Suzi Pond launched Redbird Media Group to tell stories that matter
Suzi Pond began sowing the seeds of her own video production company more than a year before she felt ready to leave her full-time job. In 2015, she was the chief storyteller at United Way of Greater Portland. But on evenings and weekends, she sought out independent clients and side projects, shooting and editing film in her spare time. It was an exhausting but necessary effort to transition to running her own company full time.
“I had faith that my work was going to resonate with people, but you don’t know until you put yourself out there,” says Pond, who is 39 and lives in Freeport. She launched Redbird Media Group as a full-time operation in November 2016. “I knew I had made the right decision when, after I left [the full-time job at United Way], my son said to me, ‘You’re not always in the office.’”
The leap to business ownership came after years of skill building. As a journalist and editor for Boston Magazine and Philadelphia Magazine, Pond came to Maine in 2004 with a skill set that included coding and experience with digital platforms, an asset many journalists at the time didn’t have. In 2007, she began working for the Portland Press Herald as the newsroom’s first online content producer, helping them transition from print to the digital era and training journalists in blogging and multimedia production. It was there she developed her passion for video production, a medium not many print journalists were then working with. An alumna of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies’ radio program, Pond also developed a love for sound and storytelling, but she saw a bigger market and more professional opportunities in film.
After five years at the newspaper, Pond became chief storyteller at United Way of Greater Portland, helping create audio and video stories to support the nonprofit’s work and get its message out more effectively to new audiences. The job honed her desire to “be able to effect change and have an opinion on the content,” she says. “I also wanted to help organizations express themselves in a unique way.” She learned to make do with minimal resources and a small crew, which she says gave her a sense of independence and freedom that were helpful when starting her own business.
“I finally feel like I found that thing I want to do that fulfills me and allows me to give back.”
Running a one-woman business is no easy act. One of Pond’s biggest challenges has been balancing the planning, filming, editing and management of her multiple projects—and learning when to delegate. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it,” she says. She has sought out and relied on a network of talented local independent contractors, such as Portland lighting expert Phil Cormier, who assists with lighting for her shoots. “I felt like I needed to know everything about lighting, but I don’t. I know people who are really good at what they do and when I finally asked for help, it took that weight off my shoulders and was liberating.” Pond does all of her own film editing, but has learned that “collaborating with and trusting people—and developing a working style together—allows my product to be so much better.”
Pond also needed to carve out a space at home where she could work undistracted by her husband and two young children. “As a working mom, I needed a space to create, so I took over a guest room at my house as my office,” she says. “Now I have a beautiful work space that’s peaceful and necessary.”
Pond acknowledges herself as a black sheep (or a red bird) in a male-dominated film production market. “Because of my background in technology and web development, I was used to being the only female in the room. That said, initially it was intimidating to try to enter a market where I could point to no one and see a role model in the field or seek advice about balancing the business with being a mom,” she says. “I don’t believe women always have to have women mentors, but if you can find people you relate to on many levels, it can make things easier.”
Her clients include Wolfe’s Neck Farm, MaineHealth, Telling Room and Girls on the Run Maine, Bangor Savings Bank and Maine Community Foundation.
The company’s logo is a red bird that’s a fusion between a scarlet tanager and a cardinal. The title came from a Mary Oliver poem Pond loves, “Red Bird.” The first stanza reads, “Red bird came all winter firing up the landscape as nothing else could.” For Pond, the red bird represents herself “standing out and being bold in a climate that’s not always welcoming. The red bird is about having hope and resilience and fostering empowerment,” she says. “I finally feel like I found that thing I want to do that fulfills me and allows me to give back. I feel incredibly proud and grateful to be able to do that.”
Standing out hasn’t prevented Pond from being successful and pushing herself to learn and grow in her field. She feels comfortable experimenting and learning in a field that’s constantly evolving and changing. “I was motivated to find something I could get behind and feel like I could change the world and make an impact. I needed to honor that this is a medium I can and am doing that in.”
For more info on Redbird Media Group, visit: redbirdmediagroup.com
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.
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