LADIES IN WAITING: Advertising has Shelly Lazarus. But who will bethe first female CEO of a top 10 agency? And how long will it take? AdamLeyland reports

The so-called "glass ceiling" in public relations is, today, as

much an emotional crutch as it is a physical obstacle. Over the last 30

years, women have come to dominate the rank-and-file positions. And it

was only a matter of time before their talents would be recognized at

the senior level.

That time has come. Women have risen to positions of power and

prominence almost across the board.

On the corporate side, "it's not even a notable feature when a woman is

appointed at a Fortune 500 company," says Bob Woodrum, managing director

at executive recruiter Korn/Ferry. "And they're paid the same salaries,


And on the agency side, 37 of the top 100 firms are led by female

CEOs/founding partners. As a tribute to their achievements, we have

profiled all of them on the next three pages. (And there are countless

others who have not even been mentioned only because they've chosen not

to enter the rankings: women like Joele Frank, Maureen Lippe, and Marina


Even at the larger, male-dominated agencies - and after an admittedly

slower start - women are infiltrating the senior ranks in droves. In the

last three years at Burson-Marsteller, for example, women have been

appointed to run the P&L-led practices for technology, marketing,

healthcare, and corporate/financial. At Fleishman-Hillard, CEO John

Graham says that 50% of senior management is women. It's almost become a

matter of bragging rights. Many of the top 20 agencies claim to have a

higher count of women than men at the senior level.

But while women have made progress, there is an alarming and glaring

exception to this argument: not one of the top 10 PR agencies is run by

a woman. Steve Aiello, CEO of Cohn & Wolfe, believes it's high time that

a female CEO is appointed. "I think it's too long in coming. I still

believe there's a glass ceiling. Women have risen to the top of their

profession in many industries. If Carly Fiorina can run Hewlett-Packard,

a woman can certainly lead a top 10 PR agency."

Perhaps a closer parallel can be made with the advertising industry,

where Shelly Lazarus has made an enormous and widely hailed success of

running Ogilvy & Mather. It begs the question: why not in PR?

Woodrum believes there's not been enough pressure exerted on PR


"There was this ground-swell from the advertising industry that led to

the appointment of Shelly. The pressure will grow internally, and I

think PRWeek can lead that movement."

Talking to experts, a number of reasons - both historical and societal -

emerge. Most of the top 10 agencies are older firms, and they rose to

prominence in an age when women were only just starting to enter the


Jack Bergen, president of the Council of PR Firms, says, "Large agencies

are victims of history in the same way that older companies are. In our

industry, the larger agencies are the older firms. Today's CEOs grew up

in an environment 20 years ago where women weren't expected to make it

to the top. Mentors helped the best of the male candidates, helping them

prepare for future CEO jobs that no one expected women to have an

opportunity for." So, the male-dominated environment persisted in

larger, older agencies.

Or, as one executive recruiter puts it: "The old-boy network proved very

hard to dislodge."

Harold Burson, founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller, believes women

are now rising to the top because of demographics. "When I started this

agency, there really weren't any women coming into this profession.

Thirty years ago, that started to change: it was about 30% women to 70%

men. Today it's the other way round. That's why women are now really

coming through."

Woodrum concurs: "Women didn't come into force at the senior level until

10 years ago." But he believes another reason that women have not risen

to the very top in the agencies is because a number of them have been

lost to the corporate world. "I've taken some of the best of them

myself: both women and men, of course. If you're looking to become

wealthy, you'll do it in corporate. The pensions and stock options are

just higher."

As the former CEO of a large agency and a former senior corporate

officer, Bergen says, "I found the agency job more rewarding due to the

interaction with more PR people sharing similar goals and interests. But

I believe the salary, perks, and prestige of a large corporate job to be

much greater."

There are no official statistics to support this claim, but

circumstantial evidence suggests that there is a significant

discrepancy. A top 10 agency CEO will typically earn somewhere between

$500,000 and $1,000,000 (the highest-paid CEO earns

$1.2 million). While a corporate basic salary may not match the

top end of this scale, the options on a Fortune 500 job can run into the

millions. And, of course, there are many more corporate positions


There are many former senior agency women who have, indeed, been lost to

the corporate world. Hill & Knowlton CEO Tom Hoog cites Mary Ellen

Keating, now at Barnes & Noble, as an example. "I have no doubt that she

had what it takes to go all the way, but she chose to move to the

corporate side."

However, Bergen believes that just as significant as money has been the

"institutional barriers." "Many women have left large agencies to start

their own firms because they've been unwilling to wait. Today, many of

them are the most successful independent firms in our business. So we

have a perpetuating syndrome of excellent women leaders unavailable to

the large agencies - at least until their firms are purchased."

Many of the old guard are convinced that it's only a matter of time.

Says Graham, "There are so many outstanding women in this profession,

many of whom have top positions, but have yet to be selected. I think it

will definitely happen in the next five years." Others remain convinced

that a retrenched bias still exists. "It will be a watershed moment, but

there's a huge psychological barrier to overcome," says one executive

recruiter. Another, Peter Bell, says "the women are ready, but the men

are not ready to give them the power."

On one thing, however, almost everyone is agreed: there has never been a

better time - or a more likely time - to appoint a female CEO. At least

two top 10 agency chiefs are either planning to retire, or are not far

away from retirement: Bob Druckenmiller at Porter Novelli, and John

Graham at Fleishman-Hillard. And after five years of stellar growth,

other top 10 agency chiefs are under increasing scrutiny as cracks have

started to appear in their previously impregnable operations. Says one

top 10 CEO, "In the bull economy, even if you were doing a lousy job, it

was difficult to mess up so bad that you got fired. But today, people

are asking questions."

So who will be the first woman to take advantage? And where will they

come from? We asked a panel of executive recruitment consultants, as

well as top 10 agency CEOs and several women to nominate their


Most chose to remain anonymous. From the hundreds of names we received,

we chose names that just kept popping up, over and over. And to make it

a little easier, we've divided the candidates into eight potential

avenues for a prospective HR director to pursue, categorized as


1. Agency lifers. Many women who have made agency life their career's

work have risen through the ranks. These women have the opportunity to

develop a mentoring relationship with the agency's leaders, and thus are

ingrained into the entire culture of the agency.

2. Agency converts. There are many women who started life in the

corporate world, and moved over to the agency business. A lengthy tenure

in an agency role imbues them with similar advantages to the agency


3. Corporate prodigals. These women have abandoned agency life and moved

to the corporate side, but retain the potential to be lured back.

4. Left-field corporates. In theory, given the need to get a grip on

P&Ls, a CEO needs to have agency experience. These women have been

chosen against the grain of this thinking because they were considered

to have the right blend of charisma, presence, leadership, vision, and

business savvy.

5. Globe-trotters. Believe it or not, there is life outside the US, and

there are some very capable leaders in the making.

6. Top 20 contenders. There are several excellent candidates just

outside the top 10 who could be hand-picked. Or they may simply become

CEOs of top 10 agencies by default if their current agencies move into

the top 10.

7. Newlyweds. A number of women have moved into senior management at top

10 agencies through acquisition. They are not currently at the top of

the tree, but as an inspiration, they may take Harris Diamond as a role

model. He ran a small agency. Through a series of acquisitions, he rose

to become CEO of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, the largest PR agency in the


8. Independent infiltrators. Some of the best agencies in the country

are independents run by women. As with newlyweds, through acquisition

they could rise to the top.

May the best woman win.


Pam Talbot President and COO, Edelman

Why she's up to the task: After almost 30 years at Edelman, Talbot is

responsible for the $170 million US operations of this global


(There's no woman in PR managing such a sizable P&L.) Known as The

Energizer, she's good at picking staff and building teams, and after a

long history of managing clients including Kraft, Microsoft, and Heinz,

she still retains a strong interest in her key clients, even with her

other responsibilities.

Others: Marcia Boudreau (Fleishman-Hillard), Ellen Mardiks



Helen Ostrowski Senior partner, Porter Novelli

Why she's up to the task: After 15 years in the corporate world with

American Cyanimid and Schering-Plough, Ostrowski moved to PN to head up

its healthcare practice in 1993. Today, she's GM of PN New York, and

directs the agency's global practices and key accounts in consumer,

healthcare, and food/nutrition. Described by a former colleague as

"really, really smart, thoughtful, and utterly calm under pressure," she

also "understands what makes an agency successful."


Valerie di Maria VP, corporate PR and advertising, GE Capital

Why she's up to the task: Responsible for a $65 billion

international services company, di Maria is a tough lady with an obvious

grasp of corporate PR and advertising. But before she moved to the

corporate side, di Maria enjoyed a highly successful career in the

agency business, where she rose to vice chairman and president of GCI,

New York.

Others: Mary Ellen Keating (Barnes & Noble), Donna Peterman (UBS), Pam

Pollace (Intel), Kate Rohrback (ex-Schwab)


Judith Muhlberg VP, communications, Boeing

Why she's up to the task: No one personifies the ability to overcome

sexist bias more than Muhlberg. After a 22-year career at Ford, she

moved to Boeing, a reputedly male-dominated organization, and has helped

to project a more modern and dynamic image for the aerospace company.

She's described by one executive recruiter as "a woman with vision,

passion, and a dynamic presence that would command the respect of a

team." Others: Mary Beth Bardin (Verizon), Kathleen Fitzgerald (Lucent),

Phyllis Piano (Raytheon)


Alison Canning Head of international operations, Edelman

Why she's up to the task: Canning's record in turning things around at

Burson-Marsteller UK and in building Cohn & Wolfe UK into a significant

player has shown that she has what it takes to manage an agency. After

setting up her own management consultancy, she's now responsible for a

$75 million budget. Canning is described by Edelman founder and

chairman Dan Edelman as "a fast-moving, take-charge lady who's not

afraid to make tough decisions." Others: Jackie Elliott (Rolex)


Andrea Carney CEO, Brodeur Worldwide Why she's up to the task: Running a

$75 million global tech agency, Carney is a charming and highly

professional executive. One former colleague (female) says it all:

"She's brilliant. Her clients love her. Her staff would die for her. And

she looks like Bo Derek. I hate her." Others: Donna Imperato (Cohn &

Wolfe), Margery Kraus (APCO), Kathy Bloomgarden (Ruder Finn)


Kathryn Tunheim President, GCI Tunheim

Why she's up to the task: With both corporate and agency experience,

Tunheim is a highly composed and professional executive, and having been

welcomed into the bosom of the GCI Group earlier this year, she's

reportedly developed processes and procedures that are already being

replicated across the entire group.

Others: Pam Alexander (Alexander Ogilvy), Sheri Benjamin (Benjamin

Group/BSMG), Andy Cunningham (Citigate Cunningham), Alisa Fogelman Beyer

(Promarc/Hill & Knowlton), Susan Noonan (Noonan Russo/Havas), Sharon Van

Sickle (KVO/Fleishman-Hillard)


Sabrina Horn President, CEO, The Horn Group

Why she's up to the task: There's a number of impressive female CEOs

among the leading independents who, if bought, could potentially rise to

the top. Horn has built a quality agency (voted Best Employer by Working

Woman magazine), and has had a wide range of clients.

Others: Margi Booth (M Booth & Associates), Susan Butenhoff (Access

Communications), Dorothy Crenshaw (Stanton Crenshaw), Maura Fitzgerald

(Fitzgerald Communications), Melissa Waggener and Pam Edstrom (Waggener

Edstrom), Gail Wasserman (The Maloney Group).

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