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Women Entrepreneurs: #27 Michelle McCue

Before taking on the chief executive role at her public relations firm, Michelle McCue used to spend more time out in the field, leading tours for journalists on behalf of clients. One of her favorite trips involved taking journalists down a river in southern France and stopping at an oyster farm. It was an amazing adventure – but all in a day’s work for McCue. “It was one of the best experiences of my life, not only my career,” McCue recalled. She has since delegated to her staff so that they have those experiences while she feels satisfaction in operating McCue Communications for other reasons. “Now I get joy putting together a great annual work plan for a client and going ‘These are some cool ideas and I love what we are going to do for this client,’” McCue added. McCue Communications, based in Burbank with offices in Irvine, Cloverdale and New York City, is a nearly decade-old public relations and marketing firm specializing in representing upscale destinations, hotels and wineries. The company has 12 employees. Clients have included Ventura County Coast, Orange County Visitors Association, Visit Santa Rosa and John Wayne Airport. McCue started her firm after working as a freelance journalist writing about food and travel for a marketing agency, and then for another public relations firm in Los Angeles. It was there that McCue said she wanted to start a social media division but was rebuffed in those attempts. “They were not ready to do it, and started to lose clients,” she added. So that was when she struck out on her own with an agency that combined traditional and digital public relations. At first, she worked on a laptop in her dining room at home. She had emailed everybody she had met through her previous jobs to let them know what she was doing. She said she was fortunate to pick up a good client early on and the business grew to where she needed to bring on another person. “It kept growing organically with wine and travel clients because those are my areas of expertise,” McCue said. After nearly 10 years in business, McCue said that she has never been bored. There is always something different going on, whether it is a crisis or having clients with a creative project the staff is working on. From the business standpoint, there are the tasks of managing staff and preparing business development plans. “It has been incredibly stimulating,” she said. McCue Communications is among the six public relations firms on the Business Journal’s Women-Owned Businesses list. McCue said that having women in management results in a nurturing atmosphere – as long as women are not forced to compete with each other. At her firm, she has a mixed gender leadership team where there is a focus on listening to employees and creating opportunities for everyone to have input and feedback. “We are creating a familial environment because we are a small team,” she added. The leadership team is where McCue turns when there is a problem to address. Together, they break it down to find out where the problem originates from, what, if anything, the company is doing to contribute to it and then how to resolve it. Outside the company, McCue has a mentor in Martin Cooper, a former publicist for Walt Disney Co. and Playboy who started his own public relations firm in the San Fernando Valley in 1982. McCue met Cooper when he was teaching a class at UCLA Extension. “I know he has mentored other people as well and he has been a fantastic and generous person in sharing what he has learned,” McCue said. She also turns to others in the profession through participation in the Public Relations Society of America, a trade organization that has a section dedicated to small business and individual practitioners. “To go to that group and bring whatever problems I have to the table and find other people that have been there and can offer solutions has been a great resource,” she said. Perhaps the biggest challenge that McCue had to overcome was learning to let go and delegate authority. She needed to trust other people to get the job done in the same manner that she would. “People who go into entrepreneurial pursuits get bored easily and are probably Type A perfectionists,” she added. “That can hold them back if they do not learn to let go.” – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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