In 2008, Jason Brown took a leap of faith and left a steady job to start his own Metro Detroit-based PR firm. It was a bold move at a time of economic uncertainty where every move in business signaled caution if not crisis. But, at the age of 37, Jason was confident he had the expertise gained through more than a decade of PR agency experience. He had the vision and spirit of an entrepreneur. He had a strong work ethic, a passion for the business and a desire to provide service to deserving small businesses in his community. And best of all, he had Hope, his wife whose professional background and talents complemented his own skill set in strategic communications and planning.
“It was Hope – being Hope – who gave me the motivation and the go-ahead to start PublicCity PR,” said Jason.
Hope admits, “I was not on board at first. I was terrified and Jason was brave. I’m the natural worrier, but Jason – always the negotiator – convinced me to give him six months to find enough paying clients to make a living for our family. And since then, we’ve never looked back.”
With more than 14 years of experience working in several PR agencies, Hope joined the firm as a Principal in 2012. Together, Jason and Hope have moved PublicCity from the home front to offices in Southfield. As their client roster has grown, so too has their commitment to pro bono work and volunteer service to the community through organizations including the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of American (CCFA) – Michigan Chapter , Yad Ezra, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Congregation Shir Tikvah.
The community work ethic Jason and Hope have established in their business is a strongly held value that they have instilled in their children, Eliza (9) and Libby (5). Eliza already has established herself as a top fundraiser for her school American Heart Association Event.
“It’s always been a focus of ours to help others,” says Jason. “We all need help at some point in life. Now we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to live in Jewish Detroit and give back to our community as a family.”
Spartans and Tigers fans forever, the Browns live in Beverly Hills.
On family and early influences
myJewishDetroit: Tell us a little about each of your Jewish backgrounds and how they have shaped your family life and business?
Jason: I have a diverse Jewish background to say the least. I grew up in Southfield for most of my childhood. My grandfather, Sam Hornung, was a Holocaust survivor who was born and raised in Auschwitz. Yes, he actually lived there, that was his city of origin. We’ve recently added his story to the Holocaust Memorial Center as a tribute to his life. For nearly 40 years, he was one of the Orthodox Jewish barbers for the Detroit community.
My grandfather thought it would be a good idea for me to go to Yeshiva Beth Yehudah (YBY), so from kindergarten through 8th grade, I had an Orthodox Jewish education. At that point, I lived a dual Jewish life. I played with my friends who were in public school around the block and did all the things that typical suburban Jewish kids do, and yet, out of respect for my grandparents, on most Friday nights, I stayed with them in their home in Southfield and walked with them to shul on Saturday. At sundown, I would come home again.
In reflection, I believe that experience helped shape the person I am today. My mother, too, had the insight that YBY would provide the structure, role models and Jewish values that I would carry through life. And she was right.
From 9th grade through high school graduation, I attended Akiva Hebrew Day School. Akiva was a bridge to a more traditional high school and college education; that included girls in my classes for the first time since kindergarten.
When I went off to college at Michigan State, I lived in the Hillel House for a portion of my off-campus housing. So I’d say, throughout my education and on through everything I do today, I have kept Judaism as a close part of my life.
Hope: In contrast to Jason, I had a very secular Jewish upbringing. I grew up in Huntington Woods and attended the Birmingham Temple, where I was raised in the Humanistic style of Judaism and celebrated my Bat Mitzvah. I was a Tamarack kid and attended camp every summer from second grade through the start of high school. My parents gave me the Jewish background and all the opportunities that they felt I needed, but they allowed me to determine how I wanted to be Jewish.”
When Jason and I first got together, we were a combination of all streams of Judaism. I used to joke that Sam the Barber was probably rolling in his grave when Jason married a Humanistic girl. Today, we’re more of a blend of the knowledge that Jason brings from his experiences and some of the more cultural aspects of Judaism which always have been important to my family. As a result, we both stand solidly behind the Jewish values of family, education, tzedakah, helping others and hard work. All those good things.
On startups, hard work and perseverance
myJD: Five words that describe the two of you in business
J: Community-minded (that’s six words)
myJD: You met early in your careers at Marx Layne & Company. What drew you together?
J: It was Rent. Hope was 22, I was 27. A few months after I joined the company, I asked Hope if she wanted to see the play, Rent.
H: I tell this story all the time. Dating Jason was the furthest thing from my mind, but I did want to see Rent. In fact I was so insistent that we weren’t on a date, that I forced him to let me pay for the ticket. It was not exactly love at first sight. It was something we grew into.
J: Our business, too, is all about getting to know people and growing relationships. To this day, PublicCity PR is nearly 100% a referral business. Our work speaks for itself about the relationships we’ve cultivated over the years.
H: It takes a certain set of people to work together as well as we do. When Jason first started the business, I had all these apprehensions . . . but I still had a job that I loved, and if Jason had a slow month, I knew we’d still be okay. But after our youngest daughter was born, the balance between home and work got harder to manage. And wisely, Jason said to me, “You know, if you work with us, you could do whatever you want.” And truth be told, my editorial skills and abilities were needed. At PublicCity there was a lot of writing to do, and that’s where I excel. For both of us, it’s been a good fit. And now when I look back I wonder what was I so worried about?
J: Hope and I gel well together and our personalities and skill sets are very complementary. I’m the one that likes to go out into the community, meet folks, gather new business and pitch media. Hope is more the strategist and content developer. She’s more “behind the scenes” with other responsibilities in our home and excels in these areas. We try and have some separation so we are not with each other 24/7/365. I work more out of the office and travel to see clients, while she primarily works from home.
On community work and never saying no
myJD: How has volunteering and pro bono work been an important part of your contribution to the Jewish community?
J: It’s always been a focus of ours to help others. We consider ourselves strategic matchmakers, meaning we’re always on the lookout for ways to help people connect. That’s something we learned from Fred Marx (z”l) who was always one to meet people and get to know them.
In terms of our “pro bono work,” clients will often have a certain budget that normally might not carry the distance we’d like it to go, but we always find a way to work with it to provide a real value for what they can pay us. PublicCity also has a range of nonprofit clients. We’re currently proud to serve – as well as to support – Covenant House for homeless teens, the Birmingham/Bloomfield Arts Center, Community Care Services, Michigan Women’s Foundation, Shades of Pink Foundation, Scleroderma Foundation Michigan Chapter and the area Agency for Aging 1-B.
Another aspect of giving – and something we routinely practice – is volunteering our time and resources. Besides my day to day job, I’m the Board President of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA)—Michigan Chapter, and spend a lot of time fundraising and cultivating relationships that they may not have had. Lea Luger, Director of Yad Ezra, knows where to find me when they need us to help with publicity and the media component of an event. I am a member of Federation’s Marketing Committee and work with NEXTGen Detroit and JVS on the NEXTWork Planning Committee.
H: We’re not the family who is going to write that four, five or six-figure check. Perhaps someday, but what we do have for now is a very particular skill set where we can help people by lending our skills and connections and giving their organizations or charitable causes the attention they need and deserve. Our time and manpower is something we like to give.
J: I’m one to never say no. We have a young family to raise and a young business to run, but I believe in my heart that you make time for what you want to make time for. We never tell anyone I’m too busy to help. It might take us a few days – but we always try to help when we can.
I think that is a part of our DNA.
H: Something I learned from Jason, too, is don’t be embarrassed to ask. People can always say no. Whether you’re asking to bring food to an event, join a board, come to an event and spend money or dig a ditch on a weekend, whatever it is, you can’t get anywhere unless you make the ask. It’s a good lesson to learn.
J: We also routinely remind our children that being able to help others is a privilege. Our five-year-old doesn’t quite understand in full just yet, but her nine-year-old sister has taken to our philosophies of giving back through her own initiative in supporting events like Children’s Hospital of Michigan Annual Cereal Drive, volunteering at Yad Ezra or donating her birthday money to various causes. She and her Nana have packed donation backpacks for National Council for Jewish Women and both of our girls participate annually in CCFA fundraising walks. I know Eliza will continue to do more as she gets older, but I’m proud of what she’s done thus far for only being 9. Both girls are also asked on a regular basis to select clothes, toys and stuffed animals that they no longer use and they help us bag them up to be donated.
On greatest challenges and achievements
myJD: As a working couple in business together, what are some of your greatest challenges?
H: Actually, there are more advantages than challenges for us. One of the great benefits of being a working couple in a business that we own is that we can call the shots. We share the same demands of careers and children. Because we work together towards the same goals, we don’t get locked into battle with each other about whose job is more important, or who’s going to miss what meeting to attend a school play. We have a mutual understanding of what needs to be done at the office and what needs to be done at home — so that we can work together to make sure all those needs are met. Essentially our personal and professional lives are seamlessly melded together.
J: I also think our ability to work together, respect each other’s strengths and compromise on an ongoing basis, is an amazing lesson for our children to see.
myJD: What makes you proudest?
J: Personally? Having a family and the opportunity to raise my daughters in this community. That’s been a blessing.
Professionally, two things make me proud: First, taking that leap of faith in October 2008 to start the business and cultivating it to the point now that people know us and call us. And second, living our own lives. We’ve paid our dues and now we’re starting to write our own rules. That feels like a big accomplishment.
Restaurants: Chinese, Japanese, sushi, Thai, for Jason it’s all things Asian. Faves include Siam Spicy on Woodward, Sala Thai in the Eastern Market. Hope likes Southwest/Mexican food – but still searching for the best in Detroit.
Place to meet for coffee: Rugby Grille, a quiet retreat in the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. Will Leather Goods, a surprise on 2nd Avenue downtown
Best kept secret: Assemble Sound, a full-service recording studio and music venue, located in landmark St. Paul’s Church in Detroit’s Roosevelt Park.
Beach vacation: Sarasota and Siesta Key, Florida and Saugatuck, Michigan
Favorite place to take visitors: Comerica Park, the Detroit Zoo, Michigan Science Center . . . and lots of events (PublicCity PR is well supplied with tickets to plays, concerts, fundraisers and annual events in the community.)
Favorite annual event: Opening Day (“We blow off the day as a personal holiday.”)
Sports: Baseball! “We’re Tigers season ticket-holders; Jason plays tennis – and golfs when he needs to. Hope enjoyed gymnastics and dance as a child, and now vicariously thrills to watch her girls in the same activities.
Holiday: For Jason, it’s Passover, the “Jewish Thanksgiving” and Hope enjoys Hanukkah and Purim, celebrating through the eyes of her children.
Jewish Food: For Jason, it’s any Cholent Cook-Off.
Guilty pleasure: For Jason it’s sushi. Hope loves TV binging, turning off her brain and tuning out.
Watching now: Silicon Valley, Veep, House of Cards, Top Chef, American Ninja Warrior
Reading now: The news! Crain’s, Hour Detroit, Metro Times. We pay extra to have papers delivered; you should see our recycling bins every week Hope is also reading: the entire Harry Potter series with her older daughter, starting with The Sorcerer’s Stone.
Words to live by: Make time for what you want to make time for. Never say you’re too busy.