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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): As a public relations specialist, your primary goal is to maintain public images for high profile individuals, commercial businesses, and organizations. Before you embarked on this particular path, what field or occupation did you hold? Share a little bit about how you transitioned into Rhonda Ridley, President/CEO of Affinity Public Relations.
Rhonda Ridley (RR): Well, before I became a PR Professional, I was an elementary school teacher in New Jersey, a job that I loved immensely. It was while I was teaching that I began to help my godson’s mom, who was a recording artist with her press opportunities. I actually had no idea what I was doing or what it was called, but I did enjoy the risk it took to pick up a phone introduce myself to someone I didn’t know and try to inspire them to believe what I believe about a person, product, organization or event. It took me out of my comfort zone and fed the risk takers spirit in me that I hadn’t realized yet.
Helping my godson’s mom eventually led to more PR/publicity work and soon I had this serious desire to see this thing all the way through. So, from 1991-1998 my days were filled with children and staff meetings while my nights welcome me to a whole new world with clients, celebrities and press.
In April 1998 I had a very serious accident that took me out of teaching and I never went back.
The transition took place at the end of 1999 when I met the man who would soon become my husband. He noticed that always talked about and admired public relations and suggested that since I had so much experience that I should just open my own agency. I loved the idea but thought just too ambitious a task to take on. His belief in me and my desire would, in a matter of months, birth Affinity Public Relations.
EM: What qualities and characteristics does one need in order to be successful in public relations especially if they are coming from a “9-5” work environment?
RR: One must have love. I repeat, you must love people. The word “public” in Public Relations, means just that; you will be a constant fixture in the public eye. This is where a decision must be made to define what you want people to know about you, your character, your attitude and your work ethic. “Relations” means each and every person you come in contact with becomes an opportunity for you to create a relationship. For too long the PR industry has become known for its ability to deceive and manipulate.
Be able to multi-task, work long hours, a great writer, self-disciplined, creative, be an amazing problem solver, understand people, organize well, keep accurate records, delegation, listening and speaking skills.
EM: What are a few major mistakes you’ve seen others make in the PR industry?
RR: Well, let’s start with some of the mistakes I’ve made. When I started I wasn’t great with organization, I didn’t feel very creative and I often missed extremely important deadlines. For the past 10 years Affinity Public Relations has been run from my home; this was not by choice, initially, but over the years, I do know that this is what God has always intended to do with this PR firm. When starting the company in 2000, I wasn’t clear about what it meant to create a true working schedule for your day.
Industry mistakes that I’ve seen have been:
Lying: Sharing inaccurate information with the press in order to get their clients in the press.
Deception: Some people will invite you to an event based on false advertising about who’s going to be in attendance.
Manipulation: Trying to buy press or bribe press to feature their client or attend a client’s function.
EM: What realistic expectations should one have when going into business for themselves?
RR: Anyone going into business for themselves must know that they are responsible for EVERYTHING. You can’t hope to walk into your business space, whether it’s a corporate office or your home and not have a complete understanding of the entire business. Of course that’s a negative and a positive; negative because familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of business is seriously time consuming, you may become overwhelmed quickly, positive because there is an ethical and moral substance that you can run this company by on a day to day basis that helps you stand out from the rest. Also, don’t expect to make a profit immediately; that’s totally unrealistic, you need to have great leadership skills; if you look behind you and no one’s following you then you may not be a great leader.
EM: What sets Affinity Public Relations apart from other firms?
RR: As a Christian Urban PR firm we are set apart because our standards, goals, mission and vision statement are all based on God’s word. We recognize daily that we are a business, but we are a ministry as well. God directs all that we do, who we take on as clients, who we partner with and how we operate the business.
EM: Your motto reads, “Serving You, Serves God ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters; you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:45”. What lead you to choose this particular scripture? How important is it to implement spirituality in what you do?
RR: First and foremost, I recognize myself as a servant and a servant doesn’t question who to serve, but chooses to step up to the plate and serves everyone no matter the job; we must make ourselves available at all times. Then when starting the company, we knew that this company was intended to take on clients that normally would not be able to afford the normal Public Relations fees; we’d allow them an opportunity to have effective, successful and God-inspired publicity. Additionally, we’d be able to create relationships with people that we’ll share an eternal existence with.
Our faith is totally important to the success, growth and sustainability of the company. This is God’s company and He’s entrusted me to oversee it in a manner that glorifies Him and a place where people know they’ve experienced something different.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
RR: Additionally, never just follow your heart, it has a tendency to only want to serve the flesh, allow God to reveal to you all that you’ve been created to be and do that. That’s totally where your true success, both financially, but more importantly spiritually will be. You’ll never have to ask if you’re doing the right thing. As well, you’ll always have a passion for it like nothing else. It’s okay to love what you do, but love often fades. However, if you have a passion, which includes the pinnacle of sacrifice, God will be glorified, you will be successful, employees will flourish and customers will return.
EM: Thank you so much queen!
RR: My pleasure!
Rhonda Ridley, President/CEO
Affinity Public Relations
New York’s Exclusive Christian Urban PR, Marketing and Branding Firm.