Amanda Littlejohn and MarketingMel

Amanda Littlejohn and MarketingMel met in D.C. to plan our Personal Branding talk for SoloPR Summit

Next month I’ll be presenting about the Power of Personal Branding with SoloPR colleague and personal branding guru Amanda Littlejohn of Mopwater P.R. at the first ever Solo PR Summit in Atlanta.  When Amanda and I met in Washington, D.C. last weekend to talk about our presentation I shared the story of how having a personal brand helped me when I found myself suddenly unemployed for the first time in my life. It was early 2009 and the job market was tanking. My employer, an interactive, digital development firm, supplied web based products to Lexmark. Lexmark in turn supplied to Circuit City, which went belly up. That led to pay-cuts,  a first round of layoffs and then the second round that caught me and several of my colleagues in the cross hairs. But I was in a position quite different from many of the people who found themselves unemployed in the recession. Thanks to the power of social media and in particular twitter, I had a strong personal brand. In an age when Tom Peters says we are all “Me, Inc.'” and CEO’s of our own brands, I had created the MarketingMel presence on twitter. It was strong enough that a search on “MarketingMel” landed me several spots ahead of Mel Gibson in Google Search. I didn’t need to look any further for the name of my brand new public relations firm! If social media presence put me ahead of a famous actor then what can it do for you and your brand? No matter how secure you feel in your corporate job today, times could quickly change. Remember to build your brand both online and  in-person through face to face networking no matter where you are in your career.  It will pay off for you in the long haul. (If you’re and independent P.R. pro and haven’t already registered be sure to sign up now to get the early bird discount and save more than 20%. Hope to see you in Atlanta!)

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MarketingMel celebrating ten years of Tri-Cities TN/VA P.R.S.A. with other co-founders Bob Feagins and Dr. John King.

Working in public relations is like baseball. There is no way you can achieve a win completely on your own. Rather, it takes a group of creative people and approving clients to make it happen. I have several people to thank for their roles in helping MarketingMel capture six awards at this year’s Tri-Cities TN/VA chapter of the Public Relations Society of America awards banquet in Kingsport last week.

Throughout my career I have loved creating and starting things. It was truly an honor to be recognized for being a part of the founding board of the Tri-Cities TN/VA  P.R.S.A. Together, I served with Bob Feagins, our first president, Dr. John King and Jon Lundberg (who missed the meeting because he is serving in the legislature in Nashville.)  We were honored with a cupcake surprise and a round of “Happy Birthday.” MarketingMel, in business just over three years, captured six awards at the Tri-Cities TN/VA Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America’s annual awards dinner that was held April 17 in Kingsport.  The firm won two “Awards of Excellence,” the highest award given, for Collateral Specialty Item/ Financial Legal Solutions Logo developed for Blackburn, Childers & Steagall and Audio/Visual Productions for “MarketingMel’s Top 10 Tips to Feel Comfortable on camera.”

MarketingMel took top prizes for a logo and video

I teamed with designer Theresa Bellamy to create the logo for client B.C.S., that had to tie five separate companies together under one distinct brand. “The logo had to be non-specific and had to work with any of the five companies as a whole or any combination of the five,” said BCS Marketing Director Kendra Hopson.  “The MarketingMel team also worked well with a large group of business partners with distinct opinions. Each of them wanted something different, and, in the end, it was a unanimous decision.”

The second “Award of Excellence” was for a video, that I created along with Kyle Long of Digital-Fridge. I saw the increase in people using the medium of video on the web and, with my background in television news, decided to create “Top Ten Tips to Feel Comfortable on Camera.” The video, originally created as a guest vlog for Maria Peagler of Social Media Online Classes, was picked up by major P.R. services including PR Daily and has now been seen by thousands of viewers across the world.

Our team took two “Awards of Quality” for Wolfe Development’s Website (developer Jeffery Moore) and for feature writing for a Business Journal article on CapTeeVation’s owner Joy Humphreys. The company also received two “Awards of Merit” for the MarketingMel brochure (designed by Monique Carr) and the MarketingMel e-newsletter.

In the student print category, MarketingMel’s former intern Sarah Rowan, recently hired by the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, captured three awards for her writing about community activities. Sarah won the student “Award of Excellence” for her news release concerning the Johnson City Public Library board of directors, of which I am a member. Sarah received the Award of Quality for her work with the Johnson City Up and At ‘Em Turkey Trot 5K that MarketingMel helped sponsor. Sarah also received the Award of Merit for a news release about MarketingMel’s attendance at the Inbound Marketing Summit. Congratulations and thanks to all!


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Just recently I had the pleasure of meeting Erik Proulx, the creator of Lemonade on a Google Hang-out. Lemonade was a 35 minute documentary that came out three years ago. With its theme “is it a pink slip or a blank page?” the film featured creatives who had lost their jobs and gone on to far greater things. I loved the movie and thrived on its message. It was just what my late father, an entrepreneur himself, always taught me: “When life gives you lemons, honey, make lemonade.” Now Erik is shooting a new documentary called Lemonade Detroit and I am celebrating three years as a marketing entrepreneur. In reflecting on the past three years, things have changed quite a bit. Now we have iPads and Pinterest  and I get to “meet” cool people like Erik in a Google hang-out. My once indispensable Blackberry has been replaced with an iPhone. And, I find the general public doesn’t find my fondness for twitter quite so odd anymore. It’s been a journey.

This is my lemonade story.

Three years ago my former co-worker Tim Story and I sat at Panera Bread sipping coffee and planning our futures. Both of us had recently been laid off from an interactive agency that was hit hard by the recession. I did not even own my own laptop yet and Tim was using a borrowed one. Tim knew I was an entrepreneur at heart who wanted to start my own marketing and public relations firm, so he volunteered to register my domain name. In betweeen sips, he looked up from his machine and asked for the name of my new company. I said without hesitating, “MarketingMel.” I had already established the name on twitter and when you googled “MarketingMel” it soared to the top of the page, far ahead of a well known actor whose first name I share. Who could argue with that? A company was born.

Tim has gone onto success in his new career and he has helped me as a freelancer with SEO work for some of my clients. For three years I’ve had the privilege of working with fantastic business professionals, guiding them with their communications and awareness efforts including marketing, public relations and social media strategies. Together with my “virtual ad agency team” we’ve collaborated to create award winning web sites, logos,videos and more.

When I tell people I’ve been in business three years they generally congratulate me and comment that many entrepreneurs don’t make it past the first year.  Shortly after that groundbreaking cup of coffee I attended two workshops at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at ETSU including one on writing a business plan.  For those of you who may be thinking of starting your own business, here are some pitfalls to avoid and tips on starting a small business. Chief among those, writing and then working your business plan.  I would add to that be sure to have an annual strategic planning session for your company (even if you’re a solo) and refer back to it often throughout the year. And as for your business’ name, well, I recommend something with staying power. I am MarketingMel and I’ve been in business three years. Let’s have some lemonade to celebrate!

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The movie Lemonade speaks to me on many different levels. On February 19th it will be one year since I was given “my wings” from a digital marketing agency and with that, the chance to fly. If you haven’t seen the 35 minute movie about what creatives do in life post-agency watch it here.

It hit me on so many levels. When I was a little girl growing up my father always encouraged me to pick myself up after any fall and “take your lemons and make lemonade.” On another level I have a nephew with cystic fibrosis (you’ll understand more if you watch the movie.) Moreover, I feel I not only have worked with the people in the film but I could be one of them! Like them I rise early each day now. I’m excited at the blank piece of paper that was handed to me and with it, the opportunity to create my own company and destiny.  I’ve been blessed with fantastic PR Clients and just today another business owner identified me by my personal brand, MarketingMel. Time to sip some lemonade!

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Mary Ellen Miller


It was a year of firsts and opportunity for MarketingMel. I got to achieve what so many people only dream of: the launch of my own business. As people, including me, streamed out the doors of my former employer last February I did what my father taught me long ago. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
The company name was easy to decide on. I had already established MarketingMel’s handle on twitter. Mel has been my nickname for years. Thus, MarketingMel, the PR firm was born.
In creating your own company you tend to dig into the tool chest and find any and all tools that you used  in the past. For me one of those tools was television broadcasting. Thanks to Neal Boling, the news director at WJHL 11 connects who sought out my input for TV news stories on social media including twitter and Facebook. Some fantastic clients believed in me and I want to say a special thanks to Dan Eldridge, John Bullington and Todd Mussard, CPA. Each of those business professionals believed in me and what I could do for them in providing public relations, personal branding, marketing and social media consulting.  Thanks also to the CCC, a group of consultants who cheered me on every step of the way. Dave McAuley at The Summit Leadership Foundation, my office away from the home office was also there providing fantastic conference and meeting room space for me.
I thank God for the blessing of being able to start a thriving business in a down economy and I look forward to what the New Year holds. Here’s wishing each of you the very best in 2010.

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Women’s Expo 2009 is this Saturday and Sunday at Meadowview. I am honored to be in the company of some distinguished speakers. I will be presenting during the portion called “Tips, Tools & Resources for Competing in Today’s Environment.” Here’s the line up of topics:
10 am:
Social Networking and Hot to Use it in Today’s Market, MarketingMel
10:30 am
What Opportunities Are There For Me to Start my Own Business and How do I do it?
Bob Justice, Tennessee Small Business Development Center
11:00 am
How do I find the Financial Resources to Obtain the Training Necessary for Jobs in the New Economy?
Marquita Tittle, Coordinator Career Development Services Center, Northeast State Community College
11:30 am
Educational Opportunities for You Today
Dr. Linda Garceau, Dean, School of Business and Technology, ETSU
1:00 pm
Keeping Up My Self Esteem and Positive Attitude When Things are Changing, (Company Sold, Grieving Process) Lottie Ryans, Regional Vice President, CenturyLink (formerly Embarq)
1:30 pm
Life After Layoff: First Steps
Cindy Martin-Hensley, Director of Planning and Program Development, Alliance for Business and Training
3:00 pm
The On-Line World-How do I Make Myself Stand Out?
Carol D. Trahan- Owner, Spherion Recruiting and Staffing
Seating is limited. Call 423-245-2878 to reserve your seat today.
Tickets for the Women’s expo are $5 advance, $7 at the door. Children 12 and under are free. Show hours: Saturday 10am-6 pm, Sunday 1 pm-6pm

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Out of work

Out of work

This blog, a chronicle of the pain of my recent job loss, has particularly resonated with my fellow Cornell alums on LinkedIn. I posted it on the Cornell alumni LinkedIn group and I receive daily notices from other Cornellians who have recently gone through the same stages of grief.  Since they have been posting to LinkedIn and not directly to this blog I thought I would share some of their comments (while keeping their identities private)  here.

I was laid off a few weeks ago and am having a difficult time finding a job! I am either over or under qualified for most jobs out there and companies are not willing to take the risk to hire me in either scenario.

Hi, I was laid off for the first time about a month ago. Interesting experience, indeed.

I was laid off last fall from a position as Senior Graphic Designer.

My company laid me off and the entire Construction and Development Dept (Shopping Center Development) in Dec 09.

I was laid off two weeks ago from my director job at a business consulting firm. Companies that we were doing business with or trying to develop new business with stopped spending and my firm had to let many people go.

Its been 7 months since being laid off from a SVP Marketing position with no prospects to date for replacing anywhere near the income or role.

I was laid off 5 weeks ago and it is starting to get rough to deal with now. Too much time on my hands and no prospects coming through. It’s nice to have a place to vent.

All of these were written by Cornell alumni.  We were the kids who were tops in our class when we showed up for college in Ithaca, NY only to find ourselves surrounded by lots of other high school superstars. Generally I have found that Cornell alums go onto great success. That is perhaps why these posts are resonating so with me.  This economy makes no discrimination. The line worker at GM. The commercial real estate developer with an Ivy League degree. We’re all in this together.

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OK guys. Enough of the wallowing in self pity found in my first couple of blog posts. MarketingMel is prepared to launch!  The marketing and PR enterprise I have dreamed of for years is now taking shape. Yesterday former colleague Tim Story and I sat at Panera (my new office away from the home office) and registered my domain name, https://marketingmel.com. Since I had already established my presence on twitter with that name  it seemed logical to carry it over to my business. Furthermore, anyone who knows me well knows me by my nickname, Mel.

Who will be my clients?

Professional services firms: lawyers, physicians, CPA’s, etc.

I spent five years marketing attorneys and I know and understand the nuances and subtleties of marketing professional services. I have a communications degree, an MBA and I’ve spent the past year immersed in technology. (That following a career in media, agency and corporate communications.) 

What will I do?

Create marketing , public relations and social media solutions and strategies for professional service providers.

Right now I’m going to a women’s retreat at church. I need Him more than ever for guidance as I start out on this new venture.

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