From The Rock

The queen of the keep: Courtney Ellett and her self-made treasure

By | January 18, 2021

Something great doesn’t come from nothing. But Obsidian started with a grain of sand – an idea – and grew into a regional PR force through hard work, tenacity and a keen sense of direction. Feb. 1 marks 15 years of Obsidian Public Relations, a milestone we’re celebrating all month long. 

We’re starting with input from our owner and founder, Courtney Ellett. She’s the mythical dragon guarding the treasure trove that is Obsidian. She loves all things fantasy, as you’ll read below, so she won’t begrudge me for the dragon analogy. 

To learn more about Obsidian, you should start by learning more about Courtney. The best way to do it? This month’s staff spotlight. 

 

  • We’re celebrating 15 years of OPR next month. Where did you envision Obsidian would be in 15 years and how does that compare to where we are now? 

 

Honestly, when this agency was merely a dream on paper, I would have told you I just want to build something meaningful and good. As I look around at what we have today in our team, our client base and our work, I’d say we’ve done that. I’m not sure, though, that I would have predicted it would be this much fun. This journey has been paved with laughs and lots of joy.  

 

  • While we’re all movie lovers, you’re our office cinephile. What has been your favorite piece of film (television or movie) to come out of 2020?

 

Please don’t limit me to one! I’ve always turned to entertainment for solace and thank goodness for every inch of it in 2020. This is more streaming-heavy because of social distancing and all. Some of my favorites that I watched or rewatched in 2020 were:

    • The Queen’s Gambit
    • The Witcher
    • Schitt’s Creek
    • The Haunting of Bly Manor
    • The Good Place
    • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 
    • Stranger Things 
    • Any Avengers movie on repeat
    • Finally binged Game of Thrones (in record time)

 

  • With years of industry experience, you’ve seen professional trends come and go. What is something that came out of 2020 that you think will stay with us well past the pandemic?

 

I would say businesses found a whole new way to create efficiencies, focus on culture and lean into creative collaboration. Whether that’s work-from-home, new shared platforms, inspired team-building or finding and eliminating waste (physical and financial) ‒ we’re going to be leaner and meaner going forward as a business community. I’m thankful that our firm was already set up for that kind of framework and mindset. But we still found ourselves learning surprise lessons in 2020. We’ll carry those forward for sure.

 

  • Grab your luggage, we’re going on a trip (hopefully soon)! When you hit “book” on your next vacation, where will you be heading?

 

The practical family vacation choice would be something simple like getting back up to Michigan for a summer vacation in the Traverse City area. If we’re talking about a serious adult-only getaway, put me down for Scotland. 

 

  • In your opinion, what is the worst business cliche? Why should we ditch it in 2021?

 

I wouldn’t classify this as the worst, but it’s something that was and is still a barrier for many companies. In 2020, I heard a lot of “we’re listening to you” or “we hear you” kind of messages. 2020 taught many of us how to feel helpless as consumers though. Businesses were inundated with problems from every angle, many of them just trying to keep their doors open. So when you did have a legitimate customer service problem, your single complaint or attempt at help/support might have been ignored, dismissed or handled in the worst possible way. If companies say they’re listening, they better listen and then act accordingly. Or listening is pointless. By itself, it’s just not good enough.

 

  • As a business owner, how do you define success?

 

When we experience success as an agency, every single member of our team feels it. And I just don’t mean in the “hooray chorus” sense. Our colleagues are so embedded in our journey as a company (small wins and big ones) that any fluctuation sends reverberations through every inch of our office. I am most proud that we’ve created a true shared experience where every team member actually cares deeply about our work and growth.

 

  • Let’s talk about talent. Is there a secret to Obsidian’s success in recruiting top PR professionals?

 

Obsidian, at its very essence, is an amalgam of super-talented individuals working toward the same goal. I’ve always had a passion for mentoring students, and I know how to spot someone who would thrive in our environment. So many times, it’s about recognizing raw talent and nurturing that from all angles. Many women on our team started as interns and have grown with us. That approach to cultivating a team has made all of the difference. To retain them (which you cannot forget to do), we’ve worked and continue to work very purposefully to create a healthy and positive culture that makes them feel valued, trusted and supported.