If it seems all of a sudden that the face of a certain Washington, D.C, entrepreneur is everywhere you look, that’s because it is.
Since March, billboards with a picture of Sheila Brooks, founder, president and chief executive officer of SRB Communications L.L.C., a media and communications agency and post-production facility, have been cropping up all over the D.C. area. The signs are part of the “Power Women of D.C.” advertising campaign by the fashion company Jones New York, highlighting five successful entrepreneurs and executives in their workplaces. Others include former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, a national spokeswoman for the brand.
Brooks’ company, headquartered at 18th and L Streets, NW, does programming for television and radio, broadcast-quality video production and event production, as well as branding and strategy services for advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns.
For the billboard campaign, Brooks says that Jones New York sent a top fashion photographer, Norman Jean Roy, makeup artists, a wardrobe trailer and a 32-person crew to shoot video and still photographs. The company had obtained city permits to close off the block in front of her offices in the middle of Washington’s main business district only a few blocks from the White House.
The Washington project is part of Jones New York’s overall “’Empowering Your Confidence” advertising campaign. It was the only city singled out for the project. Brooks says company representatives told her they chose the nation’s capital because “they felt the women in D.C. had an incredible amount of power, whether it’s in politics or art or human interest or entrepreneurship.”
The other D.C. women featured are Sophie LaMontage and Katherine Kallinis, owners of Georgetown Cupcake and stars of TLC show DC Cupcakes, and Nellie Robinson, executive vice president of patient care at The Children’s Hospital.
“Jones New York was looking for real people,” Brooks says. “It was a way to inspire women on all aspects of life. This campaign represented 40 years of empowering women through successes, through style — because that is what they do.”
Brooks says she made the short list after she was nominated by a group of women affiliated with the fashion company. In selecting women for the campaign, the company said it looked for “women who have built, created, and nurtured businesses, ideas, and people — the embodiment of empowerment and confidence.”
When Brooks sees the billboards around the city, she says to herself, “Oh, look there’s Sheila Brooks. Whether someone is in the car or not. I just get really tickled. It’s a fun thing. People all over town are saying, ‘Sheila Brooks, oh, my God, how did you get on those billboards?’ It’s been a real conversation starter.”
Recently, she says a friend left a voice mail saying, “Sheila Brooks, I cannot believe I am still driving down city streets in and around Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and I see your billboard. I guess you are still important.”
Brooks, an award-winning television journalist before she started her company 21 years ago, is in her second year of studying at Howard University for her Ph.D. in mass communications and media studies. In addition, she is an “entrepreneur-in-residence” in the John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard, where she does consulting for the school’s new entrepreneurial incubator for students and emerging businessowners.
Encouraging Women Entrepreneurs
Brooks is frequently in demand as a speaker at various business and journalism conferences, schools and universities nationwide on issues related to entrepreneurship, especially for women and people of color. Brooks serves as national spokesperson for “Accelerating the Growth of Businesses Owned by Women of Color” Research Project, a multiyear research effort to help “women of color” entrepreneurs grow their businesses, sponsored by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR) and Babson College.
Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Brooks has a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a major in broadcast journalism from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a Master of Arts degree in political science from Howard University.
Brooks says she is laying the groundwork for the future, as she works through what she describes as year seven of a 10-year plan to grow the company but transition out of the day-to-day responsibilities she carries now as CEO. She wants to teach and spend more time speaking, mentoring and writing. She is also working on a book to guide future entrepreneurs, especially African-American women.
In February, Howard University announced that it was creating the “Sheila Brooks Entrepreneurship Trailblazer Award” recognizing the student winner of its annual business plan competition in the School of Communications. Dean Jannette L. Dates presented Brooks with the Trailblazer Award named in her honor during the official opening of the Communications Entrepreneurship Research and Resource Center in late February.
In April, the National Association of Black Journalists announced that Brooks would become the inaugural recipient of the Patricia L. Tobin Media Professional Award, honoring a public relations entrepreneur who died in 2008. The award will be bestowed at the organization’s annual awards gala on Saturday, August 6 at its national convention in Philadelphia.
Brooks is also being featured in a book, Wealthy Sistas, Volume 1, 13 Inspiring Stories: Proving You Can Do It Too! The book is by Deborah Hardnett, CEO and founder of Deborah Hardnett International, a brand development and event management firm, founder of The Professional Black Woman, an online women’s network, and host of a weekly talk show (Wealthy Sistas on BlogTalk Radio.com). The book, based on the radio interviews of women of color with earnings of six figures and up, is expected to be available June 1 through major booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as on Hardnett’s website, . www.deborahhardnett.com,
Brooks says she “can only be humbled” by all the attention she is getting lately.
“It’s a good feeling to know that people care enough about me, care enough about what I do in business that they want to recognize me,” she says. “It really tells me how much people have paid attention over the years to what I have been doing, which is to try to provide the best quality work we can to our clients.”
Making an Impact
Before starting her company, Brooks worked briefly in newspapers and as a news director, reporter, anchor and documentary producer at the CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox TV stations across the country. Her previous honors have included 40 national Telly Awards, a national Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and induction into the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, recognizing more than 25 years of excellence in journalism.
Her husband, Rodney Brooks, is the personal finance editor for USA Today, and her son Andre is a television producer in Jacksonville, Fl.
Brooks says she is particularly thrilled to win the Pat Tobin Award from NABJ. Tobin was a longtime NABJ member and among the first public-relations professionals to attend its gatherings regularly after the organization was founded more than 35 years ago. Before her death, Tobin was president and CEO of Tobin and Associates, co-founder of the National Black Public Relations Society and an activist on behalf of people of color, women and young people.
The award goes to an entrepreneur, public relations, advertising or marketing professional or media owner who has been “a trailblazer in the media realm and is responsible for a positive impact of Black coverage and the media profession,” according to the organization.
Brooks is also a longtime member who has been especially active in mentoring students and other young people. Twenty years ago, she founded NABJ-TV, a program to help broadcast students learn by doing daily, round-the-clock coverage of the organization’s conventions under the guidance of professionals. Many of them have gone on to become leading broadcast journalists.
“She is one of NABJ’s hardest-working members, from lending her production expertise to hosting a golf tournament to raising money for the organization,” said NABJ President Kathy Times in announcing the award. “Sheila is the model for taking her years in the industry and ‘reinventing’ her skill set in new ways. Her story is inspirational for many in a changing time in the news business.”