#SWAAYthenarrative

Some People Think I'm Just A Publicist

5 Min Read
Career

Twenty years later, I am still explaining what I do after stating that I am a Public Relations professional. I usually follow up with a list of notable clients and campaigns. Public Relations can range from a branding exercise to media interviews to a global program targeting internal and external stakeholders. Depending on what industry you are in, PR could be utilized to launch a product or be part of the marketing mix.

I've made that persona my professional armor, but if not just a publicist, then who am I?

However, there's so much importance placed on your experience, the celebrities you worked with, or the agencies that employ you. It often determines whether you are accepted or rejected. The interview process was stressful and often required me to name-drop and describe with enthusiasm brands and celebrities I managed. Most important was being armed with stellar references so potential employers could give me a shot. As a Black woman, it was paramount for me to be buttoned up and charismatically articulate my experiences for a chance to prove myself.

I've made that persona my professional armor, but if not just a publicist, then who am I?

I am the mom of 2 boys, aged 22 and 2, the wife of an incarcerated man and a first-generation Caribbean-American who was born, raised, and still resides in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

When I was growing up, my household was religious and strict, and getting an education was the highest priority. You may be thinking, that as the daughter of immigrants, education was a priority because it was something my parents and grandparents didn't achieve. But, in fact, my grandparents were educators themselves. My grandfather was an Inspector of Schools in Trinidad & Tobago and my grandmother was a teaching Nurse Practitioner. Soon after arriving in the U.S. from Trinidad & Tobago, my grandparents realized the "land of opportunity" had its own set of limitations, and without education, assimilation, and "knowing your place," you could not achieve "success." They both knew that even with an education, I would still face obstacles, and without problem-solving skills, I could not thrive.

Well, those fundamentals were passed down with the family recipes. Success in 1968 looked very different from success growing up in New York City in the 80s and 90s. But I was just as focused and driven as they wanted me to be. By the time I was 17, my grandparents and mom had passed away. By the age of 25, my dad lost his sight and the ability to provide for his children. The principles I learned growing up, along with those recipes, were #clutch as I pushed through working a full-time job, earning two college degrees, being a mom, and rising through the ranks in my career.

Ain't nobody got time for PTA meetings and bake sales.

For years when visiting friends and family, they would clap while reciting my name, "Jeanette," like the character Norm in the popular 80s sitcom Cheers. I would be greeted with a big hug and the same comments, "I haven't seen you in years! Will you be here for longer than 48 hours?" We would all share a laugh, and I'd say, "Only 24 hours this time, but I will be back soon."

When parent-teacher night rolled around for my older son, I would often get questions like, "Whose mother are you?" With a furrowed brow and sarcastic voice, I would reply, stating my son's name. How could I expect them to recognize me? I was working hard to impress my peers and superiors — not them — jet-setting and demonstrating hard work through professional dedication.

At the time, my philosophy was, "No one is going to work harder than me." Earning money so my son and I wanted for nothing was what I was supposed to do. And in my Brooklyn accent, I would say, "Ain't nobody got time for PTA meetings and bake sales." There were no Zoom chats or email correspondence with the teachers. Thankfully, my son's father was present and his family provided support. Unfortunately, the only family gatherings I deemed essential enough to interrupt my work schedule were funerals.

All of my hard work and dedication did, in fact, pay off. Today, I am the Founder and President of Excellence & Presence Communications, an integrated communications agency working with start-ups, talent, and legacy brands. I am also a trusted business advisor with experience managing large-scale, innovative media initiatives — experiential, digital, broadcast, print, mobile, display, and social.

I hope my mom and grandparents are proud of my achievements. But I wish they would have prepared me for how to find balance in life after working so hard. I would have loved for them to tell me that I have nothing to prove to anyone — that my strengths are my differences and assimilating would ultimately lead to unhappiness. And I wish they would have told me that time flies when you are looking for acceptance so make time for your loved ones because tomorrow may not come.

During my maternity leave in 2017, I began spending more time with family I had not seen in years. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends had aged through the years and their lives had changed. Many of them were no longer the strong and vibrant people I remembered. Our conversations were now about the good times I had missed versus the events they were planning that I should attend. They recalled gatherings the same way I reminisce about my college years. Some older family members were managing critical health issues with little time left to live. It was at that moment that I decided to prioritize family and friends. I've learned that it is possible to do it all, but it may not possible to do it all and be present and enjoy each moment.

I am more than a publicist. I am a leader with a perspective that has helped brands and individuals achieve their goals and a family woman.

In 2020, life balance is the type of success I strive to achieve daily. I'm still working hard diving into client projects like a final exam and using decades of connections, corporate processes, procedures, and experiences to guide my business do's and don'ts. Those are #GOALS! I also realized that my love of Hip Hop music, Caribbean culture, and growing up in a diverse community provided me with a valuable perspective. The things that I once suppressed to fit in now help me stand out among the competition.

Family first is no longer just a saying to me; it's a principle, which I admire and respect as much as trust and integrity. I am more than a publicist. I am a leader with a perspective that has helped brands and individuals achieve their goals and a family woman. I'm looking forward to the future with a new mindset, professional experiences, attending all parent-teacher meetings, and being unapologetic about my family's needs.

This article was originally published June 5, 2020.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.