Karen Hughes: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2016

Worldwide vice chair, Burson-Marsteller

What would you do if you were not in PR?
I would be a caterer. I love to cook and host dinner and cocktail parties with creative and colorful combinations of foods. I host dinners for holidays, family celebrations, my church, and my neighbors. Years ago, I even catered my daughter’s wedding.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipeout? What did you learn from it?
When President George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner, lost the 2000 New Hampshire primary by 19 points. I was completely shocked and devastated. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But I learned so much about displaying grace in defeat from watching the way President Bush responded. He didn’t fire anyone or point fingers. He just said we are in this together and we are going to win this together. He told us we had allowed Senator John McCain to define him and that wasn’t going to happen again. He gave us all marching orders to get busy to make sure we went on to win in South Carolina, which we did. 

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
Two years ago, my husband and I spent a great couple of weeks in Italy and Croatia. We started by spending several days in our favorite town in the Italian hill country, Orvieto, then met some dear friends and toured Croatia.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
When a company’s leaders believe PR is something that happens after a decision is made, rather than being an integral part of the decision-making process. You have to make sure your decisions are true to your organization’s core values and priorities, and considering the views of your communications team should be an integral part of that.  

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
I felt the critical importance of PR was on display as Burson helped Texas Health Resources rebuild public trust in their Dallas Presbyterian Hospital after the diagnosis of American’s first case of Ebola.

The company’s CEO and leadership team were committed to doing the right thing and included our team in their decision-making process. They approached a major reputational challenge in a thoughtful, disciplined, and responsive way that allowed them to turn the corner and share lessons learned with other hospitals to improve our country’s preparedness and response to infectious disease.  

Words to live by?
Be prepared. The people who work with me will tell you that I prepare relentlessly to better understand our clients’ businesses and the issues they face. That
allows me to give them the best possible advice.

Favorite drink?
It’s a tie between my favorite caramel vanilla-flavored coffee and a good buttery chardonnay. 

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Don’t be in such a hurry, next thing you know, you’ll be approaching 60. 

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
Heaven does exist and because of my faith and trust that God’s Son Jesus Christ died for my sins, I hope to hear:  Welcome home and well done, good and faithful servant.

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