It’s Women’s History Month and here at Octane, we understand and appreciate the fierce power and contributions of our women. Our team is made up of mostly women, and we wanted to recognize this awareness month by highlighting our top lady, Sheila McGee.
Sheila is the Co-Owner and Chief Operating Officer at Octane. With 20 years of experience in marketing, public relations, advertising and publishing, crisis communications, and special event planning, Sheila is a respected veteran professional in the communications industry. We asked Sheila a few questions about her career journey so far, from early years to favorite points in time, challenges, and everything in between.
How did you get your start in the communications industry?
I first discovered my love for communications as an undergraduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara. I was a driven communications major determined to do whatever it took to insert myself into the industry! After graduation, I took every single communications job I could get, until I finally landed my dream job on Madison Avenue in New York City.
I was working for one of the largest African American-owned Public Relations firms in the U.S., where I led a team for our client Glaxo Wellcome, now known as GlaxoSmithKline. We led a 10-city national tour to promote their new HIV medication, with participation from gospel icons, Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, and more.
During the tour, I hired Everett Hamilton as our event designer. That blossomed into Everett and I having the idea to join forces and create our own company, which I named Octane! That was 21 years ago.
Today, Octane has established itself in the Washington DC area as a leading agency that is known and appreciated by our community. Our team provides innovative media, digital and social marketing campaigns that communicate important issues across a variety of industries.
As co-owner and COO of the only Black, woman, and LGBTQ-owned agency in the District, you define “boss lady!” What is your favorite part of your role? Where does your true passion lie?
My favorite part of my job at Octane is watching the growth and development of our staff! I love watching them unlock creative concepts and seeing those come alive as award-winning campaigns for our clients. This fuels my 20+ year passion and intrigue for creative communications. You can come up with an idea out of thin air and develop it into something tangible and real, touching millions. That is still so phenomenal to me!
What has your experience been like as a woman in the workplace?
Gratefully, I have been embraced as an African American woman in this industry. By joining the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) early on in my career, I had the opportunity to connect with other supportive women in the PR industry. Some of those same women are still mentors and friends to this day. Having access to that level of support has been priceless and has aided in my development as an executive at Octane.
Of course, I have had more than my fair share of rejections. Too many to count if you ask me. You can’t be in business for almost 21 years and think that everyone is going to like you personally or accept your glowing proposal, no matter how much work went into putting it together or how much experience you have on a particular subject matter.
My attitude has always been to keep moving forward. I have found that the key to Octane’s success story has been in the way that we have taken on our lumps and bumps, but have never stopped working to sharpen our skills and what we know we do well.
What is your proudest career moment?
I am extremely proud of
every award Octane has won, but there is nothing like the first one. Our team’s work to educate the community on preventative measures and safety around HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration for our HAHSTA client was phenomenal! Being located in the District of Columbia, this especially hits home. The District had the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the nation up until 2014, and even now D.C. residents are nearly 8 times more likely than other Americans to receive an HIV diagnosis in their lifetime. That said, being able to do our part and educate our D.C. community on prevention, safety, and care opportunities is tremendously rewarding.
Another very proud moment was our 2017 Emmy Award nomination for the TV commercial: “Think About Prep,” which also was for a HAHSTA campaign.
What’s your advice for young women that desire to achieve success in the communications industry, and/or have ownership in a business, like yourself?
When Everett and I started this business, we did the so-called “grunt work”. From pasting labels on programs, to carrying boxes and loading trucks, we did whatever it took to get the job done. As a Chief Executive, I have done account work for several of our clients, helped develop early campaign slogans, all the while trying to learn how to read a profit and loss statement and interpret a cash flow chart.
I think anyone that is serious about achieving success in the industry, especially those that want to go into business for themselves, has to be okay with getting their hands good and dirty. It takes hard work, but if you love what you do and you’re determined, you’ll be okay with that.
More importantly for entrepreneurs, you need a good tax accountant!
Sheila McGee is a veteran communicator with more than 20 years of experience in marketing, public relations, advertising and publishing, crisis communications, and special event planning. As one of two founders of Octane and COO, Sheila drives Octane’s operations and human resources, leveraging her expertise to map our strategy with the right assets: systems and tools, and people, including their experience, engagement, and development. Sheila also uses her understanding of the relationship between customer satisfaction and contract stewardship to define company practices. Simply, she leads execution excellence and delivery efficiency, ensuring Octane is a client-focused firm.
Before co-building Octane, Sheila led an eight-member team in producing the GlaxoWellcome (currently GlaxoSmithKline) African American grassroots market expansion campaign. As marketing manager for the City of Richmond Department of Health, she led the development of the department’s Rock Richmond Health and Wellness campaign.
Sheila holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Strayer University and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and the National Association of Black Journalists.