How This PR Boss Went From Corporate To Creating Her Own Agency
By Faith Riggs
Chanel Cathey is the founder and CEO of CJC Insights, a strategic communications and public relations agency. Before founding her company, she worked as head of corporate practice at Hunt & Gather, Director of Corporate Communications at Viacom, and apart of the media relations team for ABC News and Unilever. EveryStylishGirl sat down with her as she talked her transition to entrepreneurship, journey to public relations, and being a woman of color in this industry.
How did you discover your passion for PR?
I think I always knew I loved media. My parents would have little cardboard boxes and I used to cut out squares and pretend it was a TV and put it over my head to do a news broadcast. I think I was always planning to be Barbara Walters or Oprah and wanted to be interviewing people. I loved the news, my Dad would read the headlines out loud and I would put a voice spin on it like I was an anchor. I think the fascination and my love for PR came later when I was a sophomore in college at Fordham University. I found out about the Center for Communication and they were doing free events. I went to one event and the head of PR for ABC News was there speaking, and I had secured a summer study at Georgetown in DC. I was like this would be a perfect opportunity to intern for ABC, and I walked up to the head of PR and was like "I want an internship, I'll be in DC, I'm hardworking, I'll do whatever it takes." I had my handmade business cards and he looks and says, “How old are you?” I told him I was a sophomore and he looked at me and said: "You're too young." I told him no, and then I just kind of sold him on the spot. He called the bureau and said, “I’m sending someone your way with a resume.” I got the internship and spent the summer working at This Week working with George Stephanoepoulos and I was like, “I love this.”
How has the transition been from working in corporate to entrepreneurship?
I'm very much an unlikely entrepreneur, I just know what I'm passionate about, and I like making sure my clients have a great experience. I kind of use that to fuel my entrepreneurial push. I think it's a lot of risks involved because you're leaving something so comfortable. I'm not only talking about salary and a corporate car. When you know your job, you know your responsibilities, you deliver on them, and you get paid. There is so much security around that. You don't realize it until you are out on your own. You might think you are doing everything on your own when you're in-house, but you're not. You have HR sourcing great candidates for your team, you have legal taking the guesswork out of anything law-related. All of a sudden, the door opens up when you're an entrepreneur and it's all on your plate. You feel the risk and the weight of it every day, but it's also very rewarding when you have a win or get a new client.
How do you think being a woman of color entrepreneur differs from being a woman of color in corporate?
I think some of the challenges are similar. There are three things that are happening for me: I'm a woman, I'm a woman of color, and I'm a young woman of color. When you are in your early thirties running your own agency, there's a lot that comes with that. You do get questions, and sometimes you wonder do they ask these questions for everyone that they are considering? You just kind of shrug it off and move full speed, and if something is outrageously off track, I'm definitely one to call people out on it. The challenge is just that it can be a lonely experience when you're in corporate and you look around and don’t see a lot of women that look like you or looking up in the C-suite and still not seeing anyone who looks like you. It could discourage you or it can have the effect it had on me – how do I change the way that looks?
How do you find balance as an entrepreneur?
I would be lying if I said there was a balance, and I would even say that in corporate. I think part of the reason I've been able to have the career I've had is because I kind of burned the candle and focused. I'm always working, I'm always reading. I kind of live my life where I'm going to push the pedal in my youth and then I'll get some time to relax when I'm older. Being an entrepreneur has given me the flexibility to put myself first. When I was in corporate, I was married to my phone, responding to emails as fast as I could, waking up early and working until 11pm. I wasn't necessarily getting ahead, I was just busy. I think now I'm more productive in what I'm getting done because I have found time to say what is good for me. I take time now to go to yoga, meditate, and I always love trying the new bouji fitness things. Those are escapes that I never took the time to do before.
How has entrepreneurship changed you?
I think it has given me more confidence than I've ever had in my career. The confidence comes from being on your own and you're not gathering things up for approval. You have to be confident in what you put out in the world, and you have to be confident to go at it alone. I don't have a co-founder, I’m very much womaning the ship. I've seen my confidence grow exponentially.
What is something you wish you were doing more of?
Travel. I get all my inspiration from traveling. Whether it's through the experience of going through the airport and on my flight, to hearing other languages around me. I get so much from being in different places. Since I've started this, it's been over a year of being full throttle, and I haven't traveled as much.
How would you like to see your business grow in the future?
I've had so much growth, and so many people finding out about us through word of mouth. I think it's been a beautiful thing. I would love for that to continue. I think for me, I'm not so much focused on growth as I am focused on doing a good job for the people that I represent. I really want their businesses to grow and I think my growth will come with that.
Ok, so this next part is just some fireball questions. Answer the first things that come to mind — five beauty essentials you can't live without?
I love Laura Mercier's tinted moisturizer in tan, Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream, Replica Maison Margiela Beach walk perfume for the summer and By the Fireplace for the winter, Chanel lipstick, and Carol's Daughter almond cookie lotion.
Something you always keep in your bag?
A perfume rollerball, lip balm, mints, and business cards.
Favorite way to relax?
Traveling and meditating instead of grabbing my phone first thing in the morning.