Modern Love @Curley

Jennifer Curley by Jennifer Curley | August 31, 2021

Modern Love is a New York Times weekly column (with reader-submitted essays that explore the joys and tribulations of love), a book, a podcast — and now, in its 17th year, a television show — about relationships, feelings, betrayals and revelations.”

I have been an avid reader of the Modern Love column over the years and have enjoyed the Amazon Prime Video adaptation of many of these stories–all of which remind me that love has many forms. Below is mine.

Can You Really Love a Company?

After 20 years together, I say completely, wholeheartedly, yes!

I didn’t intend to fall in love sitting at Tony & Joes in Georgetown that humid August night in 2002. I don’t remember what I was drinking–I imagine it was Chardonnay! –but I do remember how crowded the bar was; we were shouting just to hear each other.

At one point my friend Julie says to me, “you should just start your own business.” I was at a crossroads in my career, and we were talking about what I should do next.

I woke up the next morning and went for a run. As I ran the streets of Georgetown, the pounding of my feet echoed the drumbeat in my head: “Go for it, do it, why not.”  Later that week, I went to the DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs and filed paperwork to start Curley Company and, although I didn’t know it at the time, my 20-year love affair had begun.

Looking back, I now realize as with any relationship, there have been peaks and valleys. It is a messy and imperfect relationship, but it still brings me incredible joy–almost every single day.

The Honeymoon Phase

I love the culture of Curley that encourages flexibility, autonomy, variety, and the ability to be creative and see the physical results of my work. I value mentorship—as both a mentor and mentee–and a collaborative and fun work environment. I get to work with people I really like and respect, and who are super smart but don’t take themselves too seriously.

We have a physical win board in the kitchen area at Curley where we put images of the wins we have had for our clients. Sometimes it is a copy of an op-ed we placed or a retweet of our content by someone with millions of followers (like Leonardo DiCaprio) or sometimes it is an award won. I love watching each team member proudly describe their own win or give a shout-out to a colleague about their successes.

When I started the agency, I valued (and still do) the variety and the pace. I am relentlessly curious and love to learn about new areas of PR and see how it all fits together. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than a breaking news day–pushing news out or managing the incoming–I love them both. The office is humming with energy, the team is working together, and we can see the results of our strategy paying off in real time.

Our Favorite Place

Part of my love for Curley is irrevocably tied to Washington DC. I came to Washington to work in politics and my heart has been broken by many elections and by watching too many leaders of both parties who are afraid or unable to lead. Through it all, I still find there is nothing more fascinating and inspiring than the people, politics and process of Washington and working in public affairs lets me help others navigate this incredible ecosystem every day.

Our office is purposely located just a few blocks from the White House, and we have a wonderful mural of the city of Washington on the wall right inside the front door. It reminds me every day why I love this place.

The office space has been a true evolution. There was a time I worked at a tiny desk in my condo living room, there were many years of shared space with wonderful colleagues in the lobbying business–thank you Kelli, Jon & Marc–and then finally in 2019, there was the move into our new space in Suite 200 near 18th and K Streets—the heart of downtown DC. That was quite a moment for me, and I still pinch myself sometimes when I walk in the front door and see that beautiful mural on the wall with my name on it.

A Rough Patch

This relationship hasn’t always been easy. I continually learn from my mistakes but try not to let fear prevent me from moving forward and trying new things. I strive to be comfortable living in a state of “managed risk” and am now more confident that the hard times do indeed make me stronger. COVID tested this. And one of the darkest days I have had as a leader was on March 16, 2020, when I got a call from a large client who needed to “put us on hold” for a few months while they figured out the impact of the pandemic on their business. I had to quickly figure out its impact on my business and manage the intense workload, anxiety, and uncertainty which was taking its toll on me and the entire team.

As it turned out, our current clients needed more support and new clients came in the door. Everyone needed help communicating and using digital tools to reach their employees and customers. The pace of change was so rapid, the client needs were so great, and the team rose to the occasion again and again. We ended 2020 with transformative financial growth.

We Have Changed

As in any relationship, there has been considerable change over these past 20 years. Curley has evolved with the PR industry, adding capabilities, expertise, talent, and experience to enable us to deliver the smartest, most relevant strategy to our clients.

With growth has come added sophistication. Out of necessity, we have evolved our structure. And out of a desire to be a best place to work, we have improved our benefits, culture, and how we do business as a team. The rapid pace of change during the pandemic, the events in 2020 around Black Lives Matter and the Capitol Insurrection in January 2021 have pushed me to be better at internal communications and encouraged me to be a more vulnerable, authentic, and transparent leader.

In addition, many of the faces at the conference room table have changed. Each person who has had a seat at our table has had an impact both on me and on this organization, helping us continue to grow and move forward. While some of the faces at the table have changed over the years, the attributes haven’t. The people who work here are an incredible group of smart, responsive problem solvers with a positive attitude and great work ethic. I always get emotional when someone leaves Curley, no matter what the circumstance–but each time, it works out. Our colleagues have gone on to do terrific things–work at other agencies, start agencies, be parents, go to business or law school, and do communications in-house (including a few who have hired us as an agency). Recently, I found a drawer of thank-you notes team members have sent me over the years and re-reading them brought memories and fresh emotion. I continue to be incredibly proud of the Curley team–both past and present.

Better Together

Overall, I have become clearer on what Curley is good at and what we want to be hired to do–and our messaging, business growth, and team reflects this new confidence and perspective. In addition, I am incredibly fortunate to work with interesting clients across a wide sector of industries–forging true partnerships.

As we start our 20th year together, I am feeling sentimental. In the past several months, we have been recognized with some big PR awards and honors–which feels like a victory lap we ran together–a lap I never imagined taking. I am pausing to catch my breath–so that I am ready to run again, into what’s next, and with you by my side. Knowing all we have been through; I love you more today than I did on that first humid night in August.