BABE #186: MICHELLE UBBEN, President, Sachs Media Group
Michelle is the President at Sachs Media Group, a Tallahassee-based public relations firm helping corporate, nonprofit and government organizations tell their stories in dynamic, powerful ways. She manages and oversees all areas of the firm's operations, with a focus on producing high-quality work for her clients in an effort to make the world a better place in the process. In addition to crushing the never-ending to-do list that accompanies her demanding role — and carving out time to volunteer with organizations like Women United — she’s also a devoted wife and mother of six. If that’s not a hustlin’ babe, we don’t know what is.
Hometown: Paterson/Totowa, New Jersey
Current city: Tallahassee, Florida
Alma mater: University of Central Florida; Florida State University
Degree: B.A., Journalism; M.A., Rhetoric
Very first job: Truckstop waitress
Hustle: President, Sachs Media Group
Babe you admire and why?
U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, an advocate for work-family issues and a force behind the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the 1985 Military Family Act. She was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado; when she arrived in Washington to be sworn in, they tried to swear in her husband.
How do you spend your free time?
Painting, working in mosaics, getting dirt on my hands working in the garden, cooking big family dinners, watching musical theatre.
Go-to power anthem?
“Respect,” — Aretha Franklin; “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” — Cyndi Lauper.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Ham and pineapple pizza
What is something you want to learn or master?
Play bluegrass on the mandolin.
Go-to news source?
The New York Times.
Tell us about your hustle.
I manage a busy PR firm—balancing time between care and feeding of our fellow rhinos (animal spirit of our team,) hunting new business, telling our own story and promoting the company, solving a hundred little problems (and a few big ones,) coming up with big ideas and great messages for our clients and serving the community. (And balancing that with active involvement in the lives of my husband, six kids and 98-year-old mom.)
What does your typical workday look like?
I scan national, state and local news, email and Facebook before the day begins. Then, I go over the calendar and prioritize must-do things, trying to make time for firm promotion and thought leadership. Most days, the calendar is filled with internal, client and new business meetings and calls. Between those, I meet with team members on specific client work. Then there’s everything that wasn’t part of the plan: HR issues, client crises, brainstorms, etc.
What inspired you to pursue a career in PR/Communications?
I’ve always been a writer at my core; I love putting words together beautifully to convey something perfectly. I intended to be a journalist. I consider PR the “private practice” of journalism—helping clients tell their own stories.
Did you always intend to work on politically-focused projects?
I started out working for elected officials. That led to issue work. I was inspired to learn that you can use the power of communication to influence behavior and make things better: getting people to consider adopting a foster child, reporting child abuse, changing people’s recycling habits, etc.
How do you maintain such a demanding career while raising your six children?
You can’t do it all. Some things will not get done. Decide what’s most important; who needs you the most at the moment.
Tell us about a project you’ve worked on that you feel especially proud of.
I worked with Lauren’s Kids founder Lauren Book on a documentary about child sexual abuse that aired on television statewide in Florida and was honored with a national Gracie Award. As someone who experienced abuse by a family friend when I was 11, this was a heart-project for me.
What kinds of clients do you work with?
My clients are a mix of government, nonprofit, corporate and association. I thrive on high-stakes challenges; work that really matters. We ask clients what’s keeping them up at night and focus on that.
How have your past academic and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
Even though the field of journalism is undergoing a transformation that’s far from done, a journalism education has proven to be a great grounding for everything else I’ve done. It taught me the importance of getting the facts right, putting a human face on issues and the transformative power of sharing stories with others. I got my master’s degree in rhetoric, which at first blush sounds like a pretty worthless graduate degree, but actually the art of rhetoric infuses everything I do. It’s all about persuasion and communicating in a way that’s compelling and strategic. On the other hand, nothing in my formal education prepared me for the seismic changes in my profession. Rather, working in and leading an agency that continues to evolve and stay current and relevant has been essential.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Being named president of Sachs Media Group after advancing in leadership in the firm over 20 years.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That PR is about spin. We’re very committed to ethical standards and faithful to the truth, especially at a time when some people tend to label anything they don’t like as fake news. Our job is not to hide the truth, but to help clients tell their stories in the most compelling way possible.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work?
Losing a big client whose business model changed, through no fault of our own. At the time, the client represented a large percentage of our billings. We gave ourselves about a day to feel bad about it, then rolled up our sleeves to replace the business. In the process, we focused on diversifying our client base so we weren’t so dependent on any one client, and because of that we ended up a stronger company at the end of it.
What are the most valuable leadership skills someone can implement?
A constellation mindset. There’s room for many stars on a functional team and an organization can do a lot more with a constellation of talent than a single high-performer. So, creating a culture that values and recognizes the contributions of all instead of pitting team members against each other to win the glory.
What motivated you to join Women United?
Women United leverages the philanthropic power of women in the community to move the needle on critical issues that impact children in need—whether it’s overcoming the effects of poverty, providing access to quality child care and dental care or improving reading and math literacy. As the mother of six, I know how much our children have benefited from having a stable family and sufficient resources to not only meet basic needs but invest in their talents. I am very motivated to level the playing field for children who aren’t born into families with those advantages. (And it’s gratifying to work with so many rockstar women who care about doing the same.)
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Become a strong communicator, both written and oral. Learn how to be a great storyteller by listening to great storytellers (watching TED Talks is a great place to start). Regularly consume great writing. Communication has tipped away from just the written word to become much more visual, so cultivate an eye for design and visual storytelling skills. Develop a basic competency in as many relevant software platforms as possible. Feed both sides of your brain, creative and analytic, because data will increasingly drive creative strategy.
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