Erica Ehm: Digital mom strategist
By Mike Foster
In the early 1980s, an 18-year-old uOttawa communications student by the name of Erica Miechowsky was determined to make it big in the music industry. She already had one foot in the business, managing singers, DJ-ing and working at Records on Wheels.
She recalls how her University of Ottawa professors were “free and accommodating”, tailoring assignments to match her aspirations and marking them as independent studies.
“I wanted to become a recording engineer and uOttawa didn’t have a course on how to record. But there was a little 4-track studio in the basement and I was given permission to do a course on my own. I taught myself how to use the 4-track studio and brought in some musicians and voice talent. I recorded some songs, voiceovers and created mini-commercials. I was always very thankful to the school for letting me do that, because that was a very meaningful time in my life.”
Now Erica Miechowsky is better known as Erica Ehm (BA ʼ85), one of the biggest A-list celebrities of the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Ehm started working as a MuchMusic VJ months before she graduated from uOttawa. She rapidly became one of the first and, arguably, the most recognized VJs at a time when the music video reigned supreme as the coolest media art form.
Today, she is once again a trend-setter in an ascending media art form as founder and CEO of YummyMummyClub.ca, a website and social media community for moms (and dads, too). The site “where mums spill it!” has more than 50 bloggers and experts sharing thoughts on everything from “What Your Kid’s Drawings Reveal About Them (And You)” to “Vegan Kitchen Hacks: Magical Meatless Mushroom Gravy”. One of her most popular bloggers is her own mom, Evelyn Hannon, who at age 74 writes a blog called Aging Disgracefully and is CEO of www.journeywoman.com, a travel advice newsletter for women, which attracts an audience of 65,000 readers in 100 countries.
In 2000, Ehm became a mother herself with the birth of her son, Joshua.
“I had a really difficult time adjusting to motherhood because I have always worked. I’m a Type-A person and when you have children, you have to give up control and let your children overtake your life. I didn’t understand that. It took me a long time to adjust.”
By that time, she was an accomplished songwriter, winning two Juno awards in 1991 and 1993 as a producer/writer, three Canadian Country Music Awards and three SOCAN song-writing awards. Her songs have been recorded by Van Morrison, Tim Thorney and Cassandra Vasik. She was also doing some acting.
Ehm says that part of her adjustment to being a mom involved wanting to reach out to other moms. In August 2003, she started a TV show called “Yummy Mummy” that ran on Life Network and Discovery House for two seasons.
“The concept of the show was to address the realities of modern motherhood rather than it being a parenting show that was only about the health and well-being of children. This show addressed the health and well-being of mothers,” says Ehm.
When the series ended, she wanted to continue connecting with other moms, especially after her daughter Jessie was born in 2003. So she started YummyMummyClub.ca (YMC) in March 2006.
“It really connected with a lot of moms because not many people were talking about the realities of motherhood and the challenges. People were either too embarrassed or feeling too guilty to talk about how hard a job it was, or thinking that they were doing a poor job. I was OK talking about that. The website grew as I found other kindred spirits who were creative moms with a passion to communicate.”
The YMC site is now Canada’s biggest independently-owned online lifestyle magazine for moms. Content ranges from topical to titillating. Amongst the recipes for Triple Chocolate Coffee Brownies, moms blog about dealing with exhaustion, relationships, behavioural problems, depression, grief, breastfeeding and tips for spicing up their sex lives. The site is winning awards – Best Blog at the 2014 Canadian Online Publishers Awards, First Place at the 2013 Canadian Weblog Awards in the General Interest category and a 2012 Digital Media Award in Lifestyle Entertainment.
“The Internet allows us to have conversations with strangers about very personal and challenging topics. Ultimately, it lets everybody know that they are not alone,” she says. “There are new ways to parent; new strategies, new taboos. It is a good time to be a mom because of the digital space and social media. Historically, women were very isolated. The Internet has provided an opportunity for women to be more connected and part of a community, even if happens to be online, which sometimes then translates into real-life friendships.”
But does she miss her jet-setting days as a VJ? After all, she interviewed the most famous people and bands on the planet, including Sting, Bono, Kurt Cobain, Duran Duran, to name a few.
“No, my life is significantly more fulfilling now. I have a community of like-minded women who are the ones creating the stories and making the art. We are improving our lives together and going through the ups and downs of motherhood together. Although I loved my job and MuchMusic, and interviewing rock stars was a blast and perfect for that time of my life, at a certain point, I got tired of guys who hid behind their hair and could just strum three chords and didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t that exciting to me anymore.”
After running YMC for eight years, Ehm knows a thing or two about branded content. So what does she think of the University of Ottawa’s rebranding under the Defy the Conventional tagline?
“Yeah, it’s good. It is out there. Employers are looking for employees who are entrepreneurial in spirit. To me, Defy the Conventional does invoke the concept of independent thinkers. I am very non-conventional and that is probably why I am successful,” says Ehm.
Clearly Ehm always had the drive to get where she wanted to be. However, recording one of her first songs – You’ve Got the Devil in Your Eyes – on that little 4-track, writing an essay entitled How To Get A Hit Record and learning about Dadaism at uOttawa were “life-changing” steps along the way.
“I remember one of my professors said to me, ‘I want you to do a project on Dadaism.’ And I said, ‘what’s Dadaism?’ He just smiled at me and said, ‘You’re about to find out.’ That was life-changing for me because I was able to connect it to punk rock and surrealism and new wave. It started to connect the dots for me about art and culture and history and how trends repeat themselves in different ways. It was one of those epiphanies I had while at school.”
Erica Ehm’s best and worst VJ moments:
“I was at MuchMusic for 10 years, so it’s always hard to pick a favourite, but a lot of people say that my interview with Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was memorable and he was pretty open about his life. He committed suicide a few weeks after the interview.”
“The Red Hot Chili Peppers, because they were really crass on camera, swore a lot, appeared to be real troublemakers and then as soon as the cameras stopped rolling they would apologize and say ‘Are we pushing it too much? Should we tone it down a little?’ They were just putting on an act. They were my least favourite because they were faking the cool.”
Visit Defy the Conventional to read more stories about the uOttawa community.
Erica Ehm keeps on rocking as creator and publisher of YummyMummyClub.ca. Last year she won Ontario’s Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Award for her “exceptional leadership.” Photo: Josh Moshenberg.