Sister Alumnae Build Business to Celebrate Life's Milestones
By Meghan Caprez and Nicole Gennarelli
Sisters Michelle and Stephanie Park, two Kent State School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumnae, began creating their own newspaper when they were children. Michelle wrote the articles and Stephanie used scissors and a glue stick to put the paper together. From a young age, they were dedicated to celebrating milestones, as their first newspaper's lead story was a feature on the family cat's birthday.
Today, the Park sisters are using their love of storytelling and design to share others' life stories as though they are front-page news.
"To me, it's just something my sister and I are both passionate about and we do because we love it," Stephanie said. "For us, it's the excitement and exhilaration of a deadline and getting the publication out."
Michelle, '05, and Stephanie, '08, — respectively a former Daily Kent Stater editor and design director — have created Story of Your Life, a way for everyday people to see their life's milestones written and designed as front-page news.
When a colleague of Michelle's got married, she thought that it would be a one-of-a-kind gift to write her love story as if it were front-page news. Although the gift idea was never executed, when Michelle moved back to Cleveland, she and her sister created the business.
"I guess the proximity to my sister and just the desire to do something entrepreneurial with the talents and skills we had developed took over," Michelle said. "We launched the business in August 2011, so we're almost a year old."
The process of putting together a client's story is the same as any story Michelle writes for her full-time job at Crain's Cleveland Business, Michelle said. For Stephanie, she uses the design skills she learned while working at the Daily Kent Stater, a year-long position at the Plain Dealer and her current job as art director of custom media at Great Lakes Publishing.
Story of Your Life has been hired mostly in its first year to create stories about weddings. Michelle interviews the bride and groom, and then they have the choice of naming four to five more people, whether it is friends or family, to contribute to the story, as well.
"I then take all of the notes I've taken from all of those people and craft the best story I can that is highly reflective of the bride and groom, but also gives the couple a window of what other people see in them," Michelle said.
The company gathers photographs of the couple from the bride and groom. Then, Stephanie takes Michelle's story and the photographs and designs a newspaper layout.
"It's a nice gift because no love story is the same," Stephanie said. "Just running with their personality and having photos that reflect that often helps our stories look different."
Today's Bride had a January bridal show in Cleveland where Michelle and Stephanie set up a Story of Your Life booth to introduce their business to the market to see if it was a viable idea.
"I can't stress how much effort we put into the booth," Michelle said.
The booth didn't just focus on promotional materials. It had an interactive feel.
The sisters set up a red carpet runway, at the end of which brides could speed-interview with Michelle and receive 25 percent off gift certificates.
"It's safe to say I did more than 150 speed interviews," Michelle said. "We are still in the process of taking those speed interviews and writing mini-stories for the brides and grooms. This gives the couple a taste of what it's like to be written about and see if they like it."
Probably the most eye-catching feature of the sisters' bridal show effort was the bumper stickers they asked speed interviewees to stick to their backsides.
The stickers featured three prompts, among them, "I love him because..." and "Our relationship started with..." and the brides filled in the rest. Michelle used their answers to guide their speed interviews.
After they participated in the show, Today's Bride Magazine wrote a feature on Story of Your Life. Stephanie said it "felt pretty sweet" to be covered, especially since they were a new business.
"It's kind of cool when a company that makes other people the headlines gets to be the headline itself," Stephanie said.
So far, the sisters have created stories about weddings, a sister who gave her brother a kidney and a retirement. Stephanie said they'd be open to any kind of project.
One of the most important skills Michelle learned from her time at Kent State was time management and how to juggle different tasks.
"At Kent State, I worked my way up through the ranks to ultimately serve as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Kent Stater," Michelle said. "Every semester I was at Kent State, I was a student employee of that newspaper. Additionally, I worked other jobs, kept up a full course load and was an active member in my sorority, Chi Omega. It just taught me that if you're going to be involved in things, you need to do it to an extent where you can do a great job in everything. Stephanie and I still work full time, and I think that's important because I don't think people would take Story of Your Life as seriously if we weren't professional journalists. The industry experience and lessons we're learning are important. People want a newspaper reporter and professional designer to put together their story, not someone off the street."
The best advice Michelle can give to future journalism students is to have a passion for what they're doing.
"If I didn't have a passion for what I do, I wouldn't want to come home and after working, interviewing and writing all day, want to work, write and interview all night for Story of Your Life," Michelle said. "Having that passion will help get you through some of the tougher experiences, and it will also make the accomplishments and peaks you achieve so much more satisfying."
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