From: Highlights of the Past Year at Our Company—originally posted on October 12, 2010, updated January 25, 2011.
Part 1 of our company’s 30th Anniversary Year Series
I’ll admit that I’ve been struggling to write this post for over a month. It is at once a post about celebration, navigating transitions, and about the path it took to get here, full of ups and downs and back up again. To be honest, I feared that making a public announcement proudly would mean that some (narrow-minded) people might dismiss me as “too old and irrelevant” once they heard this news…well, life is too short to worry about that—here goes anyway…as of September, 2010, I’ve officially been in business for 30 years, not counting a few other stabs at entrepreneurship during childhood or my early days in San Francisco! I think a real plus about surviving—and thriving—in business this long is that age brings great experience, significant people-management capabilities, and considerable wisdom about how to navigate the life and work transitions that come with growing a business.
The gravity of this statement—as of September, 2010, I’ve officially been in business for 30 years—didn’t totally hit me until almost October 1st, so I’m writing this post in October, rather than September, 2010. I thought it would be just fine if I published it on or around my birthday (October 11th), as a milestone gift to my team and myself. But immediately, qualifiers came up, like: “Well, yes, but you also held some jobs in there, during some of those intervening years, even though you still had clients, too.” Yes, but I still filed a Schedule C with my income taxes, in most years, and handed out business cards for my own company, when appropriate, at industry networking events. In other words, I’ve always felt like the founder of an organization—and indeed, in addition to this company, I’ve founded or co-founded several other organizations.
Or, “Yes, but you didn’t make a profit all 30 years.” No, but I DID make a profit in more of those 30 years than not, and somehow, I DID support myself all those years, in one of the most expensive urban areas of the world, while still maintaining a foothold on my identity as an artist—in multiple genres—and that is what makes me feel especially proud.
How did it happen? How did a young woman without a business degree, who thought of herself primarily as an artist, develop into an entrepreneur?
In September of 1980, I was in my 20s, playing my own music gigs, and in other bands, composing and writing songs, while working for an artist management firm in San Francisco, as assistant to the manager of several nationally and internationally touring rock, blues, jazz and new wave bands. I talked with famous people and others holding key entertainment industry positions almost every day, on the phone, in person, or I wrote them letters often sent by snail mail—because we didn’t use email yet. (The fax machine was still a relatively new development.) I had carved out an additional niche for myself as an entertainment industry publicist, also serving as PR director for this firm.
In my own musical groups, by default, I often ended up booking gigs and doing publicity because my band-mates simply didn’t want to do it, or thought they shouldn’t have to, because they were “musicians first”—an attitude I obviously did not share, because I knew that it would get us nowhere in our musical careers. I’ll write more about this later, including on my Creative Sage Arts™ blog— but now, back to my job advancement in the artist management firm.
On top of working 8-10 hours a day Monday-Friday and being “on call” on weekends, I often spent 4-6 nights a week going to the artists’ gigs at clubs until late at night, or scouting new artists to sign for the firm…and I was still expected to show up bright and early the next day for work. If an artist missed a plane or had an equipment emergency on the road—anywhere in the world—I was also expected to be available by phone to straighten out the mess, if my boss was unavailable. For all of this responsibility, I was paid a salary that barely covered my living expenses, although I did enjoy some perks, such as free admission to hear a number of great bands, and a certain amount of cache in the entertainment industry.
For the purpose of brevity in this blog post, I’m skipping a number of steps in the 1970s that led me to my music/entertainment industry career. For that, you’ll have to read a forthcoming novel or a memoir I may publish eventually, as I have a treasure chest of incredible stories.
One day in 1980, however, it began to not quite add up for me. By then, I had found myself a few key industry mentors and tested the waters of pitching freelance publicity work to several artists I knew. My mentors—several of the most notable people in the Bay Area music scene—will always be treasured and appreciated for the encouragement they gave me, in addition to their very practical and useful advice. Several of them coached me on how to put together effective press packages (a standby of PR in that era), how to write a good press release and individualized cover letters to media to pitch stories, and they answered my questions about how to pitch a story on the phone or in person—and I did get a lot of experience doing this at my job, which resulted in a number of cover stories in the industry trades and mentions in key columns. The ultimate results, of course, were that our artists gained local, national and international visibility on new levels and were offered upgraded bookings and recording contracts, publishing deals and radio airplay, which was highly coveted in the pre-internet era.
Fortunately for me, I was on to “social media” and “social networking” from the very beginning, even before it evolved as Web 2.0, as I worked overtime to develop in-person, individualized relationships with my media and industry contacts, learning each of their unique preferences for pitches; customizing all my pitches AFTER getting to know them first in conversations (even if with a beer in a noisy club); using video, audio, photos and other media to tell the artists’ stories, as well as text. It paid off, in terms of my good—and growing—reputation in the industry.
However, when I asked this former boss for a raise and an official promotion, with a more appropriate title, he turned me down, without even offering a counter-proposal or adequate recognition of the considerable work I had done to educate myself to advance in the business and contribute more to his firm. His main reason was that he had to spend money to hire a new secretary, which turned out to be a fiasco, as he chose an attractive, but unreliable person with a drug problem (not uncommon in that era), whom I now had to supervise. That was the last straw. I finally gained the confidence—a new level of hard-won chutzpah—to quit my job and hang out my own shingle.
With a few hundred dollars I had saved, beyond my essential living expenses, I got my first business cards printed, pasted up my inaugural stationery, and instead of a logo, I had avante-garde type set at a rakish angle, with the simple, obvious name, “Cathryn Hrudicka & Associates.” At first, the only “associate” was my dog, Poquito, who proved to be much more worthy than his title, often comforting and encouraging me when I needed it most. I had clients and friends in places as diverse as New York, Los Angeles, and Mendocino, so I quickly added a host of other cities and towns to my letterhead. In that pre-mobile, pre-email, pre-web site, pre-Skype, and pre-Google Voice era, I also paid for a human answering service, printed some flyers, and paid for a flyer posting service.
To boost my referral network and let people know what I was up to, I networked and attended A LOT of industry events, cheerfully passing out my business cards and announcements about my new business wherever I went. When I walked Poquito in Golden Gate Park, I took some business cards in my pocket—and sure enough, I met a few people there who were business card-worthy. I was now a twenty-something entertainment industry entrepreneur who had the world’s greatest dog and a lot of big dreams to support.
Within a few years, I added marketing communications, radio promotion, project management, and multimedia production to my menu of PR services. In addition to music industry clients, I added theatre, dance, fine arts and film organizations and artists to my client list. I partnered and subcontracted with other firms, which enabled me to break into working on larger corporate projects and helped me to further hone my management capabilities.
After first developing my entertainment niche and becoming a known brand there, I managed to retain that brand while crossing over into other niches. It was not at all easy, and I would not recommend that to everyone, but it worked for me. More on that later.
One of the key things almost no one tells you when you first start a business is that it will be an ongoing experience of personal growth for you, as well as business growth. You also have to master the art of transition, or at least, embrace learning about it, if you want to grow and sustain a long-term business. I can’t emphasize this enough—constant transition and challenge is what it’s all about. Some would call this “innovation.”
All right, now I am really clear that this post needs to be part of a series. So, keep following me here and on my other two main blogs [creativesage.com/blog], and [creativesagearts.com/blog], as eventually, I’m going to get to the part about how my business was created and has been designed to support my arts, and vice-versa. This is very important, as it is a key to my success.
I’m also very proud that I always thought of my business as a real company. I didn’t think of myself as just a “freelancer” or “contractor”; and my company was founded with the values of social entrepreneurship from the beginning—and we are an environmentally-friendly company. The “triple bottom line” is a basic cornerstone of our mission and vision.
Stay tuned…there’s a lot more to our story! In Part 2, I’ll take you through some of our company transitions, including how we added social media expertise to our palette of integrated marketing and communication colors, and how we got into our fascinating and rewarding work in innovation, collaboration and management consulting, training and coaching, which led to the evolution of Creative Sage™.
Eventually, we diversified our client base, adding Fortune 500 companies, respected nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, associations, health care and environmental organizations, hallmark technology companies and startups, university projects, museums, architecture and design firms, and key innovation teams to our client list. We have worked in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer spaces.
For more about our company’s evolution—and I do think it’s an exciting, evocative, and informative story—please keep an eye on this space, or better yet—visit and subscribe to all three of my blogs via RSS or email:
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want more information, or you may want to subscribe to our e-letters. We’ll be offering some special Anniversary Year programs filled with real goodies and added value for you. We don’t send our e-letters often, so they won’t be spam…they’ll arrive as a special treat, like a chocolate truffle with added nutrition, in your in-box.