Women Of The C-Suite: “When you have a challenging situation or you need to address something difficult with the recipient, have enough compassion for them that you speak by phone or in person.” with Heather Adams
Take It Out of Email. People can never judge tone in an email. When you have a challenging situation or you need to address something difficult with the recipient, have enough compassion for them that you speak by phone or in person instead. They will be able to hear your tone, which is an important indicator to how you really feel. Being in person, in particular, helps to diffuse the situation rather than typing boldly and hiding behind a screen.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Adams is the founder and CEO of Choice Media Communications. A self-proclaimed pop-culture junkie, Heather leads Choice’s impressive team of women as they serve preeminent voices in publishing, lifestyle, entertainment, business, sports and faith-based arenas. Heather is a widely recognized communications expert and savvy strategist, but that’s not what first comes to mind when people who know her think of her. When today’s most respected journalists, editors, producers, authors, and other personalities think of Heather, what first comes to mind is a deep, meaningful relationship. A passionate mentor to women in the communications field and beyond, Heather is tearing down old barriers with the ever-present hope that in the future women professionals and entrepreneurs will face far fewer obstacles. Heather lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Matthew Adams, and their two young sons, Dixon and Thackston, who keep her thrilled and busy cheering from the sidelines of either a baseball field or basketball court.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m a proud graduate of The University of Georgia’s esteemed Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. After several years in the communications field within government, I found myself moving from Atlanta to Nashville when I married my husband. It was at that time that I became a publicist within the book publishing industry where I spent the next decade developing my career, relationships and expertise. I had the privilege of serving some of the most distinguished thought leaders and tastemakers across a wide variety of competencies including lifestyle, entertainment, business, politics, sports and faith. Since initially stepping into that publishing world, I’ve helped launch more than 100 New York Times best-selling books to date. During the recession, I was one of the employees affected in round after round of layoffs. That became the catalyst for my entrepreneurial spirit to be leveraged when I launched my own consulting business, which eventually led to founding and leading Choice Media today, which is hands down the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Period.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In November 2018, I traveled with our team to New York City for one of our media pitching trips, where we go from one media outlet to the next, sharing information about our current clients, trying to convince these media gatekeepers to cover. I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room looking out at the city at the end of one day and was overcome with emotion. When my team inquired, I shared that 15 years prior I was on my very first pitching trip to NYC with my beloved mentor, Pamela Clements. She was essentially handing me, at that time, her own personal relationships with media contacts she had cultivated for decades to that point. She was figuratively passing the baton and it wasn’t lost on me that she believed in my abilities to deliver. Here I was 15 years later doing the exact same thing for women behind me. I was taking them from one personal contact to the next, introducing them, teaching them, modeling for them the best and most effective ways for them to be successful and effective for our clients, but also how to build rapport and begin the development of cultivating their own relationships. It was a cyclical moment that I was grateful to recognize and celebrate.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, I’ve made one million mistakes in my career and this one wasn’t when I was first starting, but it was early into owning my own business. I was hosting a media luncheon in New York City for our beloved client Jen Hatmaker. We were meeting with editors and producers from a who’s who of national media outlets about her forthcoming book release and giving them an inside peek into the book, as well as an in-person connection with Jen. When the luncheon was over and we were leaving the restaurant it was snowing…HARD. I told Jen to stay inside so that I could get us an Uber to take us to our next meeting. I had a huge handbag, a roller suitcase full of product and was absolutely freezing standing out on the curb. The Uber pulled up, a small two-door bright red Camaro, and I motioned for Jen and friends to run get in. The four of us threw our stuff in the car, hopped in and the driver (let’s call him Johnny, but imagine a perfectly coifed New York Italian gentleman) said, “Where can I take you girls?” I said, “It should be in the Uber reservation I made.” He looked around the car at the four of us stuffed inside and said, “Honey, I’m not your Uber. I just couldn’t leave four beautiful ladies sitting on the curb in this freezing cold.” I thought, “Jen is going to die. We are going to die right here in this red Camaro and I’m going to be the publicist that got Jen Hatmaker killed in NYC.” Needless to say Johnny was precious and dropped us off at our next meeting and shared all kinds of NYC insight en route, like we were new to the city. My lesson learned: always check your Uber app before jumping in a random red Camaro in NYC. Also, people are inherently good at their core.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a lifestyle and entertainment PR firm based in Nashville — not New York or LA. That alone is a distinction. In addition we lead with warmth and grace. We believe relationships matter and so our partnerships are not merely transactional. We say no more than we say yes to potential clients. Our hallmark is taking a Christian voice to the mainstream media. They may be a food blogger or an elite athlete, but they have a Christian worldview and we take that core message and make it applicable to a more general audience.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
This year marks the 5th anniversary of Choice. To date we’ve really focused on sharing content created by our clients and other partners we respect and admire. Now, we’re really putting an emphasis on developing our own original content. We have such great experience, expertise and a track record of success. Our knowledge would be beneficial to so many, so I’m very excited this year, in particular, about what we are developing that will serve our audiences well.
I also believe in business we should embrace the competition. This fall we will host the first Choice Summit, a gathering of like-minded publicists and communications professionals who believe a rising tide lifts all boats. It will be a time of training and education, shared best practices, obstacles, lessons learned and building a rich, collaborative community.
It is our privilege to serve outstanding, distinctive clients at Choice. Several that are changing their industries and our culture include:
Miles Adcox, Onsite Workshops: Miles Adcox is the owner and CEO of Onsite, an internationally- acclaimed emotional wellness lifestyle brand that delivers life-changing personal growth workshops, inspiring content, leadership retreats, and emotional treatment. An entrepreneur, speaker, host, and coach, Miles is passionate about coming alongside individuals and organizations to assist their efforts to foster emotional intelligence, inspire connection, and promote overall wellness. Onsite has a mission: to change lives through enhancing emotional health. Onsite is the worldwide leader in therapeutic and personal growth workshops helping individuals, couples, families, and business professionals become more self-aware, compassionate, and resilient. Guests include a who’s who of business leaders from the cover of Forbes to the latest Grammy award winners.
Tom’s Town Distilling Company: Since our very first interaction, I have loved everything about Tom’s Town. From their tagline: “The People are Thirsty,” to their maverick founders, they are changing the spirits game. Named after one of the country’s most corrupt political bosses, Tom Pendergast, they create award-winning, premium craft spirits including gin, vodka and bourbon all inside their iconic and detailed (read stunning) bottles. And the Gatsby-esque look and feel to their brand epitomizes their Kansas City story.
Louie and Shelley Giglio, Passion Movement: Louie Giglio, and his wife, Shelley, have shepherded the largest group of young people around the world through the Passion movement, a spiritual awakening that is changing the world. The movement grows stronger every year at the Giglio-led Passion Conference, a gathering tens-of-thousands-deep of collegiate young people aged 18 to 25, who come together to learn, worship, and focus on shared problems. This year’s conference will be to a sold out crowd in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium.
R.Riveter: As a nod to Rosie the Riveter, Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse have one mission: to create mobile, flexible income for military spouses. Each part and piece of their handbags and accessories, from the leather support tags to the outer canvas shell, is made in the homes of military spouses across the country. No single handbag is the same. After a successful appearance on “The Shark Tank” with investor Mark Cuban, R. Riveter is experiencing exponential growth and recently been named to Inc’s list of fastest growing companies in America.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Develop the women that are coming behind you. Don’t feel threatened by them. They are not the competition. We need to build a community of women embracing each other as allies, rather than judging and tearing each other apart. So many women ahead of me in my career have poured into me along the way. I feel a real responsibility to continue that legacy by being an advocate for the women succeeding me.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Realistically determine how many people you can manage well. Is that 5 or 15? In my experience, if you have a large team, then you want to invest in a smaller group who you see real potential for growth with and develop an organizational structure that flows around those key members. You spend the lion’s share of your time pouring into those employees and training them so that the remainder of the team benefits from that development and it trickles down.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mentor, Pamela Clements, gave me my first position at Thomas Nelson when she hired me as a book publicist. At that point I had never worked with major, national media. I’ll never forget the first time she took me with her to NYC for media pitching meetings. She set up meeting after meeting where she made introductions and essentially handed me her personal relationships with these gatekeepers and influencers within our industry. I felt a huge responsibility to honor her through my work because she believed in me and gave me the opportunity to advance my career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I approach my work as a calling instead of just a job. As a person of faith, I believe that by serving our clients, we are sharing a larger message with the audiences who come into contact with it. Furthering the work of these leaders and raising their visibility on a national scale can bring transformation to lives. And that’s a business I’m proud to be a part of — life transformation.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Your People Should Be Your Number One Priority. I must be a servant to my team if I’m going to lead them well. If you want to build and lead a world-class team then you need to care for them outside of the office. Take them to lunch. Give them a random day off. Treat them to a day at the spa. Pay them as much as possible. Monitor their bandwidth. Ask their opinions on major business decisions. Provide professional development training. Incentivize them. Ask about their weekend. Celebrate their birthday. Show them that they matter to you. If you care for them, they will care for your business. Last year during a strategic planning retreat I laid out a challenge for our team to achieve a specific amount of monthly revenue for a quarter. Their reward was an all-inclusive beach trip for the entire team if it was attained. They blew it out of the water and in June we celebrated our collective win over cocktails in Mexico. But here’s the thing…that trip ended up being another win for our team because we spent so much social time together that week in Mexico that the team camaraderie and rapport was more deeply established. Plus they returned refreshed, energized and ready to tackle the next challenge I laid out.
- Hire Better and Smarter Than You. My mentor, Pamela Clements, shared this with me when I first began managing people. Don’t be threatened by having someone brighter than you as a direct report. Embrace that as a gift to your overall team. If you hire a shining star, allow them to operate in their strengths. When they perform well, that is a direct reflection on your ability to acquire talent and develop leaders. So often managers believe they have to be the most successful person in the room, but that competitive spirit is so short-sighted and ultimately an indication of an immature leader. I’ve always counted myself a strong writer. When I began to lead Choice, I realized that much of my time spent writing directly for clients was cut down because I needed to run the business and lead the team. Instead I hired a publicist who is a gifted communicator and frankly a much better writer than me. She’s gone on to craft incredible pitches and materials that have secured major press for our clients. Had I been threatened by her ability, then I would have been doing a disservice to our clients. Her pitches, her releases, her talking points were so much stronger than I could have created. And ultimately it allows me to operate in my unique gifting as well.
- Be Gracious and Kind. I grew up in the South. Manners and social graces were instilled in me from a very early age. But here I’m talking about extending empathy, giving the benefit of the doubt and showing compassion to others. It has always served me well to lead with kindness, even in the most difficult situations and circumstances. My advice is always to take the high road. You never want to look back and regret the way you treated someone. If you lead with kindness then that will never be the case. Last year we signed a client who, after only working with her mere days, really treated my team horribly. Her words were unkind and cutting. She was accusatory and judgmental. There was no indication of this during the acquisitions stage, so it took all of us by surprise. But, allowing her to continue treating my team in this manner was not an option. I had to address the situation with her and end the partnership. I was modeling for my team the behavior that I expect. So, I entered the conversation with kindness and knew that there must be a bigger issue from which all of this venom stemmed. She didn’t know how to respond. I don’t think anyone had every treated her with such grace when she behaved in this manner. The partnership ended, but the impression remained.
- Dress Confidently. 99% of being successful in the business world is walking into the room confidently. For me that includes red lipstick and a great pair of heels. I enter conversations, negotiations and presentations with a leg up because I believe in myself first. Take your own personal style and understand what it is that makes you feel strong. Put that on any time you are entering into a situation where you want to succeed.
- Take It Out of Email. People can never judge tone in an email. When you have a challenging situation or you need to address something difficult with the recipient, have enough compassion for them that you speak by phone or in person instead. They will be able to hear your tone, which is an important indicator to how you really feel. Being in person, in particular, helps to diffuse the situation rather than typing boldly and hiding behind a screen.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I fully believe in the power of mentoring the next generation of women. I would love for every young woman to be paired with an older female role model who could invest in her for an extended period of time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
At numerous times in my life, this quote has applied to the circumstance. As a professional, I thought I would climb the corporate ladder within an organization. I spent the better part of 10 years dedicating myself to a company. I sacrificed my family to advance my career and at the end of the day, they laid me off. That led me here — to this career that I love. I had it all planned in my head, but God thought differently and ultimately His plans were greater than I had even dreamed for myself.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Sara Blakely. Hands down, Sara Blakely. I have admired and watched Sara grow Spanx from her very first appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” I read every article, listen to every interview, follow her and her company intently and intentionally. I’m learning from her example and lessons from afar, but what a distinct privilege it would be to learn from her intimately. Her tenacity, drive and goodness is something to admire and model for more women. I admire the way she shares her personal life, challenges and all, unashamedly. (I’m here for her Sunday pancakes and all that goes with raising kids in the season I lovingly refer to as the “weeds.”) There is so much to be learned from a female badass like her. Plus, I think she would be a ball of fun to have a drink (read tequila shot) with.
Thank you for joining us!