Stephanie Cutter, Hall of Femme 2018

Partner, Precision Strategies

What would you do if not in PR?
I would probably have my own Fixer Upper show on HGTV.  Of course, I’d need someone as handy and cute as Chip Gaines from the real show to help me. I really enjoy design work, whether its interior or exterior, and the creativity that goes into it.

I love to take old homes and transform them into magical places. In the last several years, I’ve redone several century-old homes and while things don’t always go as planned, I love the work, the vision and of course, the result of rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty.  

Talk about the last time you experienced a fist-pumping victory moment.
Does my son scoring a goal at soccer this weekend count? More seriously, probably the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage was the last time I felt a big professional victory. It was a long time coming – from working on the first federal case filed in Massachusetts to helping elect President Barack Obama and implementing the policies that lead to that decision, that was a day I’ll never forget.  

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment? What did you learn from it?
I was on the set of ABC News on election night in 2016, which, as we now know, turned into a complete wipe out for Democrats. I was part of the newscast for ABC, and like the rest of the country felt certain Hillary Clinton would be our next president. But as the night wore on, it became clear that wasn’t going to be the case.

The margins were too close and turnouts in what should have been safe counties and precincts were too low. When Michigan, the state that had anchored the Democrats’ "blue wall" for so many years, went for Donald Trump, I knew we were sure to lose, and the look on my face gave it away on national television.

I learned you can’t fall into complacency, no matter how comfortable your advantage or lead. Things can change and change fast. You need insurance policies, contingency plans, and plan Bs in place so nothing is taken for granted. 

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge? What did you do?
I do a pretty good job of turning off for at least parts of every weekend. Children have a way of bringing perspective to everything in your life. Running between birthday parties and soccer games doesn’t seem very relaxing, but it does help you clear your head from the day-to-day hustle of work. It also helps reorient you toward what’s important.  

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
We used to have a joke at the White House when something went wrong across the federal government that "it was just a communications problem." Of course, the majority of the time it wasn’t, but it was easy to point fingers and say if only we had done a better job communicating on an issue we would have gotten a better result.

It’s not to say that good communication doesn’t play a significant role in shaping an outcome, but it doesn’t determine whether a website for a national health care program breaks down or whether banks come to the edge of failure. Good communication can’t fix those things, only good policy can.

The same is true with corporations – in the midst of a crisis, rather than fixing the underlying problem, too often executives think good PR will solve it. A crisis can only be controlled if action is taken to fix the underlying problem. That’s the baseline from which all good PR will flow. 

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
They are shining right now throughout the #MeToo movement. Many women are finding their voice or helping others find theirs, with both men and women supporting them. 

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
Provide good mentorship to every younger woman I meet by helping them grow their skills and courage to stand up for themselves and be the best they can be. That’s how I got where I am today, and I’ll pay it forward every day.

We are a majority woman-owned company, and roughly 60% of our team are women, so I hold myself to that goal every day.

Words to live by?
At various challenging points in my life, my mother would simply say "you’ll be fine" to make sure I kept whatever I was facing in perspective. It could have been in reaction to something I feared, a disappointment or even a personal loss – those simple words allowed me to remember that in some way, I could tackle that challenge and life would go on.

Those words have run through my head throughout my career and given me the courage to try new things, face big challenges, and speak my mind. Whatever happened, I knew "I’ll be fine."  

Favorite drink?
Sauvignon blanc.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Calm down and just focus on doing what you’re doing at that very moment really well. Good work will pave the way.  

Who are the three people, living or dead, you would like to host at a dinner party and why?
Michelle Obama, Bruce Springsteen, and my grandmother, who passed away when I was 18 years old. They all traveled personal – albeit very different – journeys and never lost sense of who they are. They are also three of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

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