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When she launched her PR agency, ILDK Media, in 2004, Mona Elyafi had nothing. She was thirty-three years old and newly sober after a three-year battle with drugs. She had lost everything, but was relying on her years of experience in PR to help rebuild her life. After a few jobs working for other agencies, she decided the best thing would be to take a leap and do it her own way.
So, ILDK Media, named for the initials of Elyafi’s late grandmother, was born. When the agency launched, one of Elyafi’s major goals was to find underrepresented people who had real talent, talent she truly believed in. She was frustrated by the early 2000s rise in Internet-famous celebrities who didn’t seem to have anything real to offer. Elyafi knew there were people out there with real talent who no one was talking about, and she became determined to find them.
At the time, Elyafi had recently come out as gay, and as she built her client list and made connections, she gradually began to specialize in LGBTQ-related campaigns. Now, she represents clients like transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn, LA’s Equality Fashion Week, and Alexander Rodriguez, who costars on Glitterbomb, the first nationwide queer Latinx talk show.
She has also represented change makers like Michelle Bonilla, one of the first out Latina actresses in Hollywood, and for ten years, she handled the PR for the Dina Shore Weekend, a five-day music festival held annually in California, considered the largest lesbian event in the world.
“I’m very proud of all the clients I work with and the work they do,” says Elyafi. “Their voices need to be heard and they have wonderful stories to tell.”
For Elyafi, PR is all about storytelling, and she hopes the stories she tells through her campaigns contribute to changing the hearts and minds of those who discriminate against the LGBTQ community. “The way I’ve experienced it,” she explains, “You change your mind if you hear a story you can connect to. ”
Elyafi believes that every single LGBTQ PR campaign helps empower the community. When she first took on the Dinah Shore Weekend, nobody wanted to hear about it. For years, Elyafi worked to help the media understand why they should be talking about it. “Very few people take risks,” she says, “so that’s always been a difficult part, is to pitch a client and convince the reporter they are worth talking about.”
With the Dinah Shore, Elyafi did all she could to help reporters understand the importance of the event, to show them that it is far more than a music festival, that it is about lesbian solidarity and empowerment.
Elyafi’s efforts paid off. In 2010, the Dinah Shore was featured on the front page of the LA Times calendar section, and this year, it was featured in LA Magazine. Being acknowledged by mainstream media is not always the benchmark, Elyafi says, but it can also be important and emboldening when the mainstream actually begins to listen.
When she first started ILDK Media, one of the most important things Elyafi did was build a network. She encourages other entrepreneurs to meet and talk to as many people as they can. She thinks that now more than ever there is so much support in the entrepreneurial community—organizations and support groups designed specifically to help those looking to learn the ropes of running their own business. Use all the tools at your disposal, she says, and if you look hard enough, there will always be people who are willing to help you.
When it comes to taking that leap, “Just go for it,” she says. Do it. It’s very cliché, but do it. That’s basically what I did. It’s very scary. If you fall, it’s okay. I’ve fallen on my ass royally, with the drugs, and having to rebuild everything at thirty-three was not easy, but I had nothing to lose. So just go for it.”
In all the work she does, Elyafi’s late grandmother, ILDK’s namesake and a strong advocate for women’s empowerment, is always on her mind. When she decided to launch ILDK media, she knew instantly her grandmother would somehow be involved. “I hope my grandmother is proud,” Elyafi says. “I think she is.”
December 21, 2018 at 10:07AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs