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Will Email Pitches Become Obsolete?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

David Gerzof Richard created some buzz last month when he spoke with several media outlets, including Fox, NPR and the Boston Globe, about the decreasing interest in email as a communication tool.

People gave multiple reasons for steering away from email: it’s full of spam, they favor real-time communications, younger people think it’s old-fashioned, it’s “one-to-one” in a time of “one-to-many” communication.

The discussions made me wonder what this means for PR professionals. As younger generations enter the PR workplace will they change the way we pitch and communicate? Will their preference for short, immediate communications – such as texting and tweeting – force us to accommodate those styles?

On the one hand, I can see it. We’ve witnessed the demise of pitching via fax (some readers may never have sent a pitch via fax in the first place) and one could argue that pitching via phone has become taboo. It’s become almost impossible to find a publicly listed phone number for some members of the media. Is email the next likely candidate for extinction?

When Vocus asked media for tips on pitching them , at least one writer suggested avoiding email. Freelance journalist Pam Baker responded, “My tip is to pitch me via Twitter or G+ and wait for invite to email me more. That way, pitch doesn’t get lost in email swamp.”

Freelance writer Menachem Wecker makes the point even clearer. In this Vocus article on reporter’s pet peeves about PR pitches, he says, If someone ever tracks down a reporter who prefers phone pitches to emails, it’d be worth creating a low-budget film documenting that person’s biography. (Perhaps she or he is based in a very small town somewhere, with poor Internet access? Or in a different century?) I happen to prefer Twitter, Google+, or Facebook pitches to email ones (my social media ‘boxes’ are less clogged than my email), and I never understand why spokespeople in training are taught it’s a good idea to send an email pitch and then follow up by phone immediately thereafter.”

On the other hand, the pragmatist in me feels that while email may be becoming obsolete for personal communications, it still plays an important role in business communication. Others have also made the case for email as a business communication vehicle citing its ability to convey and document complex thoughts, lists, action items, etc.

A few email alternatives have sprung up in the business world. As the Boston Globe reports, “the new generation of networking tools from IBM, Inc., Yammer, and others (like @prsaraevans’ Tracky), go way beyond basic communication. They are, in essence, virtual workplaces that combine the functionality of multiple programs, from e-mail to logistics to content production. In these closed networks, employees can share files, show work in progress, and have personal and group conversations or communications using text, pictures, or live video, without switching back and forth among multiple programs. If users still can’t do without traditional e-mail, those programs can pipe in outside services such as Gmail.” In the PR world,  PitchEngine devotees swear by the power of this next generation press release distribution tool.

What do you think? Is pitching via email about to become extinct?

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Not Another Sad Desk Lunch

Are you reading this at your desk during your lunch break? According to PR Daily’s Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey, more than 70 percent of PR pros eat lunch at their desk. Hopefully, you’re not also subject to one of these sad desk lunches!

Most of us understand that it’s important to take a break during the day – for physical and mental health, as well as to keep your mind fresh and creative. For instance, this Wall Street Journal column on sparking creativity tells us to, “build time for mind wandering into daily routines, breaking away from tasks requiring concentration to take a walk or run, look out a window or do some relaxing, routine physical task.”

And since lunchtime occurs around the middle of the work day, many of us attempt to combine feeding with rejuvenating ourselves at the same time. To start, Harvard Business Review recommends scheduling a formal break for yourself.

Once you’ve booked the time, consider these ideas for getting away from your desk at the lunch hour (at least occasionally):

Getting outside:

  • Taking a walk in nature
  • Watching the clouds
  • Going to a farmer’s market
  • Visiting a body of water
  • Go for a drive
  • Take the subway/bus to another neighborhood


Shifting focus:

  • Calling a friend
  • Knocking personal errands or tasks off your to-do list
  • Planning dinner

Switching gears:

  • Listening to music
  • Viewing some art
  • Practicing an instrument
  • Knitting
  • Drawing or painting
  • Reading (something that’s not work-related)
  • Surfing the web
  • Going online shopping
  • Squeezing in exercise:
  • Going for a run or walk
  • Dancing
  • Taking an exercise class
  • Jumping on the treadmill
  • Walking the dog

Can’t afford to completely turn off the work flow? Try:

  • Visiting a client
  • Eating out with colleagues
  • Having a working lunch away from your desk or office

If Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg Worked in PR…

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.



What is PR? A little of this, a little of that…

This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

Many folks smarter than me have struggled to answer the question, “What is PR?” (Heck, I can’t even explain it to my mom.) Last year, PRSA attempted to define public relations once and for all. Since it’s a new year, I propose a new attempt at solving this dilemma and respectfully suggest that the reason we can’t see ourselves to a clear definition of this profession is because the lines around it are so blurry.

Take the buzz around ‘content marketing.’ To me, much of what content marketing purports to do sounds a lot like PR. Creating content – whether it’s a white paper, a book, a video, shareable research or a forum for customers – has been a staple in the PR pantry for years. Only now, marketers are using technology to assign analytics to these efforts so they can be linked more directly to lead generation, further blurring the line between PR and other members of the sales team.

Sometimes, there’s so much content already out there that we PR folks are tasked with side jobs like editing and curating. We comb through this content, select the best pieces for our needs and incorporate it in our pitches and social media efforts.

When it comes to the ‘relations’ part of our name, we know we can’t afford to focus solely on the media. As most of us know, there are many ‘publics’ that we need to be concerned with. What’s new is a practice of communicating directly with customers, which means the line between public relations and customer service can get blurry.

Some will argue that PR is best suited to managing an organization’s social media efforts (whatever that means!), but that isn’t likely to end up being the last word. Since the sales, customer service, HR, etc. roles also invested in social media efforts, PR’s involvement in managing the process could end up blurring the lines between PR and those various functions.

Along with this, many PR pros are becoming more involved as an advisor and managing conversations and interactions between brands and customers. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I wonder if this ‘trusted counselor’ role could mean that the line between PR and legal teams is getting fuzzier? Will we see an increase in PR firms hiring staff with legal expertise?

There have always been people who have confused PR with advertising and new terms for different forms of advertising aren’t helping the matter. Gini Deitrich recently blogged about a new form of advertising, native advertising, that is subtle and blends with other content in this post about how native advertising will affect public relations (read the comments, too). Gini’s description of native advertising sounds like the ‘branded content’ campaigns that Ad Age covered in this article 7 Branded Content Campaigns that Got it Right in 2012. And they all sound like ideas that a PR team could have worked on.

What other roles have you seen morph with PR’s responsibilities lately?

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


How to Get Great PR Even When You’re in Stealth Mode

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Stealth-mode PR. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I bet you know what I’m talking about.

You know — a company hires PR talent to raise its profile, but doesn’t want to put itself too far out there. For instance, a small private startup might want to convince investors and potential employees that it’s the next best thing, but doesn’t want to tip off competitors by revealing too many numbers (e.g. revenue, customer data, etc).

This can put the PR function in a bit of a bind.

It’s tough to get top media outlets to profile your company if you can’t show why you’re relevant to their readers by mentioning customers with recognizable names or spotlighting your meteoric growth and attractiveness as a potential investment.

However, if you find yourself in this situation – working with a client who doesn’t want to reveal too many ‘secrets’ or even just one who is less aggressive when it comes to PR – here are a few suggestions:

Take the focus off the company and its product and build awareness of its ‘thought leadership.’ The term ‘thought leadership’ has been around for awhile and is the label for establishing an individual as an authority or forward-thinker on a topic or in a particular field. The work can involve strategizing about messaging, brainstorming new language terms and making ideas come to life through examples and application. Tactics can include writing white papers and bylined articles; speaking/delivering presentations before live or web audiences; authoring a book; conducting surveys and sharing the results; and establishing and sponsoring an awards program.

Or, focus on the personalities behind the business. Concentrate your efforts on the firm’s leaders and managers, perhaps even without mentioning by name the business they’re working with currently, by promoting them as speakers, award nominees and online authorities.

Build an online presence. Invest time in developing a web site (perhaps you don’t publish all of the content at once if it’s deemed sensitive) and social media channels. You can also monitor and respond to industry- or topic-specific online communities. Building a following online will come in useful when you are able to share news. It can also result in better SEO and search results that may be important to other company initiatives.

Plan ahead and prepare for the moment when you hear “go.” Brief influencers, such as industry analysts and significant customers, so that they can serve as references when you’re ready to tell your story. In the same way (using NDAs if necessary) prepare the media by offering bloggers and key beat reporters a background briefing and general outline of your future plans.

Develop non-news content. Content is king and even pitchable these days. Create and build a bank of quality content by interviewing other people (experts, customers, etc.) about your industry or issues; record summaries of industry events (e.g. highlights from tradeshows); develop case studies (and make them anonymous if necessary); or hire a comic who can create original art for you.

Align with the company’s current goals. If publicity isn’t a priority, understand what goals are most important to the company’s success right now and how PR can support those goals. Is it developing channels for customer communications, e.g. emails, newsletters, online chats, online portal sites? Helping the sales team with support materials? Organizing events to facilitate networking? Participating in industry groups to gain credibility and meet partners?

Have you ever been in this position? What did you do?

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 You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.




Are You Discreet Enough to Work in PR?

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

I found this post by Arik Hanson on whether PR folks should share their political viewpoints on Facebook fascinating for two reasons.  First, Arik questions whether a lack of discretion, i.e. not keeping your political views to yourself, could be bad for business. Secondly, he makes the question specific to the PR profession.

To Arik’s first point, about whether a lack of discretion can hurt business, some folks will say, “if people don’t like who I am or what I believe in, then they don’t have to work with me” and stress the importance of being true to yourself. They have a point. And it can be fun to work with people who have strong identities. You certainly always know where things stand.

As for those of us who have opinions but try not to come across as overly opinionated, though, I also agree with Arik’s point that if he “doesn’t do it face-to-face (i.e. argue about politics), then why would I do it on social media.” In other words, being professional and showing discretion about discussing controversial topics are important qualities at all times, perhaps even more so when our personal and professional lives intersect on social media like Facebook.

In Arik’s blog post, he makes the case specific to working in PR because of the service nature of the business. Whether you work as an independent consultant, part of an agency team or in a corporate department, you serve a client who is entrusting their reputation and brand to your professional expertise.

As Arik says, “I think working in a service-based industry has everything to do with it. Especially for me, as a solo. When people work with me, I think they’re buying “me” as much as they’re buying my skills/abilities. So, if I were to share my political views online (and they could see that), that might factor in. Sure, that information might help, in some cases, but I tend to think it would hurt me more than it would help. And, generally, I don’t want to give people more reasons NOT to hire me–I want to give them more reasons TO hire me. So, maybe I’m in a unique position–could be–but that’s my stance.”

I’d go even further and say that the nature of working in PR requires discretion.

Our work is all about selecting which stories to tell and which notes to hit with precisely which audiences. We filter through confidential information and groom spokespeople. We study viewer habits and Google Analytics to understand our audience’s preferences so we can give them what they want.

Think about the celebrity publicists who balance their clients’ desire for exposure with their need to control the image that’s being promoted. Sometimes the challenge in balancing this work becomes apparent once the publicist’s discretion slips and they reveal unflattering information about their former clients.

To get back to Arik Hanson’s point, social media gaffes can crack the discussion wide open by demonstrating what happens when PR professionals forgets their allegiances online.

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 You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.



Do You Have the Political Chops to Work in PR?


A guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

If someone told you that you’re “being political” or coming across as a real “politician,” you’d probably be offended. But I will argue that being politically savvy, i.e. having the ability to influence others to accomplish your goals, will serve you well in a career in PR.

The 10 most important political skills crucial to working in PR are the abilities to:

  1. Re-frame a situation — You won’t get far – unless your goal is to annoy the most people possible – without being able to see things from more than one perspective. In PR speak, this means being able to customize a message or story for specific individual audiences.
  2. Back up your story – Your story will be stronger and more convincing if you can back it up with evidence and proof points, such as customer testimonials, facts and statistics, research from opinion polls or surveys, third-party validation from awards, rankings or expert endorsements, etc.
  3. Convince your audience that you are credible – It’s not enough to have a great story if no one will listen to you tell it. Experienced spokespeople have titled credentials like speaker, author, successful entrepreneur or businessperson, but inexperienced spokespeople can demonstrate their authority by creating their own video examples, articulating new approaches and building followers online.
  4. Stay prepared – No, you don’t have to be paranoid and constantly prepping for a crisis (though that can be useful too), but savvy PR pros need to understand their industry, the players, what’s going on and what macro events can impact industry dynamics.
  5. Know your opponent – Whether your PR career is centered on working with causes, people or products, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape and what sets your work apart.
  6. Build a strong network – Strong PR professionals have good, up-to-date working networks of people to call, including the media, with whom they can work with to get things done and communicate messages.
  7. Manage people – Each day, PR staff interact with people at many levels, from their own bosses and the teams they supervise to the people at multiple levels within their client organizations and also those working in various ways in the media and other external audiences. Good managers are able to communicate effectively with all levels in an organization, and give the right message/tone to the right audience at the right time.
  8. Appear sincere – Someone with really strong political skills won’t appear to have any such skills at all. Character traits like being genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective are all associated with being politically savvy and leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.
  9. “Practice influence” – I didn’t invent this phrase, but I like it. It means showing good judgment about when to assert yourself. For example, while you may be powerful within some groups and could easily throw your weight around to get what you want, that isn’t always the politically expedient way to go.
  10. Create change – Many of us get by in PR by being great at executing the first nine of these skills, but the most expert among us understand how to create effective PR programs that “move the dial” to achieve desired changes in audience behaviors.

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Media Relations 101 for Your Job Search

You dream of landing the perfect job at a public relations agency, working with the most interesting clients in the industry and getting them all sorts of public recognition. I’m always amazed at how some PR pros are brilliant at their jobs, but when it comes to selling themselves in a job interview, they crumble. Where did that confident, over-achieving, media rockstar go? Apply some media relations 101 rules on your job search will help pitch yourself as the perfect fit for your next job.

  1. Do Your Homework. It gets tiring sending cover letter after cover letter. You’ll be tempted to just use a template and be done with it. But spending just a little time digging into the company you want to work for will pay off. For starters, it’s impressive because you have already set yourself apart from 90% of the applications the company receives. Unfortunately, most people try to shortcut the job search. Making a tiny mention in your cover letter that shows you’ve read through the company’s website, blog, or recent news can show the hiring manager that you put thought into your letter, and that you really are interested in working for this company.
  2. Know Who You’re Pitching. Sometimes those “Dear Hiring Manager” generic openings are unavoidable, but if you do a little research (see #1), you may be able to get the name of the person who’s interviewing for the role you want. Look on the company’s site, and call if you need to in order to get this information.
  3. Customize Your Pitch. Both your cover letter and your resume should be tweaked slightly for each PR job you apply for. One might look for industry-specific experience, while another may want someone with a wider depth of experience. Play to what they’re looking for, and highlight your skills to match. If you are agency-side, a quick blurb about each client you represent helps set the tone and show how you are the security software PR expert they are looking for. Don’t make the reader think too much to connect the dots.
  4. Hesitate Before Sending an Attachment. Not everyone wants attachments. Read through the job description carefully to see whether it mentions how the hiring manager would prefer to receive resumes. If you have an online link to your resume, include it in the cover letter.
  5. Proofread! Nothing looks sloppier than grammatical errors in your resume or cover letter. Everyone in the world must know this rule by now. Yet I’d say at least half of the applications I receive have some glaring issue. Go over each carefully, and ask a friend to do so as well, to ensure its perfection. Then, just like with a PR pitch, follow up. Give it a few days once you’ve submitted your application, and then check in to see when the hiring manager expects to make a decision.

50 Tips for Pitching A Story to the Media

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This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

  1. Ask any reporter for tips on pitching them and 9 times out of 10 they’ll say, “read my writing.” Here’s how that can help:
  2. If they repeatedly cover the same topic you can offer a resource in that area.
  3. Look at your pitch target’s headlines to get a sense of their preferred tone, format and style of writing.
  4. Understand what they’ve already covered and don’t re-pitch old stories.
  5. Reporters don’t like to be pitched stories that have already been written…if you bring up a past story, do it to offer a completely different angle or side.
  6. Check the AP Planner (@AP_Planner on Twitter) calendar for ideas that are timely – anniversaries of major events, etc.
  7. Link to, or reference, a story that has lots of stats.
  8. Think seasonal – what are the major trends and how can you tie your pitch to them?
  9. How does your story relate to major world events – e.g. the Olympics, presidential elections.
  10. Talk to your sales team – how do they pitch the product?
  11. Visualize your pitch as it would appear – with a headline, hook, quotes from different sources, etc.
  12. Think like a freelance writer and pitch story ideas to your editor that you can then plan to write yourself.
  13. Turn your story idea into a “top 10 tips” piece.
  14. Read different, “competing” media outlets – how are they covering a topic differently?
  15. Pitch a “resource” rather than a story – offer your client as an expert/authority and spell out the areas of expertise.
  16. Better yet, offer multiple resources for a story.
  17. Better still, offer a customer or someone “in the field” for perspective.
  18. Take a look at the competition – what articles have they been in? Don’t copy, but use them for inspiration.
  19. When you look at how the media covers your industry, what story aren’t they covering?
  20. Pitch your spokespeople as profile subjects.
  21. What do your clients, customers and prospects care about? Frame your story around that.
  22. Google your story idea.
  23. Read good writing.
  24. Can your story be pitched as a video interview?
  25. Can your spokespeople speculate about the outcome of an upcoming event?
  26. Do you have a sample product the media can preview?
  27. Anticipate requests for artwork like high resolution photos.
  28. If you’re pitching a trend, how do you prove it’s a trend? i.e. do you have multiple witnesses/spokespeople/examples?
  29. Consider the other side(s) to your pitch (since the editor will), what’s missing, what else will they ask about?
  30. Include helpful hyperlinks in your pitch to sites like the company’s homepage, the spokesperson’s bio, books they’ve written, authoritative industry sites, etc.
  31. Suggest meeting for coffee.
  32. Get to know your spokespeople – what are their hobbies, life histories, interests, unique accomplishments?
  33. Do you have video examples of your spokespeople in action to share with a new broadcast pitch target?
  34. Do you have a story about something that didn’t work or a problem that you faced that you can share?
  35. Brainstorm.
  36. For inspiration, consume media that is completely different from your targets (e.g. morning talk shows if you regularly pitch high tech trade media)
  37. Ask the writer how they prefer to receive pitches and what they’re currently working on
  38. Read letters to the editor and comments on blog posts for new approaches and to consider the “other side of the story”
  39. Before you pitch, read the writer’s blog, Twitter stream, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page (if it’s public)
  40. Note the outlet’s production cycle and deadlines so you understand the best times to make contact.
  41. Localize a national story.
  42. Nationalize a local story.
  43. Summarize your story idea and say it out loud; if a stranger was listening would they find it interesting?
  44. Explain to your kids what you do and what story you’re trying to tell and then ask them to explain it back to you.
  45. Remember “if it bleeds, it leads” – how does your story angle play into readers’ deepest concerns?
  46. A pitch is different from other marketing communications – it’s your opportunity to tailor it and deviate from the approved company messaging statements.
  47. Think about what would make your spokesperson a desirable resource to THIS writer you’re pitching; is it because of what the spokesperson does? Is it because of their past achievements? Or their current goal/job? Their past or current affiliations? Does their gender or other socio-cultural status make them appealing?
  48. If you’re struggling with the right angle, try writing your pitch in more than one way. Focus on a different angle for each new pitch.
  49. Read HARO or other pitch query services to get a sense of what topics are trending.
  50. Think like a reporter and ask yourself where they get their story ideas – scanning news wires, industry blogs, anticipating upcoming IPOs, new product launches, etc.?

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.

Photo credit: Bernat Casero

View of the Top

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

I started thinking about this blog post quite awhile ago, well before Anne Marie Slaughter’s article on Why Women Can’t Have it All appeared in The Atlantic. I think Slaughter’s argument is fascinating (and seemingly never-ending), but I’d like to focus on something she, and many other people recently, have pointed out: that there are fewer women than men at the top rungs of corporate management.

This is fairly obvious in PR – you can literally see the inequity if you were to page through a recent issue of PR Week that features photos of the CEOs of the nation’s top PR firms. But what is striking is that, unlike other industries with a large number of male CEOs, PR is a predominately female profession:  seventy percent of all PR professionals are female.

I don’t have an answer, or really even a speculation about why there are so few female CEOs in an industry that is dominated by female talent.

In addition to Slaughter, several champions of women’s rights have commented on the lack of women leaders:

In his Harvard Business Review blog post on Why Boards Need More Women, Yilmaz Arguden wrote: “While most CEOs recognize the importance of appointing directors of different ages and with different kinds of educational backgrounds and functional expertise, they tend to underestimate the benefits of gender diversity…When Fortune-500 companies were ranked by the number of women directors on their boards, those in the highest quartile in 2009 reported a 42% greater return on sales and a 53% higher return on equity than the rest…Experts believe that companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk. Not only do they better address the concerns of customers, employees, shareholders, and the local community, but also, they tend to focus on long-term priorities. Women directors are likely to be more in tune with women’s needs than men, which helps develop successful products and services. After all, women drive 70% of purchase decisions by consumers in the European Union and 80% of them in the United States.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO has said, “Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, thirteen per cent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top – C-level jobs, board seats – tops out at fifteen, sixteen per cent.”

Betsy Myers, a former senior official in the Clinton Administration and authority on leadership, says, “Women are no longer an interest group. Women are 52 percent of the population, a majority in the workforce. Companies that have more women in top positions, and more women on boards, are more profitable…Despite advances for women in the workplace, many of the statistics are discouraging. Only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs, and women hold only about 14 percent of senior management positions within those companies. Despite the fact that more women than men are earning college degrees, and that women continue to make the bulk of buying decisions, corporate America has been slow to reflect that in its leadership ranks.”

Myers, and others, are forging some innovative practices for helping women achieve leadership positions:

Bentley president Gloria Larson launched the Center for Women and Business a year ago and has brought Myers on as its CEO. A recent Boston Globe article reported that the Center aims to advance women at all stages, from business-school students to upper management.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton founded the Women in Public Service Institute at her alma mater as Wellesley College. The institute is part of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by Clinton, the U.S. State Department, and the sister schools Wellesley, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Smith, with the goal of putting more women into political leadership positions around the world. Clinton says the numbers show a global politics in which the voices of women often go unheard. Women occupy less than 20% of seats in parliaments and legislatures around the world, she said. The goal of the institute is to bring that number up to 50% by 2050.

With these lofty examples in mind, I wonder what we can do in PR to encourage women to lead? Do you know of any leadership programs that encourage women in our industry?

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 You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


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