Young people breaking into PR must be “better informed” than others and “memorable,” NOW co-founder Muriel Fox told a women’s PR event March 9.

Anne Bernays & Muriel Fox(L to R) Anne Bernays & Muriel Fox

photos: Diana Li

Fox, addressing the inaugural “PR Women Who Changed History” program sponsored by the Museum of PR, New York, said PR recruits must “stand out in a very crowded field, be an important person, someone people in power will want to know.”

One route to that status is by “achieving success in some field that gives you stature…have information and ideas that others will want to know about,” she added.

Fox was on a program devoted to boosting the status and pay of women in PR that also had as panelists Anne Bernays, daughter of Doris Fleischman and Edward Bernays; Karla Gower, Ph.D, advertising and PR department, University of Alabama; Meg Lamme, Ph.D., professor of PR, University of Alabama, and Karen Miller Russell, Ph.D., professor of PR and media historian, University of Georgia.

Shelley SpectorShelley Spector

Renee Wilson, president of the PR Council, was emcee. Shelley Spector, founder of the Museum of PR, gave the welcoming remarks.

Stats on Women/Jobs Provided Shocks

A set of statistics provided by Weber Shandwick shocked the 100 who attended the event at the New York Genome Center, Sixth Ave. near Canal St.

--Women have 52% of all professional jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and earn almost 60% of all undergraduate and master’s degrees.

--While they account for 78% of those in healthcare, only 15% are in senior executive posts and none are CEOs.

--Women have 54% of financial services jobs but only 12% are executives, and none are CEOs, according to the Center for American Progress

--Especially shocking was the fact that while the ten largest PR firms, as ranked by several sources, employ 32,851 worldwide and 12,646 in the U.S., none is headed by a woman.

--Women are nearly 70% of PR firm employees but hold only 30% of top positions, according to The Holmes Report. Only 11% of ad agency creative directors are women.

--Women earn 79% of men’s average hourly wages, according to the Census Bureau.

“Communications Rules the World”—Fox

Fox, who co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966 while working at Carl Byoir & Assocs., where as a VP she was the highest ranking women in PR at the time, said, “Today communications rules the world. It is the most important factor in deciding the fate of people everywhere. In fact, communications will decide the fate of the whole human race.”

PR Women Who Changed History

Women are especially suited for PR "because they are usually better at communications, perhaps because of their hormones and their ability to understand the needs and desires of others,” she said.

The job of PR people, she said, is to help “govern for good, providing information and ideas the people need.” What they should not be doing, she said, is “distorting communications with alternative facts and harmful emotions and using communications to pollute the world.”

Byoir, the third largest firm with 350 employees at the time and noted for its focus on media relations, was sold in 1978 to Foote, Cone & Belding which sold it in 1986 to Hill and Knowlton, a unit of the J. Walter Thompson Co. After several years, only a few Byoir staffers were left.

Tribute Paid to Plank

Prof. Gower, director of the Plank Center for Leadership in PR at the University of Alabama, ticked off the highlights of the 63-year career of Betsy Plank, who worked at Edelman from 1960-1973, rising to executive VP and treasurer.

Image of Betsy Plank behind the panelistsImage of Betsy Plank behind the panelists.

Often referred to as “The First Lady of PR,” Plank joined AT&T as director of PR planning and later transferred to Illinois Bell, now SBC Communications, as head of a staff of 102.

She helped to create the PR Student Society of America in 1967 and in 1973 became the first woman president of PR Society of America. Her many accomplishments and awards are in an extensive entry in Wikipedia. 

She endowed the Plank Center in 2005 to “help develop and recognize outstanding leaders and role models in PR.” The Center works with other groups and student organizations to develop future leaders in PR through the development of ethical and effective practices. It is the largest undergraduate program in the University’s College of Communication and Information Sciences.

While she believes that “communications technology is magic,” she said, “It will never replace human encounter.” She also called for increased credibility, ethics and transparency in the practice of PR. Its primary mission, she said, is to “forge relationships of understanding, trust and respect among groups and individuals—even though they often disagree.”

PR Council Launches The SHEQUALITY

Renee WilsonRenee Wilson

Wilson announced “The SHEQUALITY Project," a new initiative designed to help women executives rise in the ranks of PR firms.

Its aim is to “create a consistent pipeline of strong female leaders, mentors and allies, to engender more women leaders, and to achieve equality in the top positions at PR firms of all sizes.”

Maureen LippeMaureen Lippe

Maureen Lippe, CEO of Lippe Taylor, who heads the Project, said: “This started out as a desire to bring top women leaders together to network and has turned into a powerful and relevant program for executive women in the PR industry.”

Mandate of the Project is to “build women’s skills, advocate for an environment of equality regarding gender pay, career opportunities and financial backing/funding, as well as to create more champions for women in the PR workforce.”

Upcoming activities include regional networking dinners, workshops and events and content creation to raise awareness and educate others on the topic including a video produced by the film team at Weber Shandwick.

“Acing Operations and Financial Management” is a workshop that will take place in May followed by “Owning and Navigating the Room” in August and “Choosing Your C-Suite Seat” in November.

Patrice TanakaPatrice Tanaka

Members or the Project Committee are Lippe; Wilson; Karen van Bergen, CEO, Omnicom PR Group; Jennifer Cohan, president, Edelman New York; Virginia Devlin, president, Current Marketing; Sandra Fathi, president, Affect; Gail Heimann, president, Weber Shandwick; Barri Rafferty, partner and president, Ketchum, and Barby Siegel, CEO, Zeno Group.

Patrice Tanaka Recognized

Special recognition was given at the event to Patrice Tanaka, who was CEO and creative director at Patrice Tanaka & Co., New York, from 1990-2005; co-chair and chief creative officer, CRT/Tanaka, from 2005-2013, and chief counselor and creative strategist, PadillaCRT, from 2013-2015.

Pat FordPat Ford (with mic) of Burson-Marsteller envisions PR Women — the movie — where Meryl Streep stars as Muriel Fox. Next to him is Dick Martin, ex-EVP-PR, AT&T.

“Her career has been an inspiration to thousands of women across the globe,” said Spector. PadillaCRT, The PR Council and the Plank Center were sponsors of the event.

The Museum of PR is at the Newman Library Archives and Special Collections at Baruch College. It is open to the public by appointment for tours, guest lectures and research.

Upcoming programs are:

--March 29, "Ivy Lee, Reconsidered," with Fraser Seitel, Ray Hiebert, Ph.D., and Burton St. John, Ph.D., Ivy Lee Scholar.
--April 26, "The Life and Times of Dan Edelman, with Richard Edelman and friends and colleagues of Dan.
--May (date to be set): PR for the Public good: the role of PR in social activism.
--Sept. 15--"Hispanic PR History Month."

The new PR Museum Press has published its first book, the 50th-anniversary edition of Courtier to the Crowd (1966). Next project is a recently discovered unpublished manuscript of Ivy Lee, written about 1930.