A well-respected figure in the literary world, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh is known for running the Worldwide Literary Department at William Morris Endeavor (WME), and has been named to the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment list for five consecutive years.
If that wasn’t enough, lately she’s been tackling an entirely new challenge: launching a new event series and community-based movement, Together, aimed at women. The Together tour features, “a voice for every single type of perspective,” as Walsh puts it.
For as long as she remembers, she’s been in love with storytelling, so it seemed natural for her to dedicate her entire life to storytellers and their “vulnerable truths.” Walsh has a penchant for being tuned in to authentic voices. “When I hear it, I know it.” She has a near messianic desire “to spread the light of truth.”
In a lot of ways, Together is organized around the principle that everyone needs purpose. “Purpose is not just something for famous people,” says Walsh “Every single person needs a purpose. It’s a necessity.” She believes it’s incredibly vital to people’s well being.
The Inspiration to Create a Movement
After helping create Arianna Huffington’s Thrive conference and Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want tour, Walsh uncovered a newfound passion for the power of live events.
At the same time, she discovered there was a market need. The energy of these tours and conferences often waned afterwards; there was no mechanism for keeping continuity with this community that had been created. Walsh would work on these large-scale events but then when she got home, she crashed back to reality. She began thinking of an event series could keep that excitement going afterwards, so that “when we come back to your town next year, it’s like a reunion.”
At the same time, the conference might not even be an annual thing. “I’m not convinced about annual,” she says – not because of a lack of interest, but perhaps because there’s too much interest to wait a year. One company in Portland, for example, said if Together came back sooner, they’d buy out the whole theater. “Maybe it’s twice a year. Maybe it’s three times a year.”
Eager to sustain that type of community in between live events, Walsh dreamt up Together, an annual “unconference” that brings women of different backgrounds together to support one another in the name of change. Moreover, Together would be designed to become a community post-event. To ensure the conversation keeps going post-event, the tour is accompanied by an app, Together Live, designed to foster community over the long-term.
The Tour so Far
Together, which kicked off in September 2016 across six US cities (tickets are still on sale for its final stops in Atlanta and Denver), considers itself to be “flipping the script” on typical women’s empowerment events. Those events tend to be focused on topics such as breaking the glass ceiling, work-life balance, and “leaning in.” By contrast, Together frames itself as a generation and background-agnostic attempt to bring women together in the name of “action, love, well-being, and connection.”
The Together tour features a diverse set of inspirational speakers such as author Glennon Doyle Melton, internationally celebrated yoga teacher Seane Corn, filmmaker Valarie Kaur and activist Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis. Moreover, each city Together visits features special guests: Alicia Keys recently joined the tour in Brooklyn.
Unsurprisingly, putting on an event series isn’t child’s play. Plenty of mistakes are made along the way, so Walsh has had a chance to learn from previous events she’s worked on. One event went on sale four months early, which was a big mistake in her eyes: these days, most people are unwilling to commit to just about anything that far in advance. Another good lesson: a lower price point makes sense if you’re trying to make something inclusive.
Most conferences of this type are focused on limiting space and including serious price tags; Walsh leaned in the opposite direction when creating Together, with prices as low as $25 for admission. “I can’t say this is about building together, healing together, if it’s not inclusive.” Together’s embrace of inclusiveness is mission critical to her, which led her to seek out sponsors like Life Reimagined by AARP and State Farm. Of course, WME has also been a huge proponent of the Together conference.
Walsh’s advice to others looking to starting a movement: it has to be close to your heart. In many ways, it’s a labor of love – and without that love, the hours of hard labor won’t seem worth it. After all, most labors of love tend to be additional projects intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs take on in addition to their typical workload, and Walsh is no exception. She sits on WME’s board; moreover, her department accounts for more New York Times bestsellers than any other literary agency in the world: sixty percent, by some accounts. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the literary industry, including Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Ken Burns (The Civil War), and Marcus Buckingham (First Break All the Rules), among many others.
Despite all of that, Together is a long-term focus for her. “I want this to be global,” she says. “I want people to be renting RVs to get here.” Down the line, she’s love to even use virtual reality to improve accessibility – and what’s a better way to bring a community, well, together?
Does this sound ambitious? Probably. “People said you can’t do all things,” says Walsh. “Well, watch us.”