Claire Koeneman, Executive vice president, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Nearly 20 years of experience in PR with expertise in financial and corporate communications
Yes, the PR industry is currently a "boys' club," but the good news for female executives is that today is the best time in history to be a woman working in public relations.
According to Catalyst, an organization focused on the professional success of women, the female share of executive roles in business increased from 14% in 1960 to 43% in 2008. Similarly, women now hold 16% of Fortune 500 board seats, up from a negligible percentage decades earlier. The trends are similar in our industry, since PR generally reflects corporate America. Is it good enough? No, but the industry is at a crossroads - and the future looks bright for talented female PR executives.
My own PR career started in the early '90s, at a time when the vast majority of clients and senior PR executives were men. I specialized in financial communications and began to consistently land clients and drive revenue while still in my 20s. Many of my clients - nearly all of whom were men - were executives of publicly traded companies.
I advised several high-profile IPO deals in my early years.
Successes like these helped me land new clients, and my firm soon gave me the opportunity to manage other PR professionals.
In my experience, the principal drivers determining senior-level promotions in the PR industry are: the ability to land clients and drive revenues; and proven success in managing profit and loss statements. I believe this is true for both men and women.
So what advice would I give to talented female executives? Making clients happy is the best way to build a reputation. Second, you should be very persistent in landing new clients and generating revenues.
Third, be tough - hang in there, fight it out - until you succeed, and do not be afraid to put yourself out there by taking chances. No one, man or woman, achieves success without overcoming significant profess-ional and personal obstacles.
Finally, seek out and connect with senior female executives who you respect - having a mentor is a key factor in getting ahead in this industry. This is important, because the "girls' club" is where the PR industry is headed.
Adrianna Giuliani, SVP, creative and strategic planning, DeVries
Over a decade of creative and idea-generation experience with brands
Although my heart aches when I watch Mad Men and see my favorite female characters taken down a notch every time they get a leg up at their agency, luckily I cannot relate.
From my boss and mentor Stephanie Smirnov to Marissa Mayer's much discussed CEO position at Yahoo, there are inspiring women taking leader-ship reins inside and outside of our business. Unfortunately, although these women serve as motivating examples, they are the exception not the rule - at least for the moment.
Dr. Brenda Wrigley, chair of Syracuse University's PR department, revealed that while 85% of the PR profession is female, 80% of upper management is male. Additionally, the PRSA's 2010 Work, Life & Gender Survey says that men reported average salaries of $120,000 while women reported $72,000.
But the story the numbers don't tell is that there is momentum in place that will change this inequality. The leadership imbalance at the exec level is often a factor of choice, not competency.
Historically, getting to the top level of our industry has come with long hours, frequent travel, and around-the-clock service that took its toll on personal and family life. But agencies are recognizing that work-life balance is critical to retaining top female talent and they are adopting more flexible hours and remote working options. Social media has also created more opportunities for women to show thought leadership and build professional relationships while breathing new life into our business.
Role models such as Aliza Licht, an SVP at Donna Karan, prove female executives do not have to adopt a male persona to lead - they can be clever and feminine and still land their brand in The Wall Street Journal.
Also "boys' club" implies that men in PR want to "keep women down," which simply isn't true. Although anecdotal, the men I have worked for and worked with have been huge supporters of female talent. After all, PR isn't a place to work if you don't appreciate smart, powerful ladies.
As we move forward as an industry - men and women together - it's more important to focus on what's possible now, versus what hasn't been before.
PR is clearly male-dominated at the top levels and that will take time to change as talented women make their way toward the corner offices. Executives should embrace the growing number of women in top-level roles.