MW of the Month // December 1, 2014

Powerhouse Roxana Lissa has one of the most fascinating Made Woman stories I’ve heard to date. A true rags to riches story, Roxana arrived in the U.S. from Buenos Aires in 1992 when she was only 21 years old. She had graduated with honors from Argentina Business University but didn’t have much when she came to this country. Young but determined, she didn’t let the “take no prisoners”, American workplace intimidate her. Roxana moved from one global PR firm to another, killing the game at every stop. In 1996, it was time for her to make her first big power grab and open her first business, RL Public Relations + Marketing. Roxana quickly took center stage in the PR industry, becoming a pioneer with her work in the Hispanic market. That same year she was featured on the cover of La Opinion’s business section -- the nation’s leading Hispanic daily.

RL Public Relations is now the largest independently owned Hispanic PR agency in the U.S., with a client roster that includes Nike and Verizon Wireless to name a few. In 2003, the agency opened a New York office and launched sports marketing arm Sportivo. Lissa is considered a visionary and mentor in the Hispanic PR field and was recently honored in PR Week’s first 40 under 40 issue. Not too bad for a Buenos Aires transplant who came to this country with pockets full of only dreams and determination.

Like what you’re reading? Join Made Woman Mag’s mailing list for updates, special promotions and more. Click here!

For this interview I met with Roxana on location at her newest business venture, Iobella -- a stylish and innovative body-shaping spa for women. A few minutes into our conversation, I realized that I was completely in awe of her. This woman is unstoppable! A cancer survivor, with two small children and a growing PR firm that has huge corporate clients lining up, Lissa’s reasoning for opening a second business? She wanted a new challenge. Inspiring to say the least.

Serena Watson: So let’s start here. Tell me a little bit about your background?

Roxana Lissa: I’m from Argentina originally, Buenos Aires. I came here when I was 21 years old. I studied public relations in Argentina. I was engaged to an American here, we ended up getting divorced later. I’ve always lived in Los Angeles and I’ve always done Public Relations. That has been the core of my career. I’ve worked for different agencies, global PR firms and I’ve developed an expertise in the Hispanic, Latino and multicultural markets. I opened my agency back in 1996. We have offices in Los Angeles and New York. We represent a lot of Fortune 200 and 500 brands, from Proctor & Gamble to NIKE.

SW: What was your first job in PR?

RL: My first job in PR was in Argentina, for a non-profit foundation. I was in college so I was 19. When I came here I started working at a small PR Agency, called Cooper Communications. It was great. I was an intern working for free, and I didn’t care. I took a bus there everyday, because I didn’t drive. The true immigrant story, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t know how to drive, I had $500 in my wallet.

SW: That’s amazing, look at you now. What was the transition to living in the US and being in the American professional world?

RL: You know, that was one of the things I was very happy about, my training in Argentina was amazing. So I could compete easily with the professionals here. [My education] was kind of like a doctorate in Public Relations. It’s much more thorough and comprehensive in terms of the subjects. Here’s it different. You study communications, you study journalism, but it’s not quite like that in Argentina.

SW: So flash forward a few years and you had worked at a few different agencies including Helan Althen and Manning, Selvage and Lee. You started your own agency and things were going well. What made you want to do fitness?

RL: I think after doing PR for so long, I needed a new challenge. I knew I didn’t want to be a bigger PR firm and open more offices. And then the fact that this program is very effective and really gets results for women – I’ve always felt like an advocate for women. I meet a lot of women -- there are more women in PR than anything. So if I can do something to help women feel amazing, from the inside out, I think I want to do that.

That’s kind of what inspired me. Not necessarily the fitness business, per se, that’s not what drew me, what drew me was being a supportive place for women. You come here to lose inches, but we treat women with respect and this is a place where we pamper them. We have to go through so much as women. With kids, and jobs, and all those things.

Three years ago I went to Argentina and I tried this [program] over there and I loved it. I was like “oh my God, this is great.” I did 10 sessions in 3 weeks and my results were amazing. I was able to reduce inches. And I loved it so I said “You know what, I have to bring this concept [to LA.]” It took a year and a half to put it together. And then in November 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, I’m in remission now but I had to do everything; Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation – the whole thing.

SW: You’re a busy girl. How do you juggle all of this?

RL: It’s hard, it’s hard. First of all, you have to hire the right people. My manager here, Nicole is amazing. The first step so you don’t get completely overwhelmed is to rely on your staff. So you have to have an amazing staff that believes in your vision, and that believes in you. And at the same time can execute and carry out your vision. With my involvement but I can’t hold their hand. I need to have independent thinkers, good leaders that can carry out my vision. That’s kind of how I do it.

SW: Some of your clients are Fresh and Easy, NIKE, Verizon Wireless – all huge national brands. They come to you and ask you to add a dash of color, so to speak, to their campaigns. Can you talk about diversity in marketing and if you think it’s getting better?

RL: I still think there is a long way to go. There are many companies that are doing an amazing job with diversity. Verizon Wireless is one of them. Proctor and Gamble has made amazing inroads. Dominoes Pizza, for example, is another client of ours that has done an amazing job. But I think there is still a ways to go. In terms of having senior people and also advancements in the workplace. But I think it’s getting better, I think more and more companies value diversity. If you look at some of the companies that truly are successful, they have strong, diverse teams internally and that drives the company. And it starts at the top.

Now you see a trend called the total market approach. A lot of the companies are integrating and only doing one advertising campaign to target the multi-cultural markets. I think it’s a new thing and people are testing to see if it’s going to work. I think when you talk about the Hispanic market; it’s a little bit different. Language plays a big role. Again sometimes its separate, sometimes it not integrated. For example, we work with Nike and Nike is all integrated. That’s who they are as a brand.

SW: Talking more specifically about the Hispanic market and speaking directly to them, what are some of the strategies that you apply that are unique to that market?

RL: I think for the PR campaigns we develop, I think relevancy is very important. There are certain things that are more culturally relevant than others. We just finished a big event Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it has become more of a mainstream celebration. But it’s anchored in Latino culture. This is the type of things where you can promote certain brands that have the right association while tapping into something that the Latino community is going to love. So sometimes a client will give me a general marketing campaign and ask, “can you just translate.” Sometimes that works but usually we have to look at it and say we need to make it more relevant. And that’s what we do.

SW: What was your most memorable campaign?

RL: The most memorable and the most fun was this series of concerts that we did for five years for Miller Genuine Draft and it was called Solo Con Invitation. It was so much fun. It was a series of intimate concerts – no more than 1,000 people -- with top Latino acts. I think this was one of those core programs that became a memorable program that people still talk about because it was just very unique and very cool.

One of the cool programs that we are doing right now is for “Got Milk.” We are doing the Breakfast Challenge with schools in California to make sure kids drink milk with breakfast and to highlight the importance of eating breakfast before you go to school. We try to do good programs that are going to have a good message in the end.

SW: What’s next for RL Public Relations + Marketing?

RL: Right now my goal is to also work with more entrepreneurial companies, not necessarily the biggest companies. Maybe before I was more focused on that but now I want to be more geared towards entrepreneurial brands that have a purpose. So changing the focus a little bit.

I can wish Roxana well on her goals for both RL Public Relations and with Iobella but I know that with her track record she can do whatever she sets her mind to. Oh, and I’m definitely planning to try out the Iobella workout and let you all know how it works! Stay tuned for my review and keep up with Roxana Lissa here.

Published in Business