Melrose PR, Santa Monica
Employees: Two full time, one contract, four interns
Like many of their peers from the class of 2009, Kelley Coughlan and Jenn Deese struggled to find jobs in their chosen field.
But few of their classmates have triumphed over the tough economy as they have: Three years later, the USC grads are running their own public relations firm in Santa Monica. Melrose PR opened in January, and it has already signed 10 clients, turned a profit and moved from sharing office space with a wedding florist to having their own address.
“Our initial success has exceeded my wildest dreams,” said Coughlan.
That success didn’t come overnight. After graduation, Deese moved back to her hometown in St. Louis. Coughlan took an internship that turned in to a full-time job at West Hollywood firm Ballentines PR. When another job opened up there, Coughlan called Deese and told her to get on the next flight to Los Angeles.
At Ballentines, they worked at desks facing each other and in just months began brainstorming ideas for their own firm.
Their first priority was to search for available domain names, using Coughlan’s dog, Melrose, as inspiration (“It’s so L.A.,” she said). But they couldn’t find one they liked.
The idea sat dormant for more than a year. By then, Coughlan had gone on to freelance and Deese had switched to a firm with a focus on jewelry and apparel clients.
Coughlan checked for domain names again in the middle of the night in late summer of last year. When she saw MelrosePR.com was available, she called Deese at 2 a.m. and they decided to buy it.
“That was the turning point where I said we can do it,” Coughlan said.
With advice from Coughlan’s dad, an investment banker, the two drew up a business plan. An angel investor backed the firm to the tune of $20,000. The biggest startup cost, Coughlan said, was $15,000 for software needed to send out press releases to major markets.
At first, they shared space with an L.A. wedding florist in exchange for PR. Indeed, much of the early work was pro bono or discounted to gain inroads with new clients.
But after signing deals with hospitality company BRG, which led to PR assignments for restaurants such as Brick + Mortar in Santa Monica and Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach, there was enough money coming in for Deese to quit her day job and go full time in March.
“Have faith in yourself and put yourself out there,” Deese said, “and it will come back to you.”
Since then, the duo has also brought on a handful of interns, which Coughlan said brings the venture full circle.
“We were interns not long ago,” she said. “They see us and say, ‘This is what can happen for us.’”