Q&A with Toni Robinby Natalie Jacobs December 29, 2015
If you’re at all involved in the arts in San Diego, you probably know Toni Robin. She is an independent publicist who represents arts organizations on seasonal and year-round schedules. Given that, I work with her often to find Jewish angles on theater, museums, and live events around the county. This women’s issue offered a good chance to get to know her as a small business owner.
San Diego Jewish Journal: How long have you been doing PR in San Diego?
Toni Robin: I moved here in 1995/96, and I got a job right away doing the PR and communications for the Performing Arts League … promoting not their shows specifically but San Diego as a theater town, putting us on the map as an arts and culture destination.
When did you go on your own?
TR: This is my eighth year of having my own business.
Could you ever go back to working for someone else?
TR: I have thought about going back to work for someone else. However, I love what I do and I love my clients, and I love the flexibility.
What are your favorite kinds of clients?
TR: I’m really inspired by creativity. Someone who comes to me and says I’m excited about doing this project and I really want to share it with an audience, that’s my sweet spot. … Someone who’s doing something exciting, something they’re really passionate about, or something I really care about.
What is one thing that you’ve always wanted to do professionally but haven’t yet had the chance?
TR: One thing I finally did do in my career – I always wanted a news helicopter shot on a positive story. A couple years ago, when I was at NTC, we saved the Hotel San Diego sign that was on top of the building. … we raised some money and got a big truck and a big crane and took the sign up off the Hotel San Diego and brought it down on a truck and drove it to NTC. So I got a tv station helicopter shot as the sign was coming off and hanging in the air swinging. It was a dream come true. …
I’d like to have San Diego get some national exposure with the arts. Every once in a while, we’ll get on with The Globe or La Jolla Playhouse winning a Tony Award. But it’s never been my client getting national. That would be a big goal for me.
Have you ever come up against any discrimination either for being Jewish or being a woman?
TR: When I lived in Cincinnatti, being Jewish, being a New Yorker, being a lesbian, I was like a unicorn. So it was challenging in that community. I was very quiet about who I was on all those levels. Not being a woman as much. But when I got to San Diego, it feels to me like everyone’s either Jewish or from New York. … It’s never come up here in this town. I feel very welcome here. I feel like I’m home. So I’ve been really lucky.
Do you believe in work/life balance? How do you achieve that?
TR: Oh gosh, well, I live at the beach and I work from home so I am the queen of work life balance. … A lot of my events are in the nights or on the weekends, I feel completely free to take an afternoon and go for a swim or go for a run because I’m justified by going to an opening on Friday and a festival on Saturday. I have a non-traditional work day.
The other thing is, when I first opened my business, I didn’t know the first thing I was doing. … So I went and met with woman-owned businesses, sole practitioners, and a lot of people who worked from home. I just found these people in the community and said will you have lunch with me so I can pick your brain about how to do this? Among the many great bits of advice that they’ve given me, one I kept hearing was you need to take time off, you need to take your weekends, you need to take vacation. Especially if you’re working from home, you need to close your office and shut your door and be done.
Do you have a time of day where you’re most productive?
TR: I’m super productive in the morning. I’m usually on my computer by 6:30 and I can bang out a whole lot of things and then go work out and come back. So from like 6:30 to 9:30, I get a lot done. I’m not a night person. If it gets dark, I have a hard time working.
Do you have a favorite distraction?
TR: I do sunset every day. I go down to the beach. Or if I’m coming back from a meeting and it’s close to sunset, I will turn off the road. Wherever I am, I will make an exit and get off the road and spend that time. To me, a day’s not over unless I’ve seen the sunset.
Do you have any advice for women who are just starting out in their careers?
TR: I think communication is the key. Be a good writer – a strong writer is everything. I need a good strong email. … Communication above all, for women especially. The whole lean in – how do you present yourself? You have confidence and you know what you’re doing or you’ll find out. If you’re not a strong writer start to be a strong writer, in any field. Any time you send an email to anyone it should be well-written. … The other thing that I learned when I met with these women business owners, try and do what you love. If you can find something that you really love, you’re going to be so much better at it.