Friends build a business out of getting people hooked on books
By Elizabeth Chang
The Washington Post, Sunday, January 4, 2009
Perry Pidgeon Hooks and Loretta Yenson say Washington is the perfect base for a business that brings books and ideas to public and private organizations. “Washington’s kind of the central place for thinking and thought production,” Perry says.
Their year-old company, Hooks Book Events, contracts with government agencies, trade associations, corporations and the like to stage speeches and other events with freshly published authors, exposing the organizations’ employees or membership to new ideas. For example, when economist Robert J. Shiller came to town last fall to discuss his book “The Subprime Solution,” Perry and Loretta took him to Fannie Mae, al-Jazeera, a financial analysts association, a wealth management firm and the International Monetary Fund.
Though their clients have included consulting firms such as Accenture and nonprofit organizations such as Women in Technology, Perry and Loretta say they have a special passion for bringing ideas to federal workplaces such as NASA. “We really believe that the smartest people in the country need to be talking to our senior executives in the U.S. government,” says Perry, 51.
Hooks Book Events is Perry’s brainchild. A Nashville native who moved to Bethesda when her husband’s high-tech work brought him here, Perry worked at the Washington book store Politics and Prose and then moved on to a trade association. At the same time, she had a contract setting up book-related events for the Treasury Department. “I figured if I could do 48 events a year at U.S. Treasury, then there were probably other agencies and corporations that would be interested,” she says. So in August 2007, she had an idea: “I’m going to just stop [working] at the trade association and ask Loretta to join me and jump off a cliff and see if we can make this happen.”
Loretta, 50, spent her childhood in South Africa, arriving in Chevy Chase with her husband, who is in real estate development. A vice president of private banking at Chevy Chase Bank, she had worked with Perry on fundraising events for their local elementary school. (Perry has two teenage children; Loretta has one.) Loretta responded to Perry’s business proposition with: “Sounds great. I’ll quit my job tomorrow.”
Their fees for events range from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on how many events a client holds. (Government agencies are on another scale, which, according to Perry, hasn’t changed in 10 years.) “We’re very affordable,” Perry says. “If you divide our fee and the cost of the books by 70 or 80 people in the room, the cost per unit is very low to engage your employees in a positive thing.”
Hooks Book Events often holds several events a week; it organized almost 100 in 2008. The business brought in about $100,000 in the first nine months of the year, and although Perry and Loretta haven’t started taking a regular salary, they say they have $50,000 in the bank and aim to have two six-figure incomes by the end of 2010. They work together well, though they’ve had to iron out some issues: Perry is not allowed to call Loretta before 8 a.m. (she e-mails her instead); Loretta, the money manager, insisted that they take a bus instead of flying to New York to meet with publishers.
Perry and Loretta say they hope to stage 150 events this year and perhaps even hold events in other cities. “It’s very rewarding work, as well as, we think, important work,” Loretta says. “Every author we bring in that we hear, we walk away with something new.”
“We call it the graduate school of life,” Perry says. “We can’t believe everyone’s not doing this.”
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