Interviewed by: Danna Lewis
In a recurring series of sit-down interviews, Lewis, an accomplished writer, coach and podcast host, chats with local leaders and business owners.
On a breezy Friday afternoon, following a multi-day heatwave here in Marin, I got to enjoy a beautiful outdoor lunch with Sharon Coleman at Hookfish. Our conversation was interesting.I learned about some behind-the-scenes things at Marin Magazine. Thoughtful conversations with Sharon are always about things and people that have meaning to her.
Danna: Hi Sharon, it’s so nice to get to sit and talk with you. And, since our story centers around life in Marin, how did you end up here?
Sharon: “I was born in San Francisco, grew up in the Central Valley, and then returned to San Francisco for college. Even though I was accepted at UCLA and was interested in living L.A., I just couldn’t leave San Francisco. After I got married, my husband Paul and I moved to Mill Valley and raised our son. During the pandemic, we moved to Bel Marin Keys. We feel lucky to be living here in Marin County.”
Danna: So I heard you say (emphatically), “I just couldn’t leave San Francisco. I just couldn’t leave and go to Southern California. I was accepted at UCLA and later I even turned down a job with Dick Clark Productions.” What’s that all about?
Sharon: “It’s everything about SF and Marin. From the people to the great outdoors and the beautiful, magical place that it is. Even though the industry in L.A. appealed to me because it’s big network advertising at a national level, I didn’t want to leave and ended up living in Mill Valley for over 20 years and couldn’t be happier with my decision to stay here. Marin is so eclectic, from musicians, filmmakers, and other artists, to high tech to retirees, we have an amalgamation of every part of society.
Danna: I think everyone reading this knows exactly what you mean. It’s just such a special place to call home. Okay, jumping to your role as Senior Account Manager at Marin Magazine, how did that come about?
Sharon: “I had been working / freelancing on TV for 20 years doing on-camera and voice over work for channel 4. I would host sponsor supported segments and commercials including half hour infomercials. At one point I was a spokesperson for a retail clothing chain doing all of their TV and radio spots. My son was graduating from high school and I wanted a full time job, so I started thinking about what I wanted. What I would do and where it could be. Marin Magazine popped into my head and then I thought, ‘would they hire me? I don’t know print, I know TV.
I was a fan of Marin Magazine for 17 years. I went to their opening party. Serendipitously a job opened up and I applied. I didn’t hear anything so I sent my resume and cover letter physically to their office, the old-fashioned way. I feel like people respond to people being human, being authentic, and being vulnerable. I got the call. I went in for an interview and in the second meeting I was offered the job. It was my birthday.
At that point, Susan Noyes had already bought the company but Nikki (Wood) was still running it and interviewed me. I was in awe of Nikki and what she had created. I was so excited to work for Marin Magazine and still am.
Danna: What’s been your biggest challenge and biggest reward in your role?
Sharon: “I’ve had to rise above shyness again and again and I have to put myself out there. I genuinely feel like our magazine can help our clients’ businesses grow. I have personally always used the magazine as a resource to figure out where to shop, where my son should go to camp, what restaurants to try etc… My belief and experience of the magazine, made my job easier and has allowed me to thrive while helping our advertisers. The biggest reward is working with small business owners. Meeting them, getting to know them, and building a relationship with them over the years. I know their families. It’s very ‘small town-ish”
Danna: Let’s talk about the big P – what was your experience at the beginning of the Pandemic having just started your job at Marin Magazine?
Sharon: “I started working there in November 2019 right before the pandemic hit. I had ads that were percolating on Monday that went south on Friday because of the shutdown, but also had advertisers that were still coming in. They still wanted their presence. My husband didn’t know what would happen with his business, we were moving, and I just started this new job. Things were uncertain in so many ways.
Danna: What helped you get through that?
Sharon: “Prayer. We stopped going to church in person but did attend mass on Facebook. I have a strong foundation of faith – even when I freak out, I know everything will be okay.
Danna: What delights you about your Marin Magazine customers?
Sharon: I love getting to know them personally and seeing their businesses grow. As I’ve known some of our advertisers for a long time, I get to know them in a different way. The personal interactions that I get to have with my advertisers delights me. Also, when an advertiser gets excited about responses from their customers as a result of being in our magazine. Like Sofia jewelers; one day a customer of theirs came into their store, showed the ad from our magazine and said, ‘I want to buy this.’
Danna: What would you like people to know about Marin Magazine that maybe they don’t know or haven’t heard yet?
Sharon: That Marin Magazine was very recently re-acquired by it’s original owner Nikki N. Wood, her daughter Mimi Towle (also the current editor) and Mimi’s business partner, who is also named Nikki Wood. Nearly twenty years ago to the month Nikki N. started the magazine which makes it even more special to have it back in her hands. Everything she touches becomes more beautiful. Susan Noyes (the recent owner) sold the company back to free up her time to focus on her philanthropic efforts and her generous work with nonprofits. She has supported nonprofits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars over the past few years.
I originally interviewed with Nikki N. Wood and am so delighted to have her and the “old band” back together. One thing Nikki did so well when she ran it originally was that she developed Marin Magazine into reflecting what I call ‘The fabric of Marin’. It’s now an essential part of our county. That’s what really resonated with the readers and the advertisers.
Danna: Any big targets for this next quarter?
Sharon: There are big plans in store for 2023 as the team reviews, re-assembles, and recreates the magazine in a way that captivates, speaks to and reflects the personality of Marinites. I guarantee it will be beautiful.
Danna: You also have your own business. Tell me about Lemon & Honey gifts?
Sharon: “I’m a Cancer survivor. I started Lemon & Honey because people kept asking me what they could bring me when I was going through it. What I found really helpful during treatment were things that were cozy, something to do, something that makes you feel good, something for your stomach. Like products to help with nausea, a water bottle for hydration, moisturizer for dry skin. So I began by curating quality items that could help bring that comfort to people and offset treatment side effects. It’s personal and often whoever is ordering the package will share a personal story about the person receiving the package. I hand-pick the items to go into each box and package them in cheerful gift boxes and send the care packages off with positive prayers and goodness. I also send Celebration packages for people finishing their treatment.I haven’t advertised much but people tend to find it. (https://lemonandhoneygifts.com/)”
Danna: What’s surprised you about your business?
Sharon: “The sentiments that they want written in the cards- it’s like being let into something very private and beautiful.”
Danna: What does community and small town business mean to you?
Sharon: “This is how people feed their families. My husband is a small business owner. It’s the backbone of America. This is a wonderful and generous community. It’s you help me, I help you, and we help each other. It’s meaningful to be a part of that.”
Danna: What are three things about your personal life that bring you joy and or inspire you that customers may not know?
Sharon: My son and my husband, Paul and Maxim. My son is going away to college, it’s very exciting. My dog, he’s half labradoodle and half goldendoodle. Cocoa is double trouble! Also, living on the water in Marin.
Danna: Where are you now?
Sharon: I’m in a chapter where things have to mean something. I don’t want to collect things or people. There has to be an authentic connection. I still get nervous meeting people professionally. Sharon Coleman, fine. Sharon Coleman, Marin Magazine, still a little shy because I want to live up to such a meaningful publication. I feel so proud when it comes in the mail.”
Danna: Is there a business within MV that you’d like to give a shout out to for a great experience you’ve had?
Sharon: “Robert Green Fine Arts – my very first advertiser and first success story. Within days of the issue coming out, he sold the art pictured in that first ad! He wants the art to go to someone who will appreciate it as much as he does and that means something to me.
Danna: Thank you, Sharon!