Last week’s Washington Women in Public Relations annual event, the Washington PR Woman of the Year luncheon, was an outstanding and well-organized success, with the largest ever attendance yet, and a line-up of inspirational speakers. I was very pleased to be included as a guest of my clients, Melanie Jordan and Kate Perrin of PRofessional Solutions, LLC.
Following a lunch of salad, chicken, pasta, and German chocolate cake, the keynote speaker addressed the audience.
Charlotte Beers had words of wisdom to share with the audience of WWPR members and communicators. The author of I’d Rather Be In Charge has had an illustrious career in advertising, including a position as the CEO of Ogilvy. She also served as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bush administration.
She didn’t pull any punches in relating some of the challenges she faced at the top. Ms. Beers told stories about accomplishments, but also of sexual discrimination and harassment, including being attacked by a client. She stressed how important it was to make alliances with other women in male-dominated workplaces, and to refuse to allow people to diminish ideas and contributions.
She encouraged the audience to make the effort to understand themselves so they could take advantage of their strengths and compensate for their shortcomings. “Know what you are made of, so when you are challenged, you know about the traits.” These qualities, she explained, reveal why you are “great at one job and lousy at another.”
She also cautioned against putting too much stock in what others say about you. “You can be way too influenced by what other people tell you about yourself.”
Ms. Beers expounded on what she called the qualities of an “artful communicator.” Artful communication, she said, involves clarity, memorability, and persuasiveness. “Think in terms of not what you want to say but the response you want to evoke.”
To be persuasive, Ms. Beers said you have to show that you have “skin in the game.” The message you want to convey is that “I’m committed and I’m not turning back.”
Ms. Beers was an inspirational and entertaining speaker and was a tremendous addition to the event this year.
Following Ms. Beers’ presentation was a short speech by Heathere Evans-Keenan, last year’s Washington PR Woman of the Year. The independent public relations practitioner talked about how winning the award increased her confidence in professional contexts. She then announced the winner from the three honoree finalists.
A clearly elated Stephanie Fu accepted the award and gave a short speech. Principal of the local PR firm SLF Strategies, the new Washington PR Woman of the Year asked the audience to consider two things: their inspiration and their aspiration.
She then presented a tribute to her parents — her inspiration — who were in attendance. Ms. Fu has a pedigree of success — her mother was a medical researcher who helped identify the dangers of lead poisoning and advocated for its removal from household products. Her father was one of the genius engineers behind GPS technology.
Her story of aspiration was quite touching. She told the story of how her young daughter was told to draw a picture in school of someone she looked up to. The daughter drew a picture of her mother that was full of symbols about Ms. Fu’s best qualities. Ms. Fu said this is the image of the person she now aspires to be.
In 2008, I served as co-chair of the Washington PR Woman of the Year Award, so I know first-hand how difficult it can be to plan this high-profile event, even with a corps of dedicated volunteers. But, each year, the event gets better and better, as does the organization. And this year, the event was brilliant.
If you work in public relations in the Washington, DC area, whether you are a man or a woman, it’s a smart move to become involved with Washington Women in Public Relations.