#54: Expert Interview with Mona Elyafi of ILDK Media, Public Relations Agency [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#54: Expert Interview with Mona Elyafi of ILDK Media, Public Relations Agency [Podcast]

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #54 – Mona Elyafi

Jenn T Grace:

You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, Episode 54.

Intro:

Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

Well hello and welcome to episode number 54 of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today I have a real treat for you. It’s been probably, I have to say at least a couple of months since I have done an interview with someone. And I am now getting back into the swing of things. It does require far more additional planning to schedule and line up guests and all that great stuff. But fortunately this time around works out beautifully. So I have the guest today on the show, is Mona Elyafi, and she is the founder of ILDK Media which is a PR agency based in Los Angeles. And she had reached out to me in terms of actually mentioning one of her clients that she wanted to see if she could get as a guest on my show. And come to find out she had already been a guest which is Christin Mell from Tello Films, so she has already been a guest which is pretty awesome, and then we also discovered that Rony Tennenbaum was also on my show quite some time ago and is also working with Mona. So she’s certainly well connected and very involved in the LGBT space as you’re going to find out from a public relations standpoint. It was just a great opportunity to connect with somebody that I did not know and just really learn and she had some great insights, and words of wisdom to share. So I’m really looking forward to sharing today’s interview.

As always before we hop into the interview I do have a couple of things that I want to announce in advance. So we are in episode number 54, which seems quite crazy that we’re already at episode 54. But I want to mention the next webinar that is coming up. I have an absolute ton of RSVP’s for this webinar, I’m really excited about it. I don’t know- I think I might have said this in the last podcast, I have no idea what it is about this particular webinar that has everybody excited, but it is happening and I’m stoked. So it is on March 24th, so it’s a couple of weeks out from the time that you’re listening to this. And of course if you are listening to this and it’s after March 24th of 2015, don’t worry because there will be another webinar available for you. All you need to do is head over t www.JennTGrace.com/webinar and of course you can find all of the great details there. And this time around it’s called, ‘How Have You Been Reaching the LGBT Community in 2015? Good, Bad, or Ugly; let’s discuss. So this is kind of building upon the webinar that I did in January that was really about goal-setting and planning and how we’re going to reach the community, and now I want to hear from you and find out how it went. So that’s that, I’m excited about it.

So yes, so www.JennTGrace.com/webinar. And also if you are listening to today’s episode, if you head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/54 you will be able to find any of the links and stuff that Mona and I talk about in today’s episode. So that way instead of having to hunt down her contact information after the fact, or hunt down information on Dinah Shore weekend, which is something that we talk about; it will all be ready and available for you in the podcast blog post that goes with this interview. So you can check all of that out there.
And I suppose the only other thing, because I don’t want to overshadow my ramblings- I don’t want to overshadow the interview with them, is I would love for you to do me a favor and check out my survey that I have as it relates to LGBT business. So I am working on a third book and I was originally thinking about having that come out in the summer of 2015, although I might be pushing it back a little bit. And the reason for that is that I’ve had a huge outpouring of people who are interested in sharing more of their stories to go in the book. So I’m really excited about just the amazing level of feedback. And this book is really going to focus on LGBT entrepreneurship and really just getting more advice out there for upcoming LGBT entrepreneurs, perhaps some start-ups, to really just kind of learn from those who have been doing it for so long, and doing it really awesome.

So I would love if you could spend a few minutes and fill that out, and you can do so at www.JennTGrace.com/booksurvey and that’s all one word, all lowercase. And that will get you there.

So yeah, I believe that is it, so I just wanted to give you a couple of quick updates and yeah. So here is the interview with Mona; and I really think you’re going to enjoy this of course. If you want to provide any comments, questions, insights, you name it – you can certainly do so on the blog, via social media, send me an email, whatever floats your boat. I’m definitely interested in hearing from you. Thanks so much and enjoy this interview.
So just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, what your story is, and maybe what paths you took that kind of led you to where you are finding yourself today.

Mona Elyafi:

Well I’ll go back at the beginning. So I was born in Beirut, Lebanon. My dad was Lebanese, 100% Lebanese. My mom was a mix of Lebanese, Egyptian and Belgian. So I was born in Beirut, we moved to Paris, France when the civil war started so I grew up actually in Paris, and somehow French became my native language. So I stayed in Paris up until I was nineteen years old and then decided to move to the US and ended up in Los Angeles. My aunt is American and used to live pretty much all over the US and when he ended up in LA; I went the year before which was ’89 before I graduated from high school and I spent my summer vacation here and loved it. So it was pretty clear in my head that I was going to move the US; always had a fascination for America. So when I had the opportunity to study at the university level, I took it. Came here, studied- I mean here in LA, studied political science and then went to New York because I wanted to get the east coast experience and got a Master’s Degree in journalism from NYU. And then after a year of extreme cold I decided to come back to the west coast and I’ve been in LA ever since- so that was ’94, and what I thought I was going to do actually was go to law school and I’d been applying to different schools. Was accepted but then somehow changed my mind, I’ve always loved music and ended up working for an independent record company called Sunshine Entertainment and it was a great job, it was such a small company that I got to do a little bit of everything. So from contracts to promotion, distribution, to even PR. And in doing so I actually realized that public relations was for me the best way to combine the creative side of things and the business side, which you can’t really avoid.

And so after- I think I stayed three years at Sunshine Entertainment and then I decided to go work for a full-time PR company, and got a job at the Lee Solters Company which was just an amazing experience. Lee Solters is accredited for actually having invented the field of public relations. He was- he passed, I can’t remember when, it’s been a few years. But he was already a kind of old guy, used to do PR for Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Streisand, you name it.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow.

Mona Elyafi:

Just an incredible man- crazy, totally crazy, but I just loved him.

And I actually worked in the music department under Steve Levesque’s supervision. So we used to- at the time, which was the late ’90s, they represented a lot of the ’80s pop stars and it was perfect timing because it was right around the time that VH1 would do the ‘Whatever Happened To.’ So there was a general sort of mainstream interest in finding out what happened to all those huge ’80s celebrities. So we kept busy, which was great, and I absolutely loved the job and it really confirmed that PR was the field on the professional level that really was the perfect match for me. And so I stayed there and then Steve left the company and created his own company and took with him his entire staff, so I went with him and we- I worked at- his company was called Luck Media & Marketing. I ended up working for Steve and he specialized in music so we did a lot of music PR, which was great. Really, again perfect for me because it’s what I’ve always loved. I grew up in the ’80s so to this day I’m pretty- it’s a joke all my friends keep saying that I’m stuck in the ’80s, and I actually like it.

Jenn T Grace:

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Mona Elyafi:

So that’s what happened, then I had a back issue. I was doing- I tend to be a bit extreme in what I do, but I like to push my limits. And so I overdid it at the gym and did something to my back and ended up having back surgery and so I left- I couldn’t keep my job so I had to take almost a year off to recover and go through the whole rehabilitation process and whatnot. And when I was ready to get back to work again, I went to work for Harper PR, which was again an independent PR boutique that was mostly specializing in actors. So we did a lot of films and television. Which was great for me again, because I got to sort of have the experience in the whole spectrum of the entertainment industry. So from music to film, Indy film, to television, we even did fashion as well; we represented Lisa Rinna at the time, and she had opened her boutique, Belle Gray in Sherman Oaks or Studio City and had started her own line as well. So it was a nice little mix of different types of PR that we could do within the entertainment industry which was very enlightening for me.
So I stayed there and had the opportunity in ’04 – 2004 to start my own PR company, and I took it. So I’ve been doing PR on my own, under my own company called ILDK Media since 2004. And for me- and knock on wood, the whole point of starting my own company was really to, as much as I could, work with real talent. And what I mean by that is I’ve worked with the big names and it’s fun, and it’s exciting. But there’s not a lot of- sometimes the work gets redundant and there’s not much creativity involved because you just sit at your desk and wait for the phone to ring or wait for the emails to drop with the media requests. So for me it was really important- because I’m a writer as well, so I understand the business side of things but I also have, like I said the creative side, the artist side in me. And so I relate with the people that I do PR for, and it’s important for me to work with people that really believe in their craft and have a passion for what they do. And I feel that there’s a lot of them that really deserve the spotlight, and it’s just unfortunate but it’s the way that the media has evolved that it’s not necessarily giving them that spotlight. So you’ve got to go and work for it and create it on their behalf, and that’s what I enjoy doing, that’s the whole- I believe point of doing publicity and hiring a publicist to do it for you.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow. That is such an incredible path that you’ve outlined. And I love how- oftentimes when I’m talking to people who are business owners now, sometimes they kind of stumbled upon that and if you look at their path it’s very much a zigzag and kind of all over the place, and nothing makes sense. But I feel like when you were kind of describing how you went from one place to another to another, it seems like a very chronological order where you were just continually making steps and advances toward which is now your- I don’t know if it would be your ultimate goal, but certainly having your PR company that you’ve had for the last ten- going on eleven years; that’s pretty impressive.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I mean knock on wood I’m very fortunate and also the amazing thing that happened is ever since I started my PR company, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of amazing people. I started and actually it was a lot of Latin actors, which was great, I worked with Patricia Rae who was right at the time we were doing Maria Full of Grace, when that film came out. And then thanks to Patricia I met a bunch of other actors; Marlene Forte who was in Dallas and now is on The Fosters, I worked with amazing filmmaker, his name is Francisco Lorite, now he’s working with Freddy Rodriguez on a new feature film. I mean the list just goes on and on and it was just amazing because at the beginning a lot of people thought I was specializing in the Latin media. Which was sort of true because that was the majority of my clients. But then I got to work with Michelle Bonilla who was on ER, and then she decided to do her coming out. So we worked on that to reach out to the media and I believe she was one of the first Latina actresses to come out; and that opened the doors to the LGBT market and ever since, I actually have more of a specialty focusing on the LGBT market, and I love doing that, I love working within my own community and representing all those amazing talent. Whether it’s a jewelry designer, an actor, a band or an event; I’m fortunate enough to be working with just an incredible amount of talented people. I learned so much from them I’m hoping to give it back to my own community as well.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, it’s really great that even though you wouldn’t say that you’re a niche for LGBT but you do have a really strong, strong number of LGBT clients that you’re working with. I think it really is important for people who are part of the LGBT community to help share the stories of others in the community and especially from a PR standpoint, because that is certainly- certainly a necessity for a lot of people, and I know that just before we hit record on this we realized that two of your clients at the very least, there’s probably others that we haven’t figured out yet. But two at least have been guests on this podcast already. So it’s really- it’s a nice synergy that we seem to have.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, absolutely. And what’s amazing- especially as I look back over the past ten years, is just to see the evolution of first of all the types of clients that I get, as well as the media, because now I get more and more if you want to call them mainstream clients that want to break into the LGBT market. So it’s kind of nice to see that it is- we’re a market, we’re a community that is in demand, now we’re absolutely we’re part of the new normal, and at least in a lot of big cities. So media-wise what’s kind of interesting is you would get LGBT clients that sort of want to- not move away from the LGBT media, but don’t necessarily, especially in music, and I understand that bands do not want to be defined as a male GBT band, or a gay band, or a lesbian band. Because what they’re making is music and that shouldn’t have any labels, truly, other than what kind of music are you doing? Country? There’s not a LGBT sound, I don’t think so. So that I get, but there’s a lot at the same time- you know you get artists, especially not to stereotype but when you do dance music and they’re mainstream straight clients that want to break into the LGBT market as well. So it’s nice to see that it’s not just for the gay and lesbian community- I mean clients would just be stuck in getting LGBT coverage.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah and it’s interesting how times are changing, and they’re changing rapidly. So I would imagine that from the time that you began your business in 2004 until now, I feel like that’s really- the last ten years have really been probably the most pivotal years in terms of LGBT equality. So I would imagine what you were doing to position your clients then if you had any, versus how you’re doing it now, must be drastically different.

Mona Elyafi:

It is, and it’s great to see the progress that we’ve made. I mean I mostly feel it and see it- I did the PR for Club Skirts’ Dinah Shore weekend in Palm Springs.

Jenn T Grace:

Nice.

Mona Elyafi:

And that’s a huge, huge, huge event and actually this year the event is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So just to pitch the story of the 25 years is incredible, because you get to see really how things have evolved, especially for the lesbian community. And I just think it’s incredible to see that an event of that caliber was able to first of all grow over the past 25 years, but also get to the level that it’s at right now. I mean every year the event headline- I mean the headliners are huge names. I mean last year it was Tegan and Sara, Eve, Mary Lambert, they’ve had Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and it’s big. And it’s still known as a lesbian event, to me it’s just incredible that now the lesbian community is looked at as trendsetters and also a community that has the ability to make an impact.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s nice to see that cultural shift, because I feel like- and I still think this is probably true for the vast majority. But, there are still a lot of companies out there who are- when they’re thinking of LGBT, they’re really thinking of a very specific sub-segment of LGBT, and that typically tends to be the affluent gay, white men. That seems to be where everybody wants to put their money. But it’s really nice to hear you say, in terms of just lesbians becoming a market in and of themselves that is something that’s desirable to the mainstream, which is such a refreshing thing to hear.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, absolutely and even if you look at the types of sponsors that the event is rallying; it’s grown considerably. I mean I don’t handle the sponsorships but I know that we have Budweiser, we have Sirius Radio is also attached to us, we’ve had Bacardi- I mean big names that want to be involved in this event and media-wise as well. We get Curve, SheWired, AfterEllen, GoMag, and you name it, it’s just crazy. And we even get media from all over the world that cover the event. So it’s very refreshing, and even this year we’ve had interest from BuzzFeed and Cosmo.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh wow.

Mona Elyafi:

So it’s nice to see that- because I think you know on the general level, or universal level, what the event does for women, not just lesbians, but I mean certainly lesbians, is allow them to have the freedom to be who they truly are. For five days; you get to the Dinah, and there’s no judging.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, it sounds nice and I would really be curious to see or hear the stories of women who attended Dinah during that first year. 25 years ago when the landscape was so incredibly different than it is today. I would imagine that is absolutely just such a riveting story if you listen to a progression over the years of peoples’ experiences of what this event has become. Because ultimately the main purpose of the event I would imagine 25 years ago was to provide that safe place for women to come and just be themselves for five days, and that’s still something that they can expect 25 years later, regardless of how mainstream it’s become.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, absolutely. I would love to hear that story too certainly. Maybe we should do something on Facebook to see if anybody would answer, anyone was there in the first couple of years.

Jenn T Grace:

There’s got to be somebody.

Mona Elyafi:

That’s a great idea.

Jenn T Grace:

That would be fun. So if you’re thinking about some of the clients that you have that are in the LGBT space, or even those that are not LGBT but they want to take that first step into marketing themselves within the community; do you have any particular thing that’s like that first level of recommendation that you would provide to them to say, ‘Alright if you’re wanting to get into this space, we need to first establish X, or do this.’ Is there any kind of level setting that occurs when somebody says to you, ‘Hey I want to market to this community.’

Mona Elyafi:

Well on the PR level, the first thing that you need to have is something that is current. So if you don’t have any project to promote, then we can’t really create a PR campaign. So if you’re an artist, if you’re not touring, you don’t have upcoming tour dates, or perhaps an album that’s coming out or a video that’s going to be released in a couple of weeks or whenever; then I can’t really do any PR for you. Same for an author, let’s say you have a book, you’re a writer. If you don’t have a book coming out, I can’t really- we can’t really be talking about you. The book also, you can’t just be in the process of writing it, it needs to have some kind of a timeframe. So the first thing that I always ask is, ‘What is it that you want to promote?’ If it’s just you because you woke up today and you decided to be an actor, it’s great but on the media level- PR level, it’s not going to get anywhere. Not right now. You need to have a project to- or something to promote.

Jenn T Grace:

And now do you see any types of differences in terms of pitching LGBT media or publications versus pitching a- just a traditional mainstream media or publication for somebody who is not part of the LGBT community? Do you see that there’s a different type of- not necessarily sales pitch but your story that you’re pitching them. Does it have to be something different, or is there more that goes into it because it is the LGBT community?

Mona Elyafi:

For me the main difference that I’ve noticed is the LGBT press I think- and it’s the same with the Latin press. If you’re one of theirs, then I don’t want to say they jump on the story faster, but certainly they develop more of an interest of course because it’s all about supporting each other. With mainstream, I think there’s more calculations that are going into the types of stories that they’re going to do. So because I’m assuming they must be getting- I don’t know how many press releases or pitches a day, way more probably than an LGBT media outlet, not to undermine the LGBT paper, but certainly if you’re talking about a women’s magazine you’ve got on my end I know I have to tailor my pitch so that it’s really speaking to them and using the types of- or researching the types of stories that would be of an interest to their audience which is a different audience than an LGBT media outlet, ultimately. I think within- it’s probably the same for all minorities but we’d like to hear about stories that we can relate to. If one of ours is succeeding or doing something incredible or- you know.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s interesting, and I hadn’t actually thought about it the way that you’re framing it in the sense that pitching a story to an LGBT publication may simply just by being part of the community, may be enough. Like you don’t have to go that extra step because they are- you know publications in general are just looking for good content and good stories that are going to help get more readers to their publication.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah well I think it starts there, because that’s the first question that they would ask. Is he gay, is she gay? Or if you go for the Latin media, same- is he Hispanic, is she Hispanic, or where is she from? Stuff like that. But that’s not the pitch. That is part of it, it certainly helps give it- make it relevant for that publication. But then you still have to come up with a pitch that is going to sell the story. So again, if it’s a book, why is this book interesting? Why should we talk about it right now? What is it solving? What is it answering? What are you going to learn from this? Who is the writer? You know, things like that that are also important and pretty much tells the reporter or the editor why they should write about this person, or this book, or this product, or you know.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, that makes sense, it’s really about building a foundation and then of course building upon that foundation.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

And that I think is your role specifically as a good PR person, is to be able to figure out how to really position your clients for the designated media regardless of what that media’s niche is.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, absolutely. Like to give you an example, I’m working with an author who wrote a couple of books, and then the new book that she has is called ‘The Commitment Phobe.’ And so there’s- of course we can get book reviews, we can get interviews about what the book is about, who is she, why did she- what makes her an authority in relationships and things like that. Then there’s also what I call Indirect PR. If a reporter is working on a wider story, maybe about sex and relationships or like right now why Fifty Shades of Gray is such a huge success, or what is it about that character that is attractive to women; or anything like that. And then they reporter or editor needs the opinion of an expert about that specific topic, then that would also be my job to plug in my clients to give a quote, or add to the piece one way or another. That would be Indirect PR. Bottom line the article is not necessarily about my client but my client is included in it. We just did that actually for this client, this author, for an article that was on www.YourTango.com which is a huge website about sex and relationships.

Jenn T Grace:

And so are you- so I have a couple of questions just about your business. Does ILDK stand for anything?

Mona Elyafi:

Yes. Those are my grandmother’s initials, and she passed a few months before I started the company so I decided to name it after her.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh, that’s very sweet.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Are you a company of one, do you have a team of people who are all kind of out there doing this? I would imagine that working with even one client- I would imagine in some level is probably a lot of legwork that goes into it.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, it is. It’s a lot of work, I’m a workaholic so I love- I work all the time, I love it. And I do- it’s just me running the company but I do have an assistant that works with me.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s always helpful, I feel like that’s always the first hire is get an assistant.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So since you’re a workaholic and you’re managing a lot of clients and it’s mostly falling on your shoulders alone, when you have those times where you’re just having a rough day; is there something that just you can kind of draw yourself back to that just is your inspiration, just keeps you motivated to kind of get through it and keep on doing it?

Mona Elyafi:

You mean in terms of a person? Or-?

Jenn T Grace:

Just, maybe. Just something that keeps you motivated. Because I know I too am also a workaholic and I- there’s just always like that intrinsic motivation to just keep on doing it, and for me it’s about sharing the stories of LGBT people, and sharing stories whether they’re in a stage of- maybe they’re not in a successful stage right now, maybe they’re kind of in one of the lower place. It’s still a matter of just kind of showing, especially LGBT youth, that there are successful LGBT people out there. So to me, I always kind of go back to that, like I- even if I’m having a rough day, I know that by my sharing your story, hopefully that’s impacting some younger LGBT person who may want a career in PR and look to you as a role model for that.

Mona Elyafi:

Oh, that’s nice. I do several things, it changes, it’s not always the same, but I do talk a lot to my grandmother because she was such an inspiration to me and raised me with my mom. But she was- I was really, really close to her and she was a very, very smart woman. And I just- you know I have her on a pedestal and she just meant the world to me. So I always catch myself talking to her because she was always very, very positive and encouraged me to be independent and succeed, and always go for the moon. Yeah so I guess I think about her. I also- I’ve rescued a little dog so every time I look at him, I’m reminded that you’ve just got to give back, so there’s him too.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s cute.

Mona Elyafi:

And the other thing that I do also, is I go swim every day. Every morning I go swim, I’m a swimmer. And that to me is the best place to be. It’s quiet, I can gather my thoughts, and just be in a different world, check out for a little bit and then come back and get ready for my day.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome. And do you find that you can problem solve in that time where you’re alone, just kind of with your thoughts? And it’s not that you’re thinking, ‘When I get back to the office I have to figure out how to execute this,’ but rather somehow- because I know this is the case for me when I go running. Just the act of being away from my desk and having an opportunity to just focus on my own well-being for that moment, suddenly when I get back to my desk I have all these new thoughts that- like now I have to get them all done. Is that kind of the case for you as well?

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, actually I start writing a lot of stuff when I’m in the pool. I think about sentences, I think about ideas that I could develop in terms of angles that I could use to reach out to certain media. I think about things that I forgot that I have to attend to. There’s a lot of stuff. But also when I’m really, really angry about something, then once I get into the pool or if I go work out, then it’s what I call Mona Time and that during that time I really focus on, okay putting things into perspective. Nothing’s ever the end of the world really. Really if you have your health you’ve got everything. The rest is, to me, is not that important in the big scheme of thing. So I always have to remind myself of that when I- because I have a tendency to exaggerate when- I know a lot of people do that, some minor thing has happened to you, then that’s it, it’s the end of the world. You know, you’ve lost everything, it’s just this huge I over-dramatize it probably. And so I constantly have to remind myself. It’s always a matter of perspective, everything in life I believe is a matter of perspective. So you have to- yeah, remind yourself that you’re not looking at this with the right-

Jenn T Grace:

I whole-heartedly agree with all of what you just said. I think the perspective piece is- I think that’s the time when you go out and exercise. When you go out and exercise, like that’s a way to just kind of reshift your perspective on things, and then you’re like, ‘Oh, well it really isn’t the end of the world even though I thought so.’

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. But it’s nice, you know? I mean I know that I do that, I will pout or I will play the victim for a little while, and that little while could be an hour, it could be a day, but I’ll snap out of it because I don’t- like I said I like to stay behind the scenes, I don’t like to have the spotlight. So I will be in a bad mood and isolate from the rest of the world, but then I’m the one talking to myself so I have to snap out of it and eventually I’ll get there, I know, because I’m not the type of person to just not do anything. So, yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

What’s really great is that you know yourself so well. I feel like there’s so many people who just don’t really have a handle of themselves yet, but obviously you certainly know that when you’re in a mood that it too shall pass, so you just kind of ride it out and refresh your perspective and then you can continue going about your day.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah. Well you have to because otherwise you go nowhere. Plus maybe it’s the competitiveness spirit in me. I grew up with a brother that’s only a year older than me, so we were constant- I mean I adore him, love him to death, and we’re very, very close. I’m so grateful that I had him growing up. But we were constantly competing between each other. Even at the pool, like I was for awhile a better swimmer than he was, then of course he beat me, now he’s faster than I am but to this day we compete. But I think because I grew up with that, now I’m competing against myself. And so it’s always, for me, part of the challenge of, alright, you know what? If you tell me I’m not going to be able to do this, I’m going to look at myself as the victim. Oh, poor me, poor this, and then I’m going to snap out of it, wake up, and have the attitude of, ‘really? I’m going to show you.’ And then I just go, just go for it.

Jenn T Grace:

I can totally relate to that. Do not tell me I cannot do something, because that means I will do it and I will do it ten times better than I originally would have done it if you hadn’t said that.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, I’m exactly like that. Although I go through that phase where I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right. I can’t do it.” Playing the victim, that’s how I call it. And then I’m like, ‘Well wait a minute, do you know who you’re talking to? Oh no, no. I’m going to go for it, I’ll show you.’

Jenn T Grace:

I will take you down.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, which is good because it motivates you, you know? I mean it might take a week for me to get there, but I get there.

Jenn T Grace:

Wherever motivation comes from; it’s better to be motivated than not.

Mona Elyafi:

Exactly, yes.

Jenn T Grace:

So I feel like this interview has been filled with some really interesting pieces of wisdom and advice already. And I know that you talked about your grandmother a little bit, and typically I would ask the question, like what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given. But for you, I feel like I should ask what’s the best piece of advice your grandmother ever gave you? Like what is that- I’m sure there’s probably a lot of them, but do you have that one piece that just kind of sits there and is-?

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, she used to say don’t underestimate the power of the mind. And I never understood what she meant until I was older. And for me, again, that goes back to the perspective. It’s all how you look at things in life; that’s the power of the mind. And if you set your mind onto doing something, then you can do it. You can totally do it. I think in my life it’s certainly been proven several times, is just believing in yourself and not taking no for an answer. Absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

I like that one, that’s really good. And have you yourself- and sometimes guests aren’t really sure how to handle the word ‘leverage,’ but I say it anyways. Have you yourself been able to leverage your status as someone within the LGBT community to your advantage as it relates to your business?

Mona Elyafi:

Meaning-? I’m not quite sure I understand the question.

Jenn T Grace:

So I feel like for myself, right, so I consider myself to be a professional lesbian and it started off as a joke and then I kind of evolved into it. But for me, everything I do, I’m trying to make an impact on the LGBT community. But I know a lot of other LGBT entrepreneurs and LGBT business owners, and they’re really out there using that piece of their identity as someone who’s LGBT to build relationships and move their business forward; whether it’s in a very overt public way, or whether it’s just completely engrained in who they are. So from your own perspective, have you noticed an ability to- and I would say you probably are because you are working with a handful of LGBT clients.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, I think for me I’m not going out of my way to label myself lesbian business owner or anything like that since I’ve never really been comfortable with labels, personally. And I’m pretty much an open book, so everybody knows, I don’t like to have to justify myself or explain anything. But for me, it’s mostly a matter of I’m just being myself and you know, if you hear of the work that I do, and if you believe that we can work together, then certainly I’m open to new relationships or new business relationships. But I don’t- yeah I’m not quite sure of the answer to your question, actually.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, you could have. I feel like there’s like a large spectrum from what I can tell, is there are some people out there saying, ‘I am a gay business owner, and I’m going to use that to help draw in more clients who are specifically the LGBT community.’

Mona Elyafi:

Oh, I see. Well I mean I know that I have a reputation as a PR person, or PR company, that specializes in LGBT markets. And I’m absolutely fine with that because it is the truth, that’s what I do. It’s not the only thing I do- like I said I started in music, mainstream music, I’ve worked with actors, authors, straight people. But yeah, the majority of my clients are members of the LGBT community and that’s fine with me, I love it.

Jenn T Grace:

And I almost think that you’re slightly proving a theory that I have in the sense that- I do one-on-one coaching with a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs and usually they’re LGBT and I always just say that by simply being yourself and just making it known, whether it’s in a very- again, overt way, or whether it’s just in individual one-on-one relationships, that you’re a part of the community. By just simply being part of the community you’re going to draw in people from the community that you’re part of. And that goes for any type of group, it’s not just LGBT obviously. Like you were talking about Latin clients that you had before, or the Hispanic market, it’s exactly the same scenario there. So-

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah it is. You know and I love working- for me, the connection that I have with the Latin community is it’s in terms of their culture and traditions that is really close to the way that I was raised, which is a mix of Lebanese culture, Middle Eastern culture, with European culture; so it’s really about the family, I’m very family oriented. Being hospitable and all this stuff. For me, that was- and I learned Spanish for six years when I was in France. Of course the minute that I moved here I lost it, but I can read it and I understand it when they speak it not too fast. So I really- for me it was great as well to work with the Latin community because I had this connection with them, I certainly understand the culture. And it’s the same with the LGBT community. I’m part of it so of course I understand and can relate to it. But- and all of this, even working with straight clients- certainly I relate to straight clients, I’ve dated guys before I figured out that I was gay, so to me it’s about people and you can find a way to connect with everybody. There’s always something. And as long as you’re true to yourself, then I don’t think that you can go wrong, really.

Jenn T Grace:

I think that’s a beautiful point.

Mona Elyafi:

It’s just that the risk that you run, living in LA and you get to be superficial, and you think you’ve got to play the game or create a personality to fit in, and this and that; then that’s the part that I hate about the business. I understand that you’ve got to do that sometimes if you’re an actor, if you’re the artist or the talent, but me I- when I say I can’t relate to it, it’s just not me. I can’t do that.

Jenn T Grace:

I love it though. It’s really about just being your authentic self and being okay with your authentic self.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome. So I have one more question for you and then I’ll just ask you to kind of give yourself a plug and let everyone know how to reach you. But do you have anything right now in your business that’s just kind of really exciting for you? Is there some project that you’re working on or some new initiative that you’re going to embark on that’s just something that’s kind of keeping your motor running these days?

Mona Elyafi:

Well right now, you’re catching me a month before the Dinah starts. It’s April 1st, I’m going to have to head out to Palm Springs. It is super exciting to share because it is the 25th anniversary and I always love working on this event because again, if you- I mean I know the Dinah is known as huge full parties, night parties, and all that. But on a more philosophical level like we talked about, it’s mostly about giving the opportunity for thousands of women to be themselves for five days. And this year it’s the 25th anniversary so it’s a huge celebration, I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m excited about it. Other than that, yeah all the other clients that I work with it’s always challenging and there’s always something new that is happening for them so ultimately I get to promote it, which keeps the PR ball rolling. So I mean like I said, like for me it’s really important to connect with the clients, otherwise I wouldn’t take on the PR campaign. Because if I don’t get along, if we don’t click, then we can’t really be working together, I don’t believe that.

Jenn T Grace:

I totally agree. I think it’s a matter of finding people that you connect with, because trying- especially in PR or any type of marketing capacity, if you don’t believe in the person or what they’re selling, then it’s going to certainly make it very hard to have a good, solid, successful PR campaign.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, and I believe for me the working relationship is like a two way street. So I always welcome communication, I’m not going to get offended if you call me and you tell me, ‘Hey have you heard about this magazine?’ If I know about this magazine I’ll tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s on my list, I reached out,’ blah, blah, blah. If I don’t know about it, then thank you, you’ve given me a new lead, I’ll investigate it and I’ll take it from there, and then we’ll see- you know, just run with it. If it works, great, if it’s not a match, well, next. But I always encourage my clients to communicate with me, call me or send me an email, I’m not going to get offended. I’m just a human being and I can’t know it all, certainly not.

Jenn T Grace:

And then you can adapt and modify based on feedback, you know? It’s the way it should be.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah, exactly, and that’s what I do as well. Let’s say I reach out to a media outlet and the answer is no because I plugged this specific story, then a few weeks later if I think, or maybe a few days after if I think of something else, then I’ll come back and say, ‘Hey, how about this angle?’ And if the reporter says yes, then great. If it’s a no, then alright I’ll move on. But yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s smart. I love it. I have really enjoyed talking with you. I know that this is our first actual conversation together, so I feel like that always makes interviews even more exciting because I’m really just starting to learn about who you are.

Mona Elyafi:

Well thank you.

Jenn T Grace:

I would love for you to plug your business and yourself, just let people know first, last name, website, any way you want people to contact you. Just so that way if somebody is interested in knowing more about your PR firm and how you might be able to help them, I’d love for them to have that info.

Mona Elyafi:

Sure. Well they can contact me via email and my email address is mona@ildkmedia.com. There’s also the website, although I’m in the process of revamping it, but it’s out there. It’s www.ILDKMedia.com. And if they want to call me then my phone number is (323) 363-5333. Very easy.

Jenn T Grace:

Awesome. Yes and so I know that we’ve been talking about Dinah, and I don’t think there’s anyone who does not love Dinah Shore so do you want to just throw out the website if you know it for anyone who’s interested in checking that out as well?

Mona Elyafi:

Oh yeah, the website for the Dinah is very simple, it’s www.TheDinah.com.

Jenn T Grace:

Fabulous.

Mona Elyafi:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Well this is so awesome, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show.

Mona Elyafi:

Alright, thank you so much I appreciate it.

Jenn T Grace:

Thanks, have a great day.

Alright, thank you so much for listening to today’s interview with Mona Elyafi. I hope you enjoyed it, I know I enjoyed having her as a guest on the show. If you have anything that you want to add to today’s interview, you want to connect with Mona, definitely head over to the blog and go to www.JennTGrace.com/54 for more information on today’s guest.
Thank you so much and I look forward to talking with you in episode 55. Have a great one!

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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