Renna Communications provides communications strategies to organizations who are working to change the world for the better (and many of these happen to be LGBT advocacy groups). Cathy Renna is a managing partner along with Leah McElrath Renna, her partner in business and in life. Together, they juggle a busy schedule with a young child and relatively young company and all this makes for interesting communication about money.

1. Why do business owners shy away from spending money on a communications strategy?
I think many times they do not see the value in earned media vs. advertising nor do they realize the many ways to leverage coverage. An article in your local paper or a radio interview can be leveraged in so many different ways. Our clients are primarily non-profit groups but the same holds true – media can be leveraged for fundraising, policy change and organizational growth, it is a matter of getting the right kind of coverage and knowing just how to leverage it. That’s what we do.

2. Do you and your wife handle money different at work than at home?

Basically, my wife, Leah gets all the credit here. She has a background in financial planning and is much better at managing and planning all things financial. She is really the main reason our business has not only succeeded but thrived.  I may bring in the business and do the PR, but she is the glue that holds it all together. Same at home, she really is our rock, and with a small child it is all the more important.

3. What is your most significant memory about money?
Well, my parents grew up in the depression, my Dad as a child in Italy. So we were frugal when I was younger but I still always felt provided for – I guess my memories of my Dad really explaining that I needed to think about value over time. Whether buying a pair of shoes (he gave me good advice, never buy cheaply made shoes!) or a car, it was important to make thoughtful decisions.

4. What sort of financial risks did you take to start your business?
Well, there was of course the fact that I had never been in business and we had a 6 month old child, is that risky? Seriously, we were incredibly blessed with a combination of Leah’s smarts (low overhead the first year, a good plan) and support from my family and the community. We started with two amazing clients and after a couple of days in business had others calling and writing checks. We know how lucky we are now, but it did feel risky then.

5. What’s the trade off between a demanding career and the cost of child care?

Rosemary is now in pre-school for half a day, but we are very deliberate about balancing work and time with her. It is one of the main reasons we started a family business. We can travel together at times, I can go home and be available to clients but also have time with her and Leah, and Leah has recently taken on more childcare responsibilities, which we both love to be able to do. It’s not easy but we work really hard to stay flexible – and our staff is wonderfully understanding, as are our clients.

6. What did your parents teach you about money?

Well, my parents were amazing. Somehow they managed to buy a house, help my sister and I with college and still retire comfortably. They were frugal but not cheap and were very intentional in their spending and investing. My dad was a high school teacher and my mom stayed home after having my sister, yet they really pulled off a good life for us. We never lacked for anything and even enjoyed travel to Italy (to see family) very often.

7. Your tagline at Renna Communications is, “We’ll get your story told.” What will this cost?
How much have you got? Our clients range from authors to multi-million dollar a year advocacy groups, but our rates are meant to be very reasonable for no-profits and the cost benefit is really amazing. Let me put it this way – we have gotten millions of dollars for earned media for our clients but are not making millions, you know what I mean?

8. What is the most important money lesson you plan to teach your daughter?
I try to channel my parents but often fail, so Leah hopefully will do a better job than I. Also, she is three, and she is certainly beginning to understand money so I have tried to explain more about making decisions (you can only have one toy from this store!) but also want her to enjoy life. It is really hard to not indulge such a great kid, I confess.

9. Were there any financial perks during your years as a spokesperson for GLAAD?

Plenty. Mostly free drinks and wonderful meals when I traveled. Local activists were so appreciative when I came to help out in a crisis or conduct a media training. Also lots of free t-shirts. Name an LGBT organization, I have the t-shirt.

10. Is there truth to the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow?”
I live it every day and feel very, very blessed, because I think it is a dream many people don’t have the chance to achieve. I know every morning when I get up that will be doing work I love for clients I admire and respect with staff I adore. And, we get to know we make a tangible difference in the world. I will never lose sight of that and how lucky all of us at Renna Communications are as we grow (slowly but surely, according to Leah’s plan).

More about Cathy Renna
Cathy Renna is nationally recognized as a media relations expert and as a leader within the LGBT community. As a major force behind the success and growth of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), where she worked for 14 years, Cathy served as a primary spokesperson for GLAAD, as well as its first National News Media Director. She contributed to the strategic, crisis communications and community relations components of the organization’s most visible campaigns. Most notably in terms of crisis and strategic communications, Cathy played a central role while at GLAAD in shaping media coverage of both the beating death of Matthew Shepard in 1998, a tragedy that became a cultural marker for a shift in the level of media visibility of LGBT issues, and the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, during which her efforts contributed to thwarting Church officials’ attempts to link the dynamic of abuse to sexual orientation.

In addition to her work as a communications consultant, Cathy continues to be highly sought after by the media as a spokesperson on LGBT issues and has appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, CNN, MSNBC, Good Morning America and numerous local affiliate shows throughout the country.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.