By: Isabella Fordyce
Anita Brightman, along with her husband, TJ Brightman, gave PRSSA members a glimpse into the struggles she’s faced as a woman starting and running her own company. A. Bright Idea Advertising and Public Relations is celebrating it’s 20th birthday this year, and while it likes to “fly under the radar,” it would be difficult to find an industry they haven’t worked in.
Brightman discovered her passion for promotion at a young age. As a girl, she would help her father, a steelworker, run for union positions, discussing campaign strategy around the kitchen table. Growing up, there was not a tremendous push for Anita and her three sisters to receive an education beyond high school. Her father had managed to save $5,000 for each of the girls, and they were given two options of what to do with it — spend it on their weddings, or use it for college tuition. Attending an all-female public college preparatory school gave her the confidence and support she needed to choose college —the only one in her family to do so and a decision she said she may not have made if she had gone to a co-ed high school.
After graduating from Towson University and marrying her high school sweetheart, TJ, she began working for a contractor for the US Army. As the only woman on her team, she often felt her work was being discredited and her presence devalued. Her supervisor, Gary McCormick, was a shining light — he encouraged her, gave her the tools she needed to pursue her interests, and pushed for her (long overdue) salary increases. When Gary left, however, the company culture changed, and with a newborn at home, Brightman knew it was time for a change.
With Anita at the helm, A. Bright Idea was born out of the spare bedroom of her house. After working with interns and a few freelancers, she hired her first full time employee, a mom from her daughter’s school. What started as a one-woman show steadily grew over the next ten years, expanding to a small but profitable company with five full time employees — all women.
When TJ, who had been working in corporate sponsorship and sales in the sports industry, lost his job, they decided together that it was time for him to join the firm. While Brightman was excited to be working so closely with her husband, she recalled that she was “happy and saddened to realize just how much of a difference he would make.” In the months after TJ joined the firm, business began to skyrocket. From increased press coverage by major Baltimore publications to in-debt clients suddenly picking up their bills, it was as if people were taking their company more seriously now that it had a male employee.
TJ became the one that clients called to accept the firm’s bids, the one who bank managers listed first on financial forms and asked for signatures for first, even though it was known that Anita was president and CEO. It’s a struggle that continues to this day, even with the company’s successes.
Though she has dealt with gender biases throughout her career, she’s been able to take advantage of resources like the federal Women’s Small Business Program to grow her company. She urges women in positions of power to surround themselves with people who “make a conscious choice to clarify that you are in charge.”