Family info: Mother of four, member of Rye community since 1998
Pets: 3 dogs, 2 cats
Name of yourBusiness: My business is Sonja Bartlett Productions, specializing in fundraising and friend-raising video campaigns for nonprofits and independent schools. We have also done corporate work and a private family documentary.
Before this, what was your career?
I'm a former TV news producer, reporter and anchor.
Would you describe your work for us?
I partner with nonprofits to help them to share their stories and value propositions through video campaigns. I spend a lot of time getting to know a variety of their stake-holders, leaders, and fans. I urge my clients to create campaigns versus single videos because it helps them stretch their video budget dollars further. Crafting talking points, storyboarding and casting the production are the next steps. Casting is key! Finding folks who speak from the heart is essential. When we do our shoots, we make sure we cover a wide range of topics and plan for future needs. After we craft their signature video, we try to use all the remaining wonderful soundbites to create shorter videos for social media and web. Nothing is wasted and nothing is left on the “cutting room floor.”
How did you get involved with your current work?
I was blessed to be home with my children for many years and during that time I started volunteering making videos for their school fundraisers. One day I realized, “Hey, there is a business here!” I began very small but as my children grew older I was able to take on more.
What did you have to do to start?
I had to start by donating my first few videos to my children’s schools so that I would have content to show paying clients. In my former career, I went out and reported stories every day and making these videos was not much different in that the key is to get the best soundbites. Extracting them is an art! You are interviewing people but what you are really doing is phrasing things in a way to prompt them to share their talking points naturally and straight from the heart. It is a challenge I love, especially when working with children. As a former education reporter, my favorite videos are the ones where I get to interview children. We always prepare over Zoom beforehand so they feel comfortable. I once Zoomed with a Kindergartner who was tucked into her bed. She fell asleep on me with her thumb in her mouth. It was adorable!
Why did you choose this get into business?
I am not sure I chose this. I feel like it chose me. I felt lucky to be able to take years off to raise my children and knew it would be hard to get back into the TV news business when they were older. Now working creating these videos, I feel I am able to use the same skill set but I do not have the crazy hours, and I can pick and choose the types of stories we want to tell. These are happy stories…. The news has become too depressing for me to want to go back.
What have you learned on your journey?
I have learned that literally everybody has a story to tell. I love meeting different people in different fields and getting them to share their stories.
What do you love most about what you do?
I won’t lie… I love when we are working with kids!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How do you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been to get out there and break into a crowded space. When you have been home for so many years, people do not always give you the respect and credit you know you deserve. But when you deliver and the client is delighted, all that evaporates. And one client leads to the next, and the next.
What is your best tip for others looking to give back to the community?
I may not be the best one to give advice on this but I would say give back in a manner that leverages your talents and passions. I am very passionate about the work of Meals on Main Street/Caritas- our local food pantry in Port Chester. During the pandemic my kids and I drove bags of groceries to their clients when their pantry and soup kitchen’s doors were forced to close. But then one day I realized that my time and talents would be put to better use if I donated a video instead. One they could use for fundraising and “friend-raising.” So in the late winter of 2021, I recruited one of my production partners, Tony Coash, to donate his shooting and editing time. I donated the producer time. Together we created a video that told the story of Caritas/Meals on Main and their amazing “pandemic pivot” where they literally had to flip their business model overnight. It became a COVID one year anniversary piece for them. Here we are a year later, donating and creating a fundraising video for them for their summer gala.
What are some alternative careers you would have liked to have?
My kids often tease me that I should have been a nursery school teacher because I love being with young children so much. But truthfully… storytelling, be it journalism at first and now this small production video work, is really all I have ever wanted to do since I got my first camera at the age of 10. I would have loved to become a documentary film producer but we shall see!
If this is a second “career” for you, do you have advice regarding reinventing yourself?
It is indeed a second career but it is very much based on the skill set acquired in the first career. I don’t think one should reinvent oneself but instead be true to who you are, what your passions are and what skills you already have. Build on what you know and are already good at. If you do some version of what you love, it is truly not work.
Other fun details about you?
I love anything outdoors, especially with my family. Sailing, downhill skiing and running are my favorite sports but any time outside is a good time. I enjoy volunteering and recently did so at the Boston Marathon passing out water at Mile 22. My husband, Jim and daughter, Natalie were running so it was a very emotional moment when I got to hand them water and pose for a photo just 4 miles from the finish!
What do you think is important for other moms to know?
There are many brilliant quotes in the world so I won’t try to compete… BUT… one thing that I do say all the time (ask my kids!) is “Fifteen minutes at a time.” A few years ago when my husband and I were caring for his father who had cancer, things got a little crazy in our house and the plans kept changing. Emotions would rise and fall. We all started saying “15 minutes at a time.” We just tried to focus on getting through the next 15 minutes of life and making them truly as joyful as we could. This saying also works in happier times. If you just try to make whatever you are doing for the next 15 minutes the best, most productive, or happiest possible, you won’t sweat the small stuff as much! Forget having a good or a bad day. Have a fantastic next 15 minutes. Works for me.