Sparking Innovation: The Strategist

Kelly Howard
Kelly Howard

Now at the helm of her own strategic communications agency, PR pro and alumna Kelly Howard is bringing her creative vision to life.

By Emily Barske

Kelly Howard had to make a decision—a scary one.

Ultimately, she said yes. And after she did, she no longer had just her own paycheck to worry about. The Owatonna, Minnesota, native was now responsible for other people’s salaries and their livelihoods.

‘TAKING OVER A MOVING SHIP’

For some, entrepreneurship comes from starting a business from the ground up. For Howard, it came in the form of becoming captain while the boat was already out at sea.

Howard, a 2008 graduate in journalism and mass communication, is the CEO of Los-Angeles-based EightSixtySouth, previously Post+Beam, an agency that focuses on strategic communications for fashion and beauty brands. In August 2016, she had the choice to take over the strategic communications agency or let it dissolve because the then-CEO wanted to step out of the role.

While she had spearheaded the Iowa State Daily’s public relations and marketing efforts eight years earlier and held a variety of public relations jobs since moving to Los Angeles, nothing had quite prepared her for owning her own company.

However, having worked her way up Post+Beam since starting in 2013, she didn’t let the fear stop her.

“The company still had to operate,” Howard says. “It wasn’t like a startup, it wasn’t like I was starting up my own company. I essentially was taking over a moving ship.”

Clients needed serviced, bills were due and employees wanted paychecks—and that was all beyond the normal duties of producing work for clients.

After switching numerous finances and contracts under her name, Howard assumed control of the business, and just like that she was working to see where the company should go next.

A NEW BEGINNING

Faced with rebranding the business, Howard looked no further than the company’s roots.

She decided to name the company for its street address. The building—The Cooper Design Space—in downtown Los Angeles is an important part of who the company is, thus making the name EightSixtySouth an ideal title for new brand. Rebranding the company required first settling on the name, ensuring the domain was still open, strategic planning with her team of four employees plus a couple of interns and creating new graphic design and marketing materials.

“It was a lot of moving parts,” Howard says, adding that including her employees in the process was essential. “You want the employees to have the same passion and foster a responsibility to have the business succeed.”

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL LIFESTYLE

One of Howard’s favorite sayings? “It’s so great being an entrepreneur—you get to decide which 18 hours out of the day you work.”

Success at the end of the project—which to her means seeing the happiness of clients and employees comes to fruition—is what makes getting up at 6 a.m. and staying up until 1 a.m. worthwhile.

Her typical tasks might be best described as “all of the above.” In helping plan a recent event for client Men’s Fitness magazine, she helped with strategy but also helped plan the small details down to the red carpet.

It wasn’t these responsibilities that surprised her most, but rather the small things—like having to get office supplies and reminding employees to put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder in the bathroom.

“I’ve never ordered more printer ink in my life,” she says.

One of Howard’s biggest pieces of advice for those seeking leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation positions is to build a support system. She also said it’s important to know what you’re not good at or don’t like to do, so you can bring the right people on to better do those tasks.

For now, her goal is to continue nurturing the growth of EightSixtySouth. And she recognizes that what growth means will evolve with what the staff desires, what the clients need and as times change.

“Know where you need to invest your time, know where you need to invest your money and somebody else’s time,” she says. “Always love what you do, treat your people well and keep hustling.”

FUTURES FORUM

Kelly Howard offered Greenlee students sage career advice at the Futures Forum in October. A few takeaways:

  1. Public relations does not have a “one size fits all model,” and practitioners need to evolve as their clients’ needs and communication methods change.

  2. Relationships are a key part of public relations. Making meaningful connections takes real-life, face-to-face effort beyond social media platforms.

  3. Internships can teach you what you do—and don’t—want to do. To land them, do your research to prove your work ethic and interest.

  4. You are your own PR, and you market yourself by how you treat others. — Amanda Wymore

The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication’s Futures Forum is a semiannual event sponsored by William F. and Linda Z. Tubbs.