If you’re looking for someone to tell a good story on your behalf, it pays to pick someone with a few tales of her own. Desiree Gruber has more than most.
Beginning her career in the music industry before pivoting to entertainment PR, she’s built highly successful businesses, produced worldwide hit TV shows, launched a consumer-based venture capital fund, and committed herself to giving back through her work with organisations such as UNICEF and helping aspiring women further their careers.
Oh, and did we mention she’s married to Kyle MacLachlan, and counts Heidi Klum, Kerry Washington, and Julia Roberts among her friends? Here’s how this daughter of a Green Beret became a true commando of modern communication.
Quintessentially: Hi Desiree. How’s New York?
Desiree: It’s great. I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and every day I’m excited to get out in the city. I love London and Paris, too; I guess I like big cities. I love seeing a lot of people living together. I don’t like the easy life. I like challenge. It’s more enriching and invigorating!
D: What drew you to the city?
I arrived in 1989 with a dream of working in the music business. After getting my feet wet in music, I went to Rogers & Cowan, a major international PR firm, to learn more about communications. That’s where I found my calling: storytelling in all its forms. I worked very hard and truly enjoyed putting in the time – the proverbial 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) says you need to gain expertise in something – and excelled at the art of storytelling. Eventually I got to the point where I was better at telling other people’s stories than they were, and clients loved it!
You founded your agency Full Picture in 1999, and your early-stage venture fund, DGNL in 2015. What's the thinking behind these?
D: Full Picture brings people and brands together, and DGNL backs young companies with great potential. I was already helping people tell their stories through Full Picture, and more and more brands came to me saying, “Hey, I can’t pay because I’m a start-up, but I can offer you some equity.” At that point, I didn’t fully comprehend how this would work. But I committed to educating myself about it, and I found people to help me understand it. Then I started saying yes to some of these opportunities and ended up doing it more and more. I was building a lot of value into these brands. Somebody then came to me and said, “You’re crazy! Your value is worth more than the small piece of equity they’re giving you.” So, that’s how DGNL emerged. I don’t do the fund alone: I co-founded it with Nir Liberboim; he’s a superstar on the finance side. He has the opposite CV to me, and that makes it a lot of fun.
What should a brand think about when it’s telling its story?
D: I always tell clients that they want customers who are loyal and loud. Loyalty comes from having a strong, recognisable brand ethos that resonates, and loudness comes from engaging in dialogue and partnerships with other brands that are telling compatible stories.
You produced the TV fashion show, Project Runway. Are there any aspects of style you’re grappling with at the moment?
D: Oh, I’m obsessed with pairing sneakers with everything. They’ve been so on point for the last few seasons that I’m upping my game and wearing a variety of sneakers to events.
Did your early life help in business?
D: I come from a military family. My father was a Green Beret, and he insisted we all serve two years in the officer training programme while we were in college. It was fantastic – very intense – and it helped me understand life in the field. Most valuably, I learned how to give proper direction.
You’re also keen to help other women climb the corporate ladder. Could you tell us about your +1 initiative?
D: Time’s Up New York asked me to join their initial meetings, and right away I recognised that one way to impact change quickly was to simply bring other women into the “room” – meetings and parties, networking opportunities and other access points – where connections are made, and ideas exchanged. The +1 initiative was born from those first conversations. It’s about helping women accelerate and guiding them to the next level faster and more effectively.
You were also honoured recently for your work with UNICEF. Tell us about it…
D: My mom always said, “You must give something back to the community.” I knew UNICEF from my youth and had heard about them over the years. When I had my son, however, I realised how imperative it is to help other mothers, especially ones who are struggling to raise their children in difficult, often dire circumstances. So, I got involved with UNICEF, went into the field with them and learned first-hand how much they do around the world, and I continue to spread their message of love and support however I can – through fundraising, events, social media, anything.
Finally, do you miss the music business?
D: I’ve kept a footing in the industry by combining my love of music with my commitment to social causes. I love making empowering Spotify playlists to share with my team and clients. We’ve also created a mission-driven company called For The Record Collective that will include music written, produced, and engineered by women, and an accompanying docu-series in partnership with Reese Witherspoon and her production company, Hello Sunshine. Our goal is to get more women into positions of influence in the music industry, because, like in many sectors in entertainment, women are vastly under-represented there.
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