Hagar Hajjar Chemali is a local Greenwich Mom with an interesting and impressive background in public policy, foreign affairs and communications. After time spent on the National Security Council and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, she opened her own communications firm, Greenwich Media Strategies. We spoke to the Greenwich Academy grad about her career and how it’s changed since she became a mom of two.
Please tell us a bit about your life in Greenwich.
I am originally from Greenwich—born in Greenwich Hospital and raised here! I came back to Greenwich almost four years ago after having been in DC for 12 years and I’m so incredibly happy to be back. I now live in mid-country Greenwich with my husband and two young boys who are 5½ and 3— they are adorable and so much fun, but total monsters!
Ha! How would you describe your business?
I founded and run a communications consulting business that offers communications strategy, media engagement, and public relations services specifically in the fields of national security, counter-illicit finance, and business. I’m also a TV commentator and writer on national security issues.
Why did you decide to start Greenwich Media Strategies?
I worked in the US Government in different foreign policy-making and public affairs roles over the course of 12 years and my plan toward the end of my government career was to try and work for a TV network. My last job in government—as Director of Communications and Spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations—was absolutely grueling. I had one toddler at the time and was pregnant with my second and literally worked 24/7. I rarely saw my toddler during the week and the schedule just felt unsustainable. Many reporters and anchors I knew in the press at that time also seemed to have a similar lifestyle and I just knew it wasn’t for me at that point in my life. I wanted something flexible where I could still pursue my passion for analyzing national security in front of a camera and so that’s when I came up with a hybrid plan—I decided to do some consulting on the side while still pursuing a career as a national security commentator and writer.
How has the career transition been for you?
What I didn’t expect was how much I would fall in love with my business—I love the business development side of it, in particular, and of course the ability to run my own schedule. And it’s been going great, I just hired my first press assistant—Greenwich Media Strategies is growing!
Congratulations! How would you describe the balance you’ve found between being a mom and working?
Every mother has their own definition of “balance.” For me, it was all about flexibility—I wanted to pursue a career outside the home and work the hours I wanted to work while still being able to be with the kids—to drive them, participate in the school, take them to doctor appointments, and sometimes just to play with them or go for ice cream with them!
By far my most favorite part is how much I continuously engage with people. I love to meet with and meet new people—I love to talk, and ask people questions, and find ways to work with people. Clearly, I’m a people-person! Obviously, when I worked full-time in an office I was also surrounded by people, but now that I run my own schedule I have the time to meet with different people and have engaging conversations or think of creative ideas and projects, or simply learn new things. I love that. I also love how running my own schedule allows me to participate in the community—particularly with my kids’ schools, the Bruce Museum and the Bruce Contemporaries, and with the United Way and the Sole Sisters. I’m also founder and director of SAM – (joinsam.org); we are building a 3rd political party that unites the center left, the independent, and center right.
The most challenging aspect of my job is demanding my worth. It can be nerve-wracking negotiating with CEOs over fees, but I’m also a believer that it’s good to be put in uncomfortable situations—it helps you grow stronger.
How did Greenwich Academy prepare you for your career?
I don’t know where to begin on my love for GA! I remain very close to GA and am on the Board of Trustees and am active in the alumni network. I have also hired a number of interns from GA!
GA is extremely good at identifying a student’s specific strengths, nurturing and honing those strengths, and helping offer opportunities in that related field. But more critically – in my opinion, at least – I believe that the all-girls environment at GA played a significant role in always making me feel secure – in who I am, and in what I wanted to do or say. There is very much an attitude there of ‘you can do anything you want in the world and we’ll help you achieve it.’
As a student, my 9thgrade history teacher saw my love of political debate and suggested I join Model UN. I fell in love with it and was convinced I wanted to work at the UN and work in conflict resolution. (I charted much of my academic career in that direction until an internship at the UN during the last year of my graduate studies motivated me to pursue the US government instead.) Funny enough, one of the college counselors at the time also told me I would excel in communications and advertising. I told her ‘no way, I was going to go broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians!’ In the end, I ended up merging my love of international affairs and communications.
GA supported and fostered two critical characteristics that are paramount in government communications – or frankly any field. Knowing how to write fast and well is key in those jobs – a skill I didn’t even know I did well until I went to college! And while I was always confident, GA trained me in thinking creatively, voicing my opinion, speaking up, and asking questions. I know these skills consistently helped me move forward in my career.
What advice do you give young people who are interested in a career in policy, government or communications?
First, I would give two pieces of advice in general, regardless of the field: identify what you want and what you think would make you happiest and run after it, run hard.
And also, don’t be afraid to take risks in life. I don’t really believe in mistakes—more in learning experiences. Failing at something opens up a whole other set of different, often better doors. And if you’re not afraid to fail, you feel you can pursue anything.
More concretely though—I would say that knowing how to write well and learning how to network are key in the diplomatic/political and media worlds.
at is your typical day like when you’re on air?
It’s usually more hectic than it looks! The majority of the time I find out I’m going on air, it’s the same day. So, depending on the hour I’m on air, I’m usually trying to squeeze in work and/or a workout and then shower, do hair/makeup. The networks send a car for you so in the car on the way to the city I am reading as many articles as I can or doing other relevant research and preparing my own thoughts and talking points on the topic for the segment. When I arrive, we do hair and makeup (for real that time) and then off we go. It’s the most fun when I happen to go on air when relevant national security news breaks and we can analyze the news as it’s unfolding.
What’s next for you and your business in the next year or two, and ultimately?
Things have gotten busy so I like where things are, but one project I am interested in adding to the mix is my own show of some kind—a podcast perhaps, or a digitally streamed show. I have a name and a concept and my hope is to just try it this year and see where it goes!