Originally from New York, Laurie Menekou, owner and founder of Conceptual Communications, moved to Florida in 2000 when she transferred from The University of Albany to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. She wanted a new experience and found the South Florida lifestyle and weather to be a nice change of pace. After college, Menekou accepted an administrative position with the City of Weston and eventually moved up the ranks to Assistant Director of Communications. While working full-time, she went to school at night and got her Master's Degree in Mass Communication from Florida International University.
On a part-time basis in 2010, she began providing marketing and public relations services, with her boss’ approval, to local non profits. Through her involvement with a Young Professionals Group, she was asked by Leadership Broward to do some work for them, which led to other opportunities. By 2012, Menekou had built up enough clientele, by working nights, weekends and whenever she had free time, to financially justify leaving her position with the city and exclusively focusing on her business.
"I worked with the City of Weston for eight years," she said. "Even though I built up enough clients to replace my income, leaving was still very nerve racking. When I left, I had three non-profits, two private accounts and a small contract with the Department of Justice. I provided general marketing services, social media consulting, helped with marketing plans and did some work around communicating with stakeholders, both internally and externally. I focused on helping the non-profits get more funding. I really loved what I was doing."
Over the next six years, Menekou worked hard to build up her clientele, while adding employees and additional services, including digital media, branding and crisis management. We asked Menekou about challenges she faced along the way and some of the misconceptions about marketing, branding and public relations she commonly comes across.
"Getting to the point where I felt confident to hire a full time staff was one of my first big challenges," she said. "I wanted to be 100% sure I could afford to hire somebody. When we landed the job for the City of Wilton Manors in 2013, it was big win for us. At that point, it made sense to hire someone. Nevertheless, when to hire is an ongoing challenge. If you bid on a job and you get it, all of a sudden it's hurry up and get started. You have to determine the hiring sweet spot. Another ongoing challenge is dealing with people's misconception that what we do is hard to measure. I've invested in software and people who think differently to be able to tell our customers exactly what our services will bring to their door. I've worked hard to be known as an agency that will provide results. It might not be immediate, but certainly after six to twelve months."
Menekou loves building a company where people feel valued, in an industry where people typically feel undervalued. She pays her employees well and will not take on work if they're not staffed properly. Looking ahead, she would like to be a team of twelve. According to Menekou, at twelve, they're small enough to still maintain the culture they all enjoy so much, but big enough to compete and land bigger projects. She would like to expand their Crisis Communications arm and continue working more in the public sector. Menekou's long-term goal is to get a PHD in Communications and be a professor, possibly at UC Berkeley.
What advice does Menekou have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Try it before you buy it," she said. "When I was still working for the City of Weston, I met with potential clients during my lunch hour or on a Saturday. I gave the whole thing a test run before I jumped into the unknown. I had zero life for two years, but it was a small price to pay. It's also important to have a support system. Whether it's a friend, a sibling, a parent or a spouse, it's important to have someone. It's lonely at the top. When you're the boss, you need someone to talk to that you can trust."
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