Stages of Success

Eleven communications professionals of various seniority, but all at the top of their game.

Eleven communications professionals of various seniority, but all at the top of their game.

Tim Wagner
Company: American Airlines
Title: News desk manager
Location: Dallas
Years in industry: 10

Tim Wagner is willing to admit that he still gets a thrill out of seeing his name in print.

"I've seen my name in publications that spanned the globe, from India to The Hereford Brand in Hereford, TX," says Wagner, who's emerged as American Airlines' main spokesperson. "What I really enjoy about my job is that it's given me the opportunity to understand one of the world's most complex industries."

Wagner's stint at American hasn't been quiet. "I started two months before 9/11, so I've been here for the most turbulent era in the industry's history," he says. "In the first two years, my director did a report that found we had gone through 75 crises, all either major or mid-major, including everything from bankruptcy scares, to 9/11, to losing CEOs, to crashes."

Wagner credits the combination of perseverance and good genes for his ability to execute effective PR messaging amidst all this turmoil.

"I think good communicators are born, not made," he opines. "I've known since high school that this is what I wanted to do. Along with that, I've had the ability to put my head and shoulders down and bull my way through anything, no matter what the crisis."

With American finally turning the corner financially, Wagner is also proud of the role he plays in getting the public to believe in the airline and its vision.

"Every PR pro wants to quantify and qualify their effectiveness," he says. "American has a high load factor now. I'd like to think Tim Wagner played some small part in that."

3 Keys to Success

1. Keep your sense of humor
2. Have a broad knowledge base. It will help you incorporate analogies into releases that will enable to you explain complex processes
3. Make sure you can relate to a broad spectrum of people


2001-present
American Airlines, news desk manager

1999-2001
Hart Stores, marketing specialist

1998-1999
Operation Bass, PR specialist

1996-1998
Wal-Mart, copywriter, internal communications


Eric Jackson
Company: FedEx
Title: VP of worldwide corporate communications
Location: Memphis, TN
Years in industry: 19

The journey into PR that would eventually lead Eric Jackson to the role of worldwide corporate communications VP at FedEx wasn't the path most take. It didn't start with a liberal arts major in college followed by a variety of PR firm internships.

It began on the 1988 campaign trail as field director in George Bush Sr.'s first Presidential run, followed by a stint as campaign manager and chief of staff for Massachusetts state senator Brian Lees, and then a stint at the White House as a Presidential personnel special assistant. It's a path Jackson recommends.

"Politics teaches you there's a win-lose mentality and an outcome of what you're supposed to achieve," he says. "It refines your skills because of that mindset: You win you move on, you lose you go home. If you can figure out how to effectively communicate your goals, policies, and positions, you typically move on."

Jackson says he applies the lessons he learned in politics to his philosophy at FedEx.

"A lot of communication functions tend to be reactive and process-driven," he explains.

"They wait for stuff to be given to them by management and process it through. Our approach is to be very proactive. We use a campaign-management mindset in that there's an end goal. We work backwards from that objective to create a strategy and implement tactics that we can measure along the way to make sure we're on the path to that goal we set.

"It's much like politics: The goal is to win and you work backwards from there," adds Jackson. "That allows you to be aggressive, proactive, and flexible in case you reach a position where it doesn't go how you planned. If you're back on your heels when you reach such a point, you're far less flexible."

3 Keys to Success

1. Be proactive and aggressive
2. Be fact-based
3. Think outcomes versus output


2002-present
FedEx, VP, worldwide corporate comms

2001-2002
Remington, Patton and James Consulting, principal

2000-2001
Siemens Corp., MD, corporate comms

2000
Corporate Gear, CMO

1998-2000
Accenture, director of global media strategy

1992-1998
Novartis, various roles

1992
White House, Presidential personnel, special asst.

1990-1992
EPA, special assistant

1988-1990
MA State Senator Brian Lees, campaign manager, then chief of staff



Helen Ostrowski
Company: Porter Novelli
Title: CEO
Location: New York
Years in industry: 35

When Helen Ostrowski made the jump from the corporate to the agency world, she says it was a move that definitely went against the grain.

"Hardly anybody made that jump in those days," says Porter Novelli's CEO and current chair of the Council of PR Firms. But it was a move she felt was necessary. She wanted to learn more about the execution side of PR. She also wanted to spend less time in meetings.

"I felt the agency side would give me much deeper expertise and knowledge on execution," she says. "And I was spending all my time in meetings and I wasn't doing as much as I would have liked."

The lure of working in an industry where it was all about the practice of PR was also enticing. "You weren't a staff function," Ostrowski explains, "but you were actually in the business of PR."

Ostrowski has always had a strong involvement in healthcare. "It started at Cyanamid," she says. "I was doing internal communications there. I got to work on different operations and I enjoyed going into the pharma labs to see how they did drug testing."

Ostrowski says she still does a lot in pharma by providing counseling to PN's healthcare teams. And she believes finding good healthcare people is as challenging today as it was when she entered the industry.

"[Many] smaller firms have sprung up specializing in healthcare," she says, "and all of the large firms have big healthcare practices. Plus, it's a more complex business than when I began. Pharma companies have a lot more issues to deal with today. It makes it more challenging to find the talent you need."


3 Keys to Success

1. Know yourself and what you're good at it
2. Get involved. Don't just stick to your job description. Always look at wider places
you can contribute
3. Be open to unexpected opportunities


1993-present
Porter Novelli. CEO (2003-present); president (2002-2003); GM of NY office (1996-2002); director of NY healthcare practice (1993-1996)

1987-1993
Wang Assoc. Health Communications, president

1984-1987
PRISM, VP

1979-1984
Schering-Plough. Comms head, intl. pharmaceutical products division (1982-1984); manager, internal and corporate comms (1979-1982)

1971-1979
American Cyanamid, public affairs division. Various roles from media relations assistant to management communications manager


Marina Maher
Company: Marina Maher Communications
Title: President/CEO
Location: New York
Years in industry: 25-plus

One could trace Marina Maher's desire to start her own agency back to this philosophy: You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.

"In corporate, you don't choose your boss, nor the people or clients you work with," she says. "I wanted the ability to pick the people I'd work with and for."

Maher says there are a number of traits potential employees must have.

"You have to be born with the passion gene for PR," she says. "You really must love the business and want to be part of it. The second thing you need to be is a superb multi-tasker. In the agency business, you're doing a lot of different things all the time."

One such thing, perhaps the one that drew Maher to PR in the first place, is strategic thinking - a need she did not think writing, her original choice for a career path, would fulfill.

"In PR, you can do creative and strategic things," she says.

When it comes to the traits necessary for success at Marina Maher Communications, Maher points to those who take ownership and responsibility for both their triumphs and their failures. "People who have a rapid heartbeat, and the ability to think and act fast, do well here," she explains.

One of the philosophies upon which Maher has built her company is the ideal of people coming first.

"Profits do not have to come at the expense of people," Maher emphasizes. "You don't have to overwork your people and do all the things I see happening in the industry just to get a profit. That's the wrong way to look at it. People must come first."


3 Keys to Success

1. No doesn't mean no. It just means you have to figure out another way to get it done
2. Always reach higher and above your level
3. Don't just hire someone you like. Hire someone who can do the job

1983-present

Marina Maher Communications, founder, president/CEO

Prior roles include:

Charles of the Ritz, Ltd., corporate PR director; Account supervisor at a major national
PR agency

Julian Green
Organization: Office of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)
Title: Press secretary
Location: Chicago
Years in industry: 7

Though in a position most political PR pros would love, Julian Green, press secretary for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), confesses his dream communications job would be in entertainment or sports PR. But his current role is not that far away from it.

"Sen. Obama is his own celebrity in the world of politics," Green explains. "So in some ways, it's like doing PR for George Clooney or Tom Cruise."

Green has been with Obama ever since he burst onto the political scene by dominating his Republican opponent in the 2004 Illinois Senate race.

Now that Obama has emerged as a key national spokesman and fundraiser for the Democratic Party, Green says a key part of his job is making sure these roles don't detract from the senator's main job of serving the people of Illinois.

"I live by the Tip O'Neill saying that 'All politics is local,'" Green notes, "so I make sure he still does regular interviews with radio stations and statewide papers."

Green credits working in the press office of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D-IL) with preparing him for hardball political PR.

However, he adds, the huge explosion of new-media outlets has not only increased the importance of his job, but also the excitement level.

"Ten years ago, you'd have to wait until the 10pm news to hear a sound-bite from a press conference," Green says. "Today, five minutes after you say something, it can be up on the Drudge Report and people will call you for comment. So I hang on to every word the senator says to make sure we don't miss anything."


3 Keys to Success

1. The press aren't adversaries. Treat every reporter with respect
2. Grasp the issues, so if you're asked for a quote, you know what you're talking about
3. Take an interest in news about more than just your organization


2005-present
Sen. Barack Obama, press secretary

2004
Obama Senate campaign, press secretary

2003-2004
Chicago Park District, communications director

1999-2003
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, assistant press secretary


Essie Calhoun
Company: Eastman Kodak
Title: VP, community relations and diversity officer
Location: Rochester, NY
Years in industry: 24

During her two-plus decades at Kodak, Essie Calhoun has had a front-row seat for one of the most exciting eras in the history of photography, as the industry shifted from traditional film-based products to the digital age.

But what Calhoun is most proud of is her role during that time not only helping Kodak maintain its image as a quality brand, but also to establish a reputation as a good corporate citizen.

"One of the things that developed after I got involved in corporate contributions and community relations was that we really expanded our efforts in the communities where we do business and have large numbers of employees," she says.

That has meant boosting contributions and community relations everywhere, from Rochester, NY, Kodak's headquarters, to all corners of the globe.

"We did things like institute worldwide initiatives such as Global Volunteer Day," Calhoun says, adding the company increased the amount spent outside the US from less than 1% of the corporate contributions annual budget to as much as 18% to 20%.

Calhoun says what she likes best about community relations is the chance to make a real difference.

"For me, personally making the transition from the business and sales side of the house to public affairs and community relations enabled me to find work for which I have a great deal of passion," she says.

"I've been able to help enhance Kodak's brand and meet some of society's needs," Calhoun adds. "The ability to build relationships and [help] address those needs has given me great satisfaction."


3 Keys to Success

1. A positive attitude will enable you to truly help your corporation to be a good corporate citizen
2. Have passion and commitment
3. Real success does not require you to compromise your integrity or your faith


2003-present
Kodak, VP of community relations and diversity officer

1993-2003
Kodak, VP, director of corporate contributions and community relations

1989-2003
Kodak, director of community relations

1988-1989
Kodak, director of public affairs planning

1986-1988
Kodak, marketing manager

1984-1986
Kodak, marketing/customer service

1982-1984
Kodak, sales rep

Stephen Macias
Company: Here Networks
Title: SVP of corporate communications
Location: Los Angeles
Years in industry: 14

Only occasionally do PR pros get to represent a client or cause that they're truly passionate about. For that reason, Stephen Macias, SVP of corporate communications for the gay-and-lesbian-themed Here Networks, feels doubly fortunate.

Not only has Macias had a lifelong interest in the entertainment industry, but he's also been active in gay and lesbian causes, including stints at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival. "My job now combines my two main interests," he notes.

The network, which launched just five years ago, is now available in 50 million homes.
"We're one of the fastest rollouts in cable television history, so the audience is responding how we hoped," he adds. "Best of all, Here is not just a place for gays and lesbians - it's a place at the table, finally."

Macias credits the other sectors he's worked in with providing many of the contacts he still uses today. "PR is about relationships," he explains. "The ones I made through my work with GLAAD and at different film festivals are all really working well at Here."

When asked to discuss his biggest achievement, Macias refers to his success in galvanizing support from gay and lesbian communities behind Here.

"We have been doing something that's really good for our community and we're doing in a way that has been very successful from a business standpoint," he says. "It's been very interesting to find that doing the right thing and getting your company to grow are not mutually exclusive."


3 Keys to Success

1. You can do the right thing while still being a smart businessperson
2. Look after your personal life, and be sure your staff does likewise
3. There are many types of people, so be smart in tailoring messages

2004-present
Here Networks, SVP, corporate comms

2003-2004
GLAAD, entertainment media director

1997-2003
Michael Levy Enterprises, VP, development and management

1995-1997
First Take Television, director of acquisitions

1992-1995
Gemological Institute of America, corporate comms manager


Jimmy Lee
Company: IW Group
Title: Vice president
Location: West Hollywood, CA
Years in industry: 13

For IW Group VP Jimmy Lee, PR isn't just about educating consumers about the agency's clients and services; it's also about educating clients about the consumer marketplace.

IW specializes in targeting the Asian-American community, a group Lee says many companies and government organizations know far too little about.

"I get a great deal of satisfaction from sitting down with company executives and government officials and being able to share stories and statistics that show, for example, that this many people in this community may not even know what a Wal-Mart is."

Lee says it was this opportunity to really help the Asian-American market grow that prompted him to join IW six years ago.

"Though I loved working at State Farm, I left for IW because I knew that most Asian Americans are not proficient in English and thus may not have been receiving the messaging from companies or government agencies," he says.

The mistake many brands tend to make, he says, is waiting until this audience becomes more acculturated before pitching them.

"This community is very brand loyal, so it's usually too late by then," he adds.

In addition to overseeing the agency's PR initiatives, Lee also manages IW's Asian Integrated Media Services division.

"It's the only Asian-language newswire service and the only Asian-language media monitoring service in the country," he reports. "So part of what makes this job so exciting for me is that we're creating things that have never been done before."


3 Keys to Success

1. Be patient, both with clients and in dealing with their knowledge of your marketplace
2. Be proactive. Always stay one or two steps ahead of the game
3. Be positive. Clients and colleagues want to work with people who have good attitudes


2003-present
IW Group, vice president

2000-2003
IW Group, management supervisor

1996-2000
State Farm Insurance Companies, community relations supervisor

1993-1996
State Farm Insurance Companies, public affairs specialist


Tara O'Donnell
Company: Samsung Electronics
Title: Senior manager, corporate communications
Location: Ridgefield, NJ
Years in industry: 11


After a number of years of having her hands in both the marketing and PR side at her first job, Tara O'Donnell says it became clear to her PR was where she wanted to be.

"After you try several different things, you really begin to realize what your interests are and what your niche is," she says. " PR was by far the most enjoyable and satisfying to me because of the dynamics of it.

"It's the type of position where every day is a new challenge," O'Donnell continues. "Nothing stays the same day to day. There are things that you have to plan and strategies that you need to develop. But there's always going to be the excitement of what-ever is happening that day."

And while she finds that aspect of PR stimulating, O'Donnell also likes the internal and external relationship building that's involved.

"There's relationship building in general marketing, but with PR you not only have relationships with the media, you also must have strong internal relationships with all the different constituents within your organization," she says. "So it requires that interpersonal dynamic - which I really like."

Something else O'Donnell appreciates is that it's currently an exciting time to be working at Samsung.

"It's been a privilege to have such an active and pivotal role in developing and changing our brand perception in the US," she says. "The brand awareness has grown tremendously over the past four years, as well as the consumer attachment to the brand.
Four years ago, a lot of Americans would not have necessarily known that Samsung was an electronics maker. We did a lot of work to Americanize the brand and grow the awareness of it here."


3 Keys to Success

1. Don't panic
2. Lead by example
3. Keep an open mind

2003-present
Samsung Electronics, North American HQ, Senior manager, corporate comms

2002
Independent consultant, New York

2000-2002
Imark Communications, Group director - PR, marketing, and sales

1998-2000
Director, ABT Corp., London

1995-1998
ABT Corporation, Director of PR, marketing, and sales for the international conference division, New York


Ian Lipner
Company: Lewis PR
Title: Associate director
Location: Washington, DC
Years in industry: 8

Ian Lipner admits that when he entered the PR world, he did so with "none of the qualifications for a PR job," such as a degree in communications or even a previous internship at an agency. But what he did have was a strong business acumen, good writing and technology skills, and a desire to ask questions.

That need to ask questions would eventually lead Lipner to form the online community YoungPRPros.

"At the Jewish War Veterans group, I quickly found myself as the highest-ranking external communicator - and I was 23," he recalls. "I didn't have this long vocationally aimed background in PR. I had nobody to turn to when I encountered something I didn't know how to do - which was more often than not."

Lipner turned to some Web-based PR community groups, but he didn't find the help he sought.

"Every time I submitted a question that was a bit na•ve, I got flamed. The [sarcastic] response would usually be, 'Well if you don't know that...'" he says. "I couldn't learn anything. I figured I couldn't be the only one in this boat, so I started up another list."

More than 150 people joined in the first five days, confirming Lipner's belief that such a group was necessary. The community now has 3,000-plus members.

Lipner's college major was psychology, and he says it's helped him in PR.

"The psychology work helps me understand why people react in certain ways and what kind of language triggers certain responses," he explains. "It provided me with a lot of background in research and how to properly conduct it. So far, that's helped me."


3 Keys to Success

1. If you want to prove you're a leader, start something and lead it
2. Challenge yourself to speed up your career growth
3. Treat people the right way. You'll likely meet the same people down the road and it will always be paid forward


2004-present
Lewis PR, associate director, partner

1999-2004
Stanton Communications, account manager

1998-1999
Jewish War Veterans and National Museum of American Jewish Military History, PR director

1998
The Townsend Group/ Association Publishers, marketing associate

Sarah Bresee
Company: OutCast Communications
Title: Senior account executive
Location: San Francisco
Years in industry: 3

When Sarah Bresee came out of California State University-Chico with a communications degree a few years ago, she didn't know exactly what type of PR job she was looking for, but she knew the field she wanted to work in.

"I've always been fascinated by technology," she says, "so I focused on Silicon Valley because that puts you in the thick of it."

Bresee quickly landed a job as an intern at OutCast Communications and soon found herself working on high-profile accounts like Dell and TiVo. She says that provided a great initiation into communications.

"It's hard to sell a bad company, but it's fun to sell really good companies run by good people," she says. "You're only as good as the company you keep. Since OutCast picks really good clients, that's helped me look like a really good PR pro."

Since then, Bresee has moved on to more technically complex clients, including several start-ups with harder stories to tell. But Bresee says she remains fascinated by the communications process.

"Every story is like a puzzle," she explains. "What I like best is figuring out to put together the pieces you have to make a really good story for a journalist."

Bresee hasn't ruled out the possibility of moving to corporate PR, but she notes that agency work is probably the best choice for any newcomer to the field.

"A firm gives you a great feel of what it means to be in PR and how it all goes together," she says.

"For pure PR 101 skills, agencies remain the best places to work."


3 Keys to Success

1. Find a good mentor
2. It's easy to devote your entire life to just being in PR, but you need to find balance or you'll lose your mind
3. Always ask for more. Never say, "My title only allows me to do this"


June 2006-present
OutCast Communications, senior account executive

2005-2006
OutCast Communications, account executive

2004-2005
OutCast Communications, assistant account executive

2003-2004
OutCast Communications, intern

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.