Published on Sept. 26, 2022, at 6:58 p.m.
by Sophie Collins.
Problem solver. Supportive. Involved. Go-getter. These terms can all be used to describe Melissa Libby, the president of Melissa Libby & Associates. Melissa Libby & Associates was founded in Atlanta in 1992 and is a boutique public relations firm specializing in restaurants and hospitality.
Libby studied at the University of Georgia but did not know that she wanted to pursue public relations right away.
“I went to UGA because of the journalism school, but I knew I didn’t want to be a traditional journalist,” Libby said. “I took an intro to PR class and quickly realized that was what I wanted my career to be.”
Once Libby graduated in 1985, she accepted a position at Hyatt Regency Atlanta as the public relations assistant. “I worked a lot of hours, and my boss was very demanding, which was nice in retrospect because I learned so much,” Libby said. “I planned events and worked with restaurants, which solidified that this was the career path I wanted to pursue.”
Libby expressed that she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so creating her own public relations agency was something that she thought would be part of the natural progression of her career. Melissa Libby & Associates was already in the works when Libby got laid off from the Swissotel (now known as the Westin) in Atlanta in 1992, so it was a good time to start the next stage of her career. “I am actually happy that I got laid off, because it was the perfect opportunity to start my own business,” Libby said.
After working in the hotel business for seven years, all of her contacts were in hospitality, Libby noted. She knew that focusing on restaurants and hospitality would be the best option for Melissa Libby & Associates. “When the Olympics came to Atlanta in the summer of 1996, I learned that I truly wanted to focus on food and beverage clients,” Libby shared.
In the early days of Melissa Libby & Associates, Libby was only 28 years old and was the president of her own PR agency. “I’ve always had the ‘I can do anything’ mentality, but sometimes I felt that some people didn’t take me seriously because of my age,” Libby said. To become more empowered, Libby formed a bond with other boutique female leaders in the Atlanta area. These leaders are Liz Lapidus of Liz Lapidus Public Relations, Marsha Archer of M-Squared Public Relations, Kristin Cowart of Brave Public Relations and Tara Murphy of 360 Media.
As the president of a public relations agency, Libby doesn’t have a typical work day.
“I always think that I have a solid plan of how my day is going to go, but by 10 a.m. it is going in a completely different direction than I thought it would,” Libby said. “I have a lot of responsibilities. I work directly with some of my own clients, but I also oversee other clients that I’m not directly responsible for as well.” In addition to those duties, Libby is also responsible for behind-the-scenes work, such as budgeting and posting new job positions.
Brandon Amato, the content director at Melissa Libby & Associates, has been working for Libby since Jan. 7, 2013. Amato started his journey there as a media relations/social media intern, and after his internship was over, he began working part time. He was quickly promoted to a full-time client services manager, and in 2019 he adapted his position to become the content director.
“Melissa is very supportive and collaborative, which has allowed me to create the role that best fits me and the team,” Amato said. “At Melissa Libby & Associates, we think of ourselves as problem-solvers in addition to providing traditional PR services. To best do that, Melissa has created less rigid roles for our team members. Changes like that have made the team more flexible and responsive to client needs.”
Amato shared that Libby is very personally involved within the company. “Melissa works directly alongside her team at client events and meetings,” Amato said. “Not many bosses are as accessible and present as she is.” Amato also said that because of her involvement in the company and with her employees, he is has a very direct relationship with her.
When asked to share advice for future PR practitioners, the first thing that Libby said was to learn a second language. “As the world goes on and becomes more connected, knowing a second language, probably Spanish, is something that will really set you apart,” Libby said.
Another piece of advice that Libby shared is to make yourself known. “Don’t be afraid to make yourself known to the person you are interning for or the people in your community,” Libby said. “I love it when my past interns keep me updated on their lives. Building relationships with important people is crucial in this industry.”
Amato advised aspiring PR professionals to “be honest with yourself about what kind of firm you want to work in and what would be best for you. To work in a smaller, boutique firm, you have to be a self-starter and make decisions on your own.”
As a woman in a leadership position, Libby has shown how to make a boutique PR agency successful. She is a supportive, involved, go-getting and problem-solving agency president who has created an effective work environment where each employee’s voice is heard.