Della Sweetman, Hall of Femme 2020

Chief business development officer, FleishmanHillard

Della Sweetman, Hall of Femme 2020

What word would you use to describe your childhood and why?
My American-born kids would say different while others think it was exotic because I was born and raised in Fiji. I would say strict. I was the oldest child in our home so the rules started with me. Looking back, it was a good thing. I have so many special memories growing up in the islands and I miss my extended family and oldest friends dearly. Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time.

Do you have a nickname? Explain.
From time to time, someone will call me Del. It used to irk me because I have a short name as it is. Now I just take it in stride. I could probably be accused of shortening other names. I’ve also gotten “the fixer.” I think that’s a compliment.

Tell us about your most embarrassing fail. How did you recover?
After high school, I thought a conjoint study of law and arts would be a good idea. My father was a successful career lawyer. Alas, I wasn’t as committed to the profession and didn’t see it through. But it used to bother me. When I got into PR, I felt confident I could be good in this field and so far, so good. Having a sense of humility and humor about it helped. I think I’m doing okay and can confidently say I’m over being a law school dropout!

What fictional female character (in a book or movie) has always inspired you?
I spent hours reading the Nancy Drew mystery novels as a kid. I’m a good mystery solver and believe my private investigator skills are pretty solid. I think Olivia Pope (in the TV series Scandal) is fierce.

Any real-life women or men you look up to?
I’ve been blessed to have strong influences in my life, including my parents. My 94-year-old maternal grandmother Eliana is a force and she’s probably had the biggest impact on me. Widowed as a young mother, she raised five amazing children. I’ve also been lucky to learn from and look up to people like my first PR boss and mentor in Fiji to wonderful, strong, close and distant “aunties” who not only worked really hard for their families, but also showed what it means to be a mother, wife and career professional in a time when mostly men had the big careers. I’m always thinking about my kids and hope they feel equally surrounded and inspired by strong influences. My husband was in the service for 26 years, which is a different type of commitment that hopefully gives them added dimension and perspective.

What’s something about you no one knows?
I can do a killer whistle. It’s always gotten an amusing reaction at school concerts and events since my kids — Sage (18) and Leilani (14) — were small. Now, they’ve come to expect it while all their friends still think it’s their dad belting out from the crowd. Just a proud mom.

Favorite song and why?
Oh, this is a hard one. Too many favorites. Maybe "Sweetest Thing" by Lauryn Hill. Or "Sun is Shining" by Bob Marley. Or "Can’t Go For That" by Hall and Oates. Or "Black" by Pearl Jam. Anything Nina Simone. Beyonce’s "Run the World" definitely makes the cut. My playlist is pretty wide-ranging, as you can tell.

Tell us about your hobby.
I’ll admit, my family always tells me I need a hobby. My all-time favorite thing to do outside work is just be with my family. I love cooking for them and hanging out at the beach together during the summer. Reading is something I also enjoy. If I make the time, I can really get into a book and be done in a day or two.

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
Continue to advocate and sponsor high-performing women and emerging talent to help them realize their impact and value in the workplace and by their managers. It starts with my team and continues from there. I also want to help reinforce that we must widen the lens with which we define and strive for parity — so that we approach female professional development and leadership opportunities with the same intensity as the broader definition of diversity.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you?
That no one has been able to articulate a vision and future for public relations that is completely distinctive. We all provide identical solutions; we just label them differently. Or the same. That might be hypercritical, but I think the industry and our clients are yearning for that. Among agencies, it has become so competitive by the sheer numbers, but to a lesser degree by what we have to offer. Yet, the rate of change and expectations on all of us to prove unique value are unrelenting. I’m confident we’ll see more standout moments in 2020, including from our own agency.

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
There’s something quite provocative in the role that we can share in being instigators for society and corporations to “be better.” As long as we have been talking about authenticity and transparency in a way that today could be viewed as overplayed, our ability to counsel and lead in delivering on the expectations of our clients and our own organizations with stakeholders is a huge place of influence and responsibility. And doing it such that we’re all driving toward actions that go beyond positioning and storytelling.

I also believe our industry shines when we’re confronting the most challenging situations facing society and humanity. From injustices against marginalized groups and communities to health epidemics and other world events, the way our industry all rallies together to help tackle them with and for each other and for our clients is powerful. I see it in work we do at FleishmanHillard on behalf of myriad clients, whether crisis, issues or purpose and social impact-focused. And, with many of our staff through their personal commitment to our FH4Inclusion efforts.

What is your golden rule at work?
I don't necessarily see them as rules. Perhaps beliefs or motivations? I’m a big believer in never settling. Don't settle for good; push for extraordinary. Don’t focus on the problem; rather, the solution. Don’t accept mediocrity; challenge for remarkable. I’m also a promoter of straight talk. Be kind, be respectful. But be upfront.

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