Kate Marlys launched Philly PR Girl as a blog – and today, she is running one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable PR firms, specializing in elevating non-profits and purpose-driven brands.
As Kate celebrates 10 years in business, she spoke with She Rocked It to share the real story of becoming an entrepreneur (including one case of cold feet), and how she now grows her team and her client roster without burning herself out.
No matter what your own calling might be, you’ll surely be inspired by Kate’s journey of courageous entrepreneurship and how she continues to rock it on her own terms.
- [00:00] Introduction
- [01:10] How Kate Marlys launched Philly PR Girl – despite one “false start”
- [05:27] Why Kate made the bold career pivot from running nonprofits to running her own PR firm – without a PR background
- [12:18] How boundaries keep Kate feeling balanced
- [15:12] Highlights from the first decade of Philly PR Girl
- [19:04] The importance of supportive women to Kate’s success
- [21:18] Kate’s one tip to rock it
Links from this episode:
- Philly PR Girl website: https://phillyprgirl.com/
- Philly PR Girl on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/philly_pr_girl/
- Kate Marlys Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katemarlys/
Kate Marlys Transcript
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Hello and welcome to the She Rocked It Podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross, I’m so excited to welcome Kate Marlys from Philly PR Girl to the podcast because i feel like as someone who worked in Philadelphia for many years on the journalism side, media side, in communications, I’ve known about Kate and Philly PR Girl for years and I feel like we’ve been two ships passing and I’ve always been so excited about everything she’s doing and I get to hear from Kate today on She Rocked It, Hi Kate, Welcome!
KATE MARLYS: Hi! Exactly what you said, I’m so excited to finally meet you and hopefully this is just the beginning of us doing lots of awesome things together!
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Amen!
KATE MARLYS: This is gonna be great!
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: What I really respect about you, Kate, I know that you started Philly, Philly PR Girl back in 2010, I believe as a blog, and I love that it has exploded into this amazing agency, the go to agency and Philly for so many PR needs and events. It’s so inspiring. Can you tell us a little more about what even gave you the courage back then to launch the blog, you know, and raise your voice in that way?
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, I think you know, this, I had a lot of jobs. I was that person that always had two or three jobs at least. And I was just burnt out. And I wanted to do something creative. So the blog was just a creative outlet. And it was supposed to just be for fun. But I can never do anything small. I always have to take it to the next level, which is a good thing and a bad thing.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I hear that. What’s your zodiac sign?
KATE MARLYS: I’m a Capricorn
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Capricorn vibes!
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I started throwing these networking events to promote the blog, just because I thought blogging was like the new thing. And at the time, you know, it’s definitely not what it is now with all the influencers and everything like that. It’s such a huge thing for the Digital Media Marketing World today. But I wanted to meet again, like minded people, I wanted to meet other bloggers. And so I started throwing these networking events, and they just became a hit. And people started saying like, “Hey, can I hire you?” Because the blog was called Philly PR Girl.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: And had you been doing with? Were you in a PR gig full time? Like, what were you doing, day job?
KATE MARLYS: I was an executive director for nonprofits. So I did marketing conference planning ran board meetings. I don’t know why I named the blog Philly PR girl. best decision I’ve ever made. Let’s be honest.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: The real story, right?
KATE MARLYS: Yeah. Yeah.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: So interesting. It’s like you had a prophetic vision, like what your journey was going to be. That’s what’s crazy.
KATE MARLYS: And I do believe like speaking into existence, I believe that very strongly. So I feel like it was definitely meant to be with that said it was a long journey, a long road. So we did the blog for fun for two years, I brought on an editor, this amazing girl that just graduated from Drexel, and she edited the blog with me, Victoria, and we’re still really close to today. And and then after about two years, I really thought, “okay, let me let me see what, what this could become.” And I did take the leap. And now, this year, we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary as a company.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Yeah. We’re getting to speak to you as part of your 10 years and we are honored to celebrate that huge milestone with you. I love that this started for you as from a place of like joy and pleasure and fun of just like, yeah, I write you obviously are a passionate Philadelphian and you love things that were going on in the city and you just wanted to write about them. Is that Is that what you say?
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, 100%. I consider I still do, like our company’s an ambassador for the city of Philadelphia. I love the city. I love everything that it brings— our culture, you know, our food, our music. And I feel like the blog, which we still have, it’s still on our website, it’s still a big part of our brand, supports that. So sometimes we write about things and people get confused. They think it’s all our clients, like no, they’re just things that we’re fans of, and that myself and the team like and enjoy. And I also think that you know, for for me, it was important that it wasn’t just me picking the events we write about, wasn’t just me picking the things that we cover on the blog. It’s the whole team because we all like different things. And so really, you know, diverse events and things that we cover on the blog, and it’s really fun. Every Monday we have a blog called This Week in Philly, where we list events, very simple This Week in Philly,and people, I still get so excited when people tell me they read that because that’s really what kicked it all off for us.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I love that.
KATE MARLYS: Yeah. Yeah.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: And when when does something like, you know, be in your opinion, make that shift from a passion project from something that you just love doing to like, this is going to be my new career trajectory. Like, when was that moment for you? How did that like, become from, you know, fun, you know, passion thing that you were doing to like, I’m gonna take this seriously, I’m gonna leave and leave my day job.
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, um, what I usually say is, it’s all about timing. And you have to know that you are ready to dedicate, you know, your life to something that, you know, I always say like, if you start a company, make sure it’s something you enjoy, and you’re passionate about. Because it’s not easy. But for me, it was the right time. I was in between jobs. And I was doing Philly PR Girl. And I was sort of like, you know, I left my nonprofit world because I thought I was ready to do Philly PR Girl full time, I got cold feet, took another job. And it didn’t last long. Because I knew that was a mistake. Like, I knew that I was ready. So I went back and I was like, no, Kate, like, you can do this, like I needed, like a PEP, pep talk myself. And, you know, and then, honestly, there’s no looking back once I gave it my all and once I was like, okay, you know, I started this company when I was in my 30s to like, I had a mortgage, I was paying my own bills, you know. So yeah, there was, there was no failing. Yeah. And we started small and started bringing on some interns. And I remember when I got my first full time employee, I was like, wow, this is crazy. Like, like, I actually have someone that I’m responsible for. And now we have, you know, a much bigger team, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later. But it’s, it is a lot of responsibility to own your own business. But at the same time, I usually say like, it’s stressful, but it’s like good stress. Like it’s your, it’s your stress, and you know, how much you can handle and how much you can’t. And so for me, like, I knew I was ready, when it was time, it was just the right time.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I’m glad that you’re, you know, being honest with us about the fact that it can be hard. Yeah, I coincidentally have had my own communications consultancy for 10 years, actually, funny enough. 2013 was the end of my last full time job. And, you know, it’s hard, it can be hard. And there can be ups and downs. And I think that, you know, any entrepreneur who’s like, you know, this is just peaches and cream all the time and right. It’s just like, go make your own life. And it’s, yeah, but I think that’s, that’s true, what what has kind of kept you motivated in the times when things got hard?
KATE MARLYS: Um, I would say that I’m, you know, passionate about what I do, and I love my clients. So my clients keep me motivated, for sure. We do turn down clients that, you know, we just are not connected with, and we have very lucky to where I don’t really do outside sales, because clients hear about us from word of mouth, or social media or existing clients. So we do have people that, you know, constantly talking to people and trying to see if it’s a good fit, can, you know, and also I look at, like, you know, is this something that the team is passionate about too? Now that it’s not just me, you know, is this something that I feel like, you know, Andriana would be great at or Lina would love, you know, so I consider that as well. So that motivates me, their successes motivate me, we always joke around like big or, small when we, when we get press for clients, like we have to celebrate them now, like high fives, you know, let’s be, let’s be proud of what we did big or small. You know.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Let’s talk about your team too. Because you just said a moment ago, you know, first of all, it sounds like, you know, when we first hired that person or brought on that person to help you with the blog, like, even that’s a big step to just ask for help. I think, you know, some of us, think we have to DIY everything solopreneur you know, doing yourself, tell us about the journey of like, accepting help, accepting support, and then ultimately, you know, having this amazing team around you to support you.
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, um, there are people that prefer to work by themselves, and that’s okay. I’ve always been the type of person, I’m a people person. So clearly, I want to be surrounded by people like I could work from home and I’m not I’m here in the office today and every day you know, so I I not only like being around people, but I like mentoring and teaching. So in the beginning, because I did not really have a PR background, I was 100% self taught. It was like a running joke in the office like I would have like an intern come in one day. I’m like, so what you’ll learn in class today, you know, teach me and I’ll teach you what I know
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Always learning! You know, it’s interesting, it occurs to me that you may not always be in the limelight yourself, you’re often like, you know, shining lights on your, on your clients and folks like that. So thank you for the honor of getting to really dig into your stories. I mean, you’re not, I would say you putting all your clients in the hot seat a lot of the time so yeah, how’s it feel to be in the hot seat? I’m gonna dive into your story.
KATE MARLYS: It’s funny because I’ve done a few interviews for different charity events and things that we’ve done over the years and I’m always like, “Oh, I forgot how hard that is.” And I’d much rather be putting my client out there or being behind the scenes but I think it’s important to inspire and just tell my story because honestly, like, like just like what you said everyone thinks it’s all peaches and cream and it’s all fun and you know, “oh PR looks so much fun. You go to so many events.” Yes, it is. But I also go to a TV hit at 6am and I’m working an event the night before till midnight, you know like people forget about the hard work that goes into it as well.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: For sure let’s let’s maybe even go deeper if we can because I think about the lives we pick as women. I don’t have kids, I am you know, not married I’ve not been married. And I think you know there’s women who are rethinking what it looks like to have a life as a woman a creative courageous life holistically what that can look like and having been I’m now more on the writing wordsmithing copywriting speech writing side but I did PR for a little tiny bit and I have deep respect because you really are on call. I mean, you really got to get that call from you know, the news station like you said, and you got to be on that like, tell us about how you look at your life holistically being that you’re a business owner, that PR is a commitment. Yeah. How do you think about that?
KATE MARLYS: It’s really hard. I mean, as women, I feel like we talk about self care a lot. Thank God, we’re starting to talk about it, you know, for me personally. COVID. And during the quarantine era, quarantine time, taught me a lot.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Oh, yeah.
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, it’s taught me a lot. And helped me slow down a little bit. And realize, like, I don’t have to be on every calll, you know, I have this amazing team that I trust, you know, or I don’t have to go to every event. Do I still love to do it? Absolutely. But I sort of like I’m getting better at picking and choosing and trying to figure out, you know, like, the whole, like, work smarter, not harder. You know, like, I hate that saying but like, it’s kind of true.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: When you figure it out will you let me know? Because I’m like, Sure. So working on that too, actually.
KATE MARLYS: So, all of those things. With that said, it is just a work in progress, just like everyone else. I usually say, you know, if I’m with my family, especially like my nephews and my niece, that’s when I check out, like I can, I can check out I can concentrate on them, I can put the phone away. And it took me a long time to get there. You know, it’s not a, it’s not gonna happen. We’re always on call. So it took me a long time to get there. And like I said, I’m still work in progress.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I hear that. What I have to say though, I was very impressed with the process of kind of engaging with you for this interview, like you have an assistant, and she was handling the details. And there was, someone else handled the details. And like, I have utmost respect for that, like you kind of it seems from, from my perspective, like you had folks really making sure that you could just show up and be, you know, your superstar self today. So kudos from my perspective, it looks like you have really created a work kind of system. Would you say that’s true?
KATE MARLYS: Yeah. But I mean, like, all that stuff they did, I could have done but again, that goes into the like, this is a great teaching opportunity. You know, this is a great moment where I can set them up to feel successful and feel like “oh, well I booked that interview for Kate” like, yeah, they did do that. You know, and, and I want them to!
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: By the way, Team Philly PR Girl, y’all rocked it you were so great to work with. So kudos and Kate, great teacher, clearly, because everyone was so on it like honestly, I mean, we’ve booked a lot of folks and like man, Philly PR Girl, you guys are tight. Tight ship.
KATE MARLYS: That’s the best compliment I can get for sure. You know?
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: And so tell us a little more about your clients. Because you know, if you go on the Philly PR girl website, it’s like, logo upon logo of these amazing organizations that you have worked with. How does that happen like that you? First of all, just have amassed this amazing portfolio? I mean, tell us about that. It’s incredible.
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, I mean, me coming from a nonprofit background as my previous career. Nonprofits are definitely something that we focus on. That’s one of our like, core principles here that we work with. So not only women owned businesses, nonprofits, and then just events in businesses in general that we’re passionate about. So as far as our nonprofits are concerned, we work with amazing organizations like the Darren Dalton Foundation, Dimples For Days, Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, all different right there. They’re doing different things. But they’re doing amazing work, you know, for the community for Philadelphia and beyond.So I love that we work with amazing women owned businesses like Danielle Massi, who owns The Wellness Collective. You would love her energy.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I would love, yeah, wellness collective sounds much needed and appreciated. Speaking of self care!
KATE MARLYS: We talk about it a lot. And it’s funny because sometimes like, I feel like, in a way, I’m like a therapist, like, you know, with my clients, like, they’ll call me and be like, “this is hard. I didn’t expect this”, or, you know, “this event is not what I thought it would be,” or “how did you do this?” You know, so I always joke around, like, you know, I used to tell my clients, like, “be prepared, year one and two are really hard if and when you make it to your three, that’s when you can start to breathe a little bit.” You know, like, that’s at least how I felt. And so I give them examples of when I was in their situation, because most of the time, you know, there are similar situations for any business. You know. I just, you know, we work with really cool clients and
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: That’s amazing. And have there been any, I don’t know, highlights or things that you just when you think back at the past 10 years, like “oh my gosh, this was a moment where it all kind of came together. And it just felt so good.”
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, definitely like events. There’s some signature events that we do at Philly PR Girl, we have an event every year called Mind Body Bubbly, that helps support women-owned businesses. And our charity is always human trafficking-related to help with, you know, exposure, and just, you know, knowledge of that. And then we also do an event every year, called Turkey Day Tailgate. And we’ve worked with different organizations to support Big Brothers Big Sisters, work with Philabundance. So our signature events are always near and dear to my heart. But one that I loved loved loved was an event that I did with the MS Society for six or seven years called Preakness at the Piazza. And Preakness, it was an event that, you know, was again, near and dear to my heart because my grandmother has MS. And that wasn’t even like the reason that I took on that client, but it just became another passion project of mine. And I do believe that if you love what you do, and if you’re passionate about it, you just work 10 times harder and you don’t even realize that.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Yeah, I love all, I don’t know, how you light up when you talk about your work is very clear. You know that you’re picking clients, right? Yeah, I know you’re doing doing the thing. It’s beautiful to see that.
KATE MARLYS: Thank you.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Yeah, absolutely. You had said something a minute ago that kind of struck me which was that when you’re with your family, you kind of turn off your phone and that’s like you’re you know, I’m off the grid with family. Is your family, I’m curious like, when we go into business for ourselves especially as women families sometimes can be supportive they can also be, sometimes put a little fear in us like “oh, you quit your day job?”
KATE MARLYS: No yeah right for sure.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Tell us about your family like how has you know your your immediate close kin like felt about this, like when you first left your job or less, five was there…
KATE MARLYS: For sure like, my mom’s the person that I go to every day with like, what do you think about this? Like, am I doing this wrong and she gives me great advice. That most of the time I take. Most of the time, but yeah, I mean, I think it’s great to have a support system. You know, my best friend again, I go to her all the time, like, “hey, what do you think?” I remember back in the day, I used to even have her proofread stuff. She’s a teacher, and I’m like, “Hey, tell me what you think about this,” you know, or, if I have to send a very sensitive email, she’ll proof for me, you know, and, and things like that. But now I have a, I have a great support system. And I do think it is important. It doesn’t need to be your immediate family, it could be friends. It could be you know, someone that you admire, you know, that does what you do as well. Because there are times you’re gonna need to vent and talk to people that you know, are not your colleagues or, you know, not your family, things like that.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: For sure, I feel like that should be a meme. Like, who’s the friend you call it like midnight to proofread email? Exactly. Right. You need that friend? There’s one she knows. Oh, my gosh, it’s so great to have that second set of eyes on an email. That shouldn’t be like, yeah, definitely a special special role in one’s life. So Kate, I feel like I’ve been speaking to some women who are in that kind of stuck place or that in between place where they’re maybe in a in a, in a job that’s just not fulfilling them any longer. And I think actually, the pandemic really brought this to the surface of, you know, women realizing right, that their jobs just weren’t creatively fulfilling, satisfying. Maybe their lives weren’t sustainable. It was just too much, the work life balance wasn’t there. What words of inspiration looking back might you give to a woman who just needs to get her foot kind of out of that, that stuck place, as you did to kind of say, “I’m just gonna really do this”. And it was interesting how you said you kind of had a false start. Yeah. You went back, which is completely understandable. But what what kind of words of motivation would would you offer to a woman who just needs to kind of get on that track to her destiny?
KATE MARLYS: Yeah, I mean, obviously, it can be scary, but when you know, like, it’s time, you should just do it. Like you. You know, even if, financially, you’re not ready to leave a job. Go volunteer somewhere on the weekends, like, do something that you can meet new people in a career that you possibly want to go into, or just have fun doing something different. Because then maybe that’ll change your mindset with your job.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Amazing well Kate, this has been so nourishing for my students to hear about your journey. And I hope being in the hot seat has felt good for you. I know you do a lot of speaking engagements as well, sharing your story. But thank you so much for taking the time to, to share it with us. She Rocked It audience for everyone, appreciate it!
KATE MARLYS: So great to finally meet you. And I love what you’re doing. I love the people that you’re interviewing and talking to. I’ve been listening to all the episodes. So you know, it really. I know, I know the amount of work that goes into this, hosting a podcast. So it’s not easy. So I admire you. I’ve had a couple of people tell me like you should do a podcast. I’m like, No, do you know how hard that is?
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: I appreciate that. I mean, just like you this started as an absolute labor of love and it’s something that I know that I have to do that our team is totally passionate about. My team motivates me too on those days that you feel tired, the team is there to lift you up as well. So thank you so much. And you know, Kate, I know you’re a fan of the podcast and thank you that means so much from you. Then you know we always end with our final question, which is your one Tip to Rock It, you already have shared so many great pieces of wisdom with us but if there’s one tip that you should leave us with the Tip to Rock It what would that be?
KATE MARLYS: I was thinking about it but honestly I they should do what I did and just go for it. Just go for it. Don’t be scared I know that I had a little false start with second guessing myself but if you want to rock it there’s no better way to just go for it and follow your dreams.
SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Well, congrats on 10 years. Come on, everyone, I’m giving her like understand I can’t stand because I got a standing ovation for 10 years of rocking it as Philly PR Girl.
KATE MARLYS:Thank you so much Karen!
Thanks so much for tuning into the She Rocked It Podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross. This episode has been produced by Erin Phelan and produced by Tori Marchiony, with audio engineering by Teng Chen. The She Rocked It theme song is by Karen Gross and Tim Motzer. Visit our Instagram page, @sherockedit to join the conversation and visit our website, sherockedit.com to learn how you can join our Rockstar Network membership community, support our work, and attend our live events and podcast tapings. Hope to see you on the inside!