Profile: A PR star, just like her father - While Monita Buchwald has grown up with a prominent PR pro dad, this native New Yorker has carved her own communications path, as Larry Dobrow discovers

PR is very much a family affair for Manning Selvage & Lee's Monita Buchwald.

PR is very much a family affair for Manning Selvage & Lee's Monita Buchwald.

For one, she's been with the agency for more than 18 years?a virtual lifetime in an industry riddled with hit-and-run career paths. The length of her tenure has made her MS&L cronies a surrogate family of sorts. 'I've been with people like Lonnie (Unger, EVP) and Lou (Capozzi, chairman) for so long. It's strange to imagine them not being a part of my day-to-day life.'

She is also a rarity in the PR business: a second-generation PR pro who has risen to the same prominent position as those who came before her.

Of course, Monita did it the hard way, choosing a position in MS&L's New York office even as her father, Elias 'Buck' Buchwald, worked at Burson-Marsteller only a few blocks down the road. He eventually rose through the ranks to become the firm's vice chairman.

Was there any competition between the two of them? 'I wouldn't say there was competition, but there was probably a little paranoia on my part,' Monita recalls. At one point, she was an account executive working on several Bristol-Myers Squibb products. Burson, however, had Tylenol and Johnson & Johnson, putting father and daughter in direct conflict. 'Usually, we laughed it off,' she remembers. 'He used to say, "It doesn't matter who wins, because my grandchildren will benefit."'

Balancing act
Monita's challenge, then, has always been balancing the demands of both families. Like many PR pros, she laments that 'I don't have as much time for fun as I'd like.' To insure as much time as possible with her two kids (a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son) and husband (who's busy getting his Master's degree in Jewish education and history), Buchwald has traded the leafy suburban life for the pavement of Manhattan.

Buchwald?who has the distinction of being the only PRWeek reader spotted by one of its reporters reading the magazine on the subway?is a lifelong New Yorker. She grew up in the Bronx within shouting distance of Yankee Stadium. 'People can't believe this when I tell them, but I never once went inside the stadium,' she recalls. 'But I could hear the roar of the crowd during games.' Following a move to Long Island, Buchwald attended Barnard College, where she majored in political science.

'The subject interested me and I hit upon some good professors,' she says, adding that she remembers being very conscious about wanting a solid professional career. 'I had this image that I'd have a job with a briefcase. In my mind, the briefcase equaled success.'

After graduation, Buchwald entered a bank-training program at Chase Manhattan: 'You know whether you're going to live or die within the first four weeks?I died.' She then worked as a paralegal 'to pay the rent'. A quick stint in retail did little to engage her intellect or take advantage of her people skills.

'I felt like I was in somewhat of a rut,' she admits.

Her father?ostensibly knowing a good communicator when he sees one?encouraged her to pursue PR. Following his advice, she took courses in writing and publicity to bolster the skills she would likely need.

Her father's route to PR was even more circuitous than her own. He was a chemical engineer by education and part of a team working, unknowingly she says, on the atom bomb. After writing for a newspaper, he took his industry experience and went to work at Burson. 'He had the knowledge to work for industrial clients, which very few other people did.'

PR quickly proved Monita's professional salvation as well. She was hired by boutique firm Michael Klepper & Associates and immediately took to the work. In her two-plus years at the firm, she became a self-described 'media tour whiz?I knew every voice on the radio.' In 1980, she made the move over to MS&L, where she went to work as a healthcare account executive.

'I didn't know a lot about healthcare, but I learned a lot as I went along,' she says. Eventually, she would head MS&L's healthcare group, working with clients like Pharmacia & Upjohn. Back then, however, healthcare PR was a vastly different area, one that leaned toward cookie-cutter programs (i.e., finding a high-profile celebrity spokesperson and calling it a day).

Later, Buchwald moved into the managerial realm when she took on the position of worldwide account director for several of MS&L's flagship clients, including Procter & Gamble, Mars, and Pharmacia & Upjohn. She ran the P&G business jointly with Unger, but soon tired of the managerial tasks the position required.

'I didn't like it at all,' she says. 'I prefer the strategic and the creative parts of the business to the managerial ones.'

Pivotal move
She promptly moved into a pivotal planning role within MS&L, developing training programs and evaluating ad agencies to see which processes could be translated into the PR world. This led to her being named vice chairman and worldwide director of strategic planning in 1995, a position that gives her substantial say in the agency's overall direction. Buchwald was a central figure in the development of MS&L's 'creating preference' campaign, launched in 1997.

As for the future, Buchwald hesitates before answering. 'Truthfully, I have no idea where I'll be, but that's the fun of it.' She has no plans to leave MS&L, but wants to spend more time with her family.

She brushes off a question about what her MS&L legacy will be, but it's clear that Buchwald has helped shape the agency's overall philosophy while at the same time making its culture more pleasant. 'To know us is to love us,' she jokes. 'Like anyone else in the agency world, we're known by the company we keep, which is our employees and our clients.'

Dad would be proud.

MONITA BUCHWALD, Vice chairman, Manning Selvage & Lee
1978: First PR job: Michael Klepper & Associates
1980: Joins Manning Selvage & Lee as account executive
1990: Becomes worldwide account director for Procter & Gamble, Mars, and Pharmacia & Upjohn accounts
1995: Named vice chairman and worldwide director of strategic planning
1997: Helps launch MS&L's 'creating preference' campaign

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