With Women’s History Month just a few weeks away, PRNewser is shining a spotlight on some of the women leaders across the PR industry.
As we’ve talked about here on PRNewser, women make up a big part of the industry and their rise to the executive levels continues. Over the next six weeks, the “Women Leaders in PR” profiles will take a closer look at a few of the women who are running PR departments and PR firms.
We start today with Melissa Waggener Zorkin, president, CEO, and founder of Waggener Edstrom. For Zorkin, personal fulfillment and giving back are top priorities, alongside business results and client successes.
Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
According to Melissa Waggener Zorkin, president, CEO, and founder of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, the firm has a number of goals for 2012, such as driving results in the tech, healthcare, social innovation, and consumer areas. But the year is also one where Zorkin says there will be less focus on PR tools, such as all of the digital platforms at our disposal, and more focus on things like understanding and relating to others and telling a good story.
“It’s less about how you say it because that will always change,” Zorkin says. “And more about what are you saying and to what end are you saying it. That’s not just for 2012, but for the next five years.”
As a company CEO, certainly Zorkin has all of the usual business concerns. But when speaking about the agency, she also peppers her comments with talk about the importance of personal as well as professional fulfillment among her staff (“that 360 degree person”) and giving back to the world at large.
“We need to get to know people and think of them as emotional human beings and not in terms of the bottom line and produce, produce, produce,” she says. “We have a core value around people and respect. When we started, we placed a high premium on that.”
Waggener Edstrom Worldwide dates back to 1983. Since then, the firm has added offices around the globe and developed a client list that includes notable companies like Microsoft, T-Mobile USA, and Toshiba.
As the business has grown, Zorkin has measured success according to a “triple bottom line.”
“We do this to be a good business, a sound business, and we do this to make a difference,” says Zorkin. “Making a difference can be good for business. There are trends with consumer buying habits such that the two are intrinsically linked in my mind. Building a fine company has to have that component or you’re not really building that fine of a company.”
For the past three years, the firm has released a Corporate Citizenship Report that documents its efforts to be eco-friendly and give back to society. Zorkin also sits on the board of Mercy Corps, an organization that the firm has worked with. Tying these components together is the WE Social Innovation practice, which has pulled together experts in fields like the environment and public policy to provide CSR, stakeholder engagement, and other services.
“We’re trying to look at it from the ground up, embodied in every decision we make,” says Zorkin. “It’s exemplified in public and private partnerships coming together, joining to do great things that they can’t do on their own.”
Zorkin has written openly about her personal beginnings. She was adopted, and though she says it’s not something that she has talked about much, it has influenced all aspects of her life.
Given the focus of our profile series, we asked what sort of impact being a woman in business has had. While she admits that there are times when being a woman has been an obstacle of sorts, there are ways of handling a situation that ought to be best practices for men and women. Listening, knowing that everyone comes with something to offer, and being mindful that in some parts of the world, one must not walk into a situation too brashly have all served her well.
“Not being the know-it-all and truly understanding gives me the ability to say ‘thanks for asking’ and clear the deck to go in,” she says. “I noticed when I did that, I found my podium.”
As the PR industry continues to grow and expand, Zorkin cites the need for more diversity “at the highest levels.” Part of that is thinking globally and making the industry more attractive. Another part of it is doing “a better job of training talent.”
“We have a number of CEOs, but not as many as I’d like to see,” she says. “There are not as many new faces or new companies. We need to enrich the leadership bench with more diversity. How can we get better at diversity? That’s the biggest question to answer and do well.”