ten years ago, McClain officially left her career as a successful real estate agent to pursue her dreams of being a publicist. Today, she is the successful founder of Tené Nicole marketing and public relations firm.
It’s clear that McClain put in the work. From planning events for NBA and NFL draft picks to creating new initiatives, McClain found unique ways to make a name for her brand all while learning on-the-go. In her latest venture, McClain has poured all that she’s learned in a decade into her new book, “DIY PR.”
In a chat with Her Agenda, McClain shared more about her journey, pivoting during the pandemic, and why “DIY PR” is a must read for brands and businesses.
Her Agenda: Nikkia, you’ve been doing this for a while now. How did you get started?
Nikkia McClain: Well, actually I had no background in this field. I had no educational or professional background. I’m still growing and stretching. But I did have the tenacity and brought along my personality. I’m a people person. When I started in PR, no one paid me any attention. I didn’t have the media relationships that I have now. But I knew it was my purpose. So, I started with one client. That one client eventually grew into all the clients that we have now. It took me 10 years of being efficient and being determined.
When I started, I created something outside of the box.
When I started, I created something outside of the box. I came up with this whole art of luxury series, which was a three-part series. That is really what put my name on the map. And that brought other clients to me. I had a business degree. I was already a successful real estate agent. I just had to tweak selling properties to actually selling people’s stories and their brands. It was an easy transition for me.
Her Agenda: What are some ways that you set yourself apart that’s been able to help you grow your brand?
Nikkia McClain: I’ve been able to set myself apart because I only focus on myself. In the beginning when I started in PR and growing this amazing brand, I noticed that I wasn’t getting the same accolades as everyone else. I was getting a little envious. Then I thought ‘Listen, you did not get into this business to be worried about what other people are doing.’ I really started to focus on not only myself but also how to take Tene Nicole to the next level. It’s very difficult because you’re supposed to be centered on your client. So I came up with initiatives that were always outside of the box. And once I have someone’s attention, I always ask how can I support what they have going on? Whether it’s someone in the media or another person that can push my clients, I always make it more about them. This usually leads them to saying “Hey Nikkia, we would love to have your client be a part of this.” I’ve always taken the route of self-reflection. How can I make myself better? How can I make this firm better?
Her Agenda: Given everything that’s happened in 2020, have you had to pivot?
Nikkia McClain: Right before COVID, I had just signed a major client in Hollywood. They were having a very difficult time not understanding why the media wasn’t paying them any attention. They didn’t understand that this time was about COVID, it wasn’t about them. So they weren’t ready to trust the process. So we lost this major contract that we had just gotten. And of course you feel like ‘Oh my goodness. I can’t believe this is happening.’
When you say you can do something, then get it done.
There were clients whose payments we needed to defer because we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if they were going to continue because if they’re not working, how dare we say to them, “Hey we still gotta be paid.” You just don’t want to have that relationship because this is service driven. But we pivoted. We were one of the first companies to bring live events online. Our first event was Essence of a Boss. It was a three-day virtual conference. We were learning as we were going. We pivoted in that way. Now, it’s so funny because business that we had lost, we had exceeded with these virtual events. We’re getting four times more than I would have got in that monthly retainer. Our long-standing clients trust the process with us. They know that PR is not an overnight thing. It takes time. It’s a marathon and we’re honest. Some months are going to be stronger than others especially as we’re dealing with COVID. That’s how we were able to adjust in 2020.
Her Agenda: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past decade of doing this?
Nikkia McClain: Lessons really push us to become better persons or better versions of ourselves. But the biggest lesson I learned in 2020 is to bet on me. In 10 years what I’ve learned is to bet on me. Even when starting this company 10 years ago, imagine if I would have never bet on myself. Imagine if I would have listened to people that asked if I was sure I wanted to do this. It took a toll on me — finances, the commitment that you normally have with your family while you’re trying to find new clients and grow a brand. I’ve been able to keep my family intact. I’ve been able to pivot. I’ve been able to excel. So the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past ten years is to continue betting on myself.
Her Agenda: Tell us about your book “DIY PR”? What can people learn from it?
Nikkia McClain: “DIY PR” really helps you establish your brand message. Even if you are a micro-influencer, you are the brand. And DIY helps people understand that. It helps you understand how to become the source, knowing who your media audience is, and the art of pitching. It helps you learn how to build your relationships and maintain them — which is what leads to collaborations and partnerships. I want to change the face of public relations. I want to be disruptive in this category. I want individuals and business owners and even corporate companies to realize they can empower people by just learning “DIY PR.” I’m taking 10 years of everything that I’ve done to be successful and I’m packing it not only into this book but into this program.
Her Agenda: What’s one of the most important things women pursuing this industry should know?
Nikkia McClain: First understand that you’re a woman. Because once you understand that, you already know you have to work ten times harder than anyone else. And if you’re a woman of color, you’re working twenty times harder. Two, be consistent. Don’t speak about what you can’t make happen. Only speak about what you know you are capable of. Your clients, your colleagues, even the people that you employ. They appreciate the honesty. When you say you can do something, then get it done. Number three, bet on yourself.
[Editor’s note: This interview had been edited for length and clarity.]