President, FUSE media + marketing
Founder GRAVITAS Magazine
Media maven Jules Lewis Gibson is a passionate woman with an unmatched vision for success. Her life history to date has been an impressive one—from her days studying art history in New Orleans to starting her own marketing company at 26 or residing in the South Of France as well as owning one of the most popular nightclubs in Buckhead, Atlanta, Gibson has worn many hats and with a great deal of style. With a power packed background in marketing and advertising, the publisher and mom of two discusses her journey, her accomplishments and what it takes to be a successful woman in business.
Where did your career begin?
My senior year at Tulane University, I dreamed of being a curator of a museum. During an internship at the Contemporary Arts Museum in New Orleans, I was placed in the public relations and marketing department where I found my niche. I worked at an auction house in Atlanta after graduation which lead to a job as the director of a gallery with an interesting array of clients from the Royal Family of Japan to Elton John.
But, my first big job was the director of marketing for a one of the largest high-end furniture retailers in the country. I’ll never forget, on my interview, the owner of the company who was a woman said, “I know you’re not qualified for this job, but there is something about you that’s special. I might be wrong, but I’m going to give you a chance.” I was so grateful to her for believing in me, I was determined to prove her right.
The first thing I did was fire all the freelancers which the previous director had loaded up on. That immediately freed up over sixty thousand dollars in the advertising budget. I taught myself the design programs and started creating all of the ads myself for television, radio and print. That was the fun part for me. I loved creating the campaigns. The owner gave me total freedom. I did unconventional ads at the time of moms on a soccer field talking about a sale at Flack’s Interiors, then peeling out of the parking lot. I cut the newspaper budget drastically, shifting it into magazines and direct mail. My efforts paid off, the company had over a 250% increase in sales in less than three years.
Mrs. Flack then started a wholesale home accents company, sold through Drexel Heritage Furnishings. After I created a phenomenally successful advertising campaign for her launch, I had several retailers asking for my assistance and some New York agency guys calling on me. I passed on the ticket to New York to start my own marketing and advertising agency specializing in the luxury market. Within a couple of month, I had clients from Boston to Palm Beach.
What motivates you?
I have an innate desire for change. It’s my desire to evolve that propels me forward. This might have been a problem in the past, especially for a woman, but in today’s world, it is an important trait to possess.
In business, forecasting into the future is crucial but, sometimes you have to just get through the day, then the week. I’m a big planner so I always have plan B, and C in my pocket and a hazy outline of D floating around in my head but I constantly remind myself to live in the moment. If I feel overwhelmed, I remember Scarlett’s famous line from Gone with the Wind my mother used to say when I was young, “Tomorrow is another day.” It’s true, most situations in life do look better in time.
Who inspires you?
I actually have a lot of affinity for the Scarlett character. We have a lot in common Scarlett and I, since I am from Atlanta and grew up in a house that resembles Tara complete with the white pillars and a big curved staircase in the entry I used to slide down as a child, but most significant, we are survivors. Her spoiled brat nature aside, I can identify with her tenacity and ability to pull it together in a crisis. Growing up her character’s strength, perseverance and dedication to the land and family had a profound impact on me. My family has long southern roots, so I really identified with her character as a child.
One thing that is vastly different for Scarlett and I is that I would have been head over heals in love with Rhett Butler. I would have thought he was loads of fun, much more exciting than stuffy old Ashley. Rhett and I would have had a grand time spending his money and rebuilding Atlanta. Old well, maybe someday I will meet my Rhett Butler. (Laughs)
As far as a modern role model, Sheryl Sandberg’s, book, “Lean In”, inspired me to create GRAVITAS. I felt it was so important for women to have a publication that speaks to real women and the challenges we face at work and home. I believe it’s paramount for women today to have an attainable, realistic view of success.
Now, I’m inspired daily by the amazing women all around me. The best part to my job is getting to know the incredible women in our community. It’s such a joy to be able to shine the spotlight on these women who are changing the world- to give them a chance to tell their story.
In western society, we are bombarded with stories about actresses, and models, but we rarely hear the stories of amazing women really changing the world. And yet, those are exactly the women we should be honoring.
What kinds of things excite your creativity?
At heart, I’m a story teller, so every aspect of my job excites me. Well, I have to be honest, the accounting side is not so much fun, I’m more of a words and pictures kind of girl.
New challenges excite me which is why I enjoy the media business today. As the industry evolves into the digital era, the field opens up and new opportunities arise.
I had lunch with the owner of one of the largest media companies in Florida last year. We had never met and the first thing I said to him was, “Isn’t it an exciting time to be in media?”
He looked at me like I had two heads, and shrugged, “I guess.”
These are certainly not the glory days for him. Magazines as a whole have certainly suffered setbacks in the past few years, declining revenue and subscribers are common problems for most publications. While I agree the industry is changing and not everyone will be standing in 10 years or even 5, it is these types of disruptive times when new companies and new ideas succeed. I see the digital world as a phenomenal opportunity to expand the experience for magazines. Rather than hold onto yesterday’s glory, I see the horizon of a new day for the industry.
My enthusiasm did not go unnoticed, he offered to buy my company and give me a job before my salad was cleared. I thanked him for the compliment, but told him, “we aren’t for sale,” that of course, only interested him more.
Do you feel men still have substantial advantages in business?
In business, men can be tough and they are admired. When women get tough, they are often labelled a bitch. Women are still judged by a different standard.
Men have had innumerable advantages, forever. Although women have made staggering advances in the past few decades, there are still built-in barriers that no one even acknowledges. For instance, many deals are made nowhere near a boardroom. Some of the biggest deals are made on the golf course, the hunting trip, the fishing expedition, even the strip club. Women may have a seat at the board table, but they are usually left out of the extra curricular activities where deals and careers are often made.
That is my inspiration for our Gravitas Girlfriends Getaways which we will introduce in the next issue; trips for women, created by women. Not only will we be going on fabulous vacations, but it will be an opportunity for women to truly get to know each other and bond, beyond a formal networking setting or convention.
What do you find are some of the obstacles women face in the corporate world?
I fear that many barriers, even unconscious ones, will continue for some time in corporate America. I think the greatest news I’ve heard recently is the exponential rise in women entrepreneurs. Starting a small business, even a home based one, has been the path to financial and personal freedom for women for many generations. Some of the most successful women started in their homes, even Martha Stewart. I think women may even have a slight advantage with small businesses due to our innate ability to multi-task. It’s truly built into our DNA. For centuries, survival depended on a woman’s ability to care for children, prepare food, clean quarters, tend to animals. Today, it’s clean the house, do laundry, care for children, prepare meals, check email, follow the news, feed the dog, exercise, dress well, work on a job and that’s just before 9am.
How have you managed to balance career and personal life?
This is a challenge for me. I tend to be a workaholic. I love what I do, so it can be a problem. Having children actually forces me to take time off. As a rule, I don’t work from home, unless on deadline like right now, oops. But usually, I leave it at the office, in fact, I don’t even have a home office. I try to separate work and home.
What are some of your long term goals for your company?
I would love to grow GRAVITAS to other cities. I firmly believe in growing regionally rather than nationally in order to showcase women in the local community. When publications go national, the content ends up in the world of celebrity for name recognition. Women need to know what success looks like in their own neighborhood. We need role models we can relate to, and examples of success that is attainable.
It’s paramount that someone shows what true beauty really looks like in this “photoshopped” society we live in today. We need to see regular women who don’t have live-in chefs, full-time trainers and an entourage of assistants and graphic artists to make them appear flawless. When a society has teenagers saving their baby-sitting money for plastic surgery, you know you have a problem.
How do you view getting older?
One of the best parts about getting older is the ability to see your life with a bit of perspective. My life has been packed with amazing experiences, as I searched for myself but, it is only now, in my mid 40s, that I’ve found her.
Life doesn’t look anything like I imagined. There have been heartbreaks and disappointments along the way but, I am exceptionally fortunate for my health, my children, my family and friends. While I am in an ever-changing cycle of adjustment, I’ve come to realize that is what life is. Regardless of, how much we plan, the only thing we truly control is now.
As far as the physical aspect of aging, well, I’ve been blessed with great genes, so I haven’t felt the need to do anything, yet. I can’t say that I never will, but, I hope to grow old gracefully.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
If I had the opportunity, I would like to be involved with the advancement of women globally. I am a firm believer that the only way to fundamentally change the world is through the education and equality of women. The statistics are staggering when a culture truly values and invests in women—poverty rates plummet, productivity rises, life expectancy increases, domestic violence decreases and quality of life surges. I would like to play a small role in advancing the climate for future generations.
What advice would you give a woman just starting out in business?
Follow your passion and remain open to new opportunities, even if they don’t follow a predictable career path. I think it is extremely important to have a diverse skill set and a broad range of experiences. The more you bring to the table, the better chance you’ll earn a good seat.