Her Story with Stacy Royal: Started from the Kitchen Table, Now She’s Here
Stacy Royal, of The Decker/Royal Agency is a successful, chic, downtown-New York City kind of girl. Her confidence, calmness, sense of humor and sass are traits to this day I still try and channel in certain situations and will ask myself, “What would Stacy Royal do here?”
I met Stacy 15 years ago (wow, as I type this I’m thinking, am I really this old to write that??) when we were freshmen college roommates at The George Washington University. It didn’t take me long to know that this girl was going to be a big deal one day. Even back then, she was wise beyond her years and quickly become our dorm’s in-house therapist, voice of reason and giver of tough-love.
She also had incredible taste and seemed to always know exactly what she wanted.
So, it’s no surprise to me that today she’s helping huge iconic brands look good, traveling the world to luxurious locations and has contacts at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in her Rolodex.
What might surprise you, and hopefully inspire you, though, is how she got her start. She took a big risk leaving a solid 10-year career at a much larger PR firm to sit down at her kitchen table in a small New York City apartment with her friend and now business partner to sketch out their own idea for what a successful agency looks like and went to work to make it happen.
Find out below, how Stacy finally did make that decision to leap from employee to entrepreneur, her advice on what to do if you’re in a similar situation, the key’s to her success, what to look for in a business partner, how to build a great company culture and how she stays sane through it all.
Meet Stacy: Fun Facts
At one point in my life, I was an award-winning tap dancer - which as a publicist, I believe has now given me the literal and figurative ability to dance my way out of most conversations
I'm a pro-packer; I almost NEVER check a bag
I'm a bizarrely fast reader, so I'm usually juggling multiple books at the same time. Currently: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Fear by Bob Woodward; Radical Candor by Kim Scott; and Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight
Boutique fitness classes and massages are always my downfall! Ha I should be much thinner and more relaxed than my current state of being
Serious Yankee fan
Where You Can Find Her: New York, NY
Tell us about your business - The Decker/Royal Agency!
I'm co-founder/partner (we hate titles - in fact, when we began my business partner and I thought of calling ourselves ring leaders and head janitor ha, but we decided to go the traditional route) of The Decker/Royal Agency, an integrated communications workshop that merges the best of traditional PR tactics with today’s evolving platforms to create programs with a singular purpose: measurable results.
We specialize in travel, hospitality, culinary arts and the relentless pursuit of the things that make life a grand adventure with clients like luxury resort Le Barthelemy in St. Barts; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection; the destination of Abu Dhabi; and the recently re-branded Reno Tahoe among our client roster. Throughout my career, I've been lucky enough to work for some of the hospitality industry’s most iconic brands, launching new resorts and managing crisis situations to developing integrated digital media campaigns and securing coverage in top outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, CNN, TODAY Show, and CNBC.
How did it get it’s start? Did you know this is what you always wanted to do?
We just celebrated our 4th anniversary in July, which is exciting, but hard to believe! My business partner and I both had senior positions at a much larger PR firm; she had been there nearly 15 years and I was coming up on my 10th anniversary. We were both comfortable, but we weren't happy. I think when you become too comfortable at work it's to the detriment of those that you serve (in my case, my clients), but more importantly, myself. I stopped taking risks. I wasn't as creative. I was really just going through the motions. I was stalled. Coupled with the feeling that our current agency was not modernizing as quickly as we wished, we knew it was time to think of our next path.
People never believe me, but my business partner and I had our first conversation about leaving in January 2014, decided it was a 'go' in February 2014, quit in March 2014 and opened the proverbial doors (proverbial because we most definitely started at my kitchen table!) in July 2014. It happened that quickly. Six months was all we needed to get our affairs in order, launch a website and begin our next chapter.
What gave you the courage to make the leap from employee to entrepreneur?
I think everyone always believes there will be this 'perfect moment' and they wait and wait for it to come, but I really believe if you have the idea, a semblance of a plan and a great support system: just go!
My business partner was just about to send her kids off to college and I was in the middle of diagnosing and battling a chronic auto-immune disorder. Although I had already been talking with my now business partner about leaving, it was the death of my best friend's father that really gave me the push. I was about to leave for Utah to do a new business pitch and talked to my then boss about changing my flight, so that I'd be able to attend the funeral AND still get there in time for the new biz pitch and I was told no; there was no discussion. And I thought to myself - are these the type of people I want to work for anymore? I had worked so hard for them for so many years, but it was clear we didn't have the same values. Not even two months after that incident - I quit and never looked back.
So many of us have limiting beliefs that need to be overcome or we've "failed" and might need some encouragement to keep going...Can you tell us about a challenge you have you had to overcome to get where you are now with your business? How were you able to overcome that or what are you doing now to overcome that’s working?
This question couldn't have been more perfectly timed. When we launched our business in 2014, we began with one very large and well-known account; a brand that my business partner had been associated with for nearly 25 years and I'd worked with my entire career. Of course, no account is ever a 'guarantee,' but this is one that we thought would be with us without question as long as we were still producing great results.
Luckily, when we started, we both agreed we didn't want to be an agency that built its entire financial model and success off of one client, so we spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears building out our client base; tapping on previous relationships; meeting people at networking events. And I say luckily, because earlier this year, our 'stable' client unexpectedly and without any notice, decided not to renew our contract. We were floored. It felt like a divorce. We went through the 5 stages of grief. But, it taught us a few things: never put all your eggs in one basket - we'd rather have 5 small accounts vs 1 large account; and although our business is so heavily dependent on personal relationships, never let the 'personal' cloud your business judgement. We became almost too close to this client which made it all the more difficult to disengage. I cannot promise I won't make the same mistakes again, but I like to think that I'm wiser and better prepared to handle the fall out.
What would you say has been the main key so far to helping you get to where you are now?
Believing that I can. I think so often we hear the common phrase "fake it til you make it," but I challenge that sentiment. Why do we need to fake it? Believe that you can, and you will.
What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business?
To steal from Nike - just do it. I think women often look for approval - whether that's from friends, a significant other, parents, colleagues, etc - before stepping into something new.
Any advice for those of us looking to start something with a business partner? What to look for? How to make it work? How to determine who does what?
Choose wisely. Funnily enough, my current business partner actually hired me for my first job out of college. She was a boss first, then a mentor, then a colleague, then a friend and finally, a partner. It's important that you like, respect and trust a potential partner implicitly. We're very different, but we complement each other perfectly and even though we usually tackle a problem from different angles, we almost always meet at the same solution.
Many of us are solopreneurs at the moment, but as we grow and look to scale what tips can you share about building a team?
Start slowly. Build a team you can trust and almost as importantly - that you like. We spend a lot of hours at work and if it's time away from children, spouses, family, pets, etc. it needs to be worth it! I have a small, but growing team and when we started it was important to us to be able to offer a salary and benefits that were as good or better than they'd receive at a larger shop. We might be smaller, but I never wanted to give the impression that we are 'less than.' And it's not always about money - at D/R, we give our employees tremendous flexibility, from working at home to taking mid-day yoga classes. The idea that work is 9-5pm is an old-fashioned practice; I believe the best bosses allow employees to fit work into life, not the other way around.
What are some tools that help make life easier/better?
The cloud and WeWork!!! I started my business out of my NYC apartment (read: small) at my kitchen table. Taking an office lease in NYC is a scary proposition for a whole host of reasons - it's breathtakingly expensive and often, you have to sign a multi-year commitment. It just wasn't an option. So we started small - first with a 2-person office at WeWork, then a 4-person, a 6-person and now, we're in an 11-person space which we love. WeWork offers us the flexibility to scale up and down month by month plus they offer access to amazing vendor relationships at reduced pricing (like TriNet, which is our current HR/payroll company), a creative environment, plus they serve the most delicious filtered water with fresh fruit (not a reason to sign up, but it's little touches like this that make us feel at home).
Another tool that we couldn't live without: the cloud. Our computer (OS33) and phone (RingCentral) systems were the very first thing we setup when we started the business and since we all travel so much, it allows us to work wherever and whenever we want with no delay.
What routines do you have that helped you be successful? How do you start your mornings/end your days?
I almost always start my morning with an exercise class - usually SoulCycle, a Y7 yoga class or barre class - and end the day with 30 minutes in the sauna, which I recognize the latter of which sounds like the practice of a middle-aged Norwegian man, but I love it for its detoxifying effects and stress-reducing abilities. It's a time to read, reflect and just relax.
What is a book or podcast you would recommend for others looking to start or grow their business or just for general positive mindset motivation?
Love Seth Godin's blog which comes to me in a newsletter form. It's short, succinct nuggets of advice that always challenge the status quo. And like me, he appreciates the art of 'keeping it real.'
Is there any quick tips small business owners/personal brands should be aware of to craft a successful marketing strategy/PR message?
Always start with the 'umbrella' theme. So often I see businesses large and small make a common mistake: they start with the 'tactics' rather than the objective. They'll throw a huge event; throw dollars at a pop-up in NYC; forget what the real news is; try to impress rather than impact. I always say - an event without an objective is just a party. It's not always the big, splashy initiatives that drive results. Create your objective first and then drill down to 3 measurable efforts you can take to ladder back up to your main goal.
For fun…Do you have any tips for those of us looking to travel this fall/winter (specific locations, must-stay at hotels, tips for travel deals, etc.)?
So often I'm at the mercy of my clients when traveling (although sometimes to great results like a recent river cruise in Italy!) but when I'm on my own, I tend to take more frequent smaller trips, like a recent getaway to Tulum (which fed my soul with all the yoga, guacamole and acai bowls a girl could dream for) or quick getaway to one of my favorite cities, London. But right now I'm actually planning something a bit different - a trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for later this year.
As for deals - I'm a big believer in airline loyalty; I'd rather continuously fly one and earn 'status' in the hopes of getting a free upgrade vs saving $30 bucks on a flight. And always use the benefits of your credit cards - which may include access to airport lounges, discounts on hotels or even access to travel agents who can help plan trips or get you a reservation at a new hotspot.
How can people find out more about you and your business?
I am the rare (and slightly crazy) publicist that doesn't have my own social media presence, but you can always find me:
via my website deckerroyal.com
Or if you have questions - don't be shy, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Show Stacy some love and comment below to let her know about a key takeaway you got from her interview!