The Story of Choice
It was Fall 2010 – my absolute favorite time to be in New York City. The crisp, autumn air mixed with the newest Fall looks as I run in and out of buildings between Central Park and Wall Street always leaves me on a professional high. It’s these pinch me moments in my career that confirm I am built for this work. I was in New York leading the entire publicity team from Thomas Nelson on our latest media trip to pitch the most current catalog of books. We were meeting with a who’s who of media gatekeepers and influencers in our attempt to secure coverage in their pages, on their shows. I remember the trip so vividly because of the media bookings that were confirmed – career highlights. I also remember it vividly because of what happened upon my return. We got home on a Thursday and Friday when I walked back into the office, I was laid off.
I recount that story every time I’m asked how Choice began because, though it was four years prior to Choice’s launch, it changed my career trajectory forever.
I was the head of publicity at Thomas Nelson, a company I loved, working with the best of the best book publishing team. I had been there the better part of a decade, growing my career and experience. Enter a recession. Layoffs began and it was like a sharp shooter taking people out a little at a time. It was a tumultuous, scary time yet I was never afraid. Why? Because I truly believed I was irreplaceable. Let’s just say, lesson learned here, okay. I went through all the stages of grief because I was so heartbroken. Colleagues were family. Authors that I served were close friends. Media that I pitched were deep relationships I had built and nurtured. It all felt so personal. Now I realize, at the end of the day, it was just a business decision. And, I’m so abundantly grateful that I had to navigate that season.
I went home stunned after being laid off that day. What was I going to do? How were we going to pay our mortgage? Could we continue to care well for our two small boys (then, 3 and 1)? Matt Adams sat me down and he looked at me and said something I will never forget. “Do not take your next step out of fear. Take the time to really think about the quality of life you desire and go build that for yourself.” It was the permission I needed to go and dream.
On Sunday after I had been laid off, my phone rang. It was the CEO of our number one competitor. “We understand what’s happened, Heather. I’d like to bring you to meet with our team. We know what you can do for us.” A week later I found myself flying to Michigan to meet with these industry colleagues who had just recently been competitors. I found myself with a great opportunity: a job that I loved, an industry I knew and skill I could share. It’s the very first time in my career I realized that when someone needed your very specific competency and experience, you could negotiate for the value you brought to the table. I did that very thing – said I would love to partner, but I wouldn’t move and I didn’t want to be a full-time employee. I could help them build a world-class team. And then I negotiated compensation after a great deal of consultation. And they said yes.
I went on to lead that publicity team as a consultant for the next four years. That opportunity and those people were a gift to me. It’s also when I learned what I deeply desired for the next steps in my career. While I was working with the most incredible thought leaders, authors, industry professionals and talent, I missed building and leading a team, specifically women. Yes, I was doing that for them, but it was their team and I was the outsider (albeit by my choice and preference). I missed pouring into the women who were coming behind me. There was this urge, this pang, this need to lead women. The idea for Choice was born.
I never envisioned myself launching my own business. What did I know about HR policies and direct deposit and P&Ls and client contracts? As the foundation for Choice was built, surrounding myself with what I call my Board of Investors (people who are better and smarter than me and are constantly pouring and investing their talents into me and Choice) was essential. Legal, HR, financial, sales, business and executive consultants became trusted advisors and partners. And the work began to build a team that would go on to lead our ideal clients with a servant heart, communications competency and skill and shared values.
Since June 2, 2014, when we officially opened our doors for business, Choice has evolved. We’ve grown from a publicity firm that predominantly served authors, to a full-blown media company who offers a variety of entertainment and lifestyle clients services including media relations, branding + strategy, social media, podcast production and events. We host our own annual Summit for female business leaders and entrepreneurs, a podcast for working women looking to grow professionally while not sacrificing the quality of life they desire at home, a communications mastermind for small business owners attempting to take the best next steps in their business and are building a very exciting product launching later this year (more information to come on that soon).
As I reflect on the steps that have been taken to get to this very place, there have been so many missteps, so many lessons learned, but the richest rewards have resulted when there’s a big win for a client, when I’m watching women coming behind me stepping into their own confidence and capability. The biggest gift as I look around is the strong, collaborative working environment and Choice culture, where women are linking arms to champion each other. A win for one is a win for all.