A passion for PR (and shoes) helped Monique Tatum turn a side gig into a thriving business

Monique Tatum

Monique Tatum

By Tina Irgang

Monique Tatum was in the middle of a high-profile career in marketing and PR when a friend approached her, asking for help in establishing a brand for her startup. Tatum said yes, partly as a way to fund an expensive shoe habit. Realizing she enjoyed her side gig more than her day job, Tatum launched Beautiful Planning Marketing & PR. In 2013, she used the contacts she had acquired over the years to create “The Reality of FASHION The Reality of AIDS,” a Fashion Week event that features reality-TV stars on the runway.

You graduated high school at 16.

Tatum: I did, but I have to give a lot of credit to my mom for that too. All of my junior high years, I was actually on home study with my two brothers, and she actually taught us out of college textbooks. She would look at the curriculum, … and she followed it, but she noticed that there were a lot of things we were advanced on. … So when I joined high school, I skipped 11th grade.

What goals did you have for your life back then?

Tatum: When I got into Fordham University, I was at a professional performing arts high school, so I was a dancer. … So I got into Fordham on a [bachelor of fine arts scholarship], but I knew then and told my mom I either wanted to be a journalist or a publicist. I wasn’t sure which side of the coin it would fall on, but I always totally envisioned myself out in the field as a journalist. But then, as I was in college, my love for PR and marketing really grew.

What drew you to that field?

Tatum: I’m not even sure. … I did have some role models that were already in marketing, no really strong names or anything, but it was just something I was drawn to.

At what point did you decide you wanted to launch your own business?

Tatum: I actually worked at NBC Universal very young, and I was in their retail corporate department. I was working as a PR and marketing coordinator there, and then after I left them, started working with some Microsoft partners — one in particular, Integrity Partners. … One day, I had a friend approach me, and she wanted me to do freelance PR work. And I’m a total shoe junkie, so I said I want to keep my savings but still buy shoes, so I did it. The company’s name was Organic Orange. I started working for her, really helping her build her brand and the base for the brand. … Then she started referring me out, and I found that I really loved what I was doing to the point where I’d leave work and be up from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. just working [on PR]. … I went to my bosses and sat them down at Integrity Partners, and I said ‘I’m starting my own company.’ I had just — snap — made the decision. I hadn’t even told my mother, and she flipped out. … My bosses offered to actually go in on the company with me, offered for me to operate out of their offices and for us to split the profits. … They didn’t want to move me, and I turned them down, very nicely, but I turned them down, because I was really passionate and didn’t want pushback on my ideas.

Did you ever regret that decision?

Tatum: I never did. There were some times when I might have been crying on the floor when we lost one of our largest clients, and I’m like ‘Oh my God, this so hard.’ But I never did regret it.

In 2013, you created “The Reality of FASHION The Reality of AIDS,” an event that’s part of NYC Fashion Week. Tell me more about that event and how it came about.

Tatum: It came about because my father actually passed away form AIDS when I was 12 years old. [My company was] working a lot in the fashion sector and … in the early stages, we got a lot of calls from other PR firms asking us to work under their names. We developed a relationship with D. Williams PR Group in Chicago and they called us because they didn’t have contacts in New York for this event for emerging designers. We did two years for them … but the last one we did was a fashion show that honored Andre Leon Talley from Vogue, and Diane von Furstenberg was presenting the award. This was a room of 700 people, and it was a lot of work for us to do with another PR firm’s name attached. I said, you know what, we can do something for ourselves. At that time, I kind of feel like reality TV was really starting to boil to the point where people were always talking about it. … We sat down and said we have a lot of the publicists’ contacts for [reality TV stars], so this is the event we’re going to put on. It was really a collaborative effort between me and a member of my team. … Wendy Vazquez. We sat down and developed this list of reality stars and went from there. I have to tell you, people just jumped on board. We had 27 reality stars, and 26 of them walked for free, without any type of payment.

About The Human Element:

The Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email ahurst@smartceo.com.