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NAFE Features - Women of Excellence 2011: Elise Mitchell
By:  Dr. Betty Spence 

Entrepreneur Award winner Elise Mitchell tells a tale of three early mentors, “classic entrepreneurs who built PR and ad agencies from scratch. One told me, ‘Someday you will do this, too—you have what it takes,’ but I thought I’d have to be old and wise for that. Then in 1995 at age 32, I started the business when neither old nor wise.” As founder, president, and CEO of Mitchell Communications, she believes “there’s never a perfect time to start a business.” 

Ms. Mitchell enjoys talking about what it takes to get a business going. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It’s all about your reputation,” she says, laying out four requisites for entrepreneurs: “First, a solid, comprehensive understanding of your industry. With my experience as a client and on the agency side, “I understood my client’s point-of-view on picking an agency.” Second, she says, “You need a proven track record in your field so people are willing to pay you money. Third, you have to be comfortable with calculated risk taking. When push comes to shove, I throw money into hiring someone or ramping up a department.”   
Fourth, says Ms. Mitchell, is your uniqueness in a geography or industry. She lucked out when her surgeon-husband joined an orthopedic practice in northwest Arkansas and they moved into this market-on-the-rise with its three growing brands—Tyson, Walmart, and JB Hunt Transport Services—who all hired her. “They found me because I was an experienced professional in a market almost devoid of experienced PR people.” For nine years, she worked from home with a virtual staff that allowed her to take on scalable projects and raise her two children, now both teenagers. She hired her #2 in 2005—a COO—and doubled growth the next year. 
She gives back by helping women entrepreneurs gain access to capital and break into selling opportunities, and she serves as a mentor and on boards that help women. She helped start a Junior League serving young women professionals and a community center called Life Source, offering job skills training “to people needing a hand up.”
Ms. Mitchell exudes energy, all of it upbeat. “It’s the job of the entrepreneur to create vision and have positive energy,” she says, and recalls some sleepless nights in 2008 when the economy crashed just after she had hired new staff, invested in a business enterprise system, and moved to a bigger office. Showing off the new digs to her staff, she saw worried faces. “I needed to do something, so I told them, ‘I believe we’re on the cusp of greatness. Stop worrying about things you can’t control and focus on delivery to the client, on solving their problems. Channel your energy into that and we will prosper.’” Mitchell Communications, now with a staff of 57, has reached the $10M mark.

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