Gone are the days – hopefully – where a woman would have to buzz her head with a razor to gain respect in the workplace, according to one local business owner who once shaved her locks to prove she was one of the team.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and Lori Heiselman, a small-business owner, talked about her faith-based publicity firm, Biscuit Media Group, and life as a business owner.
Heiselman said she and her husband, Chris, recently moved to Mt. Juliet from Smyrna to find a house large enough to include her father, Travis Perry. The Heiselmans wanted a place that is safe from COVID-19 for Perry, 88. Perry was active in the Senior Activity Center in Smyrna, and he is eager to become involved in the center in Mt. Juliet, his daughter said.
Heiselman was active in the Smyrna business scene up until now, including the Smyrna Independent Merchants Association and the arts commission.
Her job allows her to live virtually anywhere, which is a great bonus, she said. Her field is also one in which women can excel – in most cases.
“Publicity is unique,” Heiselman said. “It’s the one area of entertainment where there are more women than men. By its nature, it’s just telling stories and people building relationships. I think it is unique that publicity is a female-driven career, especially in entertainment.”
That does not mean there have not been challenges, she said.
“There are a few male-owned publicity firms. It is empowering that women found a niche we can own in entertainment. It is a challenge, especially when you are younger and you had to work harder and be more aggressive and more persistent than your male counterparts.”
Shave it off
For example, Heiselman said, when she was 24 in the mid-1990s, she shaved her head while working at an independent record label. Every other person at the company was a man, so she had to figure out how to get on their level. A well-known Nashville photographer wanted to take photos of women with shaved heads, and a co-worker made a “quip” that the photographer should practice on her, she said. She had her long hair shaved.
“I was into grunge anyway,” she said. “They had a different attitude – more respect. I got into the boys’ club. I proved I could hang with the guys and wasn’t afraid to take risks, and it was one of the smarter business moves. I don’t think a guy in my shoes would have needed to make an impact and say ‘I am a team player.’”
Heiselman was not married at the time. Her husband has told her she should shave her hair again, she said, and laughed.
Whether you have to do something dramatic to fit in or not, working in publicity is stressful, even without a pandemic, Heiselman said, but she loves it.
Take a risk
“It’s a really exciting time for women in business,” she said. “This is the time to branch out and take the risk and try to open the Etsy store or whatever you are passionate about. There’s no telling when things will get back to normal. This is the perfect time to take risks. All the rules are changing.”
Even without COVID-19, business can be difficult. In publicity, it helps to stand out. Her company’s creative name – Biscuit Media Group – is one way to do so – and it has nothing to do with the beloved Southern staple.
Heiselman said she started Biscuit Media Group while doing concert promotions in college. She was promoting friends’ bands in Chicago and needed a logo for posters at bars. Biscuit was the name of a neighbor’s black lab.
“I never dreamed that in the 2000s I’d still have a company named Biscuit in the South,” she said. “I tried multiple times to change it, and people said don’t do it.”
Heiselman said she is the sole full-time employee at Biscuit, although she has four part-time freelancers who work case-by-case. Heiselman said she does her own freelancing for Collide Media Group, a firm in Franklin, and FrontGate Media, among others.
The virus has changed her industry. For one, there are fewer films to distribute. She is working on only four films, two albums and one book this fall and winter. Marketing has had to adapt to theaters closed and few screens open.
Before the virus, if a film did not make money in its first weekend, it would not stay in theaters, Heiselman said. The stakes are currently higher when a film will only be in theaters for one to four nights.
Heiselman did publicity for “Everyday Miracles,” an inspirational film that became available Sept. 1 on demand and on DVD. The film featured Gary Cole (“VEEP”), Erik Smith (“A Walk to Remember”) and Zoe Perry (“Young Sheldon”). In the film, Smith plays a troubled faith healer who finds redemption. The film has a local tie – Smith grew up in Murfreesboro.
Before the virus, there were a few films and other events that were released in one-day-only formats in theaters. Expect that trend to grow, Heiselman said.
She is representing such a film, titled “Against the Tide,” which will be in theaters only Nov. 19.
The film is billed by Fathom Events as “an examination of modern science, an excursion into history, an autobiography, and more.”
“Against the Tide” features Kevin Sorbo of “Hercules” fame. He sits in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford – the hangout for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – and has a conversation with Dr. John Lennox about Christianity and science.
“It’s the best of times and the worst of times,” Heiselman said. “People are so in need of content at home” that entertainment has shifted to at-home models.
That creates a lot of competition even while Los Angeles studios have been closed, she said. That in turn opens opportunities for more documentaries and independent filmmakers, especially in projects that stay in theaters only four days. Some of these films can transition to church showings after the theater, and distributors have created business models that take care of tickets and promotions.
There are plenty of challenges even without COVID-19.
Those challenges include finding quality projects to promote.
“What’s profitable isn’t always profitable,” she said.
That means that just because a film or other project comes with a large retainer does not mean it is a good match for her company. Saying “no” to a project can be a challenge while still making your bottom line.
Another challenge is having applications come from people who want to do internships or find entry-level work; they may use poor grammar and have unrealistic expectations. Also, you must understand that in publicity you cannot take anything personally if a media company says “no.”
“Entry-level kids think in short social media [verbiage] and have not taken English as seriously, and they think it’s all hanging with celebrities,” she said.
Biscuit Media Group’s clients and projects include the singer, Plumb, The Afters, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” film and the “Is Genesis History?” documentary.
More information on Heiselman’s company is available at biscuitmediagroup.com.