Events / Miscellaneous / Noteworthy Nellies

How Women Influence the PR World

By Shannon Clarke

Image courtesy of Mike Licht via flickr.

Budding PR mavens met at Bar Ocho last month to hear from women at the top of their fields to discuss the business. But the bloggers had more than enough advice of their own.

Women of Influence, an event hosted by Julie Geller (and co-organized by former McClung’s Editor in Chief, Niki Singh) brought communication experts, Kirsten Walkham, Charmaine Emerson, Jen Kirsch and Hannah Johnson to the downtown hotel to share their experience working in industries that thrive on connection, image and authenticity.

“Be conscious of the brand you create,” warned Kirsch, who is also a relationship columnist, and appears on MTV and Cosmo.

The all-female panel wasn’t exactly intentional. Women of Influence was the second event organized by The Social Media Ref on the business of image management, but the first, said Geller, ended up being entirely male.

“The panel before this one was always intended to be a mixed panel,” she said. When none of the women chosen could attend, they decided to follow up with another all-female discussion. “Suddenly all of the women were available. I call it magic.”

The change of plans worked to the advantage of the group assembled. In addition to tips on the business of PR and networking, the experts led discussions on infamous spokespeople, the occasionally awkward breakups between bloggers and companies, and the unnecessary gendering of products in an attempt to appeal to women (“pink washing”).

Though Generation Y is considered tech savvy digital-natives, eager to live their lives on the Internet, turning that online presence into success isn’t easy.

“Wordpress is not that hard to make pretty,” said Kirsten Walkham, a senior consultant at Maverick PR firm.

According to the site, there are approximately 58 million WordPress blogs in existence, producing more than 29 million new posts every day. Add to that the use of Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram and it seems everyone is trying to brand themselves as experts in everything from fashion to food. Despite moans of a constantly plugged-in generation, Charmaine Emerson, VP of marketing at French Connection, says online users have far more influence on businesses like hers than they might know.

Only a tiny percentage of the blogosphere garner widespread attention. Still, the success of women like Danielle Henderson of Feminist Ryan Gosling, Emma Keonig of F*ck! I’m in my Twenties, and Blair Koenig (no relation) of STFU Parents signals hope for thinkers and writers who hope sharing their work online will lead to greater things. All three women secured book deals this year after the incredible response to their blogs (Henderson started hers as a grad student in, trying to find a fun way to keep all of those feminist theories straight).

Life experience goes a long way when attempting to distinguish oneself from the pack.

“Blogs don’t just want someone sitting behind their computer,” said Hannah Johnson. “They want people who are out experiencing things.”

Johnson’s own blog, Aesthetic Feat, got the attention of Jane Pratt at xoJane, and earned her a position as Associate Beauty Editor on the site last year. Not long after, she began contributing to Rookie Magazine, founded by Tavi Gevinson (another blogger who turned her brand into massive clout), and is now a monthly contributor to FLARE Magazine.

But, she says, “experiencing life” doesn’t mean the introverted set can’t find their place online.

“I think with the Internet, that’s the most awesome thing is there’s something for everybody,” she said. “There’s a community for everybody, there’s a voice for everybody…I think that’s why [blogging] has exploded so much.”

The opportunity to share and reach thousands, if not millions of strangers, is not being properly utilized said Walkham. Like many employers, she uses social media in her hiring process, and laments the barrage of drunken photos.

“You need to have something to own, even if it’s just your studies. You have to have a position on something and a lot of young people are not doing it.”

She encourages bloggers to be thought leaders, as well as trendsetters and influencers.

Walkham, who also works with the White Ribbon Campaign, says that movements such as these have been propelled by social media and by bloggers. From the Occupy Wall Street to the student protests in Montreal to the Arab Spring, social and revolutionary movements have been grounded in networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Bloggers have demanded culpability from journalists online, taken Hollywood to task for its many, many shortcomings, and are, everyday, watchdogs of human rights and equality.

“Organizations like the White Ribbon and putting an end to violence against women or whatever your cause is, can be facilitated by people taking action,” she said. “Now, you’ve been given a voice, you’ve been given access, take action the minute it happens.”

The panel stressed the importance of honesty and transparency for bloggers and avid social media users trying to create a marketable image – in large part because the “official” number of followers, commenters, or readers, may not be representative of everyone consuming your content. More importantly, getting caught up in the prospect of fame and freebies could be the death knell of future opportunities.

Said Johnson after the panel, writing about things you’re passionate about, no matter how weird or against the trend, is what people notice.

“Never censor yourself, never feel the need to fit into a certain mold because that’s what’s selling,” she said.

In era that stresses connections and networking (many a card and Twitter handle were exchanged throughout the evening), the panel was eager to pass on their expertise to the crowd of predominantly young women. Geller believes professional women sharing their experiences with each other are not only necessary but also more important than ever.

“You have to stick your neck out for other women, it’s just essential. It’s how we’re going to build our careers with one another,” she said. “We have room, there is room for everyone.”


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