This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.
If you’re reading this you’re probably aware of the PR ups and downs experienced recently by Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, two very prominent businesswomen. Sandberg is step-by-stepping her way through a case study on successful book launches, while Mayer ignited backlash and was perceived as setting family/work balance issues back a generation for ending Yahoo!’s policy of allowing some workers to telecommute.
I won’t get into the mixed messages that the media is communicating over whether Mayer and Sandberg are worthy role models for modern feminists or examples of how to ‘have it all.’ What they both are is terrific examples of how to be successful at work and in your career. And their examples translate well in the PR industry.
Picture Marissa Mayer as the new head of a PR agency, one that’s suffered in recent years due to the recession and needs an injection of fresh leadership to reinvigorate its client relationships and to amp up its bottom line to satisfy the bigwigs in its holding company.
PR agencies are in the service business, which means they must be accessible and responsive to clients and their needs. Agencies that are experiencing contractions in business and greater competition are more likely to call ‘all hands on deck’ meetings and stress personal accountability to meet these business challenges. In tight markets, firms may search for ways to combine or consolidate resources or they may try to establish new service offerings and revenue streams. The process innovations they come up with are most likely going to be geared toward helping each employee reach ultimate productivity levels and drive business results. (I realize not all PR agencies are the same; independent firms and virtual agencies, among other types of PR firms, may have different guiding values and different ways to achieve their desired results.)
Mayer gets it. She can talk the talk because she’s walked the walk. She was Google’s first female engineer and the 20th employee for the startup. During her career at Google, Mayer was an engineer, designer, product manager, and executive, and launched more than 100 well-known features and products. She was also in charge of some of Google’s acquisitions. She’s a Wal-Mart board member and angel investor. If anyone can right the ship, it’s her (we think).
Now picture Sheryl Sandberg as a senior vice president of corporate communications. She’s a great boss who brings a broad perspective to the role from her varied and impressive background of experiences. She knows what it takes to get PR a ‘seat at the table,’ too. Even better, Sandberg enjoys mentoring the next generation of internal communications directors with great advice on how to navigate the corporate career ladder.
I’ve written before about how the lines between PR and other functions in an organization can get blurred with PR increasing being measured for its ability to impact sales, customer service and other marketing functions. Sheryl’s experience as COO at Facebook is a good example of how to build inter-organizational bridges among various departments. At Facebook, Sandberg oversees sales, marketing, business development, HR, public policy and communications. She was a driver in uniting these functions to make Facebook profitable, one of her first major accomplishments at the company. Sheryl also understands the importance of transparency and authentic communications, which are essential to corporate communications and brand development.
And who better than Sheryl to shepherd PR through a period of massive change? Technology and social media are changing the PR role, complicating the way we work and measure our results. If anyone can teach us the importance of staying open-minded and encourage us to learn and adopt new methods, it’s the woman who is launching a cultural movement to get women to be better represented in corporate leadership roles.
Like the many places Mayer and Sandberg have worked in their careers, PR can be both hospitable and tough on working parents. I don’t think most working mothers are in a position to follow Mayer’s and Sandberg’s examples of balancing work and family, but both women offer lessons in how to succeed in the workplace.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.