Interview by Alexis Rai Hernandez | August 2019
Alexis Rai interviews Sandra Garcia-Lowery about leadership and following your dreams.
Instagram: @sandy_garlow @missalexisrai @successwithalexisrai
Sandra is a Sales and Marketing professional with over 11 years of industry experience, during 4 of which she managed her own event planning agency simultaneously. Today, she manages her own Marketing Agency, Encounter Marketing & Public Relations (EMPR) where develops and executes strategies and partnerships to help elevate the presence of small to mid-size businesses and non-profits.
Prior to becoming a full-time entrepreneur, Sandra was part of the Marketing Solutions team at Clear Channel Outdoor where she helped with the strategic development of marketing programs that merchandised data driven products for use by sales to grow revenue. Before Clear Channel, she held a Product Marketing and Digital role at Time Warner Cable Media where she implemented digital strategies and go-to-market plans that differentiated the brand from the competition as a Product Marketing expert for all digital products: Online, Mobile, Social, Search, Addressable, and Video On Demand. Prior to returning to TWC Media, she spent time at PEOPLE.com where she worked on long-term marketing plans for advertisers, integrated deals with PEOPLE Magazine and PEOPLE Stylewatch Magazine. Before PEOPLE.com, she worked at CNNMoney.com, the financial website for CNN and the online destination for FORTUNE Magazine and Money Magazine.
Identifying as an Afro-Latina from Honduras and cognizant of the group’s under-representation and the impact it had on her self-identification process growing up, Sandra birthed a passion project, Afro-LatinaBeauty.com. An online destination for stories of other Afro-Latinas, and a place to see and hear from others sharing the same intercultural experience.
Sandra sits on the Board of Influencers for Digital Diversity Network (DDN), and the Young Leaders Board for America Needs You. Sandra has served as NY Chapter President of N.A.M.I.C (National Association of Multi-ethnicity In Communications), was a Forbes 30 Under 30 2016 nominee, and was awarded by Latino Leaders Magazine, a Top 25 Future Latino Leader (ages 25-35).
Hi Sandra! I'm happy that we are having this opportunity. When did you realize you were a leader?
It's an interesting thing because I don't perceive myself in that way. When I was in my term as President of NAMIC (National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications), I felt the responsibility of leadership. That to me was very much a leadership role where I felt social responsibility. I think it was not even leadership that I felt; it was social responsibility. When I first came on as president, our membership was just shy of 700 individuals on a monthly basis. By the time I left my role, we were at about 1200 members, so we grew membership a lot, and this is New York alone. These are media professionals, people in the communications industry so that came with a great deal of social responsibility because it's all these individuals who are looking for something from this organization, whether it's professional development, career development, or just value for the dollars that they're putting into their membership so you want them to feel that they're getting something out of it and that the experience is impactful. Being in a leadership position, I felt the responsibility and the pressure of that. I just happened to be in positions of leadership, but to me I'm doing purposeful work or things that felt good to me.
Not all leaders deem social responsibility as a priority so if that’s your number one focus while you happen to be in these roles of leadership, then we need a lot more people like you.
I look at everything in that way - like what can I do during my time with something so that it is impactful, and it goes with my personal mission, vision and value for myself? Everything that I say I want to give my time to, it must be purposeful, and it must fit in with the bigger picture and it must move the needle. If I am going to devote my time to it, then how am I going to create impact? Especially with NAMIC. I wanted the time to mean something and I wanted it to be lasting. I feel like we were able to do that during those two years.
What inspired you to leave your corporate job and pursue working for yourself full time?
Everything. [both laugh] Good question. I think I have an entrepreneurial spirit. My father, although he did work a job, he worked at the Metropolitan Museum of art for most of my life. He retired when I was in high school, but he also built properties in Honduras. I watched him juggle his job and use that money to reinvest into our family, into our legacy and into money that can multiply. I didn't realize that that's what I was observing at the time. Entering the workforce after college, after two years, I started my first company, which was Posh Agency LLC. Event Planning Company. We were young and we were very idealistic in wanting to have ownership of something very ambitious in that way. Being involved with NAMIC made me realize that there wasn't one job that was going to be able to fuel all of these interests that I had. I tried, I interviewed a lot before I finally made the decision to leave because I wasn’t finding any one particular place that was going to allow me to do the speaking engagements and have a thought leadership position while still doing the marketing and sales and having the flexibility of time to also be able to pick and choose what I would do. I think that the flexibility of time and having control of my own time were big influences on the decision to leave. At my last job, there were personalities, people politics, and a lot of things that came with the job that I just didn't want to deal with anymore because you're not focusing on what you're there to do. You can be distracted by all the extra. I was just tired of that. I had been entertaining it for a little bit. Finally, I had a day where I was just like, “All right, this is draining me more than it needs to.” I remember getting home and telling my husband, “Sit down, I need to talk to you. I'm not happy at this place anymore and I feel like I need to go. He responded, “Well, you know, you shouldn't be anywhere where you're not happy and I support your decision. You probably will end up doing better and bigger things on your own anyway.” For me, that was great validation to make the decision. I already had my business for five years, but it was a website that looked nice and it was me working on projects here and there, not really taking it too seriously because I still had the backing of a six-figure salary. It was kind of a mix of things that led to finally making the decision to leave.
What legacy would you like to leave?
I think about that all the time. My father always talked about a legacy. His motivation for building the properties in Honduras was that he always wanted something for us to have even when he was gone; some things for our kids to have so that they could also go back and see where he was from. That was something that I always heard and was always repeated. And it made me start to think, “What legacy and impact am I leaving?”, which is why I'm known to say to my girlfriends, “if it's not moving the needle then I don't want to do it” because our time here is short, right? So how are we maximizing our time and what decisions are we making so that it feeds the bigger picture? What the legacy is, I don't know yet. I feel like I'm still making it up and trying to figure out what that is. I try to be very conscious of being intentional in every aspect of life, like with friendships, relationships, and now I'm learning with clients. It's being very aware. Self-aware. Emotionally aware. I'm aware of my energy because it impacts the bigger picture. I don't know what the legacy is just yet, but I know that I want it to be memorable and impactful and I want my time here on earth to have meant something.
Being intentional is major. That's one of my life purposes. In turn, I want to help other people become more mindful and intentional in their lifestyles as well. Part of the point of this interview series is to show women that are successful who are doing it on their own term, and to create a virtual mentor database for women and girls to see different examples of themselves so that they can be more confident as they are making intentional decisions in their lives to live on their own terms. It's so important that we understand we do have the ability to live on our own terms. It's just a matter of figuring out how it works for you versus following the trends that have been set before us from society and peers.
What's the best advice that anyone has ever given you about following your dreams?
Have a plan, but don’t be so rigid and focused on the plan that you're not adaptable. When I was going into this whole scary entrepreneurship world, my cousin, shared with me that what you think is how you're going to make money isn't always the case. You surprise yourself and life surprises you and you get to discover what people want and need. I think that in the last year, that has been the case for me and I didn't quite know what that was in the beginning but the marketplace really drives you because if you're serving people, then you need to provide a service that is needed. Although I may have a plan and a vision, for me to really call myself a business woman and an entrepreneur, I must be serving the individual. I can't just have a love for something and not know what it means.
That's so important. Kudos and thank you to your cousin.
What are a few things that you do every day to set yourself up for success?
I've gotten into the habit of saying “Thank you for another day” every day before I get out of bed. My wake-up process is so precious. I'm not rushing the start to my day. That's something I'm very conscious of. I've gotten into the habit of doing business development every day. Active business development is important, and I've been doing it a little bit every day because I don't want to wait for me to need clients or a need money to do it. You can't wait for it to dry up to go search for it. Advice from my former CMO at Clear Channel is, “Every day you do client work, you do prospective client work.” Going to a networking event where I can meet new potential clients or people seeing me speak on panels -that's all business development for me. The more people that learn about my business to know about my business, the greater the reach and the opportunity for new business.
My morning routine is my lifeline. I also don't enjoy rushing my day and my morning routine is very sacred to me. Since I've incorporated it in my life, my perspective is clearer because I've given myself time to think.
Who inspires you the most?
I don't know that I can say one specific person, but I would say the first woman that I feel like I've always been in awe of and I just don't understand her level of strength is absolutely my mother. I keep a collection of women in my life that I admire. I pick different pieces of who they are and it helps to construct the person that I'm becoming.
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with me and share your truth with my audience.
Sandra's Favorite Quote: "There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."