Plans never go as they seem, and the outcome usually turns out better that way. Wisconsin native Erin Mills had vowed to never move to the East Coast, but after finding love in an unexpected way, she came to the East Coast to give the relationship a shot. She had a corporate job in NYC and everything seemed to be going according to plan, until Erin, like many others, COVID changed all of the game. After a path filled with unexpected twists and turns, Erin Mills was able to start her own marketing agency, Strat House, thanks to the pandemic. Keep reading to learn more about Erin Mills’ transformation from corporate life in NYC to a CEO in Montclair.
Montclair Girl: How long have you lived in Wayne?
Erin Mills: I have lived in Wayne for 7 years, and I am originally from Wisconsin. I met a boy from Cedar Grove, NJ at a party I threw in college at Wisconsin. He just happened to be visiting someone that weekend for a Badgers Game! I moved East as soon as I graduated, despite vowing I would never live on the East Coast. When I moved East to give our relationship a real-world whirl, I decided to move to Montclair. I married said boy and have never left the East Coast ever since.
MG: What did you do before Strat House and what was the deciding factor to leave and start this journey?
EM: Prior to starting Strat House, I led an experiential marketing agency in NYC. It was a wonderful organization, where I had the opportunity to support the CEO in building from an early stage over the course of a decade. When COVID-19 hit, I decided that it was time to take hold of my own professional destiny, whether that be for better or for worse, to do the type of work I loved with the types of clients and causes that I felt most passionate about.
And beyond that goal, my most immediate priority in leaving my decade-long agency career was to have a moment to just exhale and to be able to be present for my children, twins who, at the time, had just turned 3, along with their brother, who had just turned 5. Again, it was the onset of the pandemic and I knew where I was needed most. I thought I’d take the summer off (2020) and perhaps give Strat House a whirl “when things returned back to normal in the Fall.”
It was quite the rude awakening when “normal” never came and I soon realized my husband and I would be homeschooling our lot of preschoolers and kindergartners! I remember crying to my husband on the first day of virtual kindergarten, as I helped my son, who has an IEP, navigate this new world order with me as his pseudo teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and, oh yeah, his mom too. I said to him “Well, forget starting a business… let’s get ready to drain our savings account.” And would you know that, on that very same day, the first day of (virtual) school, just shortly after my meltdown, I got a text message from a former client saying, “Hey, did you start that new company yet? We need you!” I said to my husband, I have NO business trying to start my own thing right now, and he said, “yeah you do, go for it – we’ll figure it out.”
So I did, and we did. And here we are, one year later, Strat House is now a full-service agency, with an office in Montclair servicing over a dozen well-known brands across numerous verticals. It’s been a trajectory beyond my wildest dreams. I’m still not really sure what happened !
MG: Tell us about Strat House and what it offers.
EM: Strat House is an experiential marketing agency. We are engagement experts who plug into brands and organizations in order to deliver unparalleled content and experiences to employees and customers/prospects alike. Our specialty is immersive b2b marketing, with a growing focus on multicultural strategies and DE&I. Our services include strategy (as the name might imply ) design, content development, and event production.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
EM: I admire and value hard work, far more than any other ability. When I witness it, especially by someone who does not allow any level of circumstance or hardship to crush their spirit or their ethic, that’s what is inspiring to me. It’s that person who smiles at you, regardless of their trade, their profession, who gives you everything they’ve got, no matter how big or small the job may be, that’s what I find incredibly powerful.If you take the time to look around and pay attention, you’ll realize that the world is full of these people. These beautiful souls who truly give their all, each day, with grace and gratitude, and everyone who comes in contact with them is left better for having encountered them. When I find those people in my day, I’m inspired to follow their example.
MG: What are your goals for this year for Strat House?
EM: The year ahead will be a really pivotal one for Strat House because it’s all about scaling while holding true to my own intentions for founding the company: having more control over my family time and focusing on the type of work that I’m passionate about. Delivering on these commitments to myself is the only way I can justify the sacrifices and sweat equity at this phase.
This is something that I need to figure out quickly and something I will not allow myself to move the goal post on year after year. If I do, one day I’ll wake up (God willing) and my kids will be in college and I’ll be saying “in just a few more years, I’ll have the necessary infrastructure to be the kind of “present” parent I’ve always wanted to be.” Nope, it’s now or never. My goal for Strat House is to keep doing awesome work, make sure we’re doing it for awesome brands, and grow the biggest, baddest team out there so that they can share in said work and said success, thereby allowing me to share myself with my family in the ways I aspire to during these most precious years.
MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?
EM: I usually wake up at an ungodly hour, just for that quiet thinking time that so many of our campaigns require. Call that 3:30AM or 4AM. After a few hours at the computer, it’s time to wake up the kids for the morning school hustle. By 8:45, one’s on the bus and the other two are clothed, and I have to log on to the Daily Health Form survey or they won’t let me kids anywhere near the building. I always forget this!
By 9:15 AM, I’ve dropped the twins at pre-school and I’m scrolling through the overwhelming amount of emails that have flooded my inbox since I left my computer just a few hours before. I decide which items are most important, hit the bakery for an iced coffee (and doughnut, pending stress level), and then start the annoying habit of dictating responses to texts and emails as I drive to the office – trying to just milk every moment of the commute for productivity when instead I should really just be listening to easy 80s! I usually do sneak in at least one easy 80’s song and then I roll up in Montclair, enter our office, and disappear in the vortex of Zoom meetings, hopping back and forth between our incredible clients, their diverse needs, and their unique challenges.
MG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
EM: Given the nature of our work, a fun perk is that we do get to work with prominent public figures, celebrities, athletes, and while always a fangirl, I definitely don’t really get star-struck except when it comes to “The Golden Girls.” During my time working at Viacom, I got to hold the microphone for Betty White at a media junket/premiere party and it was, well, the best professional moment of my life.
Also, a client likened us to Olivia Pope last week, and Ray Donovan last year. So there’s that.
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair?
EM: Diesel & Duke – the owner is a family friend!
MG: What is your favorite boutique in Montclair?
EM: Culture Couture.
MG: What do you love most about Montclair?
EM: Hands down, the people.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
EM: I love to walk the reservation and find incredible vantage points of NYC (like Highlawn Pavilion).
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
EM: My friends began a bespoke balloon business during COVID, Abbott Road Designs, it was a truly brilliant move. The work is spectacular and it’s in high demand, as a beautiful and safe way to mark occasions now & moving forward.
MG: What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Essex County?
EM: The Reservation.
MG: What is your favorite place to work out in Essex County?
EM: Soul Cycle, Short Hills.
MG: Where do you go out with friends in the area?
EM: Faubourg as of late – ok, once – with my mom friends. That’s about as wild as it gets these days.
MG: What is something you think needs to come to Montclair?
EM: Soul Cycle!