By Victoria Fombelle
Driven. Passionate. Visionary. Inspiring.
These are a few words one might use to describe Michelle Flowers Welch, Founder and Chairman of Flowers Communications Group (FCG), a multicultural, integrated marketing agency. But I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Of course, good leaders don’t just lead with words; they lead with action from the head and heart, as Michelle reflected upon in a recent blog post on the FCG website. Her 30 years of experience as an agency founder and leader plus a strong sense of purpose in her work and her team are clear to anyone upon first meeting Michelle, but what stands out more than anything is her conviction and warmth.
“Good leaders have to be steady, calm, and reassuring even in the face of tragedy and unexpected challenges,” she said. “Leaders must be compassionate, caring, and transparent about the decisions we make.”
Michelle’s Career Journey
Michelle has always been a writer from the time she was a young girl in North Carolina penning 10-page letters to her cousin in Chicago to her days at Winston-Salem State University, an esteemed HBCU, where she was editor of the News Argus, the university newspaper. Her college guidance counselor piqued her interest in PR, so much so that after being offered a job at a top TV station in NC, she still decided to go on a corporate communications interview. The rest is history.
While Michelle has worked in corporate, government, nonprofit, and agency PR roles, she considers integrated marketing communications (IMC) her sweet spot, strengthened by a Master’s degree in advertising from Northwestern University.
Inspiration Sparks Insight
Michelle’s sense and style of leadership is rooted deeply in her experiences with strong, influential leaders in her life from early on, and she is quick to pay homage to those who encouraged and motivated her. Her entrepreneurial drive was inspired by her father, who put his own dreams of entrepreneurship on hold to care for his family, which included six children and a loving wife. And she says that her creativity and nurturing spirit come from her mom.
Early in her career, Michelle moved from North Carolina to Chicago, where her first job was with the Chicago Urban League. Jim Compton, the Urban League president at that time, became one of Michelle’s first mentors. “Jim was so very, very insightful. It was under his tutelage that I learned how critically important it is for nonprofits to build strong partnerships with Corporate America to work together to improve the quality of life in our communities,” she shared, and she sees a clear connection between these roots and the meaningful work FCG does as an agency.
During her first agency role at Golin, Michelle fell in love with the fast-paced environment, assortment of clients and variety of work agencies offer. “I knew that one day I would have my own agency and was inspired by Golin’s founder, Al Golin, who is credited with helping businessman Ray Kroc shape McDonald’s success. Al personally mentored my growth as an agency professional.”
Her next mentor was the groundbreaking founder of Burrell Communications, Tom Burrell, someone Michelle describes as “a pioneer in the IMC space who was and continues to be an outstanding role model for me. Tom helped further fuel my entrepreneurial dreams and desire to work in multicultural marketing. He knew that to effectively reach African American and Hispanic communities, the best strategy was a multi-channel approach that touched the various passion points where consumers live, work and play.”
Michelle is grateful for the mentors who helped her along the way and is paying it forward at FCG. She says that her agency will always be a nurturing environment that grows and develops the next generation of communicators, while doing great, award-winning work for the firm’s stellar list of clients.
An Ongoing Legacy
Michelle’s visionary, entrepreneurial spirit has brought her into almost three decades as a successful business owner. “When people think about the firm and work we do, I’d like us to be remembered as integrated marketing communications trailblazers with a demonstrated commitment to producing work that not just reaches multicultural consumers but respects who we are — our unique cultures, our history, our heritage — while helping brands to make a difference.” One of FCG’s early taglines was “reaching our people, respecting our roots.” Though the exact verbiage has changed, the vision and work of FCG remains steadfast.
Since Michelle founded FCG in 1991, the conversation around multicultural communications has changed dramatically, especially over the past few months. Today’s social justice movement and focus on racial equality have upended the business landscape, creating the opportunity for companies and brands to break through rigid protocols, to be bold and innovative and creatively address socio economic conditions in new ways. “Through the years, we have fought to have a seat at the table and a budget that would allow us to do great work in the multicultural space,” Michelle said. “Now, this quantum shift in Corporate America’s social consciousness has moved the work we do — speaking authentically to multicultural audiences — to a heightened level. My firm is uniquely position to support companies in becoming real change agents, given the power they wield that can move our nation forward. Our goal is to stay deeply engaged providing strategic counsel, enlightened solutions and thought leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion and multicultural marketing to help take this moment in time from a movement to a new way of life.”
Outside of the Office
So, what might other PR pros know about Michelle?
First off, she loves sports. Growing up with four brothers, sports was a way of life for the Flowers family. Now Michelle still cheers for her favorite NFL, NBA and college teams. She’s a big fan of ESPN’s First Take, where Stephen A. Smith, a graduate of her alma mater, Winston-Salem State, is a featured commentator. Like millions, she faithfully watched the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, live every week last spring. So when FCG was selected as the PR agency of record for the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, Michelle was thrilled. “It was a dream account, and we loved being involved in such a well-executed, amazing weekend for Chicago. One of my personal passions, sports, aligned perfectly with my business passion, FCG and made me a very happy camper!”
Another fun fact about Michelle is found in her maiden name. A bouquet of fresh flowers in her office every week reminds her of her parents. Her father was a horticulturalist and her mom created beautiful, artistic floral arrangements throughout their home. Michelle, who playfully says she grew up in a greenhouse, also has a green thumb that’s showcased by the large healthy plants she grows. In the early days of FCG, the agency was given the nickname, “The Flower Shop.” At first Michelle says that she was hesitant to embrace it because she did not want any confusion in the marketplace about the agency’s services. She would quickly let people know that she did not own a flower shop. But, then she had a change of heart.
“When you think about a flower shop, you think about growing, nurturing, cultivating beautiful things. And that’s what my agency is all about, you know. It’s in our DNA… we nurture talent, we nurture ideas, we cultivate the best for our clients and grow beautiful relationships. I’d like to think that’s the kind of business that I’ve created and that’s what my legacy will be.”
Many small and mid-size agencies have come and gone since Michelle founded FCG in 1991. So, what’s her secret?” To thine own self be true,” she said. “I think so many people blindly follow others’ rules and go down paths others have shaped for them. Too many people don’t give themselves permission to explore, discover, and even fail. But I’ve never been afraid to fail. One of my favorite quotes is from Michael Jordan who said, ‘I’ve failed over and over in my life which is why I succeed.’ Success, whatever that means for you, starts with being unafraid to connect with who you are, embracing it and being unapologetically true to your uniqueness.”