By Rafael Samano
Melisa Kandel is a writer, business builder and third-generation entrepreneur. In addition to co-founding Wavemakers Media Group, she is the founder and CEO of creative content agency, little word studio. She supports a wide variety of clients, including real estate brands, leading executives, tech startups, food/wine companies and more with high-quality storytelling that engages customers and grows businesses through (you guessed it) the written word.
Before launching her own business, Melissa was the global director of PR, communications and digital media for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, the youngest-ever director at the company. Melissa frequently writes for Forbes as a member of the Forbes Communications Council, is the acting chief marketing officer of tech startup Earnnest, and is a member of Rebecca Minkoff's The Female Founder Collective. In 2018, she was named by Z Publishing as one of California’s “Emerging Writers” and in 2019, she launched a digital publication, West Oceanfront Magazine, which was ranked by Feedspot as one of the “Top 10 Coastal Magazines Worldwide.” Her short fiction has been featured by WordPress and appeared in prominent literary magazines.
This week, we talked with the ever-busy Melissa about creativity, writing and her work at Wavemakers Media Group.
You have worn many hats; before starting your own company, you were previously at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Now, you’re founder and CEO of little word studio, and you’re also an award-winning writer. What makes Wavemakers Media Group such a different role from the others you’ve taken on?
To me, Wavemakers Media Group is like diversifying my creative stock portfolio. With little word studio, we focus on content creation and strategy but Wavemakers is a full-service marketing company, which opens up so many doors for my clients and the support our team can provide them. Now, when a client asks about video production or assistance with a hybrid live event, I have the capabilities to help make that happen.
This last year has seen the world turned upside down in unexpected and unprecedented ways due to COVID-19. Can you talk about how Wavemakers Media Group is rising to the challenges of the pandemic?
I’m fortunate to have Joey Gallagher as a business partner and co-founder of Wavemakers Media Group because he is a master of the Covid professional pivot. He is not only the CEO and co-founder of industry-leading Gallagher Staging but also started several companies since the pandemic began, each with a specific value proposition for burgeoning enterprises like Covid-safe live entertainment protocols, virtual reality and high-quality livestream events.
When I think about the characteristics of a wave, I think about its adaptability and flexibility. This company and its leaders are very much a reflection of our namesake; we have a nimble team of innovators able to flex their experience across event planning and production, television and film, copywriting, social media, branding, staging and more. Our streamlined yet comprehensive marketing approach provides clients with everything they need for the fast-changing world we’re living in, all under one roof ... or maybe to keep the wave thing going, all on one stretch of beach.
You’ve spoken before about creating stories that explain what a brand is and why that brand matters. Describe a watershed moment or career experience that is central to your story and how that continues to define your work today.
It's funny because my most impactful writing experience didn't come from any project or client work. A few years ago, I wrote a speech for a pivotal moment in my life and I poured my heart into every word. After I delivered it to about 100 or so people, I got a lot of compliments, which was nice but not necessarily the point.
I remember sitting in the car afterward, windows down, the spring air uncharacteristically heavy, watching as the crowd outside dispersed. Two neighbors - a husband and wife - saw me and approached my car. The wife leaned down, smiled and said, “That was a great speech. You really know how to write.”
The husband shook his head and told her, “No, she knows how to feel.”
That was a watershed moment for me as a lifelong storyteller. The best kind of stories move you because they’re not built from formulas but from feelings.
You were the youngest person ever to be named director of PR, communications and digital media for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Tell us about what drives you and what it means to be a Wavemaker.
I’m driven by the idea that commerce and creativity can co-exist, and am constantly working on maintaining the balance between the two. Sometimes that process means crafting multi-platform marketing campaigns to generate measurable ROI for a client, sometimes it’s about getting your bike fixed and writing how the experience is a metaphor for problem-solving. Any subject, no matter how technical or dry it may seem, can be infused with creative energy, which an audience will pick up on and react to immediately. A Wavemaker understands that and can execute in a repeatable, profit-generating way that still feels imaginative and fresh.
Wavemakers Media Group boasts an accomplished team with members of varying expertise and perspectives. What do you look for when you are assembling a team, and what have you found is a driver of success when working with or managing people?
I believe mindset is everything. A team that’s positive, driven and solutions-focused will always win. Humility is important, too, and so is accountability. When you’re humble you’ll live in a state of ongoing improvement, always trying to be better tomorrow than you were today. When team members hold each other accountable, they’ll feel more connected to the accomplishment of their goals. Finally, a team member has to love what they’re doing and want to show up every day, (even if that means stepping from their kitchen into their remote living room office). When your team has all of those factors working in harmony, they’ll be unstoppable.
Marketing and live event production have had to shift enormously during this time. What changes do you anticipate will continue post-pandemic?
Digital will definitely be a component of events going forward. And that's not a bad thing. As an example, hybrid corporate live events - with virtual and in-person elements - increase opportunities for networking and developing meaningful connections. With virtual, you can offer audience members unbelievable access to behind-the-scenes moments that heighten the entire experience in new and awesome ways.
What advice would you give to those who are looking to start or transform their own company or brand in the midst of these uncertain times?
Identify what makes you special. Once you figure out that competitive differentiator, you have the start of your marketing strategy and creative campaigns. Narratives can be built around it. Cohesiveness of a visual identity can be formed based on it. Everything begins and ends with your answer to the question: “Why should a consumer or client choose you?” Especially during Covid, when hard-earned dollars are less freely spent, a brand's interpretation of their unique place in the world has to be specific and well-told.
Looking to the future, what's on the horizon for Wavemakers Media Group?
We’re ending the year on a high note by producing the holiday edition of our publication, West Oceanfront Magazine, which will highlight local businesses in our home base of Southern California, and share some extraordinary stories meant to bring light to a pretty dark year. We're also lining up exciting client projects … but more on that soon. No matter what's on our plate, the team is focused on bringing intense value to clients while maintaining the highest level of quality, service and safety. Those three foundational values informed how our partners have grown their respective businesses - and how we run things at Wavemakers.
In a word, how would you describe the future of Wavemakers Media Group?