After spending the last nine years building her boutique PR company the GreenRoom into a success, Mary Hilliard Harrington made the surprising announcement on Sept. 2 that she had sold a majority stake in the Nashville firm to longtime employees Tyne Parrish and Kristie Sloan. The pair, along with the firm's other staffers, will continue to rep its roster of heavyweight clients that includes Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett, Kix Brooks and Live Nation Entertainment's portfolio of country music festivals.
Harrington has won the Country Music Assn.'s publicist of the year trophy for three straight years, but for the last five years she has also worked as an artist manager, directing Bentley's career in partnership with Red Light's Coran Capshaw. More recently, she and Capshaw also added the Dot Records-signed singer-songwriter Tucker Beathard to their co-venture. Newcomer Beathard, 20, is the son of hit Nashville songwriter Casey Beathard, and was the inspiration for a poignant song composed by his father and recorded by Eric Church, "Homeboy."
In selling the company, Harrington is backing away from publicity, but will keep an office at the GreenRoom's Cannery Row headquarters to use for running her management business. And while she's looking forward to having time to pursue other ventures that might inspire her, that likely won't involve adding any new management clients just yet.
With both Bentley and Beathard working on new albums for release in 2016, "I'm going to really focus on them," she says. "I don't want to f— it up."
After deciding to sell, Harrington grappled with exactly how to proceed. "I had [buyout] offers from bigger publicity companies in New York and L.A., because everybody wants to be in Nashville right now," she says. "It would have been super easy for me to take a big check and peace out, and I thought a lot about it. Ultimately, I just couldn't sleep, because I didn't know what those people would do to my employees that had been so loyal to me. And I didn't know how they would treat my clients once they got swept up into these major rosters of actors and pop musicians. Would they get lost? I certainly didn't want that. It's been such a labor of love, so thinking about that made me want to puke."
Ultimately, she decided to sell to her key staffers. She says others have lauded her decision as an example of women helping women, but she just views it as a gratifying opportunity to set up two of her trusted proteges in business.
She laughingly says her decision to keep a small stake in the company was "maybe because I'm a control freak. [Or] maybe it's because I'm already having separation anxiety."
While she jokingly compares the long day she spent informing clients, their managers and their labels of her decision to sell to "getting water-boarded," she also says everyone was overwhelmingly supportive. "The majority of them honestly recognized that I really have given the last 10 years of my life to them," she says. "We're all so much like family, and they're letting me, for a minute, put me before them."
The seeds of Harrington's decision to sell began after the birth of daughter Scarlett (with husband Ryan Harrington) about a year-and-a-half ago. "I used to get super excited about getting up to go do the Today show or Good Morning America at 3:30 in the morning," she says. Now, "I don't ever want to get up at 3:30 again."
Her previous schedule, which involved about 100 days a year on the road, found her facing such unexpected situations as the time early in Lady Antebellum's career when she spent Christmas Eve trapped at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport with the band's Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley.
"Those kinds of things just aren't worth it to me anymore," she admits. "You have to love what you do so much that you don't mind leaving home every weekend. You're missing another bedtime with your kid because whatever you're doing matters to you."
With her new schedule, she says, "the volume will just be turned down, at least for now … This is going to clear some mental space to be able to focus on some other things that I might want to try." But the workaholic Harrington admits, "I know myself enough to know I won't be able to keep it turned down very long."
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.