Turning $500 into a PR Empire: Melinda Jackson’s Inspiring Journey

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In this episode of “Boss Your Business,” host Yvonne Heimann and guest Melinda Jackson are diving deep into the challenges that aspiring publicists face when jumping from a passion to a sustainable career and a PR Empire.

From humble beginnings in rural North Carolina to mastering the art of PR in Los Angeles, Melinda shares invaluable insights, personal anecdotes, and tips for aspiring professionals. 

Melinda takes a different approach to PR business, focusing her company value’s on thought leadership and genuine human connections.

Stories Melinda Jackson - Ask Yvi

Early Life Path to Communication

Melinda Jackson, raised in a small North Carolina town of 4,000 people, had an uncertain career path. With no local role models in public relations, she initially aimed for film school but faced parental opposition.

She then enrolled at a local university to become a teacher but shifted gears upon discovering communications majors among her peers. This led her to explore TV and film production classes, sparking her interest in PR and steering her ambitions toward Los Angeles

Surviving on $500 and Unpaid Internships

Melinda’s move to Los Angeles was a bold one, armed with just $500 and a dream in 2009 amidst a recession. The competitive landscape posed significant challenges, especially for someone without any industry connections.

Yet, her determination pushed her to juggle three unpaid internships, ranging from event planning to fashion and entertainment PR, all while taking on multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, Melinda did whatever it took to survive and gain the experience she needed.,

Breaking Through Burnout

After a year and a half of relentless effort, Melinda finally landed a full-time job at a small boutique PR firm, where she remained for five years. Despite the job being a “dead end” in some aspects, it was a rigorous training ground where she learned to be resourceful and self-taught a lot of essential skills.

However, burnout loomed large, prompting her to seek better opportunities. She moved to her dream PR firm but quickly realized the toxic work environment was not sustainable for her mental and physical health. Her tenacity was tested once more as she transitioned back to North Carolina.

A Different Approach to PR

After facing several setbacks, Melinda decided to start her own PR firm, focusing on a more personalized and human-centric approach. She takes a storytelling route that prioritizes thought leadership and personal connections, eschewing traditional press releases for more engaging, organic content.

Her unique method has found a special resonance among female entrepreneurs, whose stories she helps to shape and amplify.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Owning her PR firm has allowed Melinda to create a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. She maintains a lean team, including paid interns, to ensure that her clients always feel seen and heard. This approach has not only contributed to her professional success but also affords her the flexibility to pursue personal interests like traveling.


Melinda Jackson’s journey in the world of public relations serves as an inspiring blueprint for anyone aspiring to break into the industry. From North Carolina to Los Angeles and back, her story underscores the importance of perseverance, self-worth, and the power of human connection in public relations.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to share your story or an aspiring PR professional, Melinda’s experiences offer invaluable lessons for navigating the complexities of the industry.

🌟 Meet Melinda Jackson

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melindajacksonpr/
Website: https://www.melindajacksonpr.com/
schedule a consulting call – https://calendly.com/melindajacksonpr/60min


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Video Transcription:

Yvonne Heimann [00:00:01]:
Have you ever wondered how to break into the world of PR and truly make your mark? Today, we’re diving into the challenges that aspiring publicists face when jumping from a passion to a sustainable career. First, there’s the daunting task of networking in a new city without connections. Then there’s the struggle of finding paid work in a competitive market. And of course, balancing loyalty to your employee with your own career growth. Joining us today to unpack all of this is Melinda Jackson, a public relations maven who turned a $500 move to LA into a thriving PR career and agency. In this episode, we’ll explore her journey, uncover the strategies behind her success, and discuss how she helps clients stand out in today’s noisy market. Expect to leave with actionable insights and a boost of inspiration to tackle your own career aspirations.

Yvonne Heimann [00:01:08]:
Melinda, tell us, how did you get here? So how did you get into PR?

Melinda Jackson [00:01:15]:
Oh, yeah, that’s always a funny question and a funny answer, because I grew up in a very rural area of North Carolina, a town of 4000 people. No one had ever heard of PR, and I kind of stumbled upon it because I wanted to go to film school, and my parents said, no, they didn’t know anyone that had ever gone to film school. And so I went to the local university, and I was going to be a teacher. And some of the girls that were on the cheerleading squad with me at my college were communications majors. And that sounded really fun to me, and it sounded as close as I could get to film at that school. And so I changed my major. And through that and tv, I kind of figured out that PR was a thing, that publicists were a thing. And I just kind of set my sights on moving to Los Angeles and becoming a publicist and working in PR, and I moved there with $500, and I made it work.

Yvonne Heimann [00:02:012]:
Damn. Okay. I want to hear more about that in a second.

Melinda Jackson [00:02:15]:

Yvonne Heimann [00:02:15]:
What did your parents say when you changed your major to film? Because it has that. It has that feel of great. You’re gonna. You’re gonna not make any money and server for the rest of your life and just do b roll movies. And I’m like, I’ve seen it. Tv and film back. Weren’t here, too, back in the day. Right.

Yvonne Heimann [00:02:36]:
How did your parents deal with that change?

Melinda Jackson [00:02:39]:
Yeah, so they told me that I should be a teacher because that’s what girls do, right? They’re teachers. And I was like, I don’t want to do that, but, okay. Like, sure. And so I changed my. I went into college as an education major, and then when I changed my major to communications, they were like, what is that? And I was just general communication so I could take any of the classes. And we did have tv production and film production classes that I did take, but I just kind of sold it as. It’s like marketing. It’s like marketing.

Melinda Jackson [00:03:11]:
They knew what that was because they’re entrepreneurs, and so they’re like, oh, okay. So they thought I was just gonna work in an office somewhere. But really, I ended up working on some tv shows that we had here in North Carolina at the time, One Tree Hill being one of them. And I worked on movies and things like that, just background and pa work and stuff through being a communications major. So I think they were really confused.

Yvonne Heimann [00:03:38]:
Way to scoot that line up. Yeah, it’s kind of like marketing.

Melinda Jackson [00:03:42]:
It’s like marketing.

Yvonne Heimann [00:03:44]:
So you made your way to LA, $500 in hand. That’s. Damn. How did you mentioning one three here, getting, getting into that whole production scene and everything. And even when you were in, I know that’s, that’s quite a taxing job. How did you, how did you turn that $500 into surviving? Let’s be honest, LA, $500 doesn’t get you anywhere.

Melinda Jackson [00:04:10]:
No. And this was in 2009. So I just graduated college. The recession was happening, no one was getting hired anywhere. And I, I’m coming from this small college in North Carolina and I’m up against girls who went to UCLA and USC and their dads worked at a big movie studio or something. And so those were the people getting.

Yvonne Heimann [00:04:31]:
And all the things, right?

Melinda Jackson [00:04:33]:
Yeah. I knew no one. I knew not a single soul. I was sharing a room with somebody I met on Craigslist. Like whole, whole nine yards. I interviewed, I interviewed, could not get a job anywhere. And so I just did three internships, all unpaid at once at different PR firms, all different aspects. So it was an events, fashion and then just a general, like entertainment PR firm.

Melinda Jackson [00:04:55]:
And I just picked up every part time job I could find. So I was tray passing at Premier after parties. I was working at random stores at the mall. I was coaching cheerleading at a high school in Burbank. Like, I did every single thing I could to just survive while I was doing these unpaid internships. And then I finally, a year and a half later, got hired on somewhere full time.

Yvonne Heimann [00:05:18]:
Talk about having a vision and determination. I’m like, not a lot of people would stick with this for a year and a half and getting one no. After the other after the other after the other. Holy canoli. So you finally get signed up, you are where you want it to be. What then?

Melinda Jackson [00:05:42]:
So I worked for that firm for five years and it really was a dead end. Like, I’m very thankful for my time working there. I learned a lot. It was a very small boutique PR firm, so I had to teach myself a lot of things very quickly and I had to be really scrappy. And sometimes I kind of get imposter syndrome now. And I think, did I teach myself wrong? Like, would I be better today if I had worked at a huge major firm? And I think everything happens for a reason, obviously. So I worked at that firm for a while and then it just wasn’t a good fit anymore and I was getting really burned out. And so I kept applying for other jobs.

Melinda Jackson [00:06:22]:
And at that point I had turned down jobs at record labels and things like that. Cause I was just so loyal to who I worked for, and we were such a small team. But then I realized I’m replaceable. I’m not making enough money. I could have a better quality of life if I go somewhere else. So I changed firms. I got my dream job at my dream PR firm and immediately realized it was not a good fit. It was a very toxic environment.

Melinda Jackson [00:06:48]:
The person is no longer there that I was working under, but I worked there for six months, and I saw her nine times in person. So it was someone that was just leading a department via email and was never there, but would scream at you on the phone and never tell you what to do, right. So I just. My body just started shutting down. I couldn’t keep food down. I was working 14, 15 hours days in the office to the point where security was kicking me out at night. It just got really, really bad. And so one day, I go into work and I go to HR, and I’m like, I can’t do this anymore.

Melinda Jackson [00:07:21]:
And they were like, she wants you to leave anyway. So I was like, bye. And I moved back to North Carolina.

Yvonne Heimann [00:07:30]:
So having been through this, and there’s a lot of stories like yours out there, where it’s like you have this big vision. You have this dream of that specific company, that specific position, and suddenly it turns around, looking. Looking at this experience, can you see some red flags that might help the audience that is getting into a situation like that? Because it’s interpersonal, it doesn’t matter if it’s a job or if it’s potentially a client, that interpersonal, those red flags apply in any situation. Looking back, are there a couple of things that could help the audience be like, okay, you do want to stay away from that. The red flags that you initially might have missed.

Melinda Jackson [00:08:13]:
Yeah. I think one, if, especially if you were like me and you are moving to a completely different market, completely different socioeconomic whatever, check and see what the cost of living is versus where you were. So I was making great money in North Carolina terms. So my family was saying, don’t ask for more money. Don’t ask for more money. You’re making great money. But that was literally poverty level in Los Angeles. I could have signed up for food stamps legally.

Melinda Jackson [00:08:46]:
Like, it was just bad. So I think, do your research in terms of how much money you should be making, where you’re at, what that position is. Ask for that. If they’re gaslighting you about, we can’t pay you more XYZ, go somewhere else like it is. Okay. Yes, go ask for your worth and, you know, don’t go entry level and ask for $200,000 a year, but, you know, just do your research and figure out what. What you should be compensated for fairly. And then I say, just always keep your eyes and ears open.

Melinda Jackson [00:09:24]:
And if, like, just really trust your gut. If things feel off, they probably are. There’s probably some things under the surface that shouldn’t be happening. And remove yourself from a situation before it gets too late. If that’s because of your mental health, if that’s for your safety, anything like that. I think me wanting to be loyal a few times in life has really burned me. So just. Just really take care of yourself and really listen to your intuition.

Yvonne Heimann [00:09:57]:
And it’s like I’m being german. It’s like I get the whole loyalty coming to the States where everybody jumps jobs every two, three, four years, if they even stay that long. It was a complete new idea to me. Germany, it is changing now, but it was kind of like standard, that you stuck with a family. With a family, yeah. Your business was your family, your work was your family. You’d stuck with them forever. And I think it’s.

Yvonne Heimann [00:10:25]:
It’s finding that balance. There is something to be said to loyal, but it’s. If it’s at your constant expense, you are replaceable. So are they. So leaving that PR firm, is that the moment when you said, you know what, there needs to be something different. There needs to be something else. Is that when you went out on your own and started your own PR firm?

Melinda Jackson [00:10:48]:
No, I got burned one more time. So I.

Yvonne Heimann [00:10:52]:
There’s still a couple lessons to be learned.

Melinda Jackson [00:10:54]:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And it will come full circle. But. So I moved back to North Carolina and I apply for jobs, and no one will touch me because nobody understood entertainment PR. They were more corporate PR firms here, and they would say, we don’t have clients like that. We don’t have clients like that. So finally, I happened to get hired at an agency that, it’s an advertising agency that had a small PR arm to it, and I got hired there, and I was a PR and social media director, and it just wasn’t a good fit for a lot of reasons, and I don’t want to go into those.

Melinda Jackson [00:11:30]:
But again, I just got really, really burned out, and my body started shutting down. I wasn’t listening to myself. I was just in an environment that did not work for me, that was very toxic for me. And I started applying for jobs, and again, no one would touch me because no one understood my background. And they would say, we don’t have anybody like that. We don’t have anybody like that. And at this point, I had met a lot of the other PR firms through a few PR organizations, and they all know I don’t do traditional PR. I always say I’m a rock and roll publicist.

Melinda Jackson [00:12:03]:
I kind of go with my gut and I just kind of see what works. I don’t send a press release and hope something happens, which is what a lot of people do, so no one will touch me. And I just think, okay, I just need to do this on my own. And at that point, I’d been in PR for ten years, and when I was initially moving to LA, I’d done all these interviews and they said, where do you want to be in ten years? And I always said, I want to have my own PR firm or I want to work for myself because my parents are entrepreneurs. So I, at that point, let a few people know I was going to be putting in my two weeks. And that week, just from posting on Facebook saying, I’m quitting. Does anybody have any that needs PR? I had enough clients to pay all of my bills, so that was my sign that I could do to do it on my own. And I still ended up freelancing for the firm after the fact until they were kind of ready to not have me on anymore.

Melinda Jackson [00:13:00]:
But it was just a way better situation, and that was about six years ago.

Yvonne Heimann [00:13:09]:
Sometimes there’s a couple lessons to be learned. I’ve been through the same story a couple of times till I finally checked off all the lessons that were to be learned there. You started mentioning you are rock and roll PR gal. How. Yeah, guys, I already have a little bit of an idea. How do you work with your clients right now? Because you are not a standard PR agency. You already said. I’m like, we all can send out a PR release.

Yvonne Heimann [00:13:39]:
Guys, seriously, I don’t even know if anybody ever even still reads them. They probably just pop up in your. In your Google news alerts because your name was in there. Nobody actually reads them. How. How do you help clients? How do you help them get out there and. And stand out in the noise that’s happening right now or has.

Melinda Jackson [00:14:00]:
Yeah, so let’s be honest. Yeah, yeah, there’s. There is a lot of noise, and I think a lot of people think they can do PR, and a lot of people think they have a story. And just the whole landscape of journalism has changed where they care more about monetization than the stories a lot of the time. So my thing that I really do is try to focus on the thought leadership of my clients, and it doesn’t matter what they do or what they have to offer or anything. What is the backstory that they have and how can we connect people with that backstory? It’s just like you and I are talking now that these are the kinds of things that I will set up for my clients, especially in podcasts, because I know somebody could be in their car and listen to my client on a podcast and get really invested in their story and then want to go buy their product or want to book them for something else. So that’s what I really try to focus on is the actual thought leadership, the story behind the brand. Instead of here’s a press release, here’s a new product.

Melinda Jackson [00:14:58]:
Okay, well, why did they come up with that product? Are they a veteran? Are they a female founder? Are they a third generation? X, Y and Z? That’s the stuff I really try to look for.

Yvonne Heimann [00:15:11]:
And I hear you on that one. My whole business is based on my story. Having lost my husband in 2014, having started over with zero. Right. That’s where my passion for this comes from. And I think what’s often difficult for entrepreneurs to is what has been for me. How do I tell the story without, in my case, without falling into that victim mentality, without getting into this? Poor me, especially with it being a widow in a cancer story. I’m like, guys, I’m fine.

Yvonne Heimann [00:15:45]:
I love it. But I need to tell the story because that’s where my passion is based. That’s where I connect with emotion. That’s where it’s not just like, here’s another offer, here’s another thing. It’s the human PR. It’s the connection. So having somebody in your corner that can help weave that story and find that balance between the human connection, between the emotional connection, telling the story without going too far overboard of, oh, for me, and I’m a widow and I’m a cancer, cancer caretaker. And all the things, things.

Yvonne Heimann [00:16:23]:
I love how you approach PR again with that human connection, especially with AI going out there right now and everything. I love me some AI, don’t get me wrong, it helps me brainstorm and make sense of things and all the stuff that’s going on in my head. But if it doesn’t get the human aspect and where you want to tell it, the story, we are already getting flooded just with blah messages.

Melinda Jackson [00:16:48]:
Exactly. Yeah. And, and it’s funny that you bring up the AI because I’ve had people come to me, and they want PR, and I give them a quote, and I give them an example of everything we’re gonna do together. And then someone sent me back a press release that they wrote with chat GPT. And they were like, well, I just wrote this with chat GPT, and I’m just gonna send it out myself because I don’t have the money to use you right now. And then what did they do?

Yvonne Heimann [00:17:12]:
Go for it.

Melinda Jackson [00:17:14]:
Well, then they came back to me, and they were like, I don’t know who to send this to. Well, okay. So they paid me to send it out, so. And I use. I use AI all the time, especially, like you said, to brainstorm, just to help me clean up something. Sometimes if I’m just super busy and I’m like, okay, these are the talking points. Can you just fix it for me? Because I am so busy. But you still need a human to do some of this stuff.

Melinda Jackson [00:17:43]:
You still need a human to figure out, okay, what are people going to empathize with? What are people going to connect with? Because AI can’t tell us that. And then another thing that I really like to do is, you know, I’ll listen to a podcast that a client has done, and I figure out other things that they. I should be pitching based on just things that came out organically. You know, I would. I’ll say I didn’t know anything about that. Let’s. Let’s jump on it, you know, and then just try to figure out ways to connect them with other people. Is it another brand that we could collaborate with? Is it an influencer? Let’s just do some weird stuff and see what works.

Yvonne Heimann [00:18:20]:
And I love how you mentioned just listening to them, what happens organically, because I’m like, that’s what often happens with me. That’s where I always say I’m reactive. I need something to just blurred things out because my brain literally comes up with ideas and solution by the time I talk. I have moments where I have one on one calls with my clients where it’s like, okay, just sit there. Don’t get overwhelmed. Go on through mode, and I just need to dump stuff at you. And we pick out what actually works with that, because that’s how my brain works. I literally voicing it.

Yvonne Heimann [00:18:58]:
Things suddenly happen. It’s like, and even for me, getting my story cleaner, what am I doing? And all the things, that’s what’s happening in my business right now, where I’m like, okay, I get it. I’m not fully connecting where in the middle of an everyday conversation. One of my clients is like, that’s the thing. It’s my current tagline where it’s like, a successful business is when it runs while you are, but a successful business is when it makes profit while you are on vacation. It completely sums up what we do, and it came out in a regular, everyday conversation. So you going that extra mile of listening to podcasts when they literally, just in the middle of a conversation, they might not even catch what they just said, and suddenly you have the perfect hook. AI can’t do that.

Yvonne Heimann [00:19:51]:
Can AI perfectly sum up my podcast? Heck yeah, guys. I’m like, love me some cast magic, making sense of all the things we throw out there. But it’s like, guys, that’s. That’s where AI is not going to replace the human. It might be 15, 20 years down the road, but right now, no, it’s a great coach. It’s a great figuring out and making sense of the 10,000 voices happening in your head, but it’s not going to do the job.

Melinda Jackson [00:20:17]:
Exactly. And literally just that human connection, that’s how you came up with that tagline. And. And that’s why I do what I do. You know, you’re not getting that from a press release. You’re getting that just from talking to someone. And so, like, I want my clients to be inspired, and I want people to be inspired by my clients, you know? And so that’s. That’s what I realized.

Melinda Jackson [00:20:40]:
Like, public relations, to me, truly is public relations. How are we relating to the public, and how is the public relating to us? That’s what I see it as. Not analytics and all that stuff. I don’t care about numbers. I don’t care about any of that stuff. I just care that I can help tell someone’s story and connect them with the people so they can further tell that story and get it in front of the right people who it’s gonna help.

Yvonne Heimann [00:21:05]:
Because the moment people are get your story and you’re building that relationship, everything else is gonna happen. We already know that.

Melinda Jackson [00:21:11]:

Yvonne Heimann [00:21:12]:
It’s like the moment I connect with somebody on camera, I know they gonna stick around, and if not, they’re not the right ones. But building that relationship, building that connection, is priceless. So how does business look right now? We’ve been. You’ve been through hell and back a couple of times six years ago, went on out on your own, started your own PR agency. How is life now? How are your offers different to a standard agency? How does your agency set up allow you the life you have now.

Melinda Jackson [00:21:49]:
Yeah. So I’m really happy with the life that I’ve created. And I knew very early I didn’t want to be this, like, huge agency that I’ve worked at because I’ve seen clients get lost in them, and I never want my clients to feel like they aren’t seen or heard. And so I keep a very lean team. I have me, I have an assistant. I always have a team of interns because I feel like mentoring is very important. I also pay my interns because I was never paid for any of my internships. So I want to make sure that they feel great, and I’m always checking in and making sure they’re having fun and that they’re learning.

Melinda Jackson [00:22:27]:
And if they’re not, let’s pivot. But my business has really shifted from those early years of just taking anybody that wanted PR just because I needed the money to this adult leadership. That’s what people come to me for. People come to me because they want to be on podcasts. That’s all anybody wants anymore. And then just a lot of helping female entrepreneurs and female business owners because I am one. I know how to tell that story. And I just find that almost every female entrepreneur that I work with, they’re very shy about telling their story.

Melinda Jackson [00:23:04]:
They don’t feel that their story matters or they think their story is something completely different than what it needs to be, and they’re too close to it. So I love just helping them get the word out there and then watching how their business grows once they get more comfortable in telling their story and once they realize, like, oh, people, oh, they actually care about this, you know? So now I have, you know, an office that I work out of, and people can come and go as they please. And I love to travel. I’m always going somewhere, and my clients know that, but they also know I can be in the grand canyon and I will get on a zoom with them if they need. So I’m always on, but I try to try to keep a good work life balance as well.

Yvonne Heimann [00:23:52]:
Love it. And, yeah, I think there is. There’s really something to be said about PR and market for women. I don’t know about you, but I was raised to be seen, not heard. And now suddenly I’m supposed to be seen and heard. Talk about reprogramming everything I learned to the age of 20 and really getting those resources of, yeah, we are, we are worth to be heard. Yes, we get to be loud. Yes, we get to be obnoxious if that’s what we want to be, or that’s how certain people perceive us.

Yvonne Heimann [00:24:30]:
That’s their problem, not ours. And, and I love what you do, giving women their voices, where what, what I’m imagining is in the beginning, a lot of those women probably can just lean on to you where it’s like, okay, let’s, let’s take all that story out there. Who are you? What are you stand for? Where’s the passion coming from? And you initially get to tell the story, and more and more, they become more comfortable on telling their own story, having that permission for a little bit to just lean on to you and experience their story being told till they feel comfortable telling it on their own. Am I envisioning that right?

Melinda Jackson [00:25:18]:
Yes. Yes, absolutely. And a lot of it is, you know, the first couple of interviews, it’s really uncomfortable for them. And then once they watch it back, they’re like, oh, I have some things I could improve on. And then it just, it helps them grow their confidence from there. And then after a while, they’re, they’re totally fine, and they trust me to come to them and say, I know you don’t think anybody cares about this, but they do. So let’s just try. Let’s just see what works.

Yvonne Heimann [00:25:48]:
I love that. So for everybody that is ready to try and see what works, where can they find you?

Melinda Jackson [00:25:56]:
Yeah. Melinda jacksonpr.com it’s my name and PR at the end. I’m on social. Melinda JacksonPR I do consulting calls for people who maybe aren’t ready for PR, but they want to try on their own. Maybe they don’t have the budget for a, to hire on a team. So I give everybody the tools they need to kind of do it on their own. But then if somebody wants PR, I’m here, too.

Yvonne Heimann [00:26:23]:
Sounds great. And as always, you know, you’re going to find all of the information, all the bio, all the links, all the stuff in the description. And if you are ready to boss your business, go hit that subscribe button. Make sure you do not miss any of the upcoming episodes, and I’ll see you soon. Melinda, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m excited to stay in contact with you and stalk you on social media.

Melinda Jackson [00:26:50]:
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

Yvonne Heimann [00:26:53]:
Thank you.

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