Amanda Brown Olmstead celebrates 40 years in the industry … and many more to come!
Last Friday night, nearly 100 PR professionals who have worked in Amanda Brown Olmstead’s firm through the years gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her firm at her home/office on West Paces Ferry. (see group photo at end)
“The best part was seeing people I hadn’t seen in 25 years – people who worked in the 1980s. It was really great fun,” she told us Monday.For one of the best known names in Atlanta PR, it was a well-deserved pause in a career that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
A Jackson, Miss. native, Amanda majored in sociology and psychology at the University of Mississippi before moving to Atlanta in 1965. “Those were better majors for me than a journalism degree,” she said. “I believe PR is about human behavior and persuasion to make something happen …to encourage a purchase or to open a door to a new relationship.” One door she opened right away was at the flagship department store in Atlanta: She was immediately hired after college by Dick Rich of Rich’s (now Macy’s). At age 23, she became fashion and publicity director for JP Allen before joining Saks Fifth Avenue to open its Phipps Plaza store in 1968.
“Then Bob Cohn twisted my arm enough times to join Ball, Cohn and Weyman, who started their PR firm after being political reporters at the Constitution. We had an office in the ‘new’ Colony Square and one of my first assignments was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Atlanta Magazine. It was all so much fun.”
Being a point person for another account, Colony Square, she began working with developer Jim Cushman, who asked Amanda to help bring in retail stores to the new cutting-edge mixed-use concept at 14th and Peachtree.
“Since I had this extensive retail experience and knew designers in New York and L.A., Jim wanted me to use my contacts and asked if I wanted to do it. I thought … I’d want to do this myself!” So she opened her own firm on June 1, 1972 in Colony Square as Amanda Brown Creative Consultants with one employee and a $5,000 business loan.
She quickly picked up a chain of retail stores located in airports and hotels and the Georgia Textile Manufacturing and American Textile Manufacturing trade associations as clients. Several years later she moved the firm downtown into the Equitable Building – an insurance and real estate client – and later into the historic Candler Building.
While there were two other women operating as solo practitioners, Amanda was the first woman with a full-service firm in the Southeast. During the height in the 80’s, she had 48 employees when Peter Gummer of Shandwick, a public PR company, bought her firm and 64 others around the world. As happens with public companies, budget cuts led to her having to trim the staff back.
In March 1996, before the Atlanta Olympics, she negotiated with Shandwick to break away, earning back her brand. She existed in the same space with the same phone number until she moved to a loft downtown and eventually to her current home office.
ABOA has six team members today with impressive clients such as the Georgia Ports Authority, Weston Solutions and the Georgia Forestry Association/Commission. “Did you know Georgia has highest percentage of privately owned forests in nation and that there are more trees growing in Georgia today than when Oglethorpe stepped off his ship in 1733?” she asked us. We didn’t know that.
“I enjoy working today as much or more than I ever have. I’m having such a really, really good time. There is still nothing more exciting than picking up a new client and developing those relationships, celebrating a victory of getting a client a newspaper or TV placement – or giving good strategic advice.
“I have one client for which I’ve been training their executives to prepare for new business presentations and they have been winning a lot of new business. They think I’m magic! It makes what I’m doing so rewarding.”
Having put together a lot of old scrapbooks for her anniversary celebration, Amanda marveled at the old presentation booklets for which she had to rub on press type.
“I came in with typewriters and White Out, but we always stayed ahead of technology. I really think a lot of the mental things involved in PR haven’t changed at all, such as meeting needs for how people connect and communicate and create community. It’s different with social media with the world in your hand, but we solve the basic human need of how you get there through effective communications.”
How many more anniversaries does she plan to celebrate? “I’m going to keep going until the engine runs out,” she said.
– Chris Schroder,