Jen Roytz: Founder @ Topline Communications
Jen Roytz dreamt of being a jockey, but she ended up topping out at 5’8″. With those dreams dashed, she used her college degree to pursue a different career in the horse industry. Today, with experience at big names like Cornett and Three Chimneys Farm, Jen and her friend, Sarah Coleman, operate Topline Communications, a full-service agency serving both equine and non-horse industry clients.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Jen Roytz fell in love with horses the first time she laid eyes on them. Her parents allowed her to start taking lessons a local hunter/jumper barn where she mostly rode off the track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs). She recalls, “I loved all things horses and, since the only regular thing on TV involving horses were the nightly race replays from Thistledown Race Track, I watched them religiously.”
Jen’s parents were supportive of her interest in horses and her father began taking Jen and her sister to the track. One morning, while watching the horses exercise, they met a trainer named Joe Shuman. Joe, a retired teacher with 40+ horses in training, offered to put Jen and her sister to work anytime they wanted to go to the track. Jen shares, “I jumped on that, waking my dad up at 4am to drive me to the track any day that I wasn’t at school or at a horse show.” Jen emphasizes, “Joe LET me muck stalls and clean tack,” both tasks that she eagerly enjoyed doing. Eventually she also learned to hot walk, put on bandages, do up legs, take horses over for their races and more.
“It changed my life.”
Dreams of being a jockey
en had dreams of being a jockey, so she went to Kentucky for college and spent her mornings at Keeneland and the Thoroughbred Center exercising racehorses before class. Jen shares, “[I] galloped, broke babies, showed horses and pinhooked* failed racehorses-turned show/riding prospects in the summers.” When she eventually topped out at 5 feet 8 inches, she knew her dreams of being a jockey wouldn’t become a reality. Despite the change in her path, she had already begun paving her way towards a career in the Thoroughbred industry.
*In terms of the Thoroughbred industry, pinhooking describes the practice of buying young horses, overseeing their breaking and/or training, and eventually re-selling them.
Jen graduated from Morehead State University in 2003 with a B.A. in Communications and, after she began her professional career, earned her M.A. in Integrated Marketing from the University of Louisville in 2010.
She knew she wanted to work in the horse industry, so she geared as much of her experience outside of the classroom during her undergraduate coursework towards that goal as she could. She continued to grow her professional connections, and thanks to a professional contact she’d made while galloping, after graduation from Morehead State University she landed an interview and eventually a job with Cornett-IMS (now known as Team Cornett), a Lexington-based marketing agency with regional reach. Their client list at the time included WinStar Farm, Darby Dan, TOBA and more, as well as non-equine accounts like University of Kentucky Athletics, Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Appalachian Regional Healthcare.
Working your way up
Jen worked her way up from Account Coordinator to Account Manager and later to Director of Public Relations at Cornett. After three years with the firm, she recalls, “I accepted a position with Georgetown College to help them start a new program that aimed to pair a traditional liberal arts education with experience in the horse industry – exactly what I had done for myself.” Jen spent the next three years building their Equine Scholars Program, when Three Chimneys happened to begin their search for a new Marketing Director.
“I am a big believer in not burning bridges. Every job I’ve ever left, I’ve given a ridiculous amount of notice,” said Jen. “At Cornett, I gave nearly two months’ notice so there was sufficient time to transition my responsibilities to someone else. It definitely paid off, as Kip Cornett, who owns the firm, is still one of the biggest influences in and supporters of my career to this day. When his friend, Robert Clay, told him he was looking for a new marketing director, Kip not only gave me a heads-up, but gave a heck of a recommendation on my behalf as well.”
Robert, who at the time owned Three Chimneys Farm, offered Jen a job. She spent 6.5 years handling every aspect of Three Chimney’s marketing, PR and advertising, as well as some of the client relations and aftercare efforts.
“Every farm (and business) has a different organizational structure,” Jen shares, “And when Three Chimneys was sold in 2013 the new owner wanted to structure the farm differently based on the goals he had in mind.” It was then that Jen, along with a number of others, was laid off. As word spread within the industry that Jen was no longer at Three Chimneys, she began receiving requests for consulting and project work. As time went on, the volume of requests grew, and in 2015 she started Topline Communications with her business partner and friend, Sarah Coleman.
Finding yourself in the transition
Jen was working on everything from ads and press releases to writing for publications and film production companies and producing segments for documentaries and television. She originally figured the consulting and project work would make for a solid interim plan while she mapped out her next move career-wise. That’s when she had a realization, “Originally I figured doing that type of work would afford me the luxury of being picky with what I did next with my career, but eventually I realized that WAS the next step in my career.”
As her consulting career took off, she found that a friend of hers was in a similar situation. Together, they pooled their resources and in 2015 Topline Communications was born.
Starting Topline Communications
Jen is committed to being a good citizen within her community. For her, the Lexington community, the Thoroughbred industry, and the equestrian community have been the focus of her efforts. To stay involved, Jen is active in the professional and charitable organizations within those communities. “It has helped me to not only meet a lot of people,” she shares, “but to maintain connections with them and to better understand the challenges each of these communities face.”
Understanding those challenges is part of what helps Jen excel in her work. As the owner of a young business, she is hungry for success. She attributes part of that success to her desire not to fail. “I think the success of Topline Communications, or any business starting out, is due to a combination of things, not the least of which is to be competent in your field and eager for a challenge,” she shares.
Networking is a critical part of building a business, developing and maintaining professional relationships and honing your skills. Jen and Sarah both stay active within their own professional circles, and the circles of their clients.
But beyond all that, Jen shares, “We also, quite simply, enjoy working hard. We tend to be highly scheduled and keep our plates full, and that, quite frankly, pays off.”
Challenges and successes
Leaving a salary position is never an easy choice, whether it’s by choice or not. They say entrepreneurs are the only people that leave a 40 hour a week job working for someone else to work 80 hours a week for themselves. For Jen, leaving that comfort zone is one of her biggest successes. Most small businesses fail within the first year. For Jen and Sarah, “It’s pretty great to buck that trend and be well on our way to two years in existence!”
With success comes challenges. If you have customer service experience, you may have subscribed to (or been told to subscribe to) the idea that the customer is always right. One of Jen’s biggest challenges is balancing that idea with the idea of pushing for an idea you believe in strongly. You may have strong ideas about how a business should spend their marketing dollars or about an ad campaign concept or media buy.
Jen knows she’s coming at the idea from an informed strategic marketing perspective. That said, she has been on the client side and realizes the client is coming from a place of intimate knowledge about their business and industry. Jen shares, “At the end of the day, it’s their money and even if it’s not exactly what you would do, you still have to work as hard as possible to make their vision come to fruition and knock it out of the park for them and for yourself.”
Follow your dreams
“When I came to Kentucky for college and started galloping, I remember clear as day taking my first horse onto the main track at Keeneland. I can’t recall the horse’s name, but it was a chestnut filly. I can recall standing there at the gap for several minutes before jogging off to warm up and just thinking:
‘I’ve made it. I am sitting here on a racehorse on one of the most famed racetracks in the world. I’ve made it.’
I remember exactly what color she was because I had to look down for several moments when I felt my eyes well with tears. I recall clear as day looking at her lighter than normal chestnut coat and playing with a piece of her mane near her withers.
Then, when I jogged her off to warm her up I remember thinking, ‘I will feel really stupid if I get run off with.’ Thankfully, she was a doll and we just cruised.”
Take Home Advice
- “Embrace silver linings. Things aren’t always going to go your way (sometimes they’ll go the exact opposite of your way), but you won’t get anywhere dwelling on the negative. Instead, look for the opportunity (or figure out how to create opportunity) in the face of adversity.
- “Yes it’s okay to get frustrated or sad or angry about a situation, but letting that consume you will never lead to something productive or good long term. Give yourself time to be angry or grieve, but also give yourself a deadline, then force yourself to begin moving forward.”