Emily Taffel-Cohen: “Don’t be afraid to stop; stop doing something that isn’t working”


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Taffel-Cohen. Emily is the Founder and Owner of Mugsy, a full scale PR, experiential and event marketing and social media management company. She is also the founder and creator of two lines of clothing — Publicitees, a line of t-shirts for communications professionals and Unruly Emotion, a line of empowering shirts for babies to adults. In her “free” time, Emily travels doing speaking engagements on all matters of public relations along with the Mugsy PR Social Media Smackdown Obstacle Course Events and “Personality Marketing” seminars. She is a certified energy healer and reiki practitioner and to top it off — she also officiates weddings! Let’s dive into the wonderful world of Mugsy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started in college at the University of Miami in their Bachelor of Fine Arts program for theater, and though I had a scholarship, I still needed a job to pay the rest of the expenses. I took a position as a receptionist in the theater department. When the first play of our season was debuting they asked me to help send out some info and make some calls to media. Next thing you know, I was pitching and loving it. I started taking marketing classes and PR classes and eventually switched my major. The following year I applied for a job at a Fort Lauderdale based public relations firm where I worked my way up from receptionist to Senior Account Executive before moving to a few other firms and positions on my way to opening up Mugsy!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Since opening Mugsy we have had a LOT of interesting stories, but the one that always makes me smile is a simple one about hair. When I started the company I knew we had to stand out in the saturated landscape of PR firms in South Florida and beyond. Since our branding colors were pink and black, I decided to go all out and dyed my hair pink (something I had ALWAYS wanted to do but couldn’t at the corporate firms I was working at since this was before rainbow colored hair was considered mainstream enough to be professional). While some people loved it, others told me it was career suicide and no one would take us seriously. Well we booked more business because of that pink hair than we ever have again. EVERYONE remembered us. At large conferences, after speaking gigs, at events. You could definitely spot us everywhere! It led to us getting the RIGHT clients, people whose personalities and brands were the right fit for our style of PR and when I dyed it brown again, even our most conservative clients wanted me to bring it back. It was as good lesson that when you are 100% YOU, you build a more authentic client base and world in general around you.

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?

We all make mistakes and we have made some big and small ones at Mugsy along the way, but I think I learned one of the most important ones pretty early on. I was running Mugsy by myself when we first opened and we were throwing a client event. I calculated how much liquor I thought they needed and we ordered it at quite a large cost. When the liquor arrived it was obvious I had done the math incorrectly and ordered far too much of it, and as they unloaded case after case they also made it abundantly clear, they would not take returns. I not only cost my client money, but I learned then, I can’t do it all. I have never been great at math and that, along with other aspects of the business, needed to be filled in by someone who balanced me out in those areas. That is when Mugsy began to grow.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Mugsy stand out is our pure authenticity combined with creative out of the box thinking. Our firm started on a shoestring budget and we had to be VERY innovative for our marketing to get our name out. We still have that same innovation even when working with million dollar budgets/ We have created award winning social media campaigns that cost our client less than $500 to run and we have worked with International corporations to run worldwide events, but the bottom line doesn’t change in how we manage those clients. It is what we call “Personality Marketing”. How do we take what is authentically THEM and get crazy with it.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have a lot of exciting things going on at Mugsy right now. We recently expanded our team and rebranded ourselves from Mugsy PR to “Mugsy” since we do SO much more than just traditional PR now. We also opened “office hours”, our lower cost consulting packages for smaller businesses who need more guidance. Client wise, Mugsy is also representing some amazing new films including The Portal, an amazing documentary film that we KNOW will help people. It shows the true healing power of meditation and can really change the world. Another client of ours, Sergio Mendoza, designer of Pharaoun Cocktail Rings is donating 100% of the profits from his new Anais ring to breast cancer research as well. We are honored to get to help pitch his project and raise money for a great cause.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Collaboration allows us to do such great things. Don’t cut each other down — build us all up instead by making it a stronger community. There is definitely enough work for us all out there and we can find more success together than separately.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Let your team do what they do best. You hired them for a reason. Remind yourself daily to trust in them. Get a GREAT project management system (we use Trello) and then allow yourself a day off now and then. I promise it will make you a better leader. And think about the expectations you set for your team every day. Only YOU, as an amazing leader, can help them “have it all”.

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 about that?

I owe all my gratitude in my industry to Geri Haber and John Quinn, owners of Haber & Quinn, the first PR firm I ever worked for and where I “grew up” in the industry. It was at H&Q that I was given ownership on projects, allowed to test and experiment on things like social media which was JUST starting up, and really cut my chops in media relations. I thank them to the moon and back again for the leeway they allotted me to find myself and MY voice, and for the way they truly cared about the team there — as human beings first. That is what I always aspire to do with my team as well.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of the wonderful things about having an incredible team and a bit of a flexible schedule is the ability to volunteer and become involved in so many community projects. We have taken on several pro bono non-profit clients as well as several performers who could not afford our services but we KNEW would be huge. Finally, through our clients, we have had the opportunity to plan and execute fundraising events that have raised money for some incredible causes. We are extremely blessed and lucky to be able to do what we do.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t try to fit a mold. When I tried to fit myself into what the corporate firms felt a publicist should look like and act like, I wasn’t passionate about it anymore. I HATE to “suit up”, didn’t like being asked to take out my nose ring or cover my tattoos. When I broke out on my own, the RIGHT clients realized that none of that had anything to do with the work we produce or the success they have with us and they flocked to Mugsy.
  2. Karma may not exist but you should act like it does. ALWAYS be nice. We say we are dolphins in business not sharks. You don’t need to be savage, you need to be smarter than the competition.
  3. Shape your own story. This is the first rule in PR. YOU have the power to shape your story before anyone else does. Figure out what you want to put out into the world, for your brand and for your personal image as well, and become the storyteller.
  4. Respond, don’t react. Everyone is human and human error exists. When your client or someone on your team messes up, respond, don’t react. Take a moment, think of how YOU would feel in that situation, and respond human-to-human. Personal connection is EVERYTHING in this business.
  5. Don’t be afraid to stop. Stop doing something that isn’t working. Stop working for a day and take some time off. Stop stressing about the things you can’t control. As a leader, and as woman, many times we are in that go, go, go mentality. That is detrimental to ANYONE’S sanity. It is OK to stop and it is up to us to give ourselves that permission. The best part is, once you build a strong team, the work won’t stop when you do — and isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

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 a big believer in equality for all. The movement I would inspire, which I feel would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people at this time in our lives, would be to have people get to know their neighbors. Get to know people’s stories. I would put together a way for people to really just sit down and talk, face-to-face and learn the things we have in common and not just the things that differentiate us all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The poet was once asked, ‘If your house was on fire and you could only save one thing, what would you save?’ and the poet replied, ‘The fire. For without that, we are nothing.”

This is so relevant in everything I do because I feel if you don’t have a fire inside you for something, a burning passion, then you should find what makes you feel that. I tell the same thing to my team and it is how we choose what clients we work with, what we do as a company and it simply defines the way I live my life every day.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Sofia Amoruso or Cheryl Shuman. I LOVE people who take what they know, who know THEMSELVES, and create a brand and a business from it. Both of these amazing ladies have been transformative, inspiring and brilliant and I would love to sit and speak to them.

Follow Emily and Mugsy PR on Social Media:

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Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Alexandra Spirer

Written by

I am an entrepreneur, publicist, journalist and event producer based in Sunny Florida. My passion is writing & giving back to others.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.