#LearningCurve: Brown’s PR celebrates a milestone

Michelle Brown in her office at home
Michelle Brown in her office at home
Image: Brian Witbooi

Quality service, hands-on approach make Michelle Brown’s agency a sought-after establishment – 30 years on

With the 30th anniversary of Brown’s PR agency coming up at the end of the month, Michelle Brown has become a veteran of public relations in Port Elizabeth.

But, she says, one is never too old to learn more.

How did you come to start Brown’s PR?

I was always involved in event management and public relations, and studied PR at the then Port Elizabeth Technikon, after completing my first year in Journalism at Rhodes University. After several years of working for various corporates, including Holiday Inn, Stellenbosch Farmers

Winery and Garlicks department store, I was encouraged to start up on my own. So, on 28 February 1988, I took a leap of faith and with incredible support from my family and colleagues from my corporate era, I opened Brown’s PR – at my home. (I still work from home, today!)

What is your core service?

I offer three elements of public relations: media liaison, event management and corporate public relations.

Where was the idea born?

I was often called upon by colleagues or friends to source information or contacts regarding service providers, media people and well-known figures, and to organise functions. Then I thought maybe I should do this, as a business [on its own].

What makes your business stand out from other PR firms?

I am hands-on and oversee every aspect of the event or brand implementation – as it is just me – and I then sub-contract public relations students as well as other service providers as and when required. Thus my network of contacts, which has grown over the years, is specifically between myself and the company or person I liaise with. This, though, also gets to be stressful, as I have to manage all aspects of my business.

I have also established and maintained some incredible contacts and truly value them and their unending support. No person can operate as an island. One needs others and needs therefore to be a team player.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

I would be flattered if anyone wanted to copy my business model! Start small, be humble, always be open to learn and just work very hard.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced in the beginning?

Finance! That, and getting to be a player in a big game and making my name known. After all, your name and reputation is all you have, isn’t it?

What are the biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?

Having enough hours in a day! Knowing that you are able to 100% rely on and work together with other people, who would eventually become part of the team that delivers to the corporate client.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?

Success is not always measured in monetary terms, but in whether you have fulfilled your goals and been able to complete an assignment or project, according to the client’s requirements.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

To be regarded as completely reliable and professional (at all times), to be known to have integrity and loyalty, and to be known to deliver on promises made.

To also remain humble, in that one never thinks they are bigger than the game and that one is always open to learning more, no matter how long one has been in the industry.

What kind of advertising do you use?

Word-of-mouth (from client referrals); social media and belonging to several networks, like the Businesswomen’s Association, Rotary and The Forum – all of whom provide a constant network of connections, that one needs to establish and then maintain, making for sustainable networks, and not once-off contacts.

Mentorship is a two way process, and both the mentor and the mentee learn from it.
Michelle Brown 

What is your company’s vision?

To continue to uphold my policy of integrity and respect for others, and to continue to provide PR services to my clients for as long as they will have me.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

As we move further into the digital age, I realise how vital it is to be “online” – yet I have to say that I also never negate the importance of face-to-face, personal engagement.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?

That you need to be true to what you believe in and that, if something doesn’t work out, there is a reason why, so you need to make an alternative plan and get on with it!

What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?

Let me start with the advantage first. The network of contacts and thus the relationships that we have here in our city [is] something that isn’t found elsewhere and something that we need to treasure. In PE, often it’s simply a phone call to someone for assistance, and it materialises.

[As for] the challenges, our city is not always home to a head office, so sometimes decisions take time as head office has to approve.

How important has mentorship been to you in your journey as entrepreneur?

Extremely important! I firmly believe that at any stage on your journey, you can always learn from and be guided by a mentor or mentors. One is NEVER too old to learn.

Mentorship is a two way process, and both the mentor and the mentee learn from it.