With statistics revealing that only one in four businesses surpasses 15 years, SRB Communications celebrating 33 years on June 25 is more than an anniversary; it’s a sign of resilience, talent and distinction.
While changing industry trends, a recession, the COVID-19 pandemic and more could have shut the Black-owned, downtown D.C. business down, Dr. Sheila Brooks, the organization’s founder and leader, and the SRB Communications team, have remained true to their commitment to multicultural marketing, diversity, and excellence.
Though Brooks said achieving success has been a team effort, the president and CEO has led SRB from an idea to a successful multimillion-dollar marketing business. Many who know the longtime leader say her vision and modus operandi is what distinguishes SRB from other organizations.
“What sets us apart is our fierce CEO. She’s just fierce, and she’s about her business. And she is not only about her business, she’s knowledgeable about the industry,” said Chanée Holmes, vice president of Marketing and Communications at SRB.”
“She’s always connecting with people, so she’s very well known in this region. She is out there in the community,” added Holmes, who has worked for the company for about a year, and in her role as a VP for nine months. “She has a mentor’s acumen. She just wants everyone to perform at an excellent pace, and she wants everyone to be excellent around her, and she’s always willing to offer those resources.”
Doug Carroll, who has been a part-time writer and copy editor for SRB for about a year, said witnessing the CEO work is truly impressive.
“Much of the work this company has done over these years exists on a database, but the real database is in Dr. Brooks’ head. Every year she does the work to bring in new clients, get new work from existing clients, and she has a terrific memory for what was written, when, for which client, and where it is in the database. It’s just amazing,” said Carroll. “I don’t think this company would be as successful if not for the effort that Dr. Brooks put into it and continues to put into it every single day.”
Brooks has been at the helm of the leading and long-running multicultural marketing business since its inception; however, the entrepreneur started her business after years as a successful journalist.
Brooks worked her way up from a journalism major in college, to an on-air reporter, anchor, producer, news director and executive producer in markets across the country. When she got a management opportunity at Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., she felt she had truly made it.
“Right before I started the business, I felt I had just reached the top of my profession: my dream job in the nation’s capital, the media capital of the world. However, once I moved from on the air to management, I just felt I had so many roadblocks that I could not advance,” Brooks told the Informer in a WIN-TV Live interview.
The inability for further upward mobility, or to help people who looked like her became incredibly frustrating for the natural-born leader, bridge-builder and mentor.
“It had become so overwhelming for me that I wasn’t able to move up, advance, or to help any of our women or minority reporters and producers advance. And I just decided, at that point, it was time for me to move on; and I started SRB communications,” she explained. “I love being in control of my own destiny and that is why I looked to advance my career.”
For the last 33 years, Brooks has not only been in control of her own career, but, as a leading marketing expert and small business owner, helped to expand the work and goals of clients, and offered opportunities for employees to learn, grow and shine.
“Coming here and working with Dr. Brooks and the team, and really being able to express what I know and contribute in a meaningful way has been really good,” said Holmes, who worked for a large, predominantly white organization before transitioning to SRB last year.
Holmes explained that working with Brook and SRB has helped her grow both professionally and personally, particularly as her confidence has been built in an agency that celebrates her ingenuity.
“This is a really good place for career growth and opportunity,” Holmes continued. “And we’re working with top clients. And because it’s a small agency, you get experience in so many different areas of the business. So it’s been great.”
Even part-time employees such as Carroll, who spent three decades as a journalist with USA Today, tout the great opportunity and lessons that come with working for SRB.
“It’s been a learning experience for me coming from journalism, where I spent my entire working life up to this point,” said Carroll, 68.
Carroll has known Brooks and of SRB for a long time. He spent much of his time at USA Today working under Rodney Brooks, the SRB CEO’s husband, who served as his editor.
The SRB writer and copy editor said an added bonus of working part-time after a long career in journalism is having Dr. Brooks as the company’s CEO.
“One of the things that appealed to me was reading through some of the things that Dr. Brooks has written about what SRB’s values are, and what her views of strengths are. And so storytelling is one of the things that this company emphasizes. And I think in a marketing sense, it’s about understanding what the client’s values and ambitions are for their product or service,” Carroll explained.
Growth Over the Years
While SRB has grown into a thriving, 33-year-old company, the road to success came with some bumps and challenges along the way.
“You know, when we started SRB communications 33 years ago, it was a different world than it is today in business. So many small businesses, minority businesses, women-owned businesses, we were just beginning to be recognized. … There were so many more opportunities, I believe, within the federal government agencies at that time, more opportunities for what I was doing, which was a production company,” explained Brooks.
When Brooks left TV news in 1990, she originally started a production company.
“That production company, over the next 18 years, grew. I built the facility, room by room, contract by contract, business loan by business loan, from a one-room, 350-square-foot production company, to a 6000-square-foot facility, with three Avid edit suites, full soundstage studio, 14 full-time employees, never leaving downtown Washington, D.C. over the 30 years.
Brooks said when she started her production company, “times were different.”
“We were in the television world, and there was real television,” the CEO said. “What I mean by that is, we were producing documentaries and long form programming. None of that exists much anymore today. It all went away with new technology, the iPhones, laptop computers; equipment, got smaller, programming changed to reality television, and so much more. So we had to be resilient and ‘resilient to disruption.’ That’s what I always say. That’s the one quality that’s so important in business.”
As she’s provided possibilities for others, Brooks had to forge her own paths as well.
“I’ve had to create an environment of opportunities, an environment of possibilities,” she said. “We were able to overcome obstacles like the change in the media landscape, in 2008 with the recession, COVID-19 and and so many contracts being lost for small businesses,” Brooks noted.
The experienced entrepreneur said she was able to defeat challenges through strength, confidence, inquiries and – a Brooks and SRB core value – excellence.
“You have to be a creative thinker, a leader in anything that you do, and I always say to my team and others, ‘You have to ask for what you want, and be excellent at what you do,’” Brooks told the Informer.
Despite pivots over 33 years – with an evolving vertical that includes health care organizations, institutions, utility companies, entertainment venues and more — Brooks said one thing has remained the same: strong storytelling.
The longtime media expert encouraged remaining alert, informed and educated as trends and technology continue to shift. She also uplifted using technology to elevate storytelling.
“New technology means nothing if you don’t know how to use it to tell stories. And that’s who we are, we are storytellers.”