I had the pleasure of interviewing Fabiana Meléndez. Fabiana is a publicist at Zilker Media, an end-to-end brand management agency focusing on digital marketing and public relations. As public relations professional with a wide breadth of experience she has worked with clients ranging from award-winning restaurants, top hospitality and lifestyle brands, B2B tech enterprises, non-profits, thought leaders and more. Through her dedication to communication strategies and industry know-how, Fabiana generates above the fold worthy press, drive event attendance and boosts social media presence.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I went to St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was originally pursuing a degree in forensics in order to either become a medical examiner or funeral home director (how funny, right?!). I quickly realized that this particular career choice would require in depth knowledge of advanced math and the hard sciences — two areas I recognize are not my strong suit. I met with my academic advisor and let her know I couldn’t realistically pursue forensics and she let me know that she thought I was very eloquent and had great networking skills and should consider a career in public relations. I switched my degree plan and subsequently had my first PR internship at Circuit of The Americas… and the rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Working at Zilker Media is interesting in itself! It’s difficult to narrow my experience down to just one interesting story or occurrence as I find that many interesting things can happen on my day to day. I think this speaks to the nature of PR in general. No one-day is the same!
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?
One of the funniest mistakes I made while starting out in PR was forgetting to BCC journalists while sending an event invite. I hadn’t done any active pitching or outreach up to this point in my career and my boss at the time told me to “BCC everyone” on her behalf. I thought I had misheard her and proceeded to CC everyone. Luckily, none of the invitees mentioned anything about it, but my boss was mortified and I was pretty embarrassed. It’s a mistake young publicists make at one point in their career, but it only happens once and then never again!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on several exiting projects for many of my clients! Some are pitches focused on fascinating new angles while other projects include some pro-bono PR work.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
PR is about building relationships with people. Wether they be journalists, clients, vendors, etc. you are always dealing with people. With that said, people make mistakes. Never be afraid to own up to your mistakes even if it means sending a correction email or having a sit down with your boss. Owning up to mistakes not only shows maturity and builds rapport between you, your boss and your clients but it can offer great opportunities for learning about yourself and the industry.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
My biggest networking tip is to build genuine connections. People see networking as an opportunity to sell. Conversations can get dreary and awkward if people try to one up everyone. Successful networking is about building honest and genuine connections with people by actively listening and sharing experiences and expertise rather than selling.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Yes! If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You by PR maven Kelly Cutrone was one of the first books I read when I decided to pursue a career in PR. The book details her life and touches on what made her such a successful publicist (and person!)
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. :-)
I am interested in various social justice movements so it would be hard to narrow my interests down to just one movement. In order to do the most amount of good, there need to be several movements in place to address different types of inequality and injustice. My only hope is that if I ever influence anyone, I influence them to be the best version of themselves.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Read the room
One of the biggest PR lessons I learned early on was to always read the room. This is true both in the office and while handling clients. Colleagues, clients, vendors, journalists and more are all human, which means that they respond according to their own motivations, beliefs, etc. Reading the room can help you understand how to effectively communicate with everyone according to their needs.
2. Quadruple check EVERYTHING
Publicists spend 90% of their time writing. Whether it is a pitch, email follow up or social media content, we are wordsmiths. However, no matter how experienced it can be easy to misspell a word here and there or accidentally address someone by the wrong name. Always make sure that everything is impeccable. Read and re-read everything. Send it to an intern; send it to your boss, etc.
3. Be a Jill of all trades:
You tend to wear many hats in PR. I’ve been a graphic designer, official translator, security, door check, photographer, mediator on top of being a publicist for my clients. Take the time to learn a new skill such as Photoshop or photography because you never know when you will need to handle something on the fly.
4. Know your worth:
It can be exciting to land clients and it can be even more exciting to grow as an agency. However, just because you want to work in hospitality doesn’t mean you need to take on every restaurant as a client in the city. If a client isn’t working out due to their mission or values or simply how they interact feel free to say adios!
5. BE KIND:
Seasoned PR professionals tend to be a bit tough and sometimes that toughness doesn’t translate well when dealing with interns or colleagues. The BIGGEST lesson I have learned is to be kind. Working in PR is stressful as is and there is no need to contribute to the stress by being mean or catty. Always remind kind to everyone from the intern to the assistant to the vendor handling your event.