Give Me Astoria! says Sonia Mylonas of Cats Eye Marketing & Communications
by Cindy Klimek
The term “people person: could apply to many individuals: The extroverts, the social butterflies, the philanthropists, the movers and shakers.
But Sonia Mylonas, the powerhouse behind Cats Eye Marketing & Communications and GiveMeAstoria.com, takes this term to a whole new level: she’s a community person–someone who has made a career of helping others and elevating those around her.
The community Mylonas has called home for the past decade is Astoria, Queens, a diverse neighborhood of approximately 150,000 residents covering around 3.5 square miles in New York City’s largest borough. These days, Mylonas divides her time between being CEO of the Astoria-based Cats Eye Marketing & Communications and running the neighborhood-centric Give Me Astoria blog.
“There’s nothing like Astoria. I come from Australia, and Australia is known for being a multicultural continent, but there’s nothing like Astoria. The food, the people, the way this community runs day-in and day-out, it’s amazing,” she says. “The energy of Astoria drives it, but it’s also the prior generations and how they set everything up for us. The Greek community, the Italians, the politicians prior to now, they kicked all this off with non-profits that have been around for 40 years now and everyone in the community still cares about what’s going on. And that kind of trickles down to the next generation and the next.”
Mylonas has obviously found her niche in Astoria, but getting there has been anything but a straight road. The Melbourne native’s first job was in the restaurant industry, “flipping burgers and making coffees, like we all do,” she says.
From there, Mylonas explains, “I actually joined the Australian military as a trial situation. That didn’t work out so much. And then after that I tried beauty therapy. That wasn’t my calling either. But then I discovered that I was really good at helping other people’s businesses. So I went to the Australian Business Academy and once I finished that I decided to go to university and do Communication and Marketing and Public Relations.”
She would end up graduating from the University of Canberra in Australia with a BA in Communications. Always one to get involved, she would then join the Australian Red Cross. For her first overseas job, Mylonas would head to Italy where she worked in Public Relations. “It was a long shot, because you need to know the language and all that. But I was there for a year and I had a great time and got a lot of experience from the European side of things.”
After her time in Italy, Mylonas would finally find her way to New York.
“My dream was to always be where it all happens, which is New York,” she says. “New York is the place to be on the scale of Marketing. Everything happens here in terms of advertising, communications, major companies, the leaders in our field. So I decided to move here and I did the corporate thing for about four to five years.”
During her early time in the States, Mylonas would stop for a fateful drink at an Astoria coffee shop, unknowingly setting herself on a course that would define the rest of her life thus far. “I thought, ‘oh my God, this is a diamond in the rough place. I need to live here.’ It was meant to be! I couldn’t really even think about living anywhere else. I just would not be a happy person,” she says with a laugh.
Life in Astoria would bring her to Cats Eye, which was doing mainly printing and embroidery work at the time. The company had been around for about 10 years, but Mylonas helped it “add more services to the existing business. Those services are online marketing, public relations, and social media, so now we’re kind of like your one-stop shop.”
Mylonas’s love for Cats Eye and her career is evident when she talks about her favorite parts of the job, which, predictably, involve helping those around her. “Our clients here in Queens, they’re like the mom and pop shops, so we’re trying to educate them about what marketing really is and what branding means and so on and so forth.”
These clients would inspire Mylonas to launch what she calls her favorite marketing success story: the Give Me Astoria blog. “It started with our clients in Astoria saying, ‘we need a place to advertise.’ We (Cats Eye) always get the information first. So, for example, if there’s a business that’s rolling out a summer menu, we take care of their online development, we take care of their marketing strategy. So we’re the ones that know about it first. If there is a business that’s opening up another two locations, we’re going to know about it before anyone else does. So, the next question was always, ‘where can we put this? Is there a platform out there that we can us to tell people about it?’ Then the idea came in my head, ‘why don’t we just do a blog and see how it goes.’”
The blog raked in around 1000 hits per day right off the bat, and today gets five times that many. Says Mylonas, “When we started Give Me Astoria, we basically slapped together a five-page blog and, the thing is, I didn’t realize it was going to take off so quickly or so successfully. It turned out being your one-stop shop for everything that’s going on in Astoria. Even businesses that are opening, we’re interviewing the owners, non-profits that want to get more members, anything and everything that’s happening. We have a section that’s our Humans of Astoria, where we highlight residents that contribute to our community. So we started [the blog] just to highlight this information and it ended up becoming a business of its own.”
The success of Give Me Astoria was cemented this past summer when Mylonas and the Give Me Astoria family petitioned for and received an official proclamation from Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo declaring September 28th “Celebrate Astoria Day.” The first annual celebration will take place this year.
Despite the blog’s success and political recognition, Mylonas won’t be resting on her laurels anytime soon.
She says in the future she wants Give Me Astoria to become “your destination for anything that’s going on in Astoria, for anyone moving to Astoria or anyone coming to visit Astoria. Whether someone just opened a new restaurant or whether it be a wrong decision was made, whatever political things are happening in Astoria. That is the place to be, that is where you get your information. We do get a lot of people that email us, more and more each day, letting us know different things that are happening and we cover all those stories. We help businesses pro bono, just to put them out there.”
Mylonas sees the same kind of local business-focused approach continuing for Cats Eye as well. “Five to 10 years from now, I would really love for all the small local businesses to come into the service and get the same kind of service as they would if they go to a marketing agency in the city, without those prices. That’s kind of what we’re steering it to. Because the thing with Cats Eye is, if you go to a marketing agency in the city, it’s very, very expensive and they cater to larger companies. We kind of have a niche because we cater to everyone with every budget.”
Though Mylonas admits she doesn’t get a lot of downtime between running Cats Eye and Give Me Astoria, she spends much of it giving back to the community. She believes business and community involvement go hand in hand, and thus she belongs to a variety of organizations, including Kiwanis, Athens Square Park, the Greek Homeowners Association, the 114th Precinct, the Hellenic Federation, and Immigration Advocacy Services. In 2014, Mylonas was named Kiwanis’s Woman of the Year, and this past February she won the Rising Star Award, an annual accolade given to a Queens resident that has had an impact on their community.
Mylonas says some of her community-mindedness comes from her Greek upbringing. “It’s something that we’ve been taught since birth and it trickles down through different avenues through life,” she explains. “I’m so proud to be affiliated with all these people that have given me awards and have thought that I’m worthy. In the community and in what we do every day there’s a team behind me, and we do this every day. We wake up every morning and we work literally 24 hours around the clock. And it feels good to have that all recognized and also to give back. My way of giving back is highlighting through Give Me Astoria all these other wonderful artists, talents, people, and businesses around me and showcasing everything that they’re doing.”
With the precious little time she has left to spend on herself, Mylonas says she likes to catch up with friends on Skype and travel, though it’s hard to really get away. “Even if I try to do a quick getaway for a day or two I’m still on my laptop. I was in Greece this past holiday but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have because I was online working. In an ideal world, I would love to just get away for 48 hours and not look at my phone or laptop. I’d like to unplug and then plug back in without having the missed calls and without having the text messages and without having the emails. Is that bad?” she asks with a laugh.
Though Mylonas seems to want a bit of downtime, in reality she says she loves the busy life. “We (Cats Eye) work on a very tight deadline, so everything is basically due yesterday. Building functionality, launching websites, jumping from a meat market client to a lingerie client to a non-profit client, and this is all happening in a span of like three hours. The atmosphere is kind of like a crazy news agency slash maybe like a TV type of thing. I’m lucky because I’m one of those people that kind of thrive on chaos. To me, it’s like home.”