By Jeanne Charters
For 20 years during my checkered past, I actually ran my own business. It was called Charters Marketing and focused on the creation and media placement for television and radio campaigns. I finally closed up shop about three years ago. Later, I’ll share some tips I learned during my time as President of my own advertising agency. I hope some of my experience helps you if you choose to run your own business.
Let’s start this story before I opened Charters Marketing though. Back then, I was Vice President of Marketing for Viacom television. I was the only woman in such a position at Viacom at the time and was riding pretty high on the hog. I had prestige and was making way more money than I ever expected I’d make. Yep, things looked pretty groovy in Jeannie-land back then. In some obscure corner of my brain, I realized I was there because I was “the token woman,” but who cared? I loved that money.
I should mention that throughout that time, I was seeing a stress-management psychologist regularly. He told me that my career was in total conflict with my ethics. He was right. The object was the sale and making my projected budget. Promise ‘em anything, but get that commission. Later on, I feared some clients might realize they’d gotten screwed—that they had not received all the promised benefits, but by then, I’d be on to my next conquest, my next commission.
Often, I’d find myself sitting in an airport wondering what city I was in. Sometimes, in the strange hotel in the strange town in the strange state, I’d go into the bar and order a drink—all by myself. That was my way of being a big girl. Little Jeannie Hackett from Springfield, Ohio, hitting the big corporate time.
In retrospect, I realize that one of the biggest challenges during that time was being the only female in such a position. I missed Vera and Jaynie, women I could trust and talk to in my previous job at WTEN-TV. We could discuss anything. Sometimes, we’d grouse about how hard that glass ceiling was to crack. Other times, we discussed males in our lives or lack of them or what we were going to cook that night for dinner.
The corporate guys at Viacom were anything but friendly—some were downright hostile. Hoping I’d fail. Let’s face it—I’d taken a job away from one of their own. Who did I think I was anyway? Often, I feared those same men were able to read my mind. And if they could, this is what they’d see: What the hell am I doing in a job like this? When will they realize I’m in over my head?
But I loved the money! And the prestige! And the title!
Until one day I was called into the General Manager’s office. I was certain it was to receive a bonus. I’d overachieved all expectations for that quarter and was bringing in so many new clients and dollars I felt bullet proof. However, it wasn’t a bonus I got. It was fired!
Corporate was eliminating my department and I was to pack up my stuff and leave immediately. I’m certain I was in shock when I went back to my office and told my secretary. We cried some, and then the security guard came and watched me pack up. I felt like a criminal. It was so humiliating I thought I’d die.
In near hysterics, I called Matt. “I got fired. They’re making me leave today.”
After a long silence, he calmly told me to come straight home and to drive very carefully.
When I arrived, mascara smeared nearly to my knees, he had a glass of wine poured for me. Back then, I smoked one cigarette a day. He had it in the ashtray, matches nearby. We sat down, and I sobbed out my fear to him.
He was very quiet. Until he said, “Good. Now you can start your own business. You should have done it years ago.”
Huh? Could I do that?
As it turned out, I could. I had developed all the skills I needed to do the creative and media parts. Matt became my business manager and did the billing, taxes, and record keeping. All the stuff I hated doing and he was good at.
A furniture-store client advised me to “keep it small” so that I could ride out the economic ups and downs ahead. He turned out to be a sage. I watched so many large ad agencies close the doors on their elegant offices during the nineties. Because I had low overhead, I could produce quality campaigns at a fraction of the cost they needed to charge.
I wrote the campaigns and hired freelance actors, camera people, and editors. Once the campaign was approved by the client, I negotiated sharp rates with television and radio account executives.
I think it’s important for a woman to remember that all she’s learned in life, whether it’s cleaning up oatmeal from a toddler’s overturned bowl, or learning to find that special niche that sets a business apart from its competitors and capsulizing that niche to 30, 60, or even 15 seconds is valuable. You’ve coped. You’ve gotten the job done. Funny, isn’t it how many women don’t appreciate that skill in themselves? No, it’s not funny. We need to stop doing that to ourselves.
My greatest professional satisfaction was producing campaigns for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I traveled from New York to Hawaii and many points in between to produce Adopt An Angel campaigns which benefitted tens of thousands of children at a time in their life when they most needed a break—a trip to Disney or a chance to meet Magic Johnson or whatever their very special wish might be. Yes, I’m proud of that one.
One client gave me the best advice I ever received and I’ll pass it on to you. He said, “Don’t promise them the moon unless you have a lot of moons in your hip pocket.”
He was right. It’s better to overachieve than underachieve on promises. Especially if you want your business to last for 20 years. Good luck!
Jeanne Charters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Her collection of columns, Funny, Isn’t It? is available at Mapaprops, and Mountain Made.