Gen XYZ: Amy Sufak, 36, Red Energy Public Relations
Amy Sufak didn't let a little thing like a bad economy stop her from launching a successful public relations and advertising agency.
"It was a little scary to take that kind of chance," says Sufak, 36, who started Colorado Springs-based Red Energy Public Relations in 2008. "But what I found out was that a lot of businesses were cutting back on highly paid marketing and public relations people and outsourcing the work. I was able to say, ‘Listen, I can help you.'"
Today, the company works with corporate, nonprofit and government organizations nationwide.
This year, she was named Public Relations Person of the Year for Colorado by the Public Relations Society of America. She also earned a gold medal in the Hermes Creative Awards competition for her work on the Parade of Homes-style showcase of retirement communities. To help foster opportunities for other small businesses and nonprofits, she leads her team in providing multiple pro-bono projects every fiscal quarter.
"I believe it's important for all of us to help others succeed," she says. "In part, I owe my success to the Air Force, because they put me in this field head first."
After earning a bachelor's degree in public relations and marketing from Simmons College in Boston, Sufak joined the Air Force as a public affairs officer. She spent 12 years traveling the world, and worked with all the major news outlets, from ABC to the BBC.
"I coordinated ceremonies and offered support for three presidents, heads of state, kings, queens and four-star generals," Sufak says. "What I loved about meeting them was discovering that they're just like the rest of us. They want to bring a toy home for their child after a trip, or they want to remember an anniversary. But unlike us, they can't just walk into Toys 'R' Us. So that was part of my job. They were all grateful and kind to me, and it was really touching."
Though she has only a handful of full-time, year-round employees, she employs interns who work for college credit during the year.
This year, she has 11 interns helping her handle 19 accounts, which include several nonprofit and corporate clients, along with one government agency.
"I put them on real accounts, and they've performed phenomenally," says Sufak, who is married and has two young children. "This is their chance to put something on their resume, and that manpower helps me to secure larger contracts. When I was 19, someone gave me a chance and I flourished. I want to give back."
Sufak laughs when discussing the name of her company.
"The good thing is, nobody ever forgets it," she says. "To me, it means passion, excitement, a leading edge, and assertiveness. The people who work here are energetic, directed and willing to take a chance."