Our NJMOMpreneurs of the week, Deborah Sittig-Fowler and Karen Carolonza, originally got their start as television news anchors and reporters. But as much as they loved telling stories for media outlets, both women knew they could do it better themselves—which would conveniently allow for more time to raise their children and be moms, too. Two career changes, some serious hard work and 10 years later, Deborah and Karen now own their own healthcare-focused communication firm, Green Room Communications. And they couldn’t be happier with the way it all worked out.
Founders of Green Room Communications & NJMOMpreneurs Deborah Sittig-Fowler & Karen Carolonza
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Deborah: Karen and I formed Green Room Communications 10 years ago because we knew there were better ways for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to tell their stories and engage with patients, doctors and their communities to improve health. Building on our experiences as former journalists, corporate executives and moms, we saw the need for a more flexible approach to public relations. Public relations is more than “spin” and persuasion; it’s about content and storytelling. Green Room Communications is a team of healthcare story masters who guide our healthcare and pharmaceutical clients to tell their stories at the right time, to the right people. We do this across many “channels”, whether it’s print, online, social media, or the intranet—as part of a holistic approach to communications.
Karen: Adding to Deb’s comments, our company offers our clients a “high-touch” level of service that is nimble in nature. We’re moms who juggle multiple family needs and we bring that mentality to our work. Our customers appreciate our ability to flex.
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Deborah: As a television news anchor, I quickly realized I would have to make a lot of sacrifices if I wanted to also be a mom and raise a family. When a public relations opportunity arose in New Jersey, where I was born and raised, I took it as a sign, moved back and started a family. Later, my son Cannon was diagnosed with hypophosphatasia, or HPP, a rare metabolic bone condition. Selfishly, I wanted to remain connected with the pharmaceutical industry that had the means to help him. Soon after I teamed up with Karen to create Green Room Communications, I also founded Soft Bones to provide information, education and support for people living with HPP, their families and caregivers. Today, I wear three hats—as a mom, a healthcare communicator and a patient advocate.
Karen: Deb and I started our careers in television journalism. Day in and day out, I watched companies tell their stories in different ways. I was drawn to health-related stories, though, as my father is a pediatrician and I once thought of following in his footsteps. I knew I could help make a difference by helping companies recognize their audience isn’t just doctors—it’s moms, dads, caregivers, children, patients and others impacted by their products and services.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Deborah: Engaging with patients and seeing how our communications can change someone’s life is so inspirational to me. For example, by promoting a clinical trial to the right person at the right time, we are providing vital information that could save a life. Our work is not just about press releases and data, it is about forging connections to improve health.
Karen: The people of Green Room Communications are one of my favorite things, too. Having worked in many companies prior to starting our own, it was very important for us to build a culture that integrates with people’s lives, families and our values. Our employees mirror these values and truly make the company tick. It’s a powerful combination that allows me to have work-life integration where I don’t have to choose one over the other.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Deborah: I am proud of the model that we have built at Green Room Communications. If you look up the most stressful careers, PR is on there. We very deliberately created a model that allows women to have a career and a family. Many women find themselves having to choose between one or the other. I personally wanted to keep my mind active, even when I had children. Green Room Communications is a place where people can integrate their personal lives with work. Many of our employees are home-based as we trust them to do their jobs while being there for their families. That trust in our team and focus on allowing them to use their specialized skills is a win-win.
Karen: People seek work-life balance. I have always sought work-life integration, which isn’t quite the same thing. With Green Room Communications, all my priorities finally intersect – business, family, friends. I left a highly corporate environment to find this “integration.” I’m proud to have found a way to make it all work.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Deborah: My dad is my role model. He was raised in a very poor, dysfunctional family but did not become a victim to his circumstances. Instead, his life experiences became his motivation to put himself through dental and then orthodontic school, all while skipping meals and working two jobs to make ends meet. He later opened his own practice and grew it into three. He also was an advocate of women’s rights. I was the first girl on all boys basketball and little league teams, and I watched him put boys in their place who made fun of me. He has always encouraged me to live out my dreams and be everything I could be.
Karen: My dad’s my role model, too. Even at 87, he’s still a practicing physician who is beloved by his patients in the community of Maplewood. He’s caring, loving and always has a great sense of humor. He uses every opportunity to give back to others and add his talents. The core values we follow at Green Room Communications go right back to him, as he instilled them in me.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom (or parent/role model) ever gave to you?
Deborah: My mom taught to prioritize faith and family and everything else, including my career would fall into place. I prioritized my desire to be with my family when leaving a career in journalism and trusting that there is a greater plan. It has always proven to be true.
Karen: Your choices in life are just that, choices. My mother taught me to follow my passions and do everything with integrity.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Deborah: The Jersey Shore is my place. My parents met in Ocean City and it’s a special place for my family. I love walking on the beach in the morning and look forward to owning a house at the beach one day.
Karen: Ocean Grove is my happy place. I love to spend time there, on the beach with my family. The Jersey Shore is where I decompress, it puts everything in perspective.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Deborah: I love seeing the little pieces of everyone in my family reflected in my children. Every so often I get a glimpse of an expression or hear something that sounds like my mom or dad. Being a mom is an incredible opportunity and responsibility to shape another life. I try to help them see the beauty of family and understand what is truly important.
Karen: It’s incredible to watch my children flourish and grow. It isn’t always easy, of course. But failures can be just as valuable as the successes and we’ve worked through those, together, as well. It makes me proud when I see them go through a challenge and come back to do amazing things – it’s so rewarding.
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Deborah: I’d recommend any NJMOMpreneur finds a like-minded networking group. Tap into the U.S. Small Business Administration and take advantage of its partner, SCORE, which provides free business mentoring and education. SCORE was invaluable for the two of us. We are a certified women-owned business (WBENC) and accessing those networks allowed us to grow. We even ended up winning an SBA award recently! Or, any NJMOMpreneurs can just reach out to us! I love helping other women to achieve their goals.
Karen: Be resilient and don’t throw the towel in too early. Follow your passion and recognize the path is bumpy. Resilience, passion and flexibility are necessary qualities to owning a business as things change daily.