The HBCUpreneur Corner – Tennessee State University’s Trina Morris & Style Root


Name: Trina Morris

Alma Mater: Tennessee State University

Business Name & Description: Style Root Inc., a public relations and personal development consulting firm

What year did you found your company? Started as a freelancer (sole proprietor) in 2002 and officially launched as an incorporated business in 2005.

What was the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career?

Exciting- Every time I saw one of my clients in the press (print, online or TV), I was over the moon! Every time I proved that my petite PR powerhouse could contend with the PR giants (via international clients, corporate sponsorships, national campaigns, etc.), I was beyond delighted. When I would see the images from events that I produced, I was truly proud. Doing PR is an art as much as a strategy for me, so my events were like live exhibitions ; )

Fearful- In 2009-10, when the recession hit hard. Across several industries, PR was “the last hired and the first fired.” Also when ‘Web 2.0’ launched with social media and the abyss of the blogosphere. Whether other PR pros will admit it or not, that immediately pulled the rug from under all of us. We had to learn Web 2.0, get on the other side of (this new way) and figure out how to make it ‘billable’- in spite of it being something the client could do for free/on their own. As a very small firm, I was stressed OUT. This was also amidst a print publishing collapse. Thus, my media services and contacts were in jeopardy and I was slowly melting.

What made you want to start your own company? Networking and exploring NYC provided me with loads of connections. These industry and creative professionals (rising and seasoned) wanted to build their brands in some way, but were too close (to them) to have an objective view and fresh positioning approach. Its like they were Style Root clients-in-waiting, so I knew starting my own firm was inevitable and fast-approaching ; )

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? My sophomore Resident Assistant (RA). Her style and charm were matchless, and I knew I could learn soo much from her. Our relationship evolved upon me joining her/our sorority, and I will forever refer to her as my ‘special’ sister.

TSU’s PR Director at the time. Once I realized that Public Relations was ‘the name of this mystery career’ I duly researched, I asked to volunteer in her on-campus office. She solidified my interest in PR, and was the catalyst for my decision to pursue my Masters degree (in PR).

Trina HBCUMoney Shot

My English Professor (from hell) whose academic approach challenged me in a way I’d never been before. She made me analyze and express myself from a deeply authentic place, and defend myself in a way that has served me tremendously- as a female, black woman, intellectual and communications professional. In the end, I waved my white flag (in surrender) and she applauded my growth and talent. Turns out, she was God-sent ; )

How do you handle complex problems? To quote Nina Simone “Oh I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, Lord please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

Prayer, Yoga, Meditation, Tears, Counsel from my closest confidants, Inspirational Reading, Long Showers, Laughter, Wine- lol

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? ‘Exit’ or let me say, ‘Growth’ Strategies- ones that are not purely professional, but also personal. When you are young and inspired, you dare think that you’d ever tire of the work you’re doing, or that things will change (for the bad or good). I wish someone had told me that it was not just okay to rebrand myself/business, but its necessary for long-term success. Internal and external influences must be factored in on a regular basis. OMG, I was sooo emotional about the whole process. Part of me felt like I was betraying myself/business/clients/industry, or claiming defeat. But thank God, today… I know better ; )

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? If I answer that, I will expose Style Root’s new product details prematurely. I’ll just say stay tuned for YouArePR, launching this Fall. Also this summer, I am hosting workshops (locally) which examine how to be #wholeselfemployed. My hope is to bring these unique solutions to HBCUs directly.

How do you deal with rejection? (Refer to my answer to the Question How do you handle complex problems?)And actually… I’ve gotten much better. As I’ve mentioned, the recession, Web 2.0 and my subsequent lifestyle changes were like my training grounds. I just recently re-tweeted PR veteran @TerrieWilliams who said, “Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” Its true. So to answer your question, I think rejection is simply the divine means to reception ; )

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I have the biggest ‘auntie crush’ on my 1-yr old niece, so whenever I can hop on a plane (to the Midwest) to love her up… I do. As an entrepreneur, college professor and yoga instructor, I have a strict schedule and mainly live from a “To Do List”. Thus, I enjoy breaking up the monotony via travel- domestic or international. With others or solo. I’m definitely a beach bum, but when I can’t get there, I simply follow the sun and go on ‘staycation’ (a rooftop, park, backyard, spa, or hey… my stoop!). I also enjoy cooking. Researching and trying new recipes is my nerdland (s/o to @MHarrisPerry), and pop culture (media, fashion, music and art) will forever be a major source of inspiration.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Its soooo hard to just give one memory when you are a TSU alum!! All of our Greek Weeks were INSANELY entertaining (Skeeee weeeee!! to my Alpha Psi Sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc!!) and Homecoming was just BANANAS!! I was also on the Student Union Board of Governors (SUBG), which coordinated nearly all of the student activities throughout the year. So I could pick ANY of those events between 1996-2000… honestly, the prequel to my PR career ; )

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Take personal development as seriously as professional development. Accept that you aren’t just good at one thing (and honor them as ‘transitional skills/talents’). Know your core values and deal-breakers. Volunteer. Slow down. Evolve. Do yoga ; )

One response to “The HBCUpreneur Corner – Tennessee State University’s Trina Morris & Style Root

  1. Loved This! Go Trina! =)

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