Meet Georgella Muirhead, APR
Meet Georgella Muirhead, APR
Georgella Muirhead has left an indelible mark on the public relations industry in Michigan. After serving at the helm of communications for the cities of Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Southfield and Detroit, she co-founded the public relations agency Berg Muirhead & Associates, now Van Dyke Horn Public Relations where she is of Counsel serving as a strategic advisor to clients.
Berg & Associates’ founder Shannon Berg found her first agency job working for Georgella, who showed her the ropes of PR consulting. Shannon reconnected with Georgella to talk about her experience and business advice and tips for entrepreneurs:
You were in government and decided to start a new chapter in your career. When you evaluated your options, what drew you to starting your own company instead of going to a big agency or in-house?
GM: You know it’s funny because I’m not a strategic planner in my personal life at all. Many things happen because they just happen, or I’m emotionally pushed that way. This was a lot like the same thing. I was in government for 20 years. I left the City of Detroit. I was working for Wayne County. And to be perfectly honest, the people I was working for weren’t inspirational like the people I had been working for. I became fed up with governments, so I wanted to do something else.
When I decided to leave the county, I reached an agreement with an advertising company, where my friend and soon-to-be business partner Bob Berg worked, that I would work in an incubator situation. We worked there for about a year, but we collaborated a lot because Bob and I were such good friends.
When the Former Mayor of Detroit, Mary Young, passed away, we partnered up to do the funeral. Afterward,we said if we could get through the last week together without arguing, we ought to be able to run a business together. We started writing our business plan the following week.
How did your previous career experience prepare you to be a business owner and employer?
GM: We ran a business where we knew how to do every operation in the business. You know it’s a little bit different for others because sometimes people jump into it too quickly. They may have had a good position in an agency for a couple of years, but you don’t have that broad experience.
I started with small government jobs and just built that with every opportunity I could get. I learned how to do everything, so if somebody worked for me, I could understand what they’re doing. I’m a firm believer in never asking anybody to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself because it’s hard to evaluate somebody when you don’t understand what they do.
Now people don’t come into it with a broad experience base that’s needed, so when they bump into something hard, it’s harder for them to figure out how to resolve the issue. Public relations is another problem-solving tool, and that’s a different mindset than you find today.
If you could go back to when you started and grew your business, is there anything you would do differently?
GM: Rightfrom the start, we’d have a good financial manager. We only understood the operational side of it. We did not understand the business and financial side, so we went through a few years of only having bookkeepers. We really needed somebody that understood finance and the accounting side of it. It would have helped us be a lot more financially stable earlier and changed some of our decision-making.
Can you tell me why becoming accredited in PR and pursuing awards was important to you in your career?
GM: Sometimes you have to be committed to growth in your field. When I started working in government, I was in the boondocks of the state of Michigan. There weren’t many people who looked like me doing PR. Those areas are always more laid back, and I would take half a day of vacation every month and go from Ann Arbor to Detroit to attend the PRSA Detroit meetings.
One of the reasons my campaigns were always so structured is I took what I learned from going through the accreditation program, and I started applying it to the campaigns we were doing. I constantly looked at the steps we were taking, our foundation, and what other results we could drive. This approach helped me along the way to lead to better the campaigns. That and the idea, not to be limited by what’s been done before.
What advice would you give to someone, especially a woman, thinking about starting a business from the ground up?
GM: At some point, you have to believe in yourself. You have to be willing to step out on faith. You have to feel in your heart whether or not you have all the tools in your hand right then and there. You have to say, “I can do this,” and be willing not to succeed if it doesn’t work. Berg Muirhead & Associates was my second company, not my first. My first company was okay, but it wasn’t nearly as successful as Berg Muirhead & Associates.