Known as TikTok’s “Mom Friend,” lifestyle expert Cathy Pedrayes is finishing up her Master of Communication and Media (MCM) degree at SC&I. Instantly recognizable in her signature blue dress and pearls, Cathy is an influencer with over 1.7 million followers. Her content—inspired by city living, traveling, her Latina roots which taught her habits less common in the United States, and her 15 years of martial arts training—includes safety life hacks, such as how sleeping with a door closed can save a life and go-to lies for awkward situations. Cathy graciously agreed to share her story with SC&I.
SC&I: Before becoming an influencer, you’ve worked as a scientist, teacher, VP of sales, QVC host, and marketing coordinator. Tell us about your journey, how you envisioned your future, and what influenced your educational choices.
CP: I’m from Miami and have lived in the New York City area for about 10 years. Although I’ve always enjoyed creative activities, I never saw it as a career prospect. I believed the creative sector to be competitive and difficult, so instead, I became a scientist. While taking science courses as a dual-enrollment student in high school, I noticed I was often the only woman in the class. I found that intimidating and wanted a change of scenery, so I chose a women’s college and studied Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Once I graduated, I worked as a scientist for about three years, but I left to help my sister-in-law start her business, Kleinfeld Hotel Blocks. It was a key moment in my career because it taught me how to sell, market, and hustle to chase my goals. It also introduced me to the world of television via the show filmed in the store, “Say Yes to the Dress.” After four years in the family business, I decided I wanted to work in television, so I turned to education to get my foot in the door. I knew my résumé was light, and I wanted to increase my knowledge and credibility; graduate school made sense.
SC&I: Why did you decide to pursue your MCM at Rutgers?
CP: Initially, I attended the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, but I was offered a full-time position as a national TV host and couldn’t finish the program. I was working in television regularly, and when the pandemic happened, I suddenly had an open schedule. It was the perfect time to finish my master’s degree. I wanted a program that was in New Jersey and would complement my career. After doing a lot of research, I decided that the MCM program at SC&I was right for me, and it is.
SC&I: You have a tremendous following on TikTok. How did you get involved in this medium?
CP: I got started on TikTok at the end of 2019, but I wasn’t active. I was mostly consuming content and learning about the platform. Occasionally I’d participate in a trend. Over the summer of 2020 is when I started taking it more seriously and began experimenting with niches. My first viral video was actually about philosophy. With all of the summer tensions, I suggested that people use the Socratic method to combat microaggression, and I got 2 million views within a day or so. That led to BuzzFeed later featuring my content, but it was a one-off video. It also led to TikTok reaching out to me to join their Creative Learning Fund, which launched in September 2020, and they taught me how to be a creator. They hosted weekly webinars, and I implemented everything they taught me, which immediately improved my content.
I still wasn’t 100% sure what my niche was, but around this time, my grandmother had passed away, and the last time I was at her home, I was given a vintage pearl necklace and set of earrings. I decided to start using them in my content and create a character around my grandma and who she was to me. That’s how “mom friend” got started with her signature blue dress and pearls. But “mom friend” still hadn’t gone viral until the “random things” trend. I posted about the random things I think about when I park my car: how I don’t leave anything visible from windows, packages, addresses, items that look like they could be valuable, etc. That video received over 10 million views in about two days, and I slowly realized my new niche was safety.
I didn’t expect to be TikTok’s “safety queen” or the “mom friend” of the group. First, I questioned whether I was even qualified to talk about it, but then I realized my life experiences did qualify me. Working on television with stalkers, growing up during the days of the cocaine cowboys in Miami, having family from Latin America where personal safety habits are much more common: yes, I had enough experience to talk about it.
When I discovered my niche, I had about 100,000 followers and now have 1.5 million. I’ve since been featured on BuzzFeed several times, Good Morning America, Yahoo News, Brut Media, etc. My most successful series is “Situations When It’s Best to Lie,” where I highlight all of the every day seemingly innocuous questions that could actually reveal too much to a stranger. In that series, my largest video has over 30 million views.
SC&I: Tell us about your book project (so exciting!).
CP: I don’t know if I can reveal the publishing house, but I’ll say it’s one of the largest in the world. They approached me when I had about 300,000 followers and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. My book proposal was accepted in early 2021 and will be a compilation of the tips I share in my videos with more depth. Literary agents also approached me after the fact, but since I was already in touch with the publishing house, I skipped the agent route and decided to work directly with the publishers.
SC&I: Congratulations on your book and success! What advice do you have for current students?
CP: In the creative sector, it’s 80% business, 20% skill. That may apply to other industries as well, but it’s certainly true for my creative realm. Whether it’s television or social media, I treat my content as a business. What’s performing well? What’s not? Who is my audience? Who do I want my audience to be? Is this next decision in line with my brand goals?
It’s also important to think about what you don’t want to be affiliated with. For example, safety content can easily get scary, and I know I can reach millions of views by scaring people with urban legends or rare cases. On TikTok, I see that often. However, like a journalist, I have a specific set of guidelines and ethics behind my content. It’s essential to establish this early on—know what you won’t compromise on and where you’ll draw the line.
SC&I: Would you be willing to connect on LinkedIn with current students?
CP: Absolutely, and my email is on my website: momfriendguide.com or cathypedrayes.com.
Photo: Courtesy of Cathy Pedrayes