Ever since her days of riding the train to Oak Knoll Academy, a private school for girls in New Jersey, Ashley Russo knew she wanted to be a journalist.
Editor of the school newspaper, the budding newswoman soon went on to New York University, where she graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in 1998.
Rising quickly in her career, Russo held high profile jobs at NBC’s The TODAY Show and Bloomberg News. But the call to raise a family tugged at her heart, and she left New York City for family life in the Lehigh Valley.
Fast forward to today and Ashley Russo is just like a lot of us, juggling motherhood and her career.
A mom to Nolan, aged 17 and Renna, 15, Russo is owner of ASR Media, an award-winning video and television production company based in Hellertown.
ASR Media produces The PEAK TV, a lifestyle talk show which airs on YouTube and WFMZ-TV, and St. Luke’s HealthNOW, which explores news related to the St. Luke’s University Health Network.
LVB recently visited Russo at ASR’s warm and homelike offices, where the company’s young and vibrant staff was hard at work on various projects.
It was easy to see from the relaxed and friendly vibe that Russo is well-liked by her team and that she in turn really likes them.
Over the course of an hour, we got to know more about how Russo mentors this young crew, and how she balances motherhood and entrepreneurship.
What first sparked your interest in journalism as a career?
My 10th grade English teacher at Oak Knoll. She saw something in me and said, “If you could learn to write the way that you speak, your papers would always be A’s.”
So I did just that. I started to record my papers. I would speak them out loud, record what I was saying and then write down what I had said. I learned to edit well that way. The process lit something up inside of me. I began to believe in myself and to learn to tell a story.
Journalism is a competitive industry. Starting salaries are notoriously low and there aren’t as many jobs as there are graduating journalism students. Why do you think you were able to succeed?
How was I able to take on the challenge of a journalism career? I was lucky to have gained real world journalism experience in college. I joined the college radio station right away, WNYU.
While I was still in school, I was out there, interviewing New Yorkers about the O.J. verdict for the radio station- the same way the “real reporters” were.
I also interned at Bloomberg News. I built my connections early. I was out seizing every opportunity so that by the time I graduated I already had an impressive resume.
Throughout my early career I said yes to whatever I could. I’ve always been a “Say Yes” person. It’s been my secret weapon.
I counsel young people to do that, to seize the day. Carpe diem. There is no better time for your career than when you are young. There is so much less time when you are older with a family.
I also had a lot of great mentors. They said. “I see greatness in you. I see potential in you and desire in you. I’m gonna help you get there, but please know that the path won’t be easy or clear.”
Let’s fast forward a bit. You started ASR Media in your 30’s, in part because you wanted to be allowed the flexibility to raise your kids the way you wanted to. Tell us more about that.
I was staying home for a while to focus on family, but I still had a desire to be in the field. I missed it. When the opportunity came along to produce a pilot show with St. Luke’s, I was able to go about it like a freelancer.
So balancing family and creating a pilot for the TV show gave me a taste of having my own business.
I started this business because I wanted to create my own reality. I wanted to do work that would have a positive impact on people’s lives. And at the same time, continue to be an involved wife and mother. That’s a challenge for women. The workplace today is changing and allowing that more. The great irony is that starting your own business is arguably a lot more work than taking a job.
In a lot of ways, what I didn’t see is this. Before I started ASR, my family and I had a flow to the day to day. This turned that on its head. It wasn’t just taking a job where I was expected to do work and leave.
The thing about being an entrepreneur is that it never leaves you. It’s super rewarding if that is how you are wired. And I am definitely wired that way. But it was a lot for my family to adjust to. Expectations had to change. My husband and children had to adjust to expecting less time from me.
How did you move from one major client, St. Luke’s to the impressive roster of clients you have today?
I was able to succeed because I had the support of St. Luke’s as an anchor client and the support of my husband. It was a team effort and I was lucky that way. I don’t know that I could have done it otherwise.
I had to be flexible and realistic about what was possible. It can’t all happen at once. You can’t just go from 0 to 60 because there are other things that you need to pay attention to on the way.
Being a woman in your 30s starting a business was still fairly rare in the Lehigh Valley when I started. It took me a while to make inroads with decision makers. I felt like I was looked at like, “Isn’t that cute? What a cute thing she is doing.” I never let that define me or get me down.
When you portray a drive and a vision, people will begin to believe it. I did it, but with the help of a lot of people who believed in my vision. That gave me a seat at the table.
A lot of women who are on-air personas like yourself, or just in business in general, feel a pressure to maintain their looks as they get older. Do you feel pressure to look a certain way?
All of us feel that way with social media all around us today. I absolutely feel the desire to hold on to that picture of myself at 35. However, I do not feel any ties to hold on to something because of fear of the young people who are coming up under me. In fact, I feel incredibly excited to empower young women to come up and take the reins.
I employ a lot of young people and I feel no greater joy than in being part of their growth, in being able to give them career opportunities.
For me, aging has a different outlook. I look at it as -Isn’t it awesome that the very thing I wanted at 23, I am able to reverse at 43? Respect and the ability to influence people. I had strong women show that to me, and now I feel a tremendous responsibility to do the same thing.
As you’ve become more well known in the Valley, do people stop you on the street to talk?
People don’t so much stop me on the street, but when I’ve been speaking to people in an intimate way at a restaurant or bank, people will say “Oh I recognize you from something.”
What has changed, is that I have many more people in the community that reach out to me and my team for experiences, like girl scout troops, or young people who want to shadow us to learn about the business. It’s been a great way for my team to grow and learn to, by teaching.
What has been most rewarding about having your own business, and most challenging?
Most challenging for me is finding that balance between your vision and reality. At the same time, you shouldn’t lose track of gratitude for your current reality, that needs to take up space in your mind and heart in order to fuel your vision.
Have great vision, see the future, bring people with you, but don’t miss out on the moments in your life.
Sometimes as an entrepreneur and woman and mother, we spend so much of our time thinking of the future. We are the ones thinking about how to pay for college and where our career is going. The danger there is that you lose sight of the everyday joys and successes on the way.
Greatest success? I hope that my greatest success is having a positive influence with my team and my community. I don’t take the responsibility that this community has given me through my business and my brand lightly.
I hope that my legacy is that of being kind, being a mentor and a leader.