We had the good fortune of connecting with Haily Zaki and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Haily, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I took a meandering path but eventually found my way from international relations to public relations. When the last big recession hit back in 2008 and the boutique PR firm where I was working was about to be acquired, I decided to strike out on my own. I had no idea how to run a business, but I wanted to have fun with it. Since I was also freelance writing at the time and kept my two worlds or identities quite separate, calling my agency Secret Agent seemed very appropriate. Over time, I enjoyed the irony of our name. I love that we get to work with such diverse creative talent and we get to help our clients tell their stories. There’s such power in communication and we enjoy playing the role of storytellers.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We used to be called Secret Agent PR, but we dropped the PR because we do more than media placements. We also run social media and content development for our clients, and we throw excellent events (we think of it as social alchemy). Like everyone else, we were totally blindsided by 2020 and it has not been easy as a small business. Now more than ever, it’s important for brands and companies to control their own narrative, so even though there’s definitely been a bit of a slowdown due to the pandemic, strategic communications at a time like this is key. We work with clients in the housing, home, and design spaces, and thankfully those sectors have continued to grow. We’ve kept busy, stayed nimble, worked even harder, and are optimistic about the coming year. I think this is totally a testament to our team. Lessons learned? As a business owner, hope for the best case scenario, but plan for the worst case scenario. I’m pretty proud of our women-run brand. We hung out our shingle in the last great recession and we’re currently powering through a pandemic. I’d say we’re a combination of lucky and plucky.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
SURF: Sunset Beach. PCH might smell a bit like pee when you park but when the swell is right and the tide is low, there is no better way to start the day. JUICE: Green juice at Tropical Juice LA. It’s an unassuming window that churns out delicious juices and smoothies. I hated green juices till I tried theirs. DUMPLINGS: Mason’s Dumplings, Din Tai Fung, Hui Tou Xiang FAVE NABE JOINTS: Otono (Squid ink fideo), Hippo (the mezcal cocktail and the scallops), Joy on York (Chia Yi Chicken Rice) MY FAVE WEIRDLY SIMPLE DISH: Chinese Friends’s Sauteed Shrimp. Stupid in its simplicity but so damned good. FAVE WINE BAR & SHOP: Tilda FAVE EASY WALK THAT YOU CAN FOOL RELUCTANT WALKERS INTO TAKING: Lower Arroyo Park in South Pasadena, replete with fishing pond, paths that cross the Arroyo, and occasionally, horses.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d love to shout out to Christine Joo, Eugenia Kim, and August Mosby, my colleagues and friends at Secret Agent and the LA Design Festival. They’re powerhouses. Organized, poised and they throw down hilarious giphys on Slack. I’d also love to shout out to my co-founders of de LaB (or design east of la brea), Alissa Walker, Erin Cullerton and Marissa Gluck. We ran de LaB, a design education non-profit for several years. We started out running monthly social and exploratory events (aka an informal drinking circle), which eventually grew into more formalized tours and even our own design conference. Those were formative and fun years that really allowed me to expand my horizons, understand my city, and meet so many interesting and talented creative people. And of course Sandra Kulli; mentor, former teacher, self-proclaimed cheerleader and life enthusiast. I’m also very grateful to our LA Design Festival Board Members Kort Havens (also our podcast host and producer), Abigail Stone (who is starting a new online magazine for people who work from home), and Erika Abrams (producer extraordinaire). Can I also shout out to each and every one of our clients? (Just kidding!)
Monica Orozco, Laure Joliet