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Hello from the Highland Team

  • Next Presentation: Getting to the Top in Strategic Alliances and Channels, in Conjunction with the Association of Strategic Alliances (ASAP), Bay Area Chapter, September 7th, Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Summary of Getting To The Top in PR and Communications


The next program in the career development series, Getting to the Top features senior executives in Strategic Alliances and Channels.

Featured panelists:

  • Erna Arnesen, Vice President, Global Small & Medium Businesses (SMB), Industry and Partner Marketing at Symantec Corporation
  • Dr. Malcolm Deleo, Associate Research Fellow, Technology Brokerage Dept, Sourcing and Partnering Group at Clorox
  • Dr. David McCamey, Associate Director, HR, Global Alliance Management at Procter and Gamble Pharmaceuticals
  • Norma Watenpaugh, Vice Chairman of Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP)

A panel of experienced leaders at the top of their game will share their background, the skills needed to succeed, and tips to get to the top.

  • Moderators: Deborah Henken, Founder of Highland Team marketing consultancy, and Kathy Ullrich, Executive Recruiter at Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc.

September 7, 2006
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Registration and Networking: 6:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Program / Q&A: 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Bishop Auditorium

Fees and Registration:
Non-GSB Alumni- $40 in advance; $60 at the door
Stanford GSB Alumni, ASAP members and affiliates- $25 in advance; $35 at the door.
Please register by September 5th


Getting to the Top in PR and Communications
By: Deborah Henken, President, Highland Team

The June Getting To The Top panel highlighted a diverse group of PR and Corporate Communications professionals exploring how leaders in Public Relations and Communications get to the top.

The panel featured:

  • Elaine Cummings, Founding Partner, Eastwick Communications
  • Tracy Eiler, VP, Corporate Communications, Business Objects
  • Jessica Kersey, Director, Marketing Communications and PR, Polycom
  • Laurel Tielis, Author, The Girl's Guide to Getting On Top: Positioning Your Business Through Media Placements; Former President, Allure Communications

Listen, be strategic, be persistent, distill information, be creative, interpret, solve problems, tell stories---these are some of the most important skills to get ahead in PR/Corporate Communications.

LISTEN/DISTILL/BE STRATEGIC: "To be a good leader, be a good listener", explains Laurel Tielis. A PR professional must be aware of what people are thinking, what is going on in the environment, and what ideas are being discussed in order to tie their company or client news into trends. In addition, she says, Elaine and Tracy concurred and added that a big challenge is listening to the story and distilling the message down into a story that fits into the marketplace. A PR/Communications professional must have a strategic understanding of the market and customers, taking often complex information and turning it into messages that resonate. Jessica added how important it is to maintain strong relationships with key influencers in the company and in the media. Laurel concluded, "The media is bombarded with lots of wonderful stories; they'll go to the person they most like working with."

INTEPRET/TELL STORIES/BE CREATIVE: Jessica Kersey stressed that a PR professional must listen to the company news and then create the larger story for the media. Most stories are 20% fact and 80% interpretation. A PR professional must create a good headline and pitch and interpret the story for the media. A professional must be able to understand customer needs and create strong messaging. Laurel added that a good PR professional must be creative in turning company news into unique ideas and stories. The company information needs to be examined for the interesting way to turn it into news. "It's not always the easy way, sometimes you have to figure out the interesting nuggets."Elaine commented, "Think of yourself as an interpreter at the UN. Take the client story and interpret it to the media. You need to help the media write a story for their readers so you need understand the end-user-why do buyers care, how is this different from your competition."

Personal leadership skills are just as important.


Whether on the agency or the corporate side, Tracy explained that a results-oriented attitude demonstrates that the PR professional is a team-player. By showing you anticipate and solve problems and that you can weigh in advance what can go wrong, you show you are strategic, a problem solver and a go-to person. You need to balance being positive and passionate with forecasting issues and planning for consequences.

Persistance is key. You must be able to pitch anything, take no and go back in other angles.

From an agency perspective, Elaine explained, "The agency is very fast –paced. You need to show you can manage your time. Most importantly, you need to show you can provide strategic counsel to your client."

What are the skills needed to move into senior management?

To move up, professionals must balance a mastery of the details (deliver results each day) with an ability to be good counselors and advisors with high level ideas and inspiration. You must have confidence to tell the CEO what to do strategically.

As importantly, you must be a good team leader. You must prioritize for the team what is important to do, when to say no, and how to manage the politics. "Everyone wants a press release," says Tracy. "You have to match the right tool to the need."

As you rise, you must let go and empower your staff. You need to let others take care of the details and not cast too big a shadow.

The agency vs. corporate difference

As head of her own agency, Elaine commented that an agency is a great place to hone skills. "You must manage the PR process from beginning to end and show your client you can make things happen. You must show your strategic thinking and your calm approach and be able to handle personalities from the client and media side." Elaine is most interested when interviewing candidates to understand their thinking and their ability to tell a story. She also looks at whether people can tell the strategy behind the actions taken. The agency work focuses on managing clients, understanding their products, and creating strategies which will allow their story to be told.

The difference in corporate life is focus. "When people enter corporate work, they find themselves yanked in many directions and it's harder to manage their time, explained, Jessica. But on the other hand, corporate PR/Communications positions provide broader perspectives, ability to quickly gain skills and the polish ability to learn quickly.

Final Advice

Don't forget customer issues as you develop PR/Communications. Make sure you understand what they are struggling with, what are you trying to position, what are the right messages.

Look for the big stories-go beyond product information and look for how to bring it to the big level.

Forecast disasters—anticipate issues and solve problems

Self-promote—don't be too self-effacing. You need to create relationships with key influencers in the company and media so they need to know you and your capabilities.

Tune into what is happening all around you. Just like fashion can come from the streets and not just from Paris, ideas and issues can come from anywhere.


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