Meet the PR Leader Who Launched and Sold Her First Business Before Age 27
Jessy Fofana is the type of woman you meet at a networking event and within five minutes you feel like you have been best friends for years. Within thirty, you’re down the street getting pedicures together, wondering how it is you got there. It's easy to see why she’s so good at her job. The mom of two is a hustler, stays on the cusp of everything, and is constantly challenging both herself and her business.
While working at a magazine straight out of college, Jessy and a co-worker started a small cosmetics company in a Brooklyn apartment. Fast forward a few years and they’ve been funded by one of the country’s largest fashion powerhouses. Just a few years later they sold the business—all before she turned 27. She then became the director of PR and marketing at Essie Cosmetics, but decided to leave before her first child was born to start her own PR firm.
Now a leader in the industry, LaRue PR is growing and thriving. The boutique firm caters its specific strategy to each emerging brand amid its impressive roster of clients. But at the end of a long day, Jessy leaves the office behind to spend time with her true love: her family. To her, it’s not about choosing work over family or vice versa. The two go hand in hand, each benefitting the other: “Having my own business has allowed me to maintain a strong sense of self, which ultimately makes me a better and more whole person."
Jessy proves you truly can have it all—as long as you're ready to work for it.
Name: Jessy Fofana
Location: New York Cirty & New Jersey
Current title: Founder/CEO LaRue PR LLC
Education: Bachelor of Arts at NYU
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I started my first job the day after I graduated. I had been an editorial intern at Vibe Magazine and they were launching a new publication called Blaze—it focused on music and urban culture. I was ecstatic to be offered a job. I worked at Blaze for the launch of the first few issues and then was hired to be the assistant to the editor-in-chief at Vibe.
What was it like as assistant to the editor-in-chief?
I learned so much. You hear horror stories, but I was especially lucky because the EIC (Danyel Smith) was absolutely amazing to work for. Aside from witnessing the editorial process and learning about writing, she was a great role model and a girl boss before it was #girlboss. She handled herself with poise and was always diplomatic and fair.
I’m sure I made mistakes and drove her insane with my newbie errors but she always took the time to explain. I think her influence helped me figure out the kind of business owner I wanted to be.
What is the most important thing you learned working in editorial?
I think the most important thing I learned was about the power of the pen, and I think it informed my entire career evolution. It wasn’t necessarily the power of my pen but I witnessed how much impact the media can have on an artist, brand, etc.
When did you transition into PR?
Fresh out of college I began working at Vibe and randomly ended up starting a cosmetics company with a fellow Vibe employee, artist and friend, Meegan Barnes. Together we built a small, indie beauty brand called Femme Arsenal. We started by making lip balm in her Brooklyn based apartment and eventually ended up finding a lab and building a small lifestyle brand.
I was in my early twenties at this point. I focused on all the PR and marketing aspects and Meegan was the artistic guru—but it was truly a collaborative effort and afforded both of us an accelerated career path. We were forced to learn every aspect of both running a business we had zero experience, as well as quickly becoming well versed in our respective fields. Had I gone a more traditional route in PR and marketing I would have had a slower progression.
As Femme Arsenal gained momentum, we were able to leave Vibe and focus on it full time. We pursued funding and urban apparel powerhouse Ecko Unltd ended up investing. Together we launched a full cosmetics and clothing line. It was an exciting and totally exhausting experience filled with many successes and a lot of mistakes that I was able to learn from.
To make it in PR, you have to be able to hustle and think strategically.
We ended up selling the business in its entirety and I continued to work in PR on the agency side as well as in-house in the fashion and lifestyle space. During this time I met and married my husband, Karim, who has always been a calming, consistent and supportive presence, essentially my polar opposite.
I also secured a position as the director of PR and marketing at Essie Cosmetics. Another great experience that allowed me to manage a small team and learn from an amazing VP, Giovanni Casolaro. Essie was a business with a crazy upward trajectory on the cusp of becoming a global brand. My time there really gave me a feel for the kind of environment I liked to work in as well as the excitement that accompanied building a brand.
When did you create La Rue PR?
I decided to leave Essie when I seven months pregnant with my first daughter, Surayyah. That is when the idea of LaRue PR really hatched. The timing seems crazy but in all honesty I had started and sold my first business by the time I was 27, and I just loved the hustle and excitement that came with launching my own thing. Plus with a new baby on the horizon, making my own hours again was really appealing.
What was one of the most difficult obstacles when you first started out?
When LaRue PR was really starting to get up and running, I had a 6-month old baby girl who was adorable, but as any new mom knows, she was a ton of work. At that point the business was really just me. I kept a limited client list only focusing on one to three brands but my approach has always been, well, kind of all consuming. I love to work and have always had an almost manic focus on my goals but now I had the best distraction ever… this adorable, crazy baby girl that needed attention.
It was an exhilarating but exhausting time…new baby and new biz! Things were really starting to evolve at this point. A lot of new business interest was coming my way and I saw the potential to grow, but it was right around this time that I found out we were pregnant again with our second child, Sasha. My husband and I were completely shocked. After I hyperventilated and had a few mini meltdowns and with the help of my very mellow husband and super supportive parents, I went into planning mode and really started to lay the groundwork for how to build my business and manage my young family.
Of course I don’t think of either daughter as “obstacles." Having a family was one of the main motivators for starting LaRue PR. My timing was a little insane, and that was the true obstacle, but that is how life works. Also the anticipation of how we would manage it all was much worse than actually being in the mix and doing it. “What if-ing” the future to death created a lot of anxiety, but once it was time to step up we figured it out.
How many clients do you have now?
LaRue PR is now a team of four full-timers as well as an amazing group of part-timers and interns providing administrative support. I absolutely live for every person on my team. Because we are a small crew we are close knit and all work collaboratively. I think we compliment one another and while we can get on each other’s nerves we work well together and have fun while doing it.
We typically have anywhere from 10-15 clients on our roster. We work in the fashion, lifestyle, home décor, and tech space.
How do you balance running your own company as a mom of two?
I’m generally not the best at balance. Like so many women, I burn the candle at both ends. I work hard and have career goals but ultimately live for my family. I grew up with a very devoted mom and dad. My mother was a full-time stay-at-home mom who, to this day, still puts her kids and now grandkids first. It’s her calling and she does it with the same passion and commitment that I go after work.
I’m a good mother but I’ve also realized where my strengths and weaknesses lie and try not to beat myself up about it. Sometimes it’s hard.
Like so many women, I burn the candle at both ends. I’m a good mother but I’ve also realized where my strengths and weaknesses lie and try not to beat myself up about it.
At the end of the day I adore my kids and husband and look forward to every minute we have together, but I think for me having my own business actually helps me productively channel my energy and has allowed me to maintain a strong sense of self, which ultimately makes me a better and more whole person.
What advice would you give a female business owner thinking about having kids?
It’s manageable and possible and you can’t have all the answers before you are in the situation. Surround yourself with a great support system and try and be forgiving. If you don’t have time to make your toddler organic smoothies or you can’t take an after hours work call because you are at soccer practice, it isn’t the end of the world.
PR is a constantly evolving industry. What are some of the things that LaRue PR does for clients?
We try and look at each client from every angle and put together a campaign that is comprehensive. We look at our client's goals and then think about digital strategy, print coverage, influencer partnerships, strategic brand collaborations, events, celeb placement...anything/everything that we can do to help them realize that next level of success.
We are also all about the non-traditional. Some of our best partnerships have involved guerilla-style initiatives that were initially a little crazy but turned out to be super effective.
What have been some exciting projects you’ve worked on?
We love all of our clients and the work we get to do each and every day. Some recent high notes include a fashion week event… we did a party on a cruise ship that sailed the NY harbor with High Fashion Home. It poured rain and the water was turbulent but we still had a great turnout.
The Manhattan Vintage Show is always fun. It’s packed with characters! Celebs, fashion royalty, designers, vintage experts, and top tier media people who really view fashion as art. Lulu & Georgia is an amazing brand to work on and it’s been so exciting to be part of their evolution. We just started working with Create & Cultivate, which we are thrilled about. My team has attended the conference as guests and we immediately saw the momentum. Being a part of any trailblazing business is always inspiring and something we have found in all the brands we work with.
Take us through a typical workday.
My husband wakes me up when he heads to the gym at 5 a.m.! I then stagger out of bed and get myself and my girls up and fed and ready for school. My mom, who is arguably the best human and grandmother on the planet, shows up at 7:30 a.m. and becomes our own personal Mary Poppins each and every day.
I get into the office by 8 or 8:30 a.m. and then it begins! Some days I head right into NYC and we do rounds of meetings and appointments with editors and clients. This can include desk-side chats, lunches, dinners, manicure meetings...it’s a tough job, I know!
Most days I’m glued to my desk with a full afternoon of calls on the schedule. My team works very collaboratively in the office and so much of what we do is a group effort. I try to get home by 7 p.m. most nights and spend time with the family, but like so many small business owners I have a hard time unplugging.
What is one of the most important skills to have when you work in PR?
I think you have to be able to hustle and think strategically. It helps to be a good talker and writer as well. Every brand/company/biz wants press, visibility, social media coverage, anything and everything to be seen and heard.
Every member of the media is basically inundated with emails and outreach. Coming up with ways to have my clients be seen and heard, stand out, and rise above the fray is very necessary and requires a certain amount of unconventional thinking, especially if you are working in the startup space or with emerging brands. I also think a sense of humor about EVERYTHING is super important.
Having my own business actually helps me productively channel my energy and has allowed me to maintain a strong sense of self, which ultimately makes me a better and more whole person.
We’ve always heard that PR is all about relationships. Would you agree with that?
Yes. Relationships are a huge part of PR. It’s a competitive and saturated space with lots of people vying for the same attention. Having a real relationship in place with a contact that you have built over time only makes it that much easier. The space is always changing and people do move around, so you also have to be willing to consistently create new inroads and work hard to build new relationships.
How do you foster lasting relationships?
I try to always be sincere and approach work relationships like I would any other new friendship. I am genuinely interested in the people I’m working with, and also like to talk, so maintaining a relationship long-term is a natural progression.
Give us your best networking tip!
Be yourself and don’t feel the need to be insanely polished and professional at all time. People remember personality—and humor goes a long way.
How do you think social media has affected the PR industry?
Social media has completely changed the PR game. It has expanded the industry and allowed for a ton of new platforms for visibility. In 2016, social media coverage, influencer campaigns, and strategic partnerships with a social media tie in have become a cornerstone in our overall PR and marketing strategy.
Content is king and social media has afforded individuals the chance to build their own audience, as well as pursue relationships with top tier media outlets. It’s also created an entirely new revenue stream for so many individuals. For the PR world, in some ways it has created a lot more work, but with it comes a ton of additional opportunity.
What has been the most challenging aspect of owning your own business?
Honestly, I love most aspects of owning a business and always have. It can be stressful to start but once you get rolling, it’s so exciting. When I launched LaRue PR it was well before we owned a house, had two car payments, and all the other expenses that come with having a family. I was lucky enough to be able to have my husband support us while I got LaRue off the ground.
I love the PR piece of what I do: the writing, pitching and strategy as well as finding amazing new brands to work with. I’m not a huge fan of the “other stuff." It’s definitely challenging to do it all, to wear every hat.
I found the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship challenging—the billing and bookkeeping, HR, inventory management, and all the things that took time away from doing the actual work. Thankfully now I have a great little team and a few valuable freelancers that handle a lot of those things—and I get to focus on what I’m good at.
What has been the most rewarding?
It has been rewarding to be able to see something I started flourish on its own merit and to do it without any outside investors. Big picture: It’s rewarding to be part of my daughters day-to-day lives. While I am career focused, had I stayed on a more traditional PR path, I would have been forced to miss out on certain parts of their babyhood. Granted I work a ton and am sort of never “off” but the ability to take an hour every now and again to see a school play makes it worthwhile.
I think this is something a lot of moms that work outside the home struggle with. We are expected to manage it all and still look cute while doing it! It’s not easy!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into PR?
Read everything. Blogs, digital content, print media, news media, social media, etc. PR has changed so much over the past ten years and it is constantly evolving. You have to stay ahead of the curve and pay attention to the kinds of media that get visibility. Know your subject matter.
It’s important to have a variety of experiences if you’re interested in going into PR. Big agency life is entirely different from working in-house for a brand or for a boutique firm. Internships and freelance opportunities will help you figure out what you like and what you don’t.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Trust your instincts.
Don’t take any shit from sexist businessmen who can’t accept that you have a brain.
Channel your inner badass rather than being a pleaser.
Own your choices and accept yourself–even if you are OCD.
Don’t get discouraged. Relentlessness is a positive quality.
Fat-free doesn’t mean anything. Don’t believe the hype!
Jessy Fofana is The Everygirl...
Ideal way to spend a day off?
Movies, snacks, husband, and kids and maybe a bloody mary!
Really anywhere with my husband and kids that had a spa so I could disappear for a few hours and nerd out. I also really want to go to West Africa and Iceland!
Favorite spot in New York?
I lived in NYC for 15 years and have sentimental attachment to the East Village.
Pancakes and more pancakes.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I feel like I should say someone like Mother Theresa but I can’t pretend. I’m still a fangirl: I would pick Lisa Bonet or Beyonce. I would completely copy their orders—hoping the secret to their coolness was in the “special sauce."
Wall Hanging, Lulu & Georgia
Lady Shades Painting, Wolfgang and Rose
Fashion Art Print, Etsy
Pillows, Lulu & Georgia
Blue Handbag, Dagne Dover
Don't Worry Beyonce Doormat, Lulu & Georgia
Lisa Bonet Sketches, Paulette Pearson