February 26, 2019

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As we near the end of Black History Month, we want to celebrate black-owned businesses and to share the story of Glass House Communications Founder & CEO Y’Anad Burrell on how she started her business while offering diverse perspectives on the PR industry. Y’Anad is also a former PRSA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter President and current Chapter At-Large Board Member. She also serves on the PRSA National Diversity & Inclusion Committee.


What made you want to start your own business?

When I started my PR agency over 10 years ago, I was coming from a background of having several years of experience as a Sr. Intellectual Property Litigation Paralegal.  In that role, a tremendous amount of research and writing was required and it was fairly demanding in terms of long hours and a lot of travel. As a way to balance most of the anxiety that came with that job, I increased the frequency of journaling and the amount of time I volunteered with non-profit organizations.  During these volunteer opportunities, I would share my passion for writing which quickly turned into me developing communication pieces for non-profit organizations from press releases to newsletters. In a very abrupt turn of events, the law firm that I was working for began a national firm-wide lay-off which eventually lead to the firm completely closing its doors.  It was at the time of the lay-off that I decided to reinvent myself and dive into the public relations profession. I did not think once about the fact that I did not have prior experience. It was an interest and passion so I took my best shot.

Many doors were closed as I began applying for PR positions.  My years of being a litigation paralegal did not matter. My Bachelor  Degree in accounting and two Master Degrees, one in Public Administration and the other in Healthcare Management were given no credit.  The employers only wanted to see on my resume previous experience working for an agency. On that note, Glass House Public Relations opened its doors.


What is it like to own and manage a PR shop?

It's an exciting experience and rollercoaster ride owning and managing a PR firm.  While I don't have the comfort of a steady bi-weekly paycheck, I have learned to respond to opportunities that have the potential of branching into continued engagement.  But it goes beyond just making money to keep a PR shop running. As a business owner, you have to remain abreast of a number of things from making sure your licenses are current, paying quarterly taxes, having NDAs in place when hiring interns and employees, managing health benefits, negotiating the lease on your office space regularly, and the list goes on.  My extensive legal background allows me to handle these areas fairly smoothly, but they are still a part of the experience. I love it though! Just for the record. LOL.


How has the PR and media landscapes changed since you first started your company?

In the beginning, it was all about having a robust media list and relationships with journalists to get your client featured in a newspaper or magazine.  Now, the relationship component still remains, but there is a plethora of other avenues for exposure outside of these two media mediums. With the vast growth in social media, the respect that podcasts have gained, the landscape of bloggers on the map coupled with far fewer people picking up hard copies of newspapers and magazines, this has widened the net tremendously for media placement opportunities. Social media has completely changed the game of the public relations industry and it's a good thing!


What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

The landscape right now for entrepreneurship is ripe and plentiful.  Particularly in the Bay Area where there is tremendous development and growth taking place, the net is wide for innovative thinkers to pitch their ideas and expertise to the tech industry, corporations, NGOs and government agencies.  Keep in mind, however, that you need to start with a financial cushion that can hold you while you're getting started. That may require working a steady job, saving money and then going out on your own. The biggest challenge with entrepreneurship is the balancing act of money while you are getting on your feet.  The life of an entrepreneur begins once you jump off the edge without worrying where you will land. It can be just that scary while at the same time exhilarating.


What have you learned along your career path that has helped you be successful today?

I've had a ton of lessons learned during this journey but there is one that remains a common thread even after ten years.  It's always a good feeling when I've completed a contract and received high marks from the client. What resonates even beyond that is how did I score when it came to the style of interaction and engagement during the process.  My brand is everything and that includes me as an individual which speaks to how people feel once I've completed the task. Integrity and authenticity are paramount far beyond my performance and these are attributes that are imperative to remaining successful and 'relevant' in this industry.


How do you measure success?

From a Glass House Communications perspective, success is measured by the completion of a contract to the client's satisfaction.  When I think of success in this way, I am able to have a successful moment all the time. It does not matter if the contract is for 30 days or for 12 months, it's a WIN that I celebrate as a success when it's completed. When I look outside of the work and as a human being, I measure success by the way I've helped someone with their aspiring endeavors or for those less fortunate, I have extended the olive branch of food, money or just a friendly smile. And go!


Brianna LaFleur

2019 PRSA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Diversity & Inclusion Director