Tracie Broom returned to her Columbia roots and helped create the Flock and Rally public relations and event-planning firm in the Olympia community. She came back from San Francisco, she says, because she sees a bright – and progressive – future for Columbia.
By Sarah Martin
March 31, 2015
The tagline “Brave New South” applies to Tracie Broom’s life as much as it does to her public relations and event-planning firm, Flock and Rally.
She grew up here and attended public schools before leaving for a degree in postmodern dance choreography from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and then spending about a decade in San Francisco. But she returned and, with a bit of bravery, formed Flock and Rally with friend Debi Schadel.
For her, the South has cultural and religious significance and is a place of opportunity for nonprofit organizations, volunteerism and community events. With a passion for equality and progressive action, Broom sees her hometown as a place with potential for social growth.
“There is a pretty thriving progressive culture here in Columbia,” she says while sitting in the firm’s office at 701 Whaley in Olympia. She sees its roots as actually in Bible Belt conservatism and its call to volunteer.
Chloe Rodgers, a Flock and Rally account manager, says Broom is driven, passionate and well-spoken and that she can make a connection with just about anyone. She leads by example, Rodgers says.
Broom says she spent much of her 12 years in San Francisco writing for city guides and magazines – “Did a lot of reviewing spas, salons and resorts, which was awful, horrible work” – and earned her event-planning chops as booking manager for a live music venue for five years.
She returned to Columbia in 2009, and we pick up her story from there. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Listen to the entire podcast.)
Tell me about yourself and how you came to be at Flock and Rally, and just a little of your personal history. …
Within months, my business partner, Debi, had identified me as talent and decided that she needed to recruit me to do copywriting, social media and event planning with her for different client projects. So within a year, we had actually decided we wanted to have a formal company together and chose the name Flock and Rally. We worked out of our home offices for about a year, and when we realized that maybe having interns come to Debi’s house to work wasn’t so professional, we actually sort of through the grapevine were offered the chance to rent an office at 701 Whaley.
It’s a really special community here – it’s an old mill village community center, and the owner of the building is the one who developed the building, Richard Burts, and he’s very careful to curate his tenants. He really likes to make sure the people renting space in the building, either in the lofts as residents or offices as commercial tenants, all share a vision for making Columbia a more awesome place. And that’s kind of how, that’s definitely how we feel at our company, and that’s part of our vision and mission statement, actually - to rally our community here in the Midlands around great ideas. So we really enjoy being here at Olympia.
I saw your tagline is “Brave New South.” Can you talk about how you came up with that and what it means?
The tagline for Flock and Rally is “Events and Communications for a Brave New South.” I don’t know how we came up with that. Honestly, it just sort of appeared in my head. Obviously it’s a play on Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World,” which is a dystopian book if I remember correctly, and obviously our idea is to create the opposite of dystopian society here in Columbia. But the “new South” is a concept that is pretty widespread and a lot of people use the term “new South” to describe a South that prioritizes progressive culture, equality, whether it’s gender, race, etc. Income equality, what have you. Yeah, we’re into that.
Do you find that challenging in Columbia? Or how has the city sort of responded? …
There is a pretty thriving progressive culture here in Columbia. If you look at a political map, South Carolina is a fairly red state, but there are some pretty serious blue zones where Democratic and more liberal ideals tend to prevail. And Columbia and the Columbia area is sort of one of those more blue zones. …
There’s a lot of nonprofit volunteerism here, which actually, I think, connects back to it being such a strong, you know we are in the Bible Belt. My first volunteer experience was volunteering at Shandon Methodist Church as like a teenager. So I think the culture of volunteerism interestingly has sort of conservative roots, but in practice here in Columbia, because there are so many progressive ideals, you end up with this incredible culture of people supporting each other, people actively volunteering and giving to nonprofits, and you know a lot of those are pretty progressive. So pretty cool.
What would you say is your favorite event that you planned or favorite organization that you’ve worked with?
Oh, that’s a good one. Well, probably 701 Center for Contemporary Art, here at 701 Whaley, is an example of a favorite. … We have worked with them for five years now to plan and promote their signature annual Columbia Open Studios tour of artist studios. It’s like a driving tour of artist studios around Richland and Lexington Counties, and 701 CCA is sort of the hub for that tour. We produce a 24-page color guide with maps to the 40-plus studios that participate, we do a lot of Web promotion, a lot of public relations, all the way across South Carolina and into North Carolina and Georgia. A lot of social media, and they let us be creative and they support our ideas, and they’re just a great client to work with. I mean it’s a contemporary art center – it’s pretty cool. …
Did you ever see yourself coming back to Columbia to work and start a business?
Not really, no. Honestly, I saw myself visiting home frequently for the rest of my life and not really settling here. But after about a decade in a major city, you know the logistics of living in a major city, it’s like going to war every time you leave your house. .. Whereas here, it’s just like easy. Parking tickets are eight bucks and everybody’s chill. You know, it’s really nice. So when I realized that Columbia was becoming more progressive, it was growing, there’s more of a culture here that supports the lifestyle I want to live, then I kind of realized that I could move back here and maybe help start something and help be a part of growing our progressive culture. So yeah, that helps to turn the tide.
So if you could have a legacy like 20 or 30 years from now, looking back on what you’ve done in Columbia, what would you want your legacy to be? …
I would like to have started … just to start initiatives and help set them up with staff and resources to continue into the future even without me that make Columbia a more awesome place. Our company kind of specializes in starting cool stuff, running it for a couple of years and then handing it off to someone so they can keep it going. And then we’ll go start something else.