PR Winners And Losers This International Women’s Day

In the public relations world, every day is International Women’s Day, since women outnumber men and have for years (70%, according to the Institute of Public Relations).

But for the rest of the world, March 8 marks a range of events designed to inspire women and celebrate female empowerment. Rich and diverse local activities connect women through political rallies, business conferences, networking events, theatrical performances, and more.

In honor of this occasion, we wanted to take a look at some women making news at home and share our opinion on whether their rising profiles should be considered a PR “win” or a “loss” for womankind.


Sheryl Sandberg. Yes, we know the celebrated Facebook COO’s book is controversial. But, love her or loathe her, the author of the latter-day feminist manifesto (femi-festo?) Lean In is a winner in our book for the sheer volume of visibility she has generated even before its publication date. The proof will be in the pudding however; we’ll wait to see what kind of sales she racks up before finalizing our thumbs-up.

Marissa Mayer. Fresh from a ten-minute maternity leave, the Yahoo chief took an interesting stance on what has become the norm for so many progressive companies. She abolished tele-commuting in order to foster a more collegial and productive corporate culture. Again, the decision’s merits are debatable, but it was bold! (Rumor is she checked login levels to the Yahoo VPN and found them lacking.) And she has supporters; many suspect that out-of-office too often means out of the loop!

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. For most women, they demonstrate class, smarts and humor. In fact, it’s already been suggested they parlay their hilarious Golden Globe hosting gig into an Oscars date next year. But there is a detractor. In a quote to Vanity Fair about a jab the two made during the Globes, Taylor Swift intimated that they were mean girls, deserving of “a special place in hell” for not being supportive of a sister. Instead of getting fired up, the duo responded with humor. A little “bossypants,” maybe, but a good move.

Michelle Obama. Kudos to First Mom Michelle Obama for a near-perfect rendition of “mom-dancing” on SNL, and for being willing to share the light side of her campaign to get us moving! And, while we’re on the subject, let’s give an honorary thumbs-up to “faux” mom Jimmy Fallon for helping FLOTUS bust some moves in an utterly appealing and non-partisan way. Again, they proved that a lighthearted pop culture poke can be a brilliant PR step.


Taylor Swift. That’s right, Swift came up short when she responded to the Globes wisecrack by blowing it out of proportion in a national magazine, weeks later! She also got it wrong when she cited Katie Couric as the source of the “hell” comment. (Actually, it was Madeline Albright.) We think there may be a special place in PR purgatory for divas who do NOT know how to laugh at themselves!

Can Working From Home Work? Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Think So.

Professional women talk about standing on the shoulders of those who came before, or walking in the footsteps of powerful mentors. So, when a role model steps off the usual path, it rankles. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer probably didn’t anticipate that her ban on working from home would strike such a nerve. (And if you’re wondering if things would be different if the edict had come from a man….well, that’s an interesting question.)

But Mayer’s not only not a man, she’s the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, one of very few top-500 women CEOs, and one who happens to have given birth five months ago. So when the memo went out announcing the policy as being in the interest of  “collaboration and communication,” it launched a thousand water cooler conversations and countless blog posts. Couple that with Mayer’s recent claim that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist, and you have a recipe for a culture war.

But does the tempest over work/life balance really warrant all the outrage? From where I sit, the uproar is really more about class than gender politics, though there’s a little something for everyone here. (Working dads are offended at being left out of the brouhaha, as are childless workers and others.)

One reason for the backlash is that Mayer paid to have a nursery built next to her office so that she could be with her infant son, a perq that few working women enjoy. And the now-infamous work-at-home ban comes on the heels of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s  call-to-action for professional women to step up in the face of workplace challenges instead of stepping back.  The “leaning in” advocated by Sandberg has been belittled by some as a luxury afforded to a tiny club of uberprivileged women.

My own experience is that working at home can work, and like anything else, it has limits. But the controversy makes me wonder if flextime has been oversold or occasionally abused. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back because some businesses have gone too far in letting staff set their own hours, or they haven’t set the right goals or metrics.

So, what’s the secret to success for flexible worktime? I was pondering this in terms of my own experience when a sound bite from a WNYC radio commentary crystallized it for me. It was a conversation about the desirable qualities of a successful home-based staffer.

A sense of urgency.

There are many attributes that make up a superior professional, and most of them are the same for home-based workers. But this one is particularly important for staff who aren’t in the office every day.
Yahoo insiders say that this pressing sense of mission has been absent among many home-based workers at the company. I have no idea if that’s the case, but its importance rings true for me. It’s not the only quality, but as the owner of a professional service business, I’ve found that a healthy sense of urgency, coupled with a burning desire to do right for clients, is the X factor for most successful agency staff, whether they work at home, in the office, or anywhere in between.

Whether she likes it or not, Mayer’s every move is symbolic. And though some professional women feel betrayed by her move, let’s face it, we’re not walking in her Stuart Weitzmans. So, I say, go girl. Do what’s needed to turn the ship around, and the rest of us will cheer you on, then make our own decisions about what works for us.