Public Relations Society or America Northeast District

Speaker Spotlight

Five Questions with Sharon Napier and Liz Allen

April 20, 2018 – We asked our morning and afternoon keynote speakers – Sharon Napier and Liz Allen – five questions to help us get to know them.

Tell us who you are, what drives you, what are you most passionate about?

Sharon Napier_keynote_2018.jpgSharon: I am an entrepreneur. The youngest of five kids. A mom to two girls – also in advertising. A wife. A fitness fanatic. And a proud first-generation, Italian-American.

As communications leaders, we have the power to change behavior and make people’s lives easier through our work. I have always believed in the power of a well-executed big idea leaving a mark on people, business and culture. I look forward to coming to work every day and being surrounded by smart, fun, passionate people.

Liz Allen_keynote_2018.jpgLiz: I’m a ten-year public servant turned consultant who fell into doing communications by accident and ended up as White House Deputy Communications Director to President Barack Obama. I’m a proud supporter of progressive values who deeply loves this country and its ideals, and believe we all have a role to play in improving the greater good. I’m driven by human connection and making people feel something. We’re all alike more than we are different and I think everyone has a story worth hearing.

What leadership style do you find the most effective, and what’s the best leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Sharon: To be a good leader today, you must be open, a great listener, and at the end of the day, willing to make tough decisions. The simplest definition of a great leader, I once heard is “a person people are willing to follow.” I believe this happens when you stand for something. You have a set of values that people believe in and want to follow. The great David Ogilvy once said, “lead from a roundtable.” Surrounding yourself with diverse, smart people, and providing an open forum to listen and consider other perspectives leads to informed decision-making.

Liz: An effective leader is fair and decisive – someone who listens to a variety of viewpoints, but who trusts their judgment to make a decision. It can be hard, but you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong stop you from making a call.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about leadership is actually more of a foundational way of looking at the world, and it comes from Vice President Joe Biden, whose mother taught him that “everyone is your equal and you are equal to everyone.” To me, this means both treating people with respect regardless of differences that may exist, but also that you are just as worthy of your opportunities and ideas as anyone else.

How does your approach in creating teams for clients vary and why?

Sharon: Clients are increasingly seeking unified, best in class teams that can work across disciplines. It means creating the best team for our clients based on their need.

Since many of us just got through watching the NCAA championship – I will use a basketball analogy – if there were 5 seconds left on the clock and we were 2 points up – I would put my best defenders in – or vice versa, if I was 2 points down, I would put my best shooter in. It means being ego-less, knowing your role on the team, and always being nimble and flexible.

Liz: No two client needs are the same, so no two teams should be the same. My firm prides itself on providing a bespoke approach to each client that reflects their unique circumstances – with teams made up not just of skills experts but people with experience and background in their particular issue as well. The combination of specialized ideation and execution is key. I also think it’s important to have at least one person on a client team without subject matter expertise so they can bring a “fresh eyes” perspective to the table. And there’s no monopoly on good ideas – the team is better when members of all roles and seniority levels contribute.

The conference theme is convergence. What does this concept mean to you?

Sharon: The best work we see out there today has PR, social, and digital at its core. It’s how we amplify a big idea and make sure that we are creating a conversation that is part of the consumer’s ecosystem. So that means we can’t do it alone, we can’t do it in a vacuum like we used to before—call in the ad agency. Bring in the PR agency. We need a unified and diverse team, bringing together different perspectives with the right mix of talent. This integrated approach brings the most effective and relevant concepts to the table.

Liz: Convergence means providing integrated communications services in an environment where people now get their information from more non-traditional sources than ever before and the lines between messaging, storytelling and marketing are purposely blurred. It’s the evolution of traditional PR to a more holistic and creative way of thinking in an effort to meet people where they already are.

What’s your take on the most pressing issues organizations and businesses in all sectors face today given the many social changes we’re experiencing?

Sharon: Trust. Trust is an economic driver, not a social virtue. If what we do as communicators is not authentic to business, brands, and people then we lose trust. And without trust we lose influence and are not relevant in culture. This disconnect results in ineffective work at best and in some instances permanently damaging organizational or brand reputation. When you have trust in an organization, barriers are easier to overcome, and you can move faster keeping pace with the incredible rate of change. Trust is a learnable skill, one that creates confidence and risk taking, two important ingredients for organizational growth.

Liz: We’re seeing an unprecedented pressure on organizations and corporations to define their values – and I think that’s a good thing. People are finding themselves driven by civic and social responsibility more than ever before, and are looking to the private sector for leadership in a time when trust in other institutions is waning. They want to align themselves with brands and causes that stand for something, turning advocacy into purchasing power that affects businesses’ bottom lines. As a result, it’s a new day for organizations to find their voice and determine how to use it.

Register today to join Sharon and Liz at the PRxNE 2018 District Conference on Friday, June 1 in Buffalo, NY.