Robyn Matarazzo: Yes, You Can Have it All, Do it All, and Be it All

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I think I find stability in professional chaos, which has made me a great business woman.  I started my business with the intent of doing business development for small businesses in Westchester County. And thought that I would remain local and truly just enjoy always being close to home.

My first event was in White Plains. I hired a photographer and asked him if I could pay him the $300 charge in $50 increments over the next few weeks. I was so appreciative of him and how he extended himself and believed in me.   And I still keep in touch with him to this day.

At the time,  I didn’t have much at all except a desire to make a difference and the drive to make a career for myself where I was my own boss.  For this particular event, my intent was to drive exposure to local businesses through local press outlets.  I made calls to newspapers, tv stations and digital sites to invite them to come.  The event was a huge success.  Over 100 people attended, the photos were great, and we had a local news station come out to support.  It was then I realized that what I did was generate press and media attention for the event and I wanted to continue doing this but on a much larger scale.  This lead to me starting my own public relations firm (Illumination PR).

Illumination!

I quickly learned while building Illumination PR that there was a bigger plan that I was unaware of. Within four years of building my business, I was traveling across the country almost every month which then led to international travel as well.  Not only was I running Illumination PR, but I was also bartending and waitressing at Villaggio Italiano in Hartsdale, NY.  The money that I made working at Villaggio helped pay my bills while Illumination was in the infancy stages of development.

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Illumination PR took off after picking up our first reality star client.  New doors were opening; we were getting connected with so many editors and I started building relationships with people across the country.  It was a surreal experience.  Especially considering that I thought I was going to be a Westchester local business owner servicing Westchester businesses.

Five years into Illumination, we picked up a client that did all the award show gifting lounges for celebrity swag.  We quickly found ourselves in France for Cannes Film Festival, Florida for art shows, Canada for festivals and California at least once or twice a month.  I was so consumed with building my business that I didn’t realize how much it had grown until one of my friends pointed out that prior to starting my PR business, I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to do and was considering opening a laundromat so I could keep to myself and listen to music all day while doing laundry.

Another Opportunity

During this time, Villaggio’s original owners were looking to retire and me and another one of the staff members were interested in purchasing the restaurant. We didn’t own anything, we didn’t have big credit.  We just had a desire to keep the same staff, the knowledge to make the restaurant work, and the ability to see where it was lacking and how we can fill that space.

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I remember starting to apply for loans and sharing how excited we were about potentially buying the restaurant with someone who also owned restaurants locally and while they offered help if needed, I learned one of the most important lessons.  A few weeks later when we were struggling to get all our funds together to finalize the purchase.  The bartender called me to tell me that the very same person that I shared the exciting story with of potentially buying the restaurant was now sitting waiting for the owner to discuss purchasing it as well.

I believe all things happen for a reason.  The owner wound up to be sick and called the restaurant to say he couldn’t make it.   I called him and said I was ready to close.  I was still short but knew that what was meant to be will happen and put my faith in the fact that we deserved this restaurant and had the best intentions on keeping every staff member.  We closed the following week and the loan we were waiting on came in the morning of our closing.  My valuable lesson: not everyone is clapping for you, keep your success to yourself.

Stepping Up

Villaggio’s and Illumination have both soared.  At Illumination, we now have a staff of 8 people.  On a day to day basis, we are in constant contact with our media contacts, creating pitches on behalf of our clients and constantly doing outreach to brands, celebrities and influencers to continue celebrity and brand integration.

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I have a staff that became family and luckily enough we all have the same work ethic. None of our jobs are done at 5pm like most people.  We work with celebrities on many reality shows and we all need to be available to our clientele practically 24/7.  Our clients have become family to us because of how closely we work with them. At Villaggio’s, our employees have been with us for over 15-30 years and they are like family as well.

And . . . You Can Have it All and Still Have Time To Smell the Roses

For over three years now, I’ve been running Illumination during the day and heading to the restaurant at night/on weekends.  Only recently did I change my schedule around a bit so that I could stop and smell the roses.  Over the course of the last 10 years, I have learned so much about myself in regards to work ethic, my constant drive to succeed at everything I do as well as never forgetting where I started and who helped me along the way.

This guest post was authored by Robyn Matarazzo

CEO, Robyn Santiago, spearheads Illumination PR with over nine years in the public relations field.  With expertise in event planning,  business development, and public relations industry, Robyn and her team are able to provide clients with work that is strategic, creative and measurable. The illumination team have elevated clients in their prospective industries and worked with various networks including E!, Fox, VH1, MTV and Bravo, to name a few. In addition, close media relations with Us Weekly,
​Life &Style, In Touch, People Magazine and many other publications have also assisted in the success of Illumination PR’s clients.

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