When Diana Brooks was in film school, her counselor told her she was the wrong sex and the wrong religion for the film industry. The statement shocked and discouraged Brooks and even caused her to refocus her passion toward graphic design. “I come from a long line of very strong women. I have been surrounded by alpha females forever—whether it was at home, with my mom, aunt and grandmother [an Irish-Cuban who was a political prisoner in Cuba for 17 years, and at 92 is still stirring the pot]—or with the fierce nuns from my Sacred Heart education who were about raising and creating critical-thinking women,” says Brooks, the co-CEO of VSBrooks Advertising, based in Coral Gables. Vivian Santos also serves as a co-CEO.
Today, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could discourage Brooks. She’s immensely funny, enamoring and smart. “I started my own advertising agency when I was 25 years old because I thought that I could do it better than my boss. Whether that was arrogance or stupidity I don’t know, but I’m going on 20 years, so obviously I had the right ideas.” When VSBrooks was incorporated in 1996, Brooks and her business partner did everything, including answer their own phones; now they’ve evolved to 29 employees. They weathered complicated storms, like the 2008 recession, but that turned out to be a type of blessing. “Ironically it was during the recession that we doubled in size [in terms of revenue]. We identified niches and opportunities. Healthcare is recession-proof; everyone will always need a doctor. Everyone will always need insurance. We focused on those [industries],” explains Brooks.
Self-described as all “fire and brimstone,” Brooks, like every woman, is more than her career. She derives intense pride from being a single mom to her 14-year-old daughter and from serving as board chair for Feeding South Florida, a chapter of the Feeding America network. And yes, her dream to be a film director is still there. “To hell with that guy who told me I was the wrong sex. I’m going to be Kathryn Bigelow and I’m moving forward.”
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