International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” and at MediaSource, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by showcasing our very own female entrepreneur — our owner!
Lisa Arledge Powell co-founded MediaSource in 1998 and recently assumed full ownership and operation of the company. She’s guided MediaSource through more than two decades of changes, and is a force for equality and a leader young women can look up to.
We talked to her about life as an entrepreneur and how things have changed for women in business.
How has the industry changed since MediaSource opened in 1998?
It’s not unique for women to own a PR firm, but I find that women typically aren’t in high-tech and data industries, and that’s where I think our industry has changed. Years ago, public relations was more of a people and relationship business. It still is, but now we need data to back up what we’re doing in order to show value and return on investment.
So I think the industry has shifted toward some skills that we don’t think of as female-focused. There aren’t as many women in math or engineering, and I think some of these data skills are now folded into PR. So as a woman, you need to understand the importance of these skills because they are now a crucial part of the public relations business.
What was challenging when you started, and what’s challenging now?
I think today, there are more opportunities for women than there were when I started the company 21 years ago. Society accepts women in higher positions, and we’ve proven we can run companies and do all the things it takes to make a business successful. One of the most challenging things today in business is finding and keeping great people and that’s something we really focus on. It’s the people who make the company.
What’s been most gratifying about growing your own company?
Some of the most gratifying things are seeing people grow. We have a couple of managers on our leadership team who started here as interns. So to see them go from knowing only what they learned in college to actually making important business decisions has been really rewarding. If you develop people through the stages, they’ll be loyal to the company and want to stay. It’s really gratifying to have people who are bought in and have grown here.
How has your perspective changed after two decades?
When I started 21 years ago, if the slightest thing happened or if there was an issue with anything, I would just agonize over it. Now, having grown as a business leader, I’ve learned to put things in the categories they need to be put in. I can now worry about the big things while handling the smaller things instead of stressing out about every little thing.
What excites you about the future?
When MediaSource started, being a smaller, specialized agency that was not based in a major city was seen as unique, but not necessarily an asset. At that time many companies wanted to work with the big PR agencies in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles that had a lot of employees and focused on all aspects of public relations.
The industry has changed. One of the most exciting things to me is that companies are now seeking agency partners who are good at what they do. They want agencies that deliver results and it doesn’t matter how big or small they are or where their office is located. They just want a talented firm to help them meet their goals. That’s what we’ve built MediaSource on — we’re really good at what we do, and we work with clients to meet their goals. It’s exciting because that’s what the PR industry wants right now. Respected organizations all around the country already work with us because we deliver results, and I think we are poised to become a major player in the PR world.
What advice would you give to young women?
If there is something you want to do, go for it and don’t give up. In college, I knew I wanted to be a news reporter. So when I got out of school, I knocked on all the doors at the TV stations in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio and no one would give me a job reporting. I wanted to tell stories and go out and gather news, so I ended up having to move to Texas to be a TV reporter.
It was a risky thing, but doing that taught me journalism and storytelling, which led to me starting the company. If I had given up and done something that wasn’t my passion, I don’t think there would be MediaSource today.