Marian Salzman: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2017

CEO, Havas PR North America, and chair, Global Collective

Marian Salzman: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2017

What would you do if you were not in PR?
I would like to own a village of tiny houses, which I would run as a quirky Airbnb version of a hipster motel for folks of all ages. Because I can't cook, no chance it would be a bed and breakfast. I'd have perfect linens and great feather beds, but even my English muffins would be a mess, so no food at the tiny village.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.
Winning the Rhode Island Tourism business in September 2015 was definitely a high, especially because I had sunk my heart, soul, and our annual new business budget into being faster, smarter, and better informed about the smallest state in the union, which also happens to be where I attended college at Brown University. Our competition was stiff and the process exhaustive so this win was a great boost for me and the team.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipe out? What did you learn from that moment?
When my internist called me in January 2013 after what I considered a routine brain scan – I had been having them quarterly since my first meningioma was removed in July 2007 – and told me the tumor they had seen in June 2012 had quadrupled in size. It was just a few weeks after David Jones, Havas CEO at the time, asked me to lead our Global Collective of PR agencies, and only weeks into our pro bono campaign to help families impacted by the Newtown shooting manage media.

I had my few days of self-pity and raced to Mass General to see my neurosurgeon and went back to work for several weeks, scheduling surgery during my partner Jim's spring break (he was on a yearlong academic sabbatical in Tucson, Arizona, so he could take over our Connecticut household that included dogs and a high school junior). I went straight back to work via the cloud – OK I snuck into the office on occasion – within a week because I genuinely believed the staples in my head were just a small distraction, and helping on some pro bono passion projects including the Emilie Parker Art Connection – Emilie was one of the Newtown children – and the Safe & Sound school initiative was the best medicine I would find. 

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
I recharge every weekend with a day of spin class followed by vapid TV viewing – give me Chopped and Tiny House Nation and some Love It or List It. We do summer vacations in Rhode Island that are low key and family focused, but I typically keep working there, just at my own pace. We have three golden retrievers, two at our Tucson house where Jim stays during the school year and one in Connecticut where I spend the majority of my time, and I am always unplugged and in dog nirvana when one or more of them are at my side.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
I am allergic to PR speak and get so aggravated and even depressed when people talk spin to me. When I get memos from my own people with a rosy glow, my first inclination is to beg them to start again. I control myself, but it does irk me that straight talk is often not part of PR agency parlance.

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
We do our best work when there is a tragedy that demands marketing and media savvy, and our cause portfolio and huge awards chest makes me so proud. Whether it is for the United Nations Foundation around climate change, or the Sustainable Development Goals, or for the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support wounded warriors and their caregivers, or pet projects to help Haiti, that is the stuff that energizes me and keeps me and us learning, including tactics and tools we bring to our more commercial projects. Doing good helps us do well.

Words to live by?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Favorite drink?
Don’t laugh, but 100-calorie chocolate Muscle Milk. Margaritas are a close second.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Learn Spanish, take every global assignment you can, and stay fearless.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
Your dogs have been expecting you.


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