What Advice Would You Give Your 20-Something Self? Top PR Pros Weigh In.

What Advice Would You Give Your 20-Something Self? Top PR Pros Weigh In.
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This week I was honored to be inducted into PR News’ League of “Top Women in PR” during a New York City awards ceremony. Too often women are painted as competitors when in reality, most successful women know there’s nothing like the strong sisterhood bond of a good female friend, or mentor. I’m thankful for so many inspirational women who mentored me along my path. As someone fortunate enough to have worked hard in a field I love and found success, I think it’s important to pay it forward. This year’s PR News’ “Top Women in PR” awards ceremony focused on mentoring the next generation of women working in PR.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Photo: Jacob Unger

The PR News’ Top Women in PR awards event included a keynote address from Maya Nussbaum, founder & executive director at Girls Write Now. Nussbaum inspired the awardees to continue to make a difference as mentors for the next generation of women. The mentoring kicked off immediately, with many awardees accepting their award while sharing their best advice for their 20-something versions of themselves.

If I could offer 1 piece of advice to my 20-year old self, I’d tell myself to always be bold. At 21, I enlisted in the U.S Army as a war correspondent to cover a war I didn’t believe in. I was often fearless, worked hard, believed in the importance of selfless service to others and pursued my passion, storytelling. But, even while going confidently in the direction of my dreams and pursing my passion to highlight human rights issues, too often I wasn’t bold.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Photo Courtesy, PR News

Even after life in the military and working on air as a television news reporter for NBC Honolulu, and later as a spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in my 20s I often felt intimidated many of the powerful men and women I encountered and had the opportunity to work for, like then U.S. Central Command Commander General John Abazaid, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, or the always inspiring former head of the EPA, Lisa P. Jackson. I would often work really hard behind the scenes to coordinate press conferences for powerful principals and although always felt at ease speaking with the media, would meekly hide behind my Blackberry during 1:1 time, intimidated by the principals I was supporting and too shy to speak to them. I grew into my own skin and along the way I’ve learned that being respectful and bold makes all the difference.

In the spirit of paying it forward to the next generation, I decided to reach out bring together voices from top PR Pros across the nation, and asked them the following question:

What’s the best advice you would offer to your 20 year old self? Check out this video excerpt of the ceremony with their advice, along with even more advice from 50+ top PR Influencers. It’s absolutely news you can use.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Photo Courtesy, PR News

Jennifer Risi, Global Chief Communications Officer, Ogilvy Public Relations: Put experience first.

“Your career is a marathon – not a sprint. Gain experience. The money will come.”

Betsaida Alcantara, former Director of Media Planning, Hillary for America: Build Your Network.

"My one piece of advice to my 20-year old self would be to keep expanding your social network. As much as I absolutely love and cherish going home after work, curling up on my couch and watching the latest Game of Thrones episode--meeting new people who can help you grow, who can mentor and support you is a fundamental part of anyone's success in life. When I look back at the opportunities I seized during my career, such as becoming a communications director for the Obama administration and later the director of media planning for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, they all started with a phone call, a coffee date or an email seeking my networks' advice and support. All this to say, get out there and build your network of support!”

Melissa Selcher, Vice President, Brand Marketing and Corporate Communications, LinkedIn: Build Your Board of Directors.

“While I'm fortunate to have had a good education and job experiences, I credit my network, above all else, for pushing and pulling me to increasingly rewarding career opportunities. Several years ago, I codified this realization by creating my own board of directors, those in my network who coach me, challenge me, connect me, and believe in me, even when I don't. I would encourage my 20-year old self to build a board early, and to evolve it, diversify it, nurture it, and thank it, often.”

Juanita Chang, Senior Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs: Think like a partner.

“Despite what you think of each job that you take, treat them as if your career depends on them and approach them as though you are a partner and invested in the long term success of the company. Never burn bridges. Always be grateful and humble. Write hand written thank you notes to people. Learn their names. Our industry is small and our networks are essential to success, so nurture them.”

Jenn Scalia, Visibility Strategist & Business Coach: Know Your Money Story.

“At 20 years old, I had such limiting beliefs around money and wealth. I thought money was bad and that rich people were evil. This old belief held me back from making good money in my first few years of business. Essentially, I had created an invisible glass ceiling for myself. Once I was able to understand and release those old money stories, my income skyrocketed 1,400% in one year!”

Mary McGinty, Senior Communications Director, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation: Get out of your comfort zone.

"Force yourself to be uncomfortable and take on roles and responsibilities that are new or unfamiliar. There's always something to be gained from every work experience. A few years ago I wanted to transition to an agency from the nonprofit sector and was accepted for a business development position. Business development was a different line of work for me and was outside my comfort zone. While it was not the right fit ultimately, I still learned new skill sets that I will take with me for the rest of my PR career.”

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.

Jan. 24, 2017, A Ceremony in New York City for PR News' Top Women in PR Awards celebrated communicators who have made bold advances in managing crises, developing brand messages and protecting and building brand reputations for their organizations or clients.


Corinne Kovalsky, Vice President, Global Public Relations, Raytheon: Take a 360° approach.

"Start your career at a PR agency or in journalism. Learn to excel in a fast-paced environment. Build your business acumen. Become a data analyst. Stay curious. Don’t settle. Pay it forward. Send yourself flowers. Save for your retirement now.”

Nahal Mogharabi, Spokeswoman, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Embrace Your Weird.

“I would tell my 20-year-old self that it’s OK to be different. Being normal is overrated. As an Iranian-American with a “different” look and a “different” name than most of the people around me, I always tried to hide those qualities about me that made me unique – that gave me an edge. I mean, I even went by a more “normal” first name. Forget that. Embrace your uniqueness. Be authentic, be you. Expand your lens and the lens of those around you. Oh, and laugh more – it keeps you young.”

Olena Heu, Founder, Olena Heu Communications: Do What You Love.

“If you love what you do you'll never work another day of your life! Identify what you are passionate about, think outside the box and create your dream job. You may also find that your dreams and passions will shift and change and that's OK too!”

Meredith Topalanchik, Executive Vice President, CooperKatz & Company: Always Confidently Show Up.

“At 20 years old I was taking advantage of everything that my higher education at Penn State had to offer. The best advice I would offer up to that young woman is to always confidently show up. I paved my way throughout school because I put myself out there, raised my hand and as a result I gained valuable experience. Yet, as young professional in the working world, my confidence was often shaken and diluted. So I would remind myself to get out there, get involved and you will be rewarded even more.”

Janice Maiman, Executive Vice President of Communications, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants: Be Authentic!

“Don’t try to be someone else, borrow others’ tactics or leadership methods. First, know yourself and be willing to demonstrate professional humility and authenticity. Staff and colleagues are remarkably adept at sniffing out pretentions and artifice. Exposing yourself and speaking from the heart will win your loyalty and followers, who are essential for driving meaningful outcomes. Authenticity drives trust, and trust enables you to challenge and engage people in tackling ambitious challenges.”

Marcie Klein, Senior Vice President Communications, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Your first job is just that, your first job.

“While, it’s important to make smart and strategic choices when you start out, you’ll have time to course correct. You don’t know what you don’t know, and if you’re open to learning and absorbing you will find the right path that brings you the most challenge and the most joy.”

Krista Webster, President, Veritas Communications: Boredom Is The Mother of Invention.

“If I could offer a piece of advice to my 20 year old self, I would tell myself to allow boredom to set in now and again because it’s all about the ebbs and flows in this business that take us to new strategic, interpersonal and creative heights. If you continue to drive, to push and to lead without reprieve, your mental energy and professional empathy will be depleted. In boredom, there is perspective, pause and the freedom to reimagine a new way of doing something.”

Danielle Wuschke, US Operations Lead, EVP Global Technology Sector and Managing Director, MSLGroup: Be a woman’s woman.

“Be a woman that lifts up other women. Lead with action and behavior by helping other women rise along with you. Also, do one thing a day that scares you!”

Starr Million Baker, CEO, INK Public Relations: It’s not all about you.

“In my 20’s, I was lucky enough to receive the advice, 'It’s not all about you.’ It followed a discussion in which I was defensive and unwilling to hear others’ perspectives because I thought I knew better. It was a painful thing to hear, but literally the best thing ever said to the 20-year-old I was. I took it to heart, and can’t think of one other thing I would tell me 20-year-old self that would be any better. It’s not all about you. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – often – and you will be a better person. I am."

Jennifer Connelly, CEO, JConnelly: “Life happens for you, not to you.”

“Tony Robbins says, ‘Life happens for you, not to you.’ When he first said that to me it was a game-changer. I had a new, clearer lens with which to view life, and I had a roadmap to take on any challenge, professionally or personally. Believing life happens for me, has completely changed my perspective and has made me a better person. I view the challenges I face as opportunities, not burdens. I spent a lot of time in my 20’s trying to manage things that I had zero control over and then worrying about the outcome, as if I could control that, too. Not anymore.”

Kathleen Henson, CEO, Henson Consulting: Always be kind.

“You will make connections in your 20s that can and will still be incredibly valuable and fruitful in your 40s if you take good care of them. So no matter what situation you’re in, make sure that you lead each conversation with kindness and grace. You will never regret handling yourself with love and dignity, and the result will be people that advocate for you throughout your entire career.”

Lisa Flowers, Brand Strategist: Don’t be afraid to fail.

“Failure can bring opportunities to learn and grow. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to take risks and are there for you when you fly as well as fall. Say “yes” to adventure and risks!”

Heather Gaynor, External Communications Manager, Vitamix: Pay it forward.

"As you progress in your career, bring those behind you along with you to help them grow."

Ann Marie van den Hurk, Founder, Mind The Gap Public Relations: Be open.

“At 20 I was studying International Relations and wanted to save the world. I didn’t know how I was going to do that; however, I could have gotten to where I am faster if I had have been more open to new opportunities. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 30s and didn’t really allow it to take hold until my 40s. Public relations has allowed me to use my talents to give voice to others in order to change the world."

Rebecca Kelly, Director of Marketing, Skipping Stone: Take the lunch.

“In my 20’s I always worked through lunch—too busy to meet people. My advice is to not only accept lunch meetings or tee-times, but to extend mentor-mentee invitations. Build and constantly update your professional network.”

Caroline Venza, CEO, MissionCTRL Communications: Question everything.

"Looking back over a 30-year, non-linear career, the thread that has quietly been my guide has been my curiosity. It tugged at me from a very young age, when I felt too shy or intimidated to voice my questions, but as I grew, I realized that life's most important breakthroughs and innovations were the result of a question. My advice to young women? Trust that your curiosity can become your closest friend, inspiration and business partner, find your voice and question everything."

Christine Haas, CEO, Christine Haas Media: Always Be Hungry.

“If I could give my 20-year old self a piece of advice, it would be this: Your vision has to be larger than you. Stop focusing on yourself. If you focus on adding value and serving a larger purpose, you will be unstoppable. Most people are self centered and want to know what they can get out of situations to help themselves. Add more value than anyone else and you will be a rare and precious commodity.”

Adrienne Rhodes, former Vice President, Communications & Media Relations, New York Daily News: Never sacrifice your integrity.

“When a CEO finds himself in trouble, there are usually two people called into the room to figure things out. One is likely to be the general counsel. The other will be someone like you. Remember: You must be able to face yourself in the mirror each morning. Don't buckle. Never sacrifice your integrity. We are the conscience of the executive office.”

Jacqueline Montesinos Suarez, SAP North America Communications: Be Curious!

“Ask more questions than you give answers! I remember starting to work for a very intimidating boss. I was so afraid to ask questions. Even when I would interact with reporters. Some of their ideas or stories I didn’t quite understand but just “accepted.” ASK questions. Make an effort to understand your reporters and why something interest them, what do they want. Put your clients first but challenge them.”

Sally Marks, Owner, Marks Public Relations Specialist: Picture This.

“A picture really is worth a thousand words. So, get over yourself and learn how to take a good photograph! Writers and photographers were segregated in my early years in journalism, and later PR. I was naïve enough to think that would always be the case.”

Irina Efremova, Vice President & Co-Founder, Raddy Inc.: Embrace Rejection.

“Don’t be afraid of rejection — there will always be journalists who are too busy to look into your story and leave you hanging with no response or your pitch may not be strong enough yet or maybe it’s simply not the right time for it. In my early days I really took every “no” close to heart, but I've learned to overcome the disappointment. Instead of mulling over the failures for days, turn them into fuel for an even bigger drive.”

Elizabeth Trosper, Principal, Trosper Communications: Live in the moment.

“Live in the moment, be mindful of others and don’t take family and friends for granted. At 20, you are always planning for tomorrow and believe you will live forever so the business of living sometimes escapes you. Today, every moment counts.”

Lindsay Siwiec, Account Director, Jo Chicago: Don’t Stress.

“If I could offer one piece of advice to my 20-year old self, I'd tell myself to not stress so much. There is so much pressure on having to know what you want to do with your life when you're in your 20's and sometimes hardships and challenges seem detrimental, rather than just a bump in the road. The truth is that these hardships will often provide some of the greatest lessons and what seems like the end of the world now, won't have an effect on you five years, a year, or even a month down the road.”

Nicole Wool, CEO & Co-Founder, Jones Social & PR: Don’t Panic!

“In PR, the smallest thing can seem like an earth-shattering development. It is not. We are usually not saving lives so it’s important to put what we do in perspective. Trust me, when a crisis occurs, and it WILL occur, you will know the difference.”

Julie Crabill, Founder & CEO, Inner Circle Labs: You can’t know it all.

“Know that you cannot possibly know everything – so be humble and stay in learning mode. At 20, I was eager to start my career and dive in blind, but found that I needed support from people who had been in my shoes before. So, to my 20 year old self: Find mentors and use their time wisely – prepare for any meeting time they give you, be early, ask precise questions, take copious notes, listen more than you speak, remember that nothing is owed to you.”

Megan Fazio, President, NEON Public Relations: Outperform.

“If I could offer 1 piece of advice to my 20-year old self, I'd tell myself to outperform. To outperform myself the day before; to outperform my boss, peers and my parents. Not by way of evoking a cut-throat competition, but to use the examples of hard workers around me and not only match their leadership and initiative, but outperform it.”

Kimberly Wise, Founder, Wise Health Communications: Find Your Voice.

“Find Your Voice. For the first half of my career, I worked very hard at being someone else. I was trying to write like my supervisors, talk like practice directors and dress like my peers. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to find your voice and embrace who you are as a PR professional. Your opinion, your instinct and your voice are your identity – consider this your fingerprint, it’s unique to you. Your voice is what sets you apart.”

Dana Humphrey, Owner, Whitegate PR: Niche!

“My motto is “never niche enough”! My advice for my 20 year old self is to find your niche! When I first started Whitegate PR in 2007 we were offering media relations for all types of consumer products and services. Over time I learned that focusing on a niche, such as the pet industry, where most of my personal experience was based, was going to be more productive and profitable.”

Julia Labaton, Founder Red PR: Get Involved!

“Your job is not simply to do the tasks you’ve been given (thoroughly and thoughtfully): it’s to contribute to your organization as a whole. Ask how you can help your colleagues with their work. By making other people’s lives easier, you build your value, strengthen your relationships, and create new opportunities to learn.”

Paige Arnof-Fenn, CEO, Mavens & Moguls: Happiness is a choice.

“Happiness is a choice. You make it every single day when you wake up. It is up to you to make each and every day a great one. You can choose to let things bother you or get you distracted or you can set your course and make things happen even if there are detours along the path you continue on. Choose to be positive and try to find the good in everyone and everything.“

Carolyn Fraser, CEO, The PR Shoppe: Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder!

“I always had the desire to become an entrepreneur, but also wanted to live the corporate America dream. After all, that was what society said successful people did. I’ve learned not to get caught up in people’s expectations of how I should live my life.”

Gina Shaffer, PR Consultant, TanDen Concepts: Check your ego.

“Everyone has an ego. Evaluate the criticism you will be given. Remember to learn from your mistakes and from people older, wiser and more experienced than you. But also develop a thick skin and ignore the ego that comes with it.”

Emily Lyons, CEO, Femme Fatale Media Group Inc.: Go for it!

"When I was 20 I was so nervous in so many ways. Nervous to do or say the wrong thing. I was so nervous about making the "right" choices and not just fearlessly going into the pursuit of my own happiness. Nervous of failure or what people would think of me. Looking back now I want to just take myself by the hand and say GO FOR IT. All of these worries that plague your mind will be nothing in 10 years. You will only regret the chances you didn't take, not the mistakes you made. You can do anything, you don't answer to anyone, you are strong and capable."

Marie Farrar Knowles, Senior Marketing Communications Professional, MFK Publicity Co.: Trust your gut.

“There are so many times when I wish I had stuck with that initial gut reaction, and not been swayed into delivering a different message by a boss or a colleague. Remember that YOU are the communications expert, you’re the one who lives and breathes this stuff and the ability to think off-the-cuff sets great apart from good – whether it be in a crisis communications situation or a planned campaign.”

Tracey Houston, CEO, Houston & Company L.L.C.: You are resilient.

“You are about to embark on a professional and personal journey where you will experience mountain-top and valley-low experiences. The journey will reveal a strength that was dormant. No matter what comes your way, you will discover that you’re always striving for more. Be resilient.”

Evie Smith, SheEO, Rebellious PR & Consulting: Stand up for yourself.

“Do not just tell your clients and bosses what they want to hear. I spent the early part of my career saying yes to everything and everyone and it caused me years of being miserable. When I started standing up to my managers and bosses and really and truly following my gut, success starting to flow. I know what I'm doing, I know this industry and I will not let anyone or anything make me second guess myself.”

Erika Sanchez, Co-Founder, Braid Communications: Keep Calm and Carry On.

“If I could offer 1 piece of advice to my 20 year old self it would be keep calm and move forward. Many times I would get wrapped up in whether I’m doing something right, how it can be better and get so caught up in my head that it would make me nervous and anxious for no real reason. Once you’re in your head it’s so easy to get stuck and difficult to move forward. In the past few years, I’ve learned to do what I can, remain calm and move on to the next pitch, idea, client etc. Because of this, I feel more successful in the past year than in the previous decade in the PR industry.”

Lauren Gard, Strategic Public Relations Consultant, Zumado Public Relations: Don’t limit your vision.

“When I was 20, I was certain I’d spend my life working as a writer. When I later found myself struggling to find fulfillment as a young reporter, I was terrified of giving up my self-identification as “journalist” in order to give PR a go. But I did – and as a result quickly found myself far happier and more satisfied than I’d ever been. I didn’t know PR would be a perfect fit for me – and am so thankful that I took that leap of faith. So, my advice: don’t be afraid to step outside of the box you think defines you!”

Toiaya Crawford, Event/Marketing & Public Relations Maven, Fifth Ave. Management: Run your own race.

“You need to realize that the path you're on shouldn't be compared to the woman beside you. We all go at things differently and we develop in our own time. We can't control what or how someone else is doing, but we can control how we do it. Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Angela Stairs, Content Marketing & PR Specialist, seoplus+: Embrace Your Fears.

“To reach your goals, both in your career and personal life, embracing your fears is key. So often younger professionals are inhibited by fear and this prevents them from taking chances that could lead to great opportunities in their career and in their life. When I began my career in communications and PR, I found myself feeling intimidated by larger, more prestigious clients. Once I pushed myself past these thoughts and embraced my fears, I found my perspective was well-received and valued by my clients. There's no rule that says young professionals can't achieve big things, and I think this is an important message for all young PR pros. Reach for the top!”

Amy Lyons, Managing Partner, SHIFT Communications: Play the long game.

“Be open to new areas to test skills, show value and most importantly, learn in service of the company I’m with. Rather than focusing on just what’s in it for me in the short term, keep a real focus on grounding my desire for growth in those areas that also benefit the company. When you can showcase this commitment, it positions you as a natural leader, someone that can help the company achieve its goals in parallel with your personal drive for achievement.”

Caitlin Wolf, PR Account Director, Planit: Don’t doubt yourself.

“As a young 20-something, my first full-time job was a boutique PR agency. I was lucky enough to work on amazing media outreach campaigns, create a paid ad strategy in addition to earned initiatives, and was among the first to dip into social media for the firm. Looking back, I could have done even more. I had great ideas I could have ran with based on what I was seeing in the media landscape and my gut instinct – but doubted myself due to lack of experience. Bring ideas to your supervisors – the worst they can say is no.”

Jade Faugno, Vice President, Intermarket Communications: Never be contstrained.

“Never be constrained by your age or title. If I could give a piece of advice to my 20-year-old self – or any 20 year old, for that matter – it would be to disabuse yourself of the notion of an “entry-level position.” In your first job, take on more responsibility than is expected of you, ask enough questions to deliver client-ready work, and present yourself like an executive, not a kid. When people in your organization think of you, make sure the only things that come to mind are your stellar work and your professionalism.”

Abbey Huret, Corporate Communications

“Embrace the place and stage in life that you’re in, whether professionally, socially, or romantically – because it will always change. Experiences that may feel like the end of the world turn out to be nothing more than a bump in the road, and doors that close lead to open windows. The power to reinvent yourself is only limited by the obstacles you allow to get in your way.”

Stacey Jones, Managing Director, Corporate and Recruitment Marketing, Accenture: Be A Little Famous.

“If I could offer advice advice to my 20-year old self, I’d tell her that, over time, she should become well-known, maybe even a little famous, for something. That “something” could be crisis communications, event planning, CSR work, etc. Pick your passion. But, in addition to the basics -- hard work, sharp skills and good relationships -- it’s essential that people understand your strengths. So let them know, and it’s a win for you, your teams and your clients!”

Feeling Inspired? Do you agree with the advice above? Keep the conversation going in the comments below. What advice would you offer to your 20-year old self?

Until next time,

Be Disruptive.

Leverage Your Voice.

Shape the Conversation.



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