During an interview with SiriusXM in 2012, Lauren Conrad was given a bag of mystery questions and asked to pick at random; the first question she chose was “What’s your favorite position?” She firmly replied, “CEO.”
While there are many women-owned and run businesses, the PR and digital marketing industries considerably lack women in executive positions. “Women hold anywhere from 61% to 85% of all PR jobs and 59% of all PR managers are female. And yet, according to the 2014 World PR Report, only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women,” (Risi, 2016). As a woman-owned and women-led organization, we encourage others to reflect on the scarcity of women in executive roles by turning to influential female CEOs in the digital marketing and public relations industry.
Calling all millennial women! You may know her from the Hills when Whitney Port and Lauren Conrad worked for her company, People’s Revolution. Kelly Cutrone is the CEO and founder of People’s Revolution and a best-selling author. She’s known for making waves with her blunt delivery and no BS attitude. It’s been about 14 years since she made her mark on MTV (wow…I feel old!), but she’s been in the public relations industry for over 20 years– making her someone to admire and look up to. She started from the bottom and has worked her way to the top as a household name. Cutrone originally wanted to be an MTV Video Jockey but was introduced to the term “publicist” by her friend (even though she now admits she did not know what a publicist did). By chance, she was offered an assistant job with Susan Blond, who is now a legendary public relations maven, of the Susan Blond Group, a talent and entertainment agency.
After a while, Cutrone decided she didn’t want to work in talent anymore, and worked to become the PR director at Spin, before starting her own company and eventually opening People’s Revolution in 1996 (Peoples, 2018).
What started small with a few clients, grew in part through word of mouth and connections into a larger fashion and hospitality service. As for Cutrone's advice? Be yourself! “I was super thorough and had an infectious energy which I think, no matter what company you start, is really the way to do your best,” (Lieber, 2014). She has said she decided to be an entrepreneur because she liked working independently and being her own boss. Cutrone says you create your own destiny; More is riding on you as CEO, but the victories you yield can lead to a tremendous learning experience.
For those curious about the Hills (I know I was!), she took the job as a part of her own public relations strategy! Cutrone knew that television advertising was expensive, even for only 15 seconds of screentime, but she realized, by being a part of the show, that she would be able to publicize her clients for free through MTV!
Cutrone said the Hills ended up inspiring some future publicists, “I think that the Hills saw an influx in public relations majors throughout the United States. I know that my career has been studied in PR classes across the country,” (Lieber, 2014). The biggest takeaway I got from Kelly Cutrone? BRB- I need to go work my booty off now!
Donna Imperato is the only female CEO among the world’s largest public relations firms– we stan Donna Imperato! She is CEO of BCW, which defines itself as having, “exclusive access to the leading agencies across all disciplines. Partnering regularly within the network to help our clients navigate their most pressing challenges and significant opportunities” (BCW, n.d.).
In 2018, WPP, a BCW group, acquired the Washington D.C. firm, HZ Integrated Creative Agency. This acquisition was part of a more extensive strategy of “Offering her clients a “one-stop-shop for their communication and branding needs,” (Gregg and Heath, 2018). She did not take this decision lightly and had been searching for the perfect acquisition for the previous four years. During the announcement, she said, “We have been working with HZ for more than a year, and they are a true cultural fit with our organization. Together, we seamlessly deliver best-in-class ideas and execution for our clients,” (HZ, n.d.).
From dreams of becoming the next White House Press Secretary to the founder of Digital Brand Architects in 2009, BrainTrust in 2016, Founders Studio in 2021, AND podcast host of “Business of the Beat.” Is there anything this woman can’t do?! Kendra Bracken-Ferguson spent years in the public relations industry, including helping to launch MySpace and managing campaigns for various big name brands like Reebok and DKNY. Further down the road, she came up with the Founder Studio platform in 2021 to help other Black-owned beauty and wellness brands obtain funding. She says,
“With the Founders Studio, I’m saying, ‘We can create a platform that services all beauty and wellness founders. Black-identifying female entrepreneurs have the hardest time getting funding and have the lowest funding rates. The Founders Studio became this amazing opportunity to look at everything founders need. And that truly is education, mentorship, community, and capital. Our goal is to create more economic opportunities. Tens of billions of dollars of untapped revenue is going to come from the work that we’re doing.’”
As for Bracken-Ferguson's future endeavors? She aims to answer the question, “How does BrainTrust become a catalyst to drive change in our industry through the lens of diversity? And “How do we ensure that our founders have what they need for success and sustainability? As for other women looking to become future public relations and digital marketing industry pioneers? She says, “Innovation is disruptive! Entrepreneurship is crucial for economic and community growth. Innovate, explore, and create something new!” (Washington Women in Public Relations [WPR], 2013).
A graduate of the University of Delaware and now a founder and CEO of “Women of the Vine and Spirits,” Deborah Brenner spent most of her career in the male-dominated television and film industry until her trip to Napa Valley. It was there that she realized the wine industry was also male-dominated and that women were under-appreciated, Brenner then developed a site and community for spotlighting women entrepreneurs in the wine-making field,
She instantly was invested and combined her love of wine with her investigative journalism skills. Brenner started by writing profiles of women in the wine industry called “Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine.” She became a best-selling author and was mentioned by Wine Spectator as a Critical Read. Things took off from there! In 2015 she started the Inaugural Women of the Vine & Spirits Global Symposium, which gained so much success she officially founded Women of the Vine & Spirits (Women of the Vine & Spirits, n.d.). Her advice to fellow women looking to start a new path in their career is to follow their passion and find a career that “feeds your soul,” (Washington Women in Public Relations [WPR], 2013).
These women set an excellent example of the strides made for women in the public relations and digital marketing industry; however, there is still a long road ahead of us. “As of 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women comprise 63% of U.S. public relations specialists and 71.4% of PR and fundraising managers,” (Kaur, 2020).
So, where do we go from here? How do we increase the number of women in the industry and executive positions? Kathy Bloomgarden of Ruder Finn Communication Company says, “We as an industry can do better at embracing female leadership. We need to create a respectful workplace, offering mentorship, guidance, fair pay, benefits, and an overall positive culture that encourages diversity of experience will encourage female leaders.” It is essential to continue these discussions and encourage female leadership in the firm you work for, especially because April 12, 2022, is Fair Pay Day. Also, to learn more about our awesome founder and CEO, Yasmine Khosrowshahi, check out our previous blog, “A Day in the Life of A CEO & Founder!”
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/diverse-female-friends-checking-social-media-on-mobile-in-cafe-4350217/