Hannah Gottlieb-Graham Is in Good Company

In just four years, the Alma Communications founder and Surface alumna has founded a female-founded arts and culture agency that counts Antwaun Sargent, Hannah Traore Gallery, Miles Greenberg, and Jack Shainman Gallery among its star-studded client roster.

Hannah Gottlieb-Graham. Credit: Jordan Tiberio.

As spring’s warmth bears down on New York, the hardships posed to the city’s arts scene during the year 2020 are a distant memory. After all, gala season has picked up again in full swing, the art and design fairs have found their momentum, galleries are making big moves, and museums are enjoying the kind of multi-year planning runway needed to stage the kinds of awe-inspiring shows taken for granted in the before-times. Alma Communications founder Hannah Gottlieb-Graham is one of the architects of some of the art world’s biggest comebacks and new beginnings since then.

That was when Gottlieb-Graham struck out on her own as a founder. After a career that began at Surface, then took her through the art department of The New Yorker, the grind of the city’s most prestigious public relations agencies, and then to the Aperture Foundation where she ran communications, she’s accumulated an industry know-how far beyond her years. Since then, she’s grown her staff of two—herself and husband Andrew Samuels—to a powerful group of six women with diverse interests and career backgrounds, helping her growing client roster tell thousands of meaningful stories about their work in the process. “I’ve often shared with friends that I feel like Alma has grown as much in the last four years as some companies grow in 20,” she says. 

Gottlieb-Graham spoke with Surface about the photographers who have shaped her, leading as a woman, and the endless quest to unplug.

Hannah Traore, Hannah Gottlieb-Graham. Credit: BFA.

So much of how ALMA positions itself is through the lens of being a female-founded company. Why is that framing important to you?

Women have historically been socialized to prioritize active listening, understanding, and communication. When I first started thinking about hiring, I had a very clear vision of creating a communications matriarchy of sorts: a space where my team and I can be our most creative, compassionate, and empathetic selves, while simultaneously delivering for our clients and caring deeply about ambition and performance. It’s been a blessing to work with so many thoughtful women. Everyone who’s been on my team has touched me and my business in a profound way. Andrew of course isn’t a woman, but he’s an extremely caring, gentle, and kind man who’s learned a lot from working in a female-founded environment. 

How has your business and vision evolved since the earliest days of being a founder?

My vision has remained the same: to collaborate with remarkable creatives, to tell important stories, and to uplift marginalized voices. The business itself has evolved greatly. I’ve often shared with friends that I feel like ALMA has grown as much in the last four years as some companies grow in 20. 

I’ve built a team, worked on more than 200 projects, traveled extensively in support of those projects, moved the office from my home in Brooklyn to a headquarters in Manhattan, and learned a tremendous amount about entrepreneurship, leadership, and team and client management along the way, all while placing stories and running campaigns that I’m very proud of. It’s been a wild journey.

Hannah Gottlieb-Graham, Jack Shainman. Credit: BFA.

What have some of your biggest “wins” been, to date?

So much has happened in the last four years and I truly count each moment of growth and change as a win. Our biggest recent win has been moving into the office of my dreams at WSA, a fantastic creative hub in the Financial District. We’re in great company alongside some of my favorite small businesses (Bode, Ghetto Gastro, and Luar are our neighbors) and it’s been a joy to work out of a space that’s expansive and creatively motivating.

How did your career before Alma inform the way you work with your clients?

I started my career as a writer, first writing for Surface magazine 10 years ago. My parents are writers and always instilled a great love of reading and writing; for many years, I thought I’d go into writing or editing. Another pre-PR experience that shaped me deeply was working with Elisabeth Biondi, who was the visuals editor at The New Yorker for 15 years. She’s the toughest and hardest working woman I’ve ever met, besides my mother. 

Those roles, and a few others spread between media and photography, made a huge impact on the way that I fell in love with the merging of words and images. Somewhere along the way, I discovered the art world and realized that communications could act as a catalyst to tell stories and shape change. My PR journey began at many of the well-known arts and culture firms in New York City, eventually evolving into an in-house role at The Aperture Foundation. I handled communications for the book program, the magazine, the gallery exhibitions, the Photo Book Awards, and the organization at large. It was a big job that provided me with a ton of autonomy and I was lucky enough to collaborate with many of my favorite photographers: Dawoud Bey, Deana Lawson, Diana Markosian, Ethan James Green, Joel Meyerowitz, Kwame Brathwaite, Ming Smith, Paul Sepuya, and Zanele Muholi. I developed a lot of confidence in that role, which fueled me to find my footing on my own. 

Left: Hannah Gottlieb-Graham, Allison Glenn. Right: Maria Vogel, Andrew Samuels, Hannah Gottlieb-Graham. Credit: BFA.

It can seem like you’re “on” 24/7, answering media outreach, showing up for clients at their events, etc. How do you carve out space for yourself?

The truth is, it’s very tough for me to fully turn off. I think most founders feel this way when they create the thing that they’ve always dreamed about. I also work with my husband, Andrew, who’s our fantastic COO and General Counsel and built ALMA with me from the beginning. Andrew and I adore working together, but one of the hard parts is that we’re both almost always plugged in. As the business has grown we’ve gotten more comfortable with stepping away and taking time for ourselves, but it’s also the thing that we both love the most. At the end of the day, we both feel very blessed to be on this journey together.

I will say that I’m a former dancer and movement is very important to me; no matter how busy my day is, I always get some sort of workout in each morning. My wellness routine is equally sacred: I’m a big fan of saunas, massages, long walks and runs—anything that gets me moving, outside, or off my phone and laptop. 

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