Life Lessons: Edie Brown

Life Lessons: Edie Brown

Edie Brown, 75, public relations maven
By Sarah Gilbert Fox
 

This owner and president of the Baltimore-based public relations firm, Edie Brown & Associates, has been named one of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women” repeatedly by The Daily Record, and more recently was named one of the Baltimore Business Journal’s “Power 20,” reflecting the fact that Brown is a leader in the business of getting Baltimore on the map, supporting local businesses and bringing big-name events to town. That’s a mighty big title for a little slip of a woman who is as much a nurturing mother as she is a business magnate. And she has a pretty interesting history, as well, starting with her career as a schoolteacher, educating eighth and ninth graders for several years (including film director Barry Levinson and Sen. Ben Cardin) before launching her career in marketing at the Baltimore Civic Center (now 1st Mariner Arena) and founding her own PR firm.

I was the first teacher to ever wear maternity clothes in Baltimore City. It surprised me that some students would turn in such perfect papers that their parents had obviously done for them. I’d say, ‘Your parents get an A, but you fail.’

The lesson I learned was that I needed to teach my kids independence. I said, ‘This is your life.  I’m here for support, but you’ve got to think this through. I’m not going to college with you.’

I needed to express myself, so I began to teach pottery classes.  One woman, very insecure, would come into every class with a fresh manicure.  She’d plunge her manicure in ice so the polish would set, so she could pot.  I liked that determination she had.  We were all transitioning from being housewives to getting out there.

At that time, most women were still playing Canasta.  Pottery took them out of that sheltered life a bit. I’d hear, ‘My pot doesn’t look like Jane’s. Why?’ I’d tell them the one fundamental that I knew— it’s not about perfection, it’s about expression.

At one point I decided to open my own pottery store with my ex-college roommate. We had a great concept, Rent-a-Space, where we had our store, and rented out the space we didn’t use. We had a stationery store, a china shop, a dress boutique in with us. Not only did we have to run our store, but we were the landlords. The petty issues of being a landlord were not for me. Some jobs just aren’t for you.

One day I was driving downtown and saw a gorgeous building being built. It was the new Convention Center. All these young and aggressive kids were applying for the new position as assistant in marketing, and I just wanted a place to go different from the pottery world. I was granted an interview the day before Thanksgiving. I didn’t have any writing samples, didn’t have any idea what a press release was. But I knew how to stuff envelopes. They called me that night. I got the job.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a little more selective about people I want to spend time with. I’ve gotten rid of clients I don’t like. I try to manage my client list so I can be of service and available to them 24/7. A lot of clients hire me because they know I’ll answer e-mail at midnight.

Doing a good job means that I have to be caring and honest.  I’ve been on this scene for a very long time. You’ll never see me try to pitch, or sell or lie. PR is a very hands-on business.

My mother was a pessimist. My father was an optimist. I liked his style.

Life is a joy. Every day I can get up, put my feet on the ground and smell the roses, is a great day.

A strong sense of style— you either have it or you don’t. I know this gal who spends so much money on clothes but she always looks like she just stepped out of the shower. I schmie around and get what fits me. I have my staple black pants and black shirt that I wear. I throw a jacket on, and maybe a handbag that I purchased from a flea market in Florida for $25. It isn’t about money. It’s about the eye that you have or don’t have.

We lived in Holzhausen, Germany, until I was 5. Then we escaped. I can remember hearing the SS troops marching in the village. My father looked so gentile with his blond hair, so when they stopped the train, we were able to continue on. He had 12 siblings. I’m the only second generation from all of them. My parents were so brave to leave everything they had. They could have said, ‘No.’ From them, I learned hard work and the joy of living.

I should have been firmer in expressing my opinion as a parent. My daughter should never have married a jerk. Nobody liked him except my husband, who likes everyone. I kept my mouth shut and she married him.  By the time her triplets were 5, she was raising them by herself.

My secret to being good at what I do is to be there for my clients and my media, not just when I need things, but when they need things. You shouldn’t go to the media just when they need something.  People come to me when they have marital problems, or problems at the station, whatever. Being a sounding board and giving motherhood advice, and sometimes business advice, during a time of crisis, that’s an important part of being successful in PR.  I adore these people. I’m not going to be there just for the things I need.  I’m going to be there at all times.

My career has been an exciting journey. I love my clients.  I love my media.  And every day is a joy.

Written for Baltimore Style magazine, May 2009

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