Early in her marketing career, Lee Heffernan got some advice from a former boss that she hasn’t forgotten.
“He sort of said to me, be tough,” Heffernan said of media mogul Ted Turner, whom she worked for at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta. “Don’t let people run over you and just speak your mind, and people will respect you for that or else you’re not in the right place.”
Though she’s recently returned to her hometown of Augusta as the new agency development director for Wier/Stewart, Heffernan found those words of wisdom advantageous throughout her career in both Atlanta and New York City.
In 2004, Heffernan heeded Turner’s advice when working with a client with a controversial background.
Heffernan, who’d just started her own marketing firm in Atlanta, received a phone call from Martha Stewart’s “people” while the home decor and cooking guru was still serving her prison sentence. Stewart sought Heffernan’s help in garnering top advertisers for a new TV show.
“With Martha, I did that,” said Heffernan, referring to Turner’s earlier advice. “She didn’t scare me.”
Later hired by Stewart, Heffernan helped launch Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia into a multiplatform arena.
Heffernan never saw herself living in a big city while growing up in Augusta.
In her mid-20s, her local ad job with First Union Bank, now Wells Fargo, led her to Atlanta. She gambled on a job opportunity at Turner Broadcasting, where she worked her way up to senior vice president of marketing and promotions.
In 1996, Heffernan followed a job opportunity to New York, where it took her a little while to acclimate, but she remembered another insight offered up by Turner.
“He said, ‘You know Heffernan, let me give you a piece of advice,’” she recalled. “‘Keep that Southern accent and go up there and just take advantage of those Yankees.’ He said, ‘They’ll fall for it.’”
Heffernan led marketing for both Lifetime and WE: Women’s Entertainment Television in New York, working with artists like Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and the B-52s.
Heffernan also lived through a somber occasion in New York that most of the nation only observed on TV: the Sept. 11 attack. She witnessed first-hand the after effects unfold from her Manhattan apartment, just 30 blocks away from “Ground Zero.”
“I tell people it’s almost like a face missing two front teeth,” Heffernan said. “It was such a distinctive part of the skyline and part of everything. Then when it was gone, New York didn’t look that distinctive anymore.”
In 2012, Heffernan suffered her own personal tragedy.
Just 49, she suffered a massive stroke in her office and flew back to Augusta. The stroke left no long-term damage.
A few hours after returning to work, Heffernan was told she’d been laid off. She then did some soul-searching.
“When I thought back, almost every career decision I had made since 1994 was money,” she said. “When you follow money versus what you love, it’s like a drug. You get sucked into that.”
Heffernan found out about Wier/Stewart not long after, and an interview with agency founders Alex Wier and Daniel Stewart over beers at Nacho Mama’s downtown led to a new job. The company’s tagline, “Find Happiness in Your Work,” solidified Heffernan’s decision to help grow the company by adding more regional and national clients to the Wier/Stewart portfolio.
“When Lee came around we thought it was just the perfect opportunity for us to not only bring on a team member that is just a really good fit personality wise, but could really mentor us on some of the bigger market and bigger agency stuff,” Stewart said. “Lee’s kind of a missing piece for us.”
Heffernan also meshes with the rest of the staff.
“You’ve got to be a little bit crazy,” said Stewart, on why Heffernan was right for the job. “You’ve got to be really down-to-earth, self-effacing. Everybody gets to pick on everybody.”