Melody McDowell MELODY'service logo

An Interview with Melody McDowell

Q. Melody, your brand obviously revolves around the 4 Rs: Reliability, Resourcefulness, Responsiveness, and Results. Keeping the "R" analogy going, what have been the Rewards?

A. (Laughs) Well, in keeping with that analogy, our devotion to the Four Rs has led to the fifth "R" -- Repeat business.

Our repeat business from satisfied clients is a compelling testimony to the confidence clients have in MELODY'service and is a powerful statement on the results the agency achieves for its clients.

Among the projects we handle each year include:

  • Chicago Business Opportunity Fair - the Chicago Minority Business Development Council -17 consecutive years
  • Chicago leg of MED Week (U.S. Department of Commerce - MBDA) - 8 consecutive years
  • Editor of Chicago's Minority Business (the official newspaper of the Chicago Minority Business Development Council) - 17 straight years
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority - handled public relations for eight of its national conferences
  • Bring it On Home to Me Roots Festival - Ten years

And, our first client, Cirilo A. McSween, was a client until his death.

Q. Wow! You've cultivated a loyal client base. What distinguishes you from other firms?

A. Our customer service strengths....quick service and our competence and efficiency.

Q. How does your firm work differently from other agencies?

A. First of all, I primarily work alone and there is quick turnaround. So, there is no agency feel where you have to go back and forth for approvals or endure voice mail phone tag games. We usually answer the phone and usually respond very quickly to all requests. We do use voice mail but, for the most part, we return all calls that day and, if I'm in the office, I promise to return a call within 15 minutes.

Q. Did you say you work alone? How does that work?

A. I am virtually a one-woman show. When I work on projects, I draw from my vendor base and from proven subcontractors to pull off these projects. Ultimately, people want to deal with me and that's who they get...not an account executive...ME!

Q. But it would seem like you'd do better with a larger staff.

A. I have subcontractors whom I bring in and they are competent, efficient and reflect my values. I had a staff once many years ago but that didn't work. I find this to be so much better.

Q. But it seems like corporations would want to deal with a giant agency.

A. Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, a corporate decision maker came to my office. He wanted to work with MELODY'service but was concerned that, because of our size, we couldn't handle it. I challenged him to pit me against any large agency and see who would get the job done faster, better and who would respond quicker. Based upon his agency experience, he accepted the challenge. Within a week, he was marveling at our style and retained us for a project. We completed ahead of deadline and the results were better.

The Resolution Trust Corporation once expressed a similar concern but took a chance and hired us to handle an advertising and PR campaign for the 13-state Midwest region. The other regions retained mega agencies but the RTC Midwest office took a leap of faith and hired MELODY'service. Their confidence paid us as MELODY'service way excelled the efforts in other regions. We generated the most media exposure, made the best media buys and the seminars were the best attended of all other regions. Unlike agencies with many layers, we are accessible, quick and provide more personalized service. Plus, our writing skills are so strong and we're able to grasp concepts so quickly that we often get it right within the first few drafts, I'm proud to say. Ultimately, it's not about size; it's about results.

Q. Impressive Melody. I'm convinced. Tell me a little bit about your educational background.

A. I'm Chicago born and bred. I attended public schools and I'm a proud graduate of Harlan High School. I received a bachelor of arts degree in English from Spelman College and a master of science degree in library science from Chicago State University.

Q. Any fond remembrances from school days?

A. Yes, I was editor of the Harlan Verdict, the high school newspaper. And, while in college I earned the Virginia Chase Prize for being the hardest working student in the English department. I've always been a worker bee.

Q. What about your professional background?

A. After graduating from college, I became a schoolteacher and eventually became a librarian in the Chicago public school system. After six years, I wanted to pursue my passion for writing...something I'd been doing since I was a child. I decided to quit before I became too entrenched in the system and before I accumulated too much of a pension. So I quit without a job...just a tremendous desire to pursue my passion: writing. I worked for the Chicago Defender as a reporter and I remember those days quite fondly as I became one of the star reporters. From there I worked for the Chicago Urban League as head of the communications department. Then I was hired to be the Public Information Officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections. When I was asked to train my new boss, I quit and went into business. It was a reaction but a fateful one.

Q. How do you pitch for clients?

A. Mostly through word of mouth. I do make presentations but it's by invitation. I've had to build a referral base because I'm too small to do major presentations --dog and pony shows.

Q. And what is your style?

A. Because I interact with the client, I usually become an extension of their staff. I create relationships with the clients I work with.

Q. Melody, after nearly 40 years in business, how do you stay inspired?

A. Are you kidding? I love what I do. I remain as energized and full of wonderment as I did when I first opened the doors. I love crafting campaigns, cementing a client's brand and I over-deliver. I pursue each project with a fervor and zeal that is unmatched. Our enthusiasm is the trademark and hallmark of MELODY'service.

Q. What about clients? Do you specialize and do you accept small clients?

A. We do a lot of small business projects and work for not-for-profits. And, we work for a number of trade associations. We have contacts in those areas. However, I believe that if you have a persuasive style, and know how to get to editors through winning pitches, you can cultivate contacts in any discipline. My success in different markets is testimony to that. I go into new territories but through research and by being gently persuasive and persistent, we've conquered these markets, established new contacts and generated press for these clients. I also maintain contacts through the years through e-mails, calls and other outreaches so when I return to a market, I have already established contacts there.

Q. What about fees? How do you charge?

A. Every client's fee arrangement is different. But, we are very competitive and make accommodations as needed. After each assignment, clients talk about how MELODY'service delivered more than the contract required. On more than one occasion, we've been paid extra because of the tremendous results we've generated. Again, it goes back to customer service.

Q. Anything else?

A. Yes.. one more thing. I believe you should be nice to everybody. You never know where your next client will come from. In these days when people are rude and abrupt and don't return calls, I try to be nice and that has reaped dividends.

Q. Hey Melody! I'm sold. I'd like to hire MELODY'service for my needs.

A. We're ready to start. Once you work with us, you'll see why so many clients have turned to MELODY'service for their communications needs. Contact us to discuss your situation.

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