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SPRINGFIELD — At Thursday evening’s 18th annual 40 Under Forty event at the MassMutual Center, BusinessWest announced that Meghan Rothschild, president and owner of Chikmedia, is this year’s Alumni Achievement Award (AAA) winner. 

Rothschild broke through on her fourth time as a finalist for the AAA, which, since 2015, has been awarded annually to the past 40 Under Forty winner who, in the minds of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively built on his or her record of professional achievement and service to the community since being named a 40 Under Forty honoree.  

Rothschild was voted to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 while serving as Development and Marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. As a survivor of melanoma, she was also a well-known advocate for skin safety and cancer prevention. 

Since then, she has founded and significantly grown the marketing and public-relations business known as Chikmedia, a full-service, boutique firm that provides clients nationwide with graphic design, social-media management, public relations, expert positioning, event management, and more. 

Meanwhile, her involvement within the community takes many forms, from a Girls & Racism town hall created in collaboration with Girls Inc. to a Campaign for Healthy Kids PSA designed to help raise funds for the children and families that rely on Square One and were severely impacted by COVID, to her creation of the Chiks of the Future Scholarship, designated for a young woman of color pursuing a degree in a marketing-related field. 

Rothschild is also increasingly in demand as a public speaker, having addressed subjects ranging from skin cancer to social media to leadership skills and how to build them. She has also become a sought-after presenter and media host, including red-carpet coverage on behalf of Explore Western Mass. (the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau) for Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, as a panelist for the RISE Women’s Leadership Conference, and regular media-outlet contributions including The Rhode Show, Mass Appeal on WWLP, iHeart Radio, and more. Her first keynote address, called “Living Authentically Unleashed,” came this spring at the Pioneer Valley Women’s Conference in Springfield. 

The other three finalists for this year’s AAA award were Andrew Melendez, founder of the Latino Economic Development Corp.; Payton Shubrick, founder and CEO of 6 Brick’s LLC; and Craig Swimm, senior vice president of Audacy Springfield. 

The Alumni Achievement Award is presented by Health New England. 

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Owner, Chikmedia

Meghan Rothschild today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2011.

Meghan Rothschild today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2011.

Meghan Rothschild started speaking in public when she was just 20 years old.

She had become a survivor of melanoma, a common and deadly form of skin cancer, and she began speaking out about her diagnosis as an advocate for sun safety and cancer prevention, turning a negative into a positive.

Over the ensuing two decades or so, she would become a natural behind the microphone, addressing subjects ranging from skin cancer to social media to leadership skills and how to build them. She would also become a sought-after presenter and media host, including red-carpet coverage on behalf of Explore Western Mass. (the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau) for Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, as a panelist for the RISE Women’s Leadership Conference, and regular media-outlet contributions including The Rhode Show, Mass Appeal on WWLP, iHeart Radio, and more.

It wasn’t until recently, though, that she delivered what she called her first ‘keynote address.’ It came at the Pioneer Valley Women’s Conference staged last month at the Marriott in downtown Springfield. The conference’s theme was Unleashed, and the unofficial title of her address was “Living Authentically Unleashed.”

“These were my tips for how to live an authentically unleashed life,” she told BusinessWest. “Being authentic, unleashing your emotions, unleashing your power, bringing empathy back into the workplace and acknowledging that people are human beings and not machine — things like that.”

When asked if she lived her own life authentically unleashed, she said, “I would certainly say that, yes. It means being free of of concern over how others view you, finding your true authentic mission and purpose, not being afraid to speak your mind, using your voice to set boundaries, knowing your own self-worth, all of those things,” she added.

Building an impressive portfolio of public speaking engagements and living her own life authentically unleashed — in all those ways she described — are just two of the many ways Rothschild has grown and evolved, personally and professionally, since she became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2011 while serving as Development and Marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The most obvious is the creation and continued growth of the marketing and public-relations business she founded called Chikmedia, a full-service, boutique firm that provides clients nationwide with graphic design, social-media management, public relations, expert positioning, event management, and more.

But there is more to this story, including involvement within the community that takes many forms, from a Girls & Racism town hall created in collaboration with Girls Inc. to a Campaign for Healthy Kids PSA designed to help raise funds for the children and families that rely on Square One and were severely impacted by COVID, to her creation of the Chik of the Future Scholarship, designated for a young woman of color pursuing a degree in a marketing-related field.

The sum of these accomplishments has made Rothschild a repeat finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award. In fact, this is the fourth time that panels of judges have made her one of the top scorers.

It’s easy to see why, starting with her success in business.

She told BusinessWest that, while she considers herself an entrepreneur at heart, she never anticipated growing an agency to where it would have several team members and more than 40 clients at any given point.

“I started this to really take a calmer approach to my career, and it’s been the exact opposite,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but the business has just blossomed.”

Indeed, it now boasts clients ranging from TIZO, a national skin-care line, to local businesses and nonprofits ranging from the Log Cabin to Girls Inc. to the recently opened event venue 52 Sumner.

But she is perhaps more proud of the work that she and the agency are doing in the community. She is involved with the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts as a board member, for example; runs in several 5Ks, like the one staged recently to support Dakin Humane Society; and brings added value to the many nonprofits within the client portfolio as another way to give back.

“I do influencer marketing myself, so on social media, I’m constantly talking up my clients and sharing their events and throwing myself in the hat as a marketing tool for them — because I find that’s sort of a seamless way for me to give back,” she said.

And then, there are initiatives like the Chik of the Future Scholarship, which has grown in scope and monetary value over its five-year history thanks to the support of several local businesses, as well as the She Votes campaign spearheaded by the team at Chikmedia in collaboration with Girls Inc. The goal of the campaign was to pre-register as many teen girls to vote as possible and to raise $21,000 for the She Votes curriculum. Voting pre-registrations were outstanding, Rothschild said, and the fundraising campaign concluded 3% above goal.

“I started this to really take a calmer approach to my career, and it’s been the exact opposite. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but the business has just blossomed.”

Maybe the best indication of how far she has come, and how her impact has grown, is her increasingly crowded schedule, filled with various speaking engagements that reflect her many areas of expertise.

Last year, for example, she was in Dallas to appear at a major beauty conference to share her personal experience with skin cancer and talk about TIZO. She also addressed the Bradley Chamber of Commerce this month and hosts a series of workshops for Head Start programs across New England.

Overall, she’s speaking four to six times a month on average, with the subject matter ranging from skin-cancer prevention to entreprenership; from social-media training to talks that would be considered motivational in nature.

She said it’s taken her the better part of a decade to “get into a really good groove,” as she called it, developing a style that makes heavy use of humor and that engages the audience in whatever it is she’s talking about.

“When the topic is something outside my comfort zone, like a motivational speech, that fuels me,” she said. “It makes me take a moment and really think about what I’m going to say. I can stand up and talk about social media for six hours and not even bat an eye, but motivational-style speaking is completely different.”

There are many things that fuel Rothschild today, everything from working with her team to grow Chikmedia to providing scholarships to girls of color looking to enter the marketing field, to … well, living life unleashed.

All that explains why she is an Alumni Achievement Award finalist. Again.

—George O’Brien

Women in Businesss

A Leap Well-taken

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild says she wanted her firm to inspire and empower women business owners to find their voice.

 

As her boutique marketing firm celebrates 10 years in business this year, Meghan Rothschild can’t help but recall the doubts that crept in before she made the leap as an entrepreneur.

“I remember as if it were yesterday, the night I had decided to go full-time with the company, lying in bed next to my husband, just in sheer panic,” she recalled. “‘What if it fails? What if I fail?’ I just kept asking him over and over again. And he was like, ‘if you fail, we’ll figure it out, but you have to leap for the net to appear.’”

Even after creating Chikmedia, Rothschild wasn’t sure whether it would remain a side gig alongside her other pursuits. “I never wanted to be a business owner. I remember people asking me, ‘will you ever go full-time with that company you started?’ And I’d be like, ‘no way. I want nothing to do with being responsible for other people’s income, for being responsible for my own revenue. I don’t want the stress of that.’ So … I am amazed.”

To mark the occasion, on Aug. 9, Rothschild and her team celebrated the 10-year anniversary at a party at TAP Sports Bar at MGM Springfield alongside clients, friends, and supporters — a milestone for which she’s grateful.

“I’ve always been a very driven person. I started working when I was 14 years old. I got my own bank account. I paid for my own stuff throughout high school, not because my parents made me, but because I just wanted to be responsible for myself,” she explained. “I put myself through undergrad and graduate school and got my master’s so that I could become a professor because I’m passionate about teaching. So I know I have the drive — but the fact that I’ve been able to successfully run a business for 10 years is still something I’m a little bit in awe of.”

Rothschild had been in marketing for eight years — with stints as Marketing and Promotions manager at Six Flags, Development and Marketing manager at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and director of Marketing and Communications at Wilbraham and Monson Academy — when she teamed up in 2013 with Emily Gaylord, who brought a strong design skillset to the partnership they called Chikmedia.

“ I know I have the drive — but the fact that I’ve been able to successfully run a business for 10 years is still something I’m a little bit in awe of.”

Gaylord eventually left the company to pour more of her time and passion into the Center for EcoTechnology, where she works as director of Communications and Relationship Development. Meanwhile, Rothschild was balancing ownership of Chikmedia with a full-time gig at IMPACT Melanoma. A skin-cancer survivor who had built a national platform for skin-safety advocacy (more on that later), she was working for IMPACT as Marketing and Public Relations manager when she realized she had to make a choice. Today, she knows she made the right one.

At its inception, Chikmedia focused mostly on social media, graphic design, and public relations, but has expanded since. “We’re a full-service, boutique firm. So we do everything,” she said. “We do graphic design, social-media management, PR, expert positioning, media pitching, grand openings, press events. We also do influencer marketing, which is what makes us really unique.”

The firm is sponsored by certain brands in the Western Mass. area and helps produce content to endorse their product lines, she added. “So we’re pretty comprehensive, but we are a small firm.”

In doing so, Chikmedia has won awards from the Telly Awards, the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and Cosmopolitan. Its mission has always been to help small, women-led businesses thrive through “badass marketing” (Rothschild’s term), public relations, branding, and more.

From left, Chikmedia’s Jax Nash, Liza Kelly, Meghan Rothschild, and Jill Monson

From left, Chikmedia’s Jax Nash, Liza Kelly, Meghan Rothschild, and Jill Monson at the firm’s anniversary party on Aug. 9 at MGM Springfield.

The firm has also helped hundreds of women-owned businesses across the country; provided an annual scholarship called Chiks of the Future for women of color pursuing marketing, PR, and communication degrees; and hosted dozens of networking events over the years to connect female entrepreneurs with one another.

And, clearly, Rothschild isn’t done.

 

Women Helping Women

While not all Chikmedia clients are female-run companies, the company’s focus on women was important to Rothschild from the outset.

“I wanted to help inspire and empower women business owners to find their voice, learn how to market themselves, learn how to be in front of the camera, and really advance their own business. So that has been a core mission of Chikmedia since its inception.”

As a boutique firm, she explained, clients don’t get one dedicated account manager. “You’re going to get the full team, and you’re going to get customized work. You’re not going to get cookie-cutter templates. Everything we do is very strategic and customized based on who the client is.”

“You might be really good at what you do, but if you’re not good at leading, managing, communicating, setting strategy, and finding vision for your company, the other stuff is going to fall apart.”

In an era when many young entrepreneurs feel they can do their own marketing, Rothschild says it’s more complicated than they may realize.

“Why do you think you can do your own marketing? Because you have an Instagram page? That doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “You need to understand marketing strategy, you need to understand how to craft messages that are going to resonate with your intended audience, you need to understand how to analyze your Google Analytics and your website hits.

“And all of this plays together,” she went on. “You have to really assess your audience, where they are, how to find them, how to communicate effectively to them. So I always say to people, ‘you can try, but I’ll see you in a year.’ And that’s inevitably what ends up happening.”

Part of the challenge is keeping up with the evolution of modern marketing, especially in the realm of social media. A professor of social-media marketing at Springfield College, she said she has to reinvent her syllabus on a regular basis.

“My course content changes every year because some of what I was teaching five years ago is not relevant,” she noted. “I would say social media and digital marketing are probably the biggest ways in which the field has changed.”

But Rothschild brings more than expertise; she brings an attitude that’s unapologetically edgy and even “sassy,” she said, but also one that’s protective of work-life balance.

“We’re really good about setting boundaries and making sure our clients know you can’t text me at 9 o’clock at night and start talking about business,” she explained. “And you can’t make me wait three weeks for content and then expect me to turn something around the next day if I’ve been asking you for stuff. I’ve had a lot of clients say to me, ‘I really appreciate the boundaries that you’ve set and the clear communication that you’ve set.’ And they really like our sassy, creative energy that we bring to the table.”

She said her fight with melanoma age 20 was a factor in her philosophy about balancing work and life, and it’s something she instills in her employees as well.

“When I graduated from college, I immediately didn’t want to work crazy, crazy hours and miss family activities and miss out on milestones of my nieces and nephews. So I really had to find that work-life balance kind of immediately,” she said.

“So that’s another thing that I brought to the table when I started Chikmedia: we’re going to try really hard to be done by noon on Fridays so that people can unplug for the weekend and get ample time to recover. Because, in my opinion, a two-day weekend just doesn’t cut it.”

That policy extends to week-long company shutdowns around July 4 and between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“We’re not allowed to email one another. We’re not allowed to email clients. And clients have learned, we’re unavailable that week — because you have to unplug; you have to give yourself space to recover.”

 

More Than Skin Deep

Rothschild’s own recovery from skin cancer changed her life going forward in many ways. She spent more than a decade as a melanoma-awareness advocate and became a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation before working for IMPACT Melanoma.

“That really shaped a lot of my work and my ability to do PR effectively and be on camera,” she told BusinessWest. “I used to do tons of media interviews with Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire and Inside Edition — these huge, national outlets. So I had to learn really quickly how to be concise, how to get to the point, how to give good sound clips, which are now skills that I get to help my clients hone.”

She still works in skin awareness, including a partnership with TIZO, a national skincare brand with an SPF line. “We do something every year around Melanoma Awareness Month, which is in May. They actually just brought me to a beauty show in Dallas, Texas to give a lecture on my story and how to protect your skin.”

Rothschild is also working with the Melanoma Research Foundation, and one of Chikmedia’s clients is BrightGuard, a sunscreen-dispenser company that provides access to free sunscreen across the country. “So it’s been wonderful to be able to take that work that was so important to me and transition it into the work I do at Chikmedia.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs she meets at colleges, looking for advice in making the jump, Rothschild has some blunt advice.

“It’s not that I discourage them, but I look at them and say, ‘you need to understand that a lot of what is involved in running a business is stuff that you’re not going learn here. You need a few years of real-world work experience in order to be able to do it.’

“That’s the biggest thing that I try to express to my students: ‘I fully support your goals of wanting to be an entrepreneur, but you’re going to do it faster and better if you spend your first two or three years out of college in a full-time job setting, learning what it’s like to work with people, to manage people, to be a leader, learning what’s a P&L, what’s a budget, what’s a fiscal year?’

“You might be really good at what you do, but if you’re not good at leading, managing, communicating, setting strategy, and finding vision for your company, the other stuff is going to fall apart,” she went on. “I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I see who are so skilled at the craft and the service they provide. And then they decided to start their own company, and their team’s a mess, they have high turnover, and everybody is disgruntled because they don’t know how to effectively lead.”

Rothschild values her own education in that realm, which includes a master’s degree in corporate communication with a focus on leadership. But even that didn’t prepare her for the emotional weight of running a company and not only generating revenue for herself, but keeping women she cares about employed as well.

“I say to people all the time that you need to be ready to be strapped into a roller coaster full-time. Entrepreneurship is no joke; it is not for the faint of heart. There are extreme highs, and there are some low lows.”

“I say to people all the time that you need to be ready to be strapped into a roller coaster full-time. Entrepreneurship is no joke; it is not for the faint of heart. There are extreme highs, and there are some low lows.”

But the highs keep her going.

“I genuinely love marketing and PR. I don’t know what it is. I mean, there are days where I don’t, and I think to myself, ‘man, I should have gone with marine biology,’” Rothschild said with a laugh. “But I love content creation. I love my team. I love being out in the field … I really do enjoy it, and my team has made it so much fun.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 173: July 31, 2023

Joe Interviews Chikmedia’s Meghan Rothschild

Even with a strong background in marketing, Meghan Rothschild had reservations about launching her own business. But once she took the leap in 2013, she had plenty of confidence in her vision for the company: one of fierceness, attitude, and constant learning in the service of helping clients — many of them women business owners as well — reach the next level through better branding and messaging. As Chikmedia celebrates its 10th anniversary, Meghan joins BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar on the next installment of BusinessTalk for a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges of entrpreneurship, the evolving world of marketing, and her important work in the realm of skin-cancer awareness. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 73: August 2, 2021

George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Meghan Rothschild, president and owner of Chikmedia and one of five finalists for BusinessWest’s coveted 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award

Meghan Rothschild

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively discussion with Meghan Rothschild, president and owner of Chikmedia and one of five finalists for BusinessWest’s coveted 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award. The two talk about her business, but especially her efforts to mentor and coach women in business and also her work within the community and to support many of the region’s nonprofits. It’s must listening so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local.

Sponsored by:

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Alumni Achievement Award

President and Owner, Chikmedia

Meghan Rothschild says the role of event emcee comes naturally to her — and that’s just one of the many reasons why the requests for her to take on those duties keep pouring in from groups ranging from the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts to the American Cancer Society’s regional chapter.

She’s adept behind the mic and standing in front of people because … well, she’s had a lot of experience doing so — as a college instructor, specifically in marketing and public relations, and as a public speaker delving into subjects ranging from social-media marketing to sun safety (she is a melanoma survivor who started survivingskin.org to help share her message).

Sometimes she gets asked to emcee, but quite often she volunteers, one of many ways she gives back to specific nonprofits and the community at large.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “And I try to use a little humor, a little self-deprecation, and try to get people to laugh; I try to reflect what the organization wants me to reflect.”

Rothschild, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2011, has been a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, formerly known as the Continued Excellence Award, on several occasions. And it’s easy to see why different panels of judges have come away so impressed.

Indeed, over the ensuing decade, she has continued to add scores of new lines to her résumé (figuratively but also quite literally).

She started Chikmedia in 2014 and has grown the agency to a staff of five and a client list that includes Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s Pizza, Square One, and many others. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Rothschild has also become a mentor to several young women in the region and a coach and resource for many women-owned businesses looking for effective ways to tell their story.

Efforts in this realm also include the recent creation of scholarships for women of color pursuing degrees in marketing and public relations. Last year, the first for this initiative, the company awarded one $500 scholarship; this year, it awarded four because several area companies heard about the program and wanted to be part of it.

“This was something we felt passionate about last year, when everything was going on in the country and there was so much turmoil over racial injustice,” she told BusinessWest. “It was something we needed to do to give back and try to combat these issues; since we’re very much focused on women’s empowerment, we thought this was a great way to support a young woman who is pursuing a degree in this field.”

In addition to her success in business and efforts to mentor and coach other women in business, Rothschild is well known for the many ways in which she gives back to the local community, and especially its nonprofits.

Indeed, she has become a resource on many levels, from those aforementioned emceeing duties to the way in which she engages the classes she teaches at Springfield College and Southern New Hampshire University in building social-media strategies for selected nonprofits (five to 20 of them, depending on the size of the class).

Meanwhile, Chikmedia chooses three to five nonprofit events each year to sponsor on a pro bono basis, with help ranging from free publicity to fundraising to event coordination. Beyond that is ongoing support to several nonprofits. Rothschild said she started her company with such efforts to give back in mind, and it has become a huge part of the culture of the business, one that others are now striving to emulate.

“We donate five hours of time every month to Girls Inc. of the Valley, we work with Square One, we have been very involved for years with all of the Food Bank of Western Mass. events, and I’ve been volunteering for and emceeing events for the American Cancer Society for many years,” she said, offering just a partial list of such efforts.

But Rothschild and her company go further in their backing of nonprofits by compelling their for-profit clients to make support for, and alignment with, a nonprofit part of their overall marketing plan.

“Every marketing strategy I devise for my for-profit clients aligns them with a nonprofit that makes sense for their mission; that’s something I’ve always been passionate about,” she explained. “Yes, you can buy traditional advertising, and that’s great; you can place digital advertising, you can do all these things. But if you can find a nonprofit or a charity you can support, it’s going to really help reinforce your mission, but it’s also what you should be doing.”

Rothschild’s effort to mentor others, work within the community, and be a role model to countless others was summed up perfectly by Heather Clark, event manager for Baystate Children’s Hospital, who nominated her for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“People tell me all the time how much Meghan inspires them through her passion for not only helping businesses to succeed through great marketing and PR, but also her straightforward approach,” she wrote. “She cares deeply about her clients and about the nonprofits for which she volunteers her time. Most importantly, Meghan is as authentic as a person gets, and is the best friend anyone could ask for. She has personally lifted me up more times than I can count and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

“She doesn’t settle for mediocre, but instead demands the best from herself and everyone around her,” Clark went on. “I truly wouldn’t be in the career I am today without her encouragement and leadership. I have learned so much about business, marketing, and events, and I push myself each day to present myself in a way that would make me proud.”

Those sentiments, echoed by many others, explain not only why Rothschild is a finalist for this award, but why she has become a true business leader in this region — in every sense of that word.

 

—George O’Brien