Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Mercury Radio Arts? Just how do all of Glenn’s crazy ideas get done? Does anyone ever get a chance to sleep? Well, over the next few months we are going to take you inside MRA, giving you the inside scoop on everything from publishing to special events, the Marketplace to 1791 and GBTV. We will be interviewing members of our New York, Columbus, and Dallas staff, bringing you all the info, so you can know what it’s really like to work for Glenn. Other installments: Kevin Balfe
Liz Julis, Vice President/Special Events for GBTV, remembers the first time she met Glenn Beck like it was yesterday.
“He might kill me for telling this story,” Julis said with a laugh. “I don’t have a lot of Glenn stories, but there is one that has always stuck with me that happened during my interview.”
Julis, who joined Mercury in February 2006 as an editor of Fusion magazine, was among the company’s first dozen employees. After happening upon a posting on Craig’s List for what was ultimately a job at Mercury, Julis traveled to New York City for her first interview.
“The write up for the job was nondescript. It was really vague and it was something like ‘If you are interested in getting into the magazine industry blah, blah, blah.’ I don’t even remember. I thought I was going to be working in a mail room or something – maybe not that extreme, but I had no idea,” she recalled.
(To this day there is an ongoing joke around the office as to why anyone would apply for a job they found on Craig’s List – but that’s another story.)
After getting through her first interview with Chris Balfe, Mercury’s Chief Operating Officer, and Kevin Balfe, Senior Vice President/Publishing, she was called back for a second interview, which involved sitting down with Glenn himself. “I came up and interviewed – there were two interviews – one was in a really nice conference room with Chris and Kevin Balfe, and the second one was in this really makeshift office that was kind of sleazy and a little scary with Chris and Kevin and then eventually Glenn.”
“When I first met Glenn, we were sitting in the interview and he was asking me some typical interview questions,” she recalled. “I had no idea what I was in for or anything really about him other than what was on his website.”
The office, which Julis described as “grungy and gross,” had a Dutch door at its entrance. “Both parts of the door were open, but something happened and the bottom door, as Glenn was walking out, began to shut,” Julis explained.
“As Glenn was trying to exit the room, he walked into the bottom door and almost falls over the top of the door. And then somehow the door latched. He was trying to make this very nice, professional exit, and he can’t get out of the office!”
“I was trying not to laugh. I was so buttoned up and nervous, but in my head I am like ‘Oh my God, this guy can’t get out of office. What is going on?’”
As usual, Glenn laughed off the mishap and went on his way. Julis, obviously, got the job and all was well. “But to this day,” she laughed, “I still think about that experience all the time.”
Julis said she is grateful for the experience because it reminds her that at the end of the day Glenn is human. “When I see fans so enamored by Glenn who is this big star, and he is, and he has worked so hard to get there, all I can think about nine times out of ten is that this is the man who got stuck in the office after my interview. He is a real person.”
It is this realness that makes Glenn so easy to work for and has pushed Julis to take advantage of every opportunity that has come her way. Like most people at Mercury, her jobs over the years have been remarkably different than what she ever thought she would be doing.
“When I got out of college I freelanced doing some accessory design for different groups just off and on, and then I was a nanny. I went to school for fashion design, and midway through I realized that it wasn’t for me. But I wanted to just finish up school and get out because I was already in my sophomore or junior year, and I didn’t want to have to start all over again.”
For Julis, who also logged a brief stint as a goat farmer in the Italian countryside, taking a job as an editor of a fledgling magazine at a start-up company in New York City was unfamiliar territory.
“I don’t think managing editor was my title right away, but I don’t really remember. I mean the duties of the job didn’t really change much. In the beginning, Kevin [Balfe] was really great about letting me explore on my own, but also training me. So for the first few months I worked side by side with him, and then probably after about a year I was on my own, checking in with him on a pretty regular basis.”
After a few years, as Mercury continued to grow, Julis took over as managing editor of Fusion. She remained managing editor until August 2011 at which point Fusion transitioned to The Blaze magazine.
While her memories of the magazine are predominantly fond, there was at least one instance she remembers feeling unwanted pressure. “The only time I ever cursed the magazine was during Restoring Honor,” she said laughing. “I am sitting there editing the September, July, August, whatever it was the week of the event or right before, and I was like ‘Are you serious? I don’t care. I don’t care about if this period is in the wrong spot.’ I was so sleep deprived.”
Few people outside of Mercury realize just how big a role Julis played in orchestrating the 2010 Restoring Honor Rally in Washington D.C. and the 2011 Restoring Courage events in Israel. She oversaw the production and logistics of both events. In other words, the events probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without her, though Julis is far too modest to admit it.
“It really had to do with Joe Kerry (former Mercury chief of staff and current president of Mercury One),” Julis said in regards to how she got involved with the Restoring Honor Rally. Kerry, who oversaw the fundraising aspect of the event, approached Julis in late 2009 to see if she was interested in being involved.
“I could tell that Joe had a lot on his plate, and I told him to let me know if he ever needed any help, not knowing that would mean I would handle the logistics and production and he would handle the fundraising, which is eventually how we divided it up,” she said. “It was a slow development. I think from November to December or January we didn’t really talk about it that much. And then in January, he comes in my office, and says something like, ‘Ok we are going to announce the event. What is the marketing strategy?’”
“And that was how I got roped in,” Julis said sarcastically. “No one else really wanted the job because it was so unknown and everyone was really busy. I was excited to try it, not knowing that it was going to be this mammoth event and not knowing that Glenn was going to get so excited and talk about it all the time. I thought it was just going to be this smaller thing. Whoops!”
When Julis stepped in, a production company had already been hired and the event’s vision was pretty well developed. “That made the startup process relatively quick,” she said. Outside of the production, Julis coordinated the logistics of the event. “Logistics had to deal with security, marketing, volunteer coordination, working with the interns to make sure they were on top of their jobs, and then staff housing and travel.”
“I was kind of the liaison between all the different crews because we had a lot of different crews. It was interesting working with all the different groups, and it was fun because it was different personalities. It was interesting to see a team come together because a lot of people had not met each other until the week of or two weeks before the event.”
Part of what made Restoring Honor so incredible was the history it made. “No one had really done an event like that on the mall,” Julis said. “It was nice to see people getting excited. I got to work on things that I had never done before. It was fun taking something from nothing and turning it into an event. Regardless of the size, it’s just nice birthing something like that. I definitely learned about myself.”
Because of Restoring Honor’s success, Julis became the go-to person for “special events.” She oversaw the planning and logistics of Glenn’s America’s First Christmas events in Wilmington, Ohio in December 2010, before being called on yet again to work on Restoring Courage.
“It started with Glenn,” she said. “He had an idea and he called us all in and said, ‘I want to go to Israel.’ And he automatically turned to me and said, ‘You’re going to do it.’”
Julis wasn’t so sure. “I mean I was excited for the challenge, but I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen. Not from a production standpoint, but I honestly didn’t think Glenn would get approved to go over there. I mean I remember the first few months everyone was on the fence over whether or not we should do this.”
Finally, with just three months to go, Julis got her answer – the events were a go.
“The end of May comes, still no decision. And then finally, I forget who made the decision, but we decided to move forward. At that point you have three months to do something in another country,” she recalled.
“So I quickly gathered the team, and I was fortunate to have a really great executive producer, Tzvi Small. He was amazing – couldn’t have done it without him. And it came together very fast. That project was very last minute in terms of concept. I mean even day of still adding and changing the show. So that was very last minute.”
As with most things at Mercury, Restoring Courage happened fast – really fast. Fortunately, Restoring Honor, though very different, provided a good foundation upon which to build. “It happened fast, but the interesting thing was that I had learned so much from Restoring Honor,” Julis said.
“I had an odd sense of calm, and I don’t know why,” she said. “I don’t know why because I shouldn’t have. But I did. I think I just really trusted the people I was working with. We just had a really good rapport. And I felt like everything was going to be okay. There was a lot of goodness surrounding that project.”
Her new role, as special events coordinator for GBTV, seems to strike the right balance – playing to Julis’s organizational and managerial strengths, while still providing a new challenge.
“I guess it was October/November (2011) that Chris [Balfe] and I started talking about a new role, and it was to start doing special events for GBTV, specifically to help market the network and get awareness out.”
For Julis, this new role meant the return of some stability and normalcy to her life. “I was excited because I was looking forward to having my life back. These projects are a lot of fun, but they are very draining and time consuming. And I wanted to work on projects like that, but also work towards other goals. I thought the special events and promotions would lend itself well to the next phase of this special events job. Its similar concepts and skill sets being utilized, but on smaller scales and in different ways.”
Up next for Julis is the planning and creating of a GBTV fan experience at the Restoring Love event at Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium on Saturday, July 28, which she promises will be a lot of fun. “I don’t want to give anything away, but it will be outside the stadium. GBTV will be doing a pre-show and have a broadcast presence. Everything will be available on GBTV. You can watch the entire show there.”
It looks like Julis is continuing to make the most of what comes her way, which is probably for the best seeing as history shows Glenn’s ideas just keep getting bigger and you never know what his next idea might entail – a rally on the moon perhaps? I wouldn’t rule it out.