Small but Mighty

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

On Lisa Hinson's first day as an intern at Limited Brands, she cleaned out a supply closet. Later, she answered phones. And she looks back on those tasks the same way she looks at any situation others might perceive as negative: They were opportunities.

"I knew where everything was," Hinson said. And, by answering phones, she noted, "I learned what people expected from a retail company."

In 1999, after 11 years at the Limited, Hinson left to form her own public relations firm. Ten years later, Hinson Ltd Public Relations-which specializes in retail and real estate-is still a small company (there are five employees including her), but many of its clients are giants.

Hinson, 43, represents Easton Town Center and several of its stores and restaurants, including The Container Store and Tiffany & Co. Giant Eagle is also a client. And others include Limited Brands, Henri Bendel, NetJets, M/I Homes and New Albany Company.

"She just does a wonderful job, she's very professional, and I respect and like her a lot," said Jack Kessler, chairman of New Albany Company. "She's strong, too. If you argue with her, you'd better make sure you are right, because she doesn't back away, which is part of her strength. She knows her business. She knows her facts. And she will give you her advice."

Hinson achieved her success the old-fashioned way: by working hard to climb the ladder, one promotion at a time. About six years into Hinson's career at Limited Brands, she was appointed to the demanding position of director of public relations.

About the same time, she had her first child. Connor, who is now 15, and Hinson's daughter, Avery, 13, were born prematurely and required extra care. Hinson needed a flexible schedule, and thought that owning her own business would give her more time for her family. "Biggest lie ever," she joked.

She started with one employee and a lot of work. She doesn't plan to grow her company beyond the staff of five she has now, saying she'd rather not dedicate all her time to being a chief executive officer. "I never wanted a big company," she said.

And clients like Kessler appreciate that. "I always reach her," he said. "If you get too big, then you lose contact with her."

Hinson's firm publicizes companies' work and partners them with philanthropic, arts and other groups in Central Ohio. Tiffany & Co., for example, worked as a sponsor with BalletMet Columbus. For the group's performance of The Nutcracker, Tiffany loaned jewelry to a lead actress. The partnership helped both the ballet company and the jewelry store.

Hinson uses her skills to help several philanthropic groups in Central Ohio. She serves on the board of the Columbus School for Girls, where her daughter is in the sixth grade, and was recently appointed to the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute foundation board. She has been on the board of the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts since before it opened and is involved with Experience Columbus.

She has also mentored about 20 young women who have interned at her public relations firm. She follows their careers and is proud of what they've accomplished. One of her former interns is the director of philanthropy at Limited Brands.

Hinson juggles it all-work, family and volunteering-with an ease others admire.

"I think that what she has done is discovered the secret of getting 48 hours out of a 24-hour day, because I know how hard she works, and I know how active she is in her children's lives," said Cindy Lazarus, the CEO and president of the Columbus YWCA. "There has to be some Harry Potter magic going on there!"

Lazarus, who has long worked with Hinson on various projects, called her "a wonderful model for women in the business arena." She brings positive personal values to work, Lazarus said, and pays extraordinary attention to detail. Plus, she noted, Hinson is consistently positive.

"In the face of what might have other people running, screaming from the room, she's already working on where's the next opportunity, and how do we maximize that opportunity?" Lazarus said. "It simply is a mindset that really continues to make the most out of every business venture she is involved in for her clients."

And while clients praise Hinson for surrounding herself with a great staff, her staff praises her for offering a good work-life balance.

Mike Duffey, director of media relations at Hinson's agency, said everyone there understands the importance of volunteering in the community-for both employees themselves and the companies they represent.

"She gives you the freedom to do those kinds of things," he said. "I think Lisa runs her business like it's a family."

Duffey said Hinson allows him time off whenever he needs it, from visiting family in the hospital to spending time with his wife. And as a testament to the employees-are-family mantra, he noted, Hinson attended his swearing-in as a Worthington City Council member.

Looking back to her early years in the business, Hinson thinks of Al Dietzel, a former Limited executive who hired her at Limited Brands and supported her as she moved up with the company. She still has a business card he gave her when she was promoted to director of public relations at the company. On it, Dietzel wrote: "To whom it may concern: This woman is the best."

Juggling a successful public relations firm, philanthropic work and family isn't easy, Hinson conceded. She credits her husband, Alan, with supporting her and helping her manage parenting duties. They met as students at Ohio State University, and have been married for 20 years. Hinson said it's important for her daughter to see Alan at ballet recitals and other activities that might traditionally be seen as a mother's role. She hopes both her children will share her commitment to volunteering in the community.

Sometimes one part of her life ends up taking priority over everything else, Hinson said. She has learned to accept that. She said it's important for women to acknowledge that it's impossible to strike a perfect balance. "We women are always seeking balance. I'm not sure it's entirely achievable," she said. "You have to strive for a balance that's best for you."

And the balance Hinson has found, many say, is notably exceptional. "She's not just good at what she does," Lazarus said. "She's the best at what she does."