Some people are lucky enough to find their dream job early in their career. Sandy Crisafulli did one better: She found her dream boss, too.
In 1992, she took a job with Caryl Communications, working for Caryl Bixon-Gordon. It was a move that changed the trajectory of her life and career.
“It was my first foray into public relations,” she said. “I was 23 and I was very interested in learning the field. Caryl took me under her wing and taught me everything I know. I never, ever considered leaving. I never, ever interviewed anywhere else, and I never looked beyond. I always knew I had something special there.”
Thirty years later, she now owns the company.
When Bixon-Gordon began thinking about who she wanted to take over the company when she retired, she looked no further than her dream employee.
“Sandy and I worked closely together on client and staff matters — helping Caryl Communications grow substantially through the years,” Bixon-Gordon said. “The level of respect and trust that Sandy and I share helped the company and our colleagues create a strong business and a family-friendly culture.
“Selling the company to her became clear about 18 months ago — and we have worked toward the transition since then.”
Crisafulli is thrilled to have the opportunity.
“Not everyone has the advantage of learning the PR business from one of the industry’s best, and it’s certainly a rare chance — 30 years later — to be given the opportunity to continue that mentor’s legacy,” she said.
Crisafulli was hired as a full-time writer. Her background in journalism helped her sift through news releases and pull out what was important. But, with Bixon-Gordon as her mentor, Crisafulli said she learned something more special — how to pull out the value and to tell a good story.
Crisafulli said the quality of the writing always has been the secret to the success of Caryl Communications. At least, to the clients.
Inside, Crisafulli said the culture that was created was key.
“It has always been an incredibly supportive environment,” Crisafulli said.
And one that was ahead of its time.
After the birth of her second child in 1998, Crisafulli was struggling with her work-life balance. As a vice president, she was wearing many hats. But, as a mother, she was finding it challenging to commute to Bergen County.
“I was doing strategy and client service and still writing — and I just felt that it was going to be difficult to maintain,” she said. “I spoke with Caryl, and we agreed that I would step back into a freelance-type position. It was all something that was pretty easy for me to do remotely. This was 1998, and I was remote working.”
Years later, when another team member was beginning a family, remote working was a non-issue. That’s when Crisafulli came back more into a full-time role to take over a few of the things that needed more attention.
That flexibility was a key to Crisafulli’s career advancement, she said.
“Caryl asked if I would step in more and manage some accounts, which I did,” she said. “And I began to take on more of a leadership position, an overall client service strategy with the company. And, as Caryl and her husband, Bob (who always held an executive role in the company), were looking toward the next chapter for themselves, they asked me to elevate my role into a leadership position and they promoted me to chief operating officer.”
When the pandemic forced companies to go virtual in 2020, Caryl Communications was ahead of the game.
“We were able to flip a switch,” Crisafulli said. “I don’t want to say it was easy, because there were some difficulties, but I think we had less of a shock to the system than many other companies.”
That’s easy to see. After all, the ownership transition took place during the pandemic.
“We have worked toward this transition of me owning the company for the last year and a half,” she said.
The firm’s account and project roster spans multiple industries, including commercial and residential real estate, health care, retail, technology, architecture, professional services, nonprofit organizations and others.
Cristafulli yearns to keep all of the clients happy. And she said she’s learned that keeping her staff happy is the starting point. Crisafulli said she will again look to the lessons learned from Bixon-Gordon to guide her.
Creating a strong culture comes from the top, she said. Crisafulli said Bixon-Gordon always demonstrated empathy, compassion and inclusivity toward her employees, which strengthened morale.
Crisafulli said she has no plans to change the combination of full-time, part-time and independent contractors that are part of the team.
“There’s a lot of flexibility and work-life balances,” she said. “Caryl has made it that way for four decades now, and I don’t intend to change that.
“The whole team at the boutique, family-oriented firm is just the right fit. Everything is very personal, and that has been important to me in my career. And I want to be able to continue that for Caryl and the team in place.
“They all have what it takes. And they seem to have found the right balance.”
Changes, however, are part of the transition.
Last September, Caryl Communications launched a rebrand, complete with a new website and a refreshed logo. The name will stay the same.
Crisafulli said there are a few new service offerings in development, too.
“There are so many new ways to communicate, and the world of media has changed a lot,” she said. “I think our focus will be to make sure that we are continually evolving as those channels continually evolve. That’s really what I foresee to be our focus this year.”
And, for those times the Caryl Communications team might need to gather to collaborate more interactively, the firm just officially made Mission 50 — an 80,000-square-foot, newly rebranded boutique office building and coworking space in Hoboken — its home.
The space has flexible offerings ranging from open seating and small private offices to corporate conference rooms.
It’s enough space to help the company continue to grow and, perhaps, serve as a starting point for another dream career.
Reach Caryl Communications at: caryl.com or call 201-796-7788.