Shelley Spector, Founder of Spector Associates and The Museum of Public Relations, highlights extraordinary PR women who changed history. She discusses lessons learned and implications for women in PR spiring for leadership positions today. Shelley also addresses the issues of racial diversity in the industry and the importance of showcasing diverse role models.
Learn more about the amazing history of women in PR by registering for The Museum’s free event here. The event will take place on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at 6pm ET.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: SHELLEY SPECTOR
DOUG: So, let’s talk about PR women who’ve changed history and what those implications are for women practicing in PR today, either as leaders or those who aspire to be. Shelley, what can we learn from the history of PR that’s really relevant today to some of the challenges women face and are overcoming to be leaders in communications?
SHELLEY: So, I’d like to talk about three or four women of PR history that are just amazing and offer to us all a lot of good life lessons. Right. So, let’s start with Doris Fleischman, 1919, working with her husband Ed Bernays. She was the one who did a lot of the writing, a lot of the idea creation, but yet she was not allowed, because of the culture of that age, to go into client meetings. Yet she continued to work and then had to go home and arrange dinner parties, at the same time raise to the kids. So, there’s a lot of similarities with that today. But she did not push herself into those client meetings, which I think she should have done.
DOUG: Now, Muriel Fox is another woman who had amazing achievements in communications that aren’t necessarily known.
SHELLEY: Right, so, Muriel Fox, she was a graduate of Barnard College and then she went for her first job at Carl Byoir. She saw an ad in The New York Times classifieds, and it said “writer needed,” and she went to the office there and they said, oh, you’re a woman, we only hire women as secretaries here. And eventually she was able to get a job at the radio TV department at Byoir and thrive there, eventually became the head of that department, eventually became the first woman VP ad buyer and probably of any PR agency. And then a few years later, she met Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and the three of them together created NOW, the National Organization of Women. And the importance of NOW cannot be understated.
DOUG: I mean, it’s really incredible what she accomplished. She’s going to be appearing at your upcoming event, for those who get to see this in time, about PR women who changed history on March 11th. So even though she started as a professional in 1949, she’s still going strong. Why don’t you share some other examples of women who’ve made a huge difference?
SHELLEY: Ok, I think that Barbara Hunter, just by her very example, she and her sister were in public relations in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and were working for a firm called Dudley–Anderson–Yutz, D-A-Y, and one day they decided to buy the firm. So, they were the first women to buy an agency. That was never heard of before. And then eventually, and I think a great lesson from Barbara, is that when she was 65 years old, when most people would go and retire, she decided to open up her own agency again with Hunter PR, which is still going on thriving today. There’s another woman that unfortunately was left out of the history books, as many women are, but she’s an incredible person. Her name is Inez Kaiser. She’s a black woman from Kansas City who opened up her PR firm in 1957, and if you know your history, that’s the beginning of the Jim Crow era, the height of civil rights. I mean, they did not in Kansas City ever rent an office to a black person, much less a black woman. So, just imagine what life was like for her back then. And what she did that was so special was she marketed consumer products, whether it’s Sears or 7 Up, lots of other consumer brands, Lever Brothers, and her specialty was marketing to what they called the Negro audience back then. And so effective was she and such a great role model that she was invited to the Reagan White House to participate in the SBA program and encourage more minorities and women to start their own businesses. But Inez was the first black woman to start her own PR agency.
DOUG: It’s really amazing history. And obviously, women face many challenges today, not just in communications, but in many fields. As we wrap this up, what’s your advice to women who aspire to leadership? Are there maybe lessons learned that they should really take to heart to improve their chances of greater success in our industry?
SHELLEY: We had lots and lots of obstacles that women like Muriel and Barbara and Inez pushed through. There were women in the 80s who fought like the devil to break ahead. But in the 90s, a lot of women became vice presidents, senior vice presidents and moved on up. Yet to this day where we have 80% of the industry made up by women, most of the leaders at the very very top are men. And that’s our next objective, is to take those positions for women themselves. I do think that this period of time, we’re one year out from the beginning of COVID, that women had an opportunity this year and still do to prove themselves in a way they never have before. And there’s lots of reasons for that. And part of that is being empathetic, being sympathetic, understanding people, understanding, organizing, community building. And a lot of women leaders that I know really have thrived during this period of time and got noticed by the highest ranks of whether corporate or agency.
DOUG: And I would be remiss if I didn’t allow you a chance to talk about some of the challenges of increasing racial and ethnic diversity among women and among all people and communicators. How can that get woven into the same message of women advancement?
SHELLEY: I think it’s very important for women, for men to see people who look like them. And if you’re reading textbooks, as many of the students are, who are just learning about these three white guys who founded public relations, P.T. Barnum, Bernays and Ivy Lee, and you think you are, let’s say, a black girl in college, well, this is just a white man’s industry. Where in truth, there have been so many African Americans, so many Latinos, so many Asians, so many women who have not been included in the textbooks. And one of the missions of the museum is to change the way the textbooks are written; change the way we tell our history. And one of the missions of our events, this will be coming up to the fifth annual PR Women Who Changed History event, we’re showing women in leadership positions, we’re showing CCOs, we’re showing women who have done amazing research, scholarly research into historic women. So, we are also showcasing a variety of ethnic groups in a way that has never been done before. In May we’re going to be celebrating Asian-American Pacific Islander Month and have a group, and this will be the second time we’re doing it, have a group of about 18 different people from all throughout Asia and the Pacific islands, which has never been done before. So, we see that by showcasing role models, you’re showing the younger population, hey, we could do it, we could do it, too.
DOUG: That’s great, and Shelley, thank you so much for sharing these important objectives and goals and the work that the museum is doing on our PR’s Top Pros Talk platform. We really appreciate it.
SHELLEY: Thank you, Doug.