Aside from a brief stint at Bloomingdale's, Lisa Sepulveda has spent her entire career at Edelman - and she's been reinventing her role and climbing the ranks right from the start.
Lisa Sepulveda's career could be considered a Cinderella story - especially if "happily ever after" means going from administrative assistant to a top post at one of the world's most successful PR firms. Indeed, Sepulveda's almost 19-year tenure at Edelman has been filled with excitement and change. But like many others in the industry, PR wasn't her first choice.
After graduating college, Sepulveda says she was set on a copywriting job in advertising. But she was soon discouraged, and not only by the meager salary. "For every 20 letters I sent out, I got 19 rejection notices," she recalls.
Tempted by a whopping $20,000 salary, she shifted gears completely and took a job at Bloomingdale's as part of its training program. It didn't take long for her to realize that she wasn't in the right place. "Minutes into it, I knew I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do," she says. "I really did want to be in the communications arena."
It would take a powerful force to get her out of the situation: Super Bowl Sunday 1987, featuring the New York Giants. "There probably wasn't a soul at Bloomingdale's who cared about the Super Bowl except for me - and they put me on to work," she says. "So I walked in and quit."
Soon after, Sepulveda interviewed with Edelman and began work as an administrative assistant in the six-person healthcare group. After a series of exits, and a bit of initiative on her part, Sepulveda was promoted to AAE and began working on the Advil account.
"My heart was set on advertising, but once I landed here, I never looked back. I just loved what the PR world offers," she says, adding that she still gets "jazzed" by the energy the profession requires. "There is no typical day in PR. You have to start every day knowing that anything can be in store."
As EVP and GM of consumer brands for the New York office and MD for global consumer health, she enjoys her role as counselor to clients. "I think that's how we gain such a great place in the market," she says.
What's also exciting for her, she adds, is the evolution of PR from a practice that targets the media to something that can connect directly with consumers.
Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, describes Sepulveda as "effervescent" in her practice of PR. "She's incredibly good at motivating teams," he says. "She wins clients' confidence and thereby has latitude with which to operate."
Sepulveda has earned that trust during a long tenure at the firm that has been anything but static. After 10 years in the firm's healthcare practice, she recognized a need for a separate consumer health practice and started one - which was among the first in the industry. With Bausch & Lomb as its first client, the practice grew from $1 million to $4 million before folding into the consumer practice after a few years.
These days, an increasing number of agencies and clients alike are turning to consumer tactics to sell products. Edelman continues to lead that trend, drawing expertise from both disciplines.
"I think it's a nice commentary on a person who can make a career at a single company rather than having to leave in order to find new challenges," says Edelman. "She's constantly critiquing herself and learning. She's not one of these people who stops at a certain point. She's been a sponge."
Sepulveda admits that it's unusual to be at one firm for so long, and says there were a few instances when she considered leaving Edelman. "Each time, I took a long, hard look at why I was going, and I was able to reinvent myself right here," she says. "If you are able to demonstrate that you can do something - and it might be different and it might be off the beaten path - the opportunity is there."
One of the most visible opportunities in the consumer practice this year has been providing the PR component for Dove's Real Beauty campaign, an integrated effort that has garnered enormous attention from media and the public. Sepulveda says the campaign has been satisfying not only in a professional sense, but a personal one as well.
"As a mother of two daughters, there is nothing more rewarding than having the platform to talk to my kids about why it's so important to look at beauty in a much broader sense," she says.
Stacie Bright, senior communications marketing manager for Unilever, Dove's parent company, says she admires Sepulveda's ability to bring Edelman's Dove team together, especially considering it's spread across several different offices.
"She has an incredibly even-keeled pace and mannerisms that make her a very good sounding board," Bright says. "She makes a really good leader and...a valuable partner."
That partnership with clients is something Sepulveda finds most rewarding about her career. "I do think that PR is finally [becoming] respected and at the center for most of our clients," she says.
Sepulveda's passion for her career is evident from just looking around her work environment. Painted in bright tones of green and blue, her office is filled with samples of her clients' products. But what is just as evident is the value that she places on the other parts of her life. Remnants of her job as a teacher for junior achievement at her daughters' elementary school - something she does each year - adorn the walls, as do photos of her family.
Finding that work-life balance is extremely important to Sepulveda. After 15 years at Edelman, she decided she needed a break and took the summer off to work at her daughters' day camp.
"I came back here feeling incredibly fresh, with a new perspective on how important it is to be there in full force for the people who work for you, the people you work for, and your clients," she says. "But [I also learned] how important it is at the end of the day to pack it all up, go home, and be there for your family and friends."
Edelman - MD, global consumer health sector
Edelman - EVP, GM consumer brands, New York office and MD, global consumer health sector
Edelman - founder and GM of the consumer health practice
Edelman - Various positions, from administrative assistant to SVP
Bloomingdale's, training program