The impact is often a term that is used casually to describe one’s leadership. However, it is rarely done we see leaders who are truly driven towards delivering impactful results. Melissa Orozco, the CEO and Chief Impact Officer of Yulu is one such pioneering leader. Her impactful strategies and client service has helped spearhead the company towards heights of success. In an Exclusive Interview with Exelon Magazine, Melissa shares her journey.
What according to you makes one a transformational leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership?
A transformational leader is someone who is not afraid to challenge the status quo. “This is just the way we’ve always done things,” is not a phrase in my vernacular. I pride myself on pushing boundaries that challenge the status quo and deliver impactful outcomes and savor opportunities to help clients approach complex issues unconventionally and creatively.
Talk to us about your growing-up years and what led you into entering the PR industry.
I was enrolled in the media studies program at Hunter College in NYC when I did my first purpose-led internship, planning a fundraising gala for VH1 called Save The Music. It was a wonderful glimpse into the ways PR could be leveraged for something meaningful.
What was the thought that led to the formation of Yulu? What does the name mean?
Yulu‘s journey to becoming an impact-focused agency was a gradual one. Our roots began in PR work for nonprofits and social enterprises, including World Housing and Fuck Cancer. While Yulu recognized the public’s growing appetite to support brands that were built on transparency and authenticity, in 2011, terms like “social impact” and “social purpose” were still considered aspirational and bad for the bottom line.
In 2014, this inspiration and hunger began to take on the shape of a new industry, a new way of doing PR. That was when Yulu developed Impact Relations. One year later, we committed to a portfolio of 100 percent cause-based clients –- the same year, Yulu became the first PR agency to become a certified B Corporation and was recognized by PR Daily as North America’s Top PR Agency for Corporate Social Responsibility.
Contrary to popular belief, Yulu is not an acronym. Yulu’s name is a soft translation to “the journey of words” – “Lù” is “road; journey” and “Yù” is “to tell; speech” in Mandarin.
Being the CEO and Impact Strategist, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of Yulu Public Relations?
As CEO and chief impact strategist, I am involved across nearly all of Yulu’s clients’ impact strategies – working closely with them during the initial strategic process to inform the direction of the program, participating in stakeholder interviews with executive team members, and providing concentrated support on impact strategies and activism frameworks. During this phase, I consult on all aspects of our clients’ social justice and sustainability initiatives, working closely with Yulu’s division directors to ensure program initiatives are ambitious, progressive, and resonant.
What is the process followed by the company when offering its services?
Yulu has a strict client-vetting process, which results in the agency turning away about 80 percent of the new business opportunities that come in its door. One of the ways Yulu establishes authenticity when building purpose-led strategies is ensuring we have access and complete buy-in from the leadership team. It is also important that while building out our clients’ strategies, that we allow time for implementation throughout the company so that the strategy is not positioned or executed as a standalone PR initiative.
Yulu’s process always begins with a deep-dive assessment where we explore how the client is already creating a positive impact within the communities that they serve. Yulu follows this process by reviewing the issues that are impacting our clients’ target audience group(s) to determine how the brand or organization can add the greatest value and impact.
What has the journey been like for Melissa Orozco over the years?
Over the past decade, Melissa has worked closely with C-suite executives and the heads of innovation and sustainability departments to co-design industry-relevant CSR and impact strategies. Under her direction, Yulu has provided impact-sector research reports to inform key initiatives in her clients’ impact programs, with recommendations to scale their impact into new markets. Global brands that engaged Melissa to consult and strategize around their impact possibilities, program initiatives, and CSR strategy, include Audible, The Body Shop, Red Bull, UNICEF, and ALDO.
Looking back, what would you have done differently when starting out?
I would have leaned into our niche sooner, which is to only work with socially innovative companies. To turn away willing business because it falls outside your company’s values is challenging when you’re just getting started. We had a gradual transition to becoming as disciplined as we are today. If I could start over, I would tell the 27-year-old me to trust her gut and stay focused. We eventually found our way, so I have zero regrets. Each failure made us stronger.
What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging leaders and entrepreneurs?
I always advise aspiring and emerging leaders and entrepreneurs to find one thing they can do better than anything else and hone their skills and focus to become a specialist in that field. The world has enough generalists – seek ways you can authentically shine and create impact within your industry. The best piece of advice I ever received was to shoot for the moon and stick to my values. The advice I have for others looking for a career in impact relations is to understand that communication is a powerful tool that can be used as a force for good.
What does Impact Relations mean to you? How does one ensure impact through their actions?
Though it’s been gratifying to be on the leading edge of PR’s social evolution, we have always believed that rising tides should lift all boats. So, in 2014, we developed a new industry discipline of PR called “impact relations.” The practice of impact relations is rooted in the belief that if a story is told well, it can serve as a catalyst for positive change – leveraging the tools of communications to influence attitudes, policies, internal systems, and human behaviors, to address some of the world’s most complex challenges.
To scale this ideology, we collaborated with our competitors and brand allies to develop the Global Impact Relations Network, a nonprofit industry organization led by a dedicated board comprised of communicators from Porter Novelli, Ben & Jerry’s, Kind Snacks, Sustainable Brands, Mission and Cause, Carol Cone on Purpose, and of course, Yulu. The organization attained 501c3 status last year, and we’re in the planning phase to pilot an Impact Relations university curriculum in 2022.
What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?
Yulu turned 10 years old this year. As someone who preaches transparency and authenticity to clients and colleagues, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that getting to ten years old wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We experimented, and sometimes we failed (oh, did we fail!). But each failure taught us something about our values as a company, our worth as a communications partner, and our bond as a high-performing (and always-celebrating) team.
In the early days of founding Yulu, we worked with clients whose values weren’t aligned with ours and we made some rather rotten people look good. What seemed like a setback of personal values at the time ended up propelling us into our specialty to focus exclusively on working with companies that are making a positive difference.
What does the future look like for Yulu? Personally, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?
As we continue to scale the ideology and practice of impact relations through our agency work and through the Global Impact Relations Network, Yulu is applying these allyship values to expand upon our service offering. This Fall, Yulu is launching our Expert Partner Network (EPN) to meet the growing needs of our clients while addressing global issues. The EPN will be comprised of leaders with deep skills and expertise across specialty services, industry sectors, and relevant issue areas. Services offered through Yulu’s Expert Partner Network will include impact consulting, brand purpose planning, public policy, and impact measurement & assessment to name a few.
Industry experts in fields such as renewable energy, agriculture & forestry, impact investing, healthcare, housing, and education will join us in building impactful strategies to address issue areas such as accessibility, DEI, environmental justice, human rights, public health, consumption, waste, and climate change, for example.
For readers who are interested in learning how to get involved, please visit www.yulupr.com/EPN.