This week’s Hispanic PR Leader Profile is with Rosanna Fiske, CEO and Chair-Elect of the Public Relations Society of America. Fiske is the first Latina to hold PRSA’s top position. A passionate advocate for diversity in communications, she will be the keynote speaker of the upcoming Hispanic PR & Social Media Conference’s opening reception on May 10 in Dallas. Her speech is titled “The Context of Diversity in PR: A Latina’s Journey.”
Hispanic PR Blog: Tell us about yourself, your background and education.
Rosanna Fiske: I’d wanted to be a journalist since I was nine years old. I was lucky enough to find a job in print journalism immediately after college, and because it was an “on-staff freelancer” position, I got to cover a lot of different areas, especially because of my capability in anything to do with numbers. It was through freelancing that I was introduced to my next employer, where I worked in marketing and advertising. In corporate marketing, I saw that I had a specific ability in corporate communications. In essence, I am a former reporter, turned advertising and marketing executive, who saw “the light” in public relations.
HPRB: What is the most valuable life lesson your parents taught you?
RF: From my mother – Perseverance, honesty and salsa-dancing: They take a lot of effort, heartache, hard work, practice and commitment.
From my father – Independence and a passion for the arts: Being an independent thinker can often isolate you, but it also can allow you to go where no one has gone before.
HPRB: Tell us how you got involved in public relations and a little bit about where you’ve been in the field.
RF: I was very involved in marketing and advertising, but saw an opportunity to complete a corporate communications assignment. My responsibilities then grew to include more corporate and financial communications. As my responsibilities expanded, I became more involved in senior-level management. I saw public relations and communications as the disciplines that marry strategic thinking and analysis with creativity and innovation.
I then left corporate and moved to agency, first to Florida’s largest Hispanic agency and then to a multinational agency. This last stint left me wanting more of the type of client interaction that involved research and strategy. I established a new agency with other partners who felt the same way. We were fortunate — for nearly 10 years we worked with several industry leaders, who valued our work and our counsel. I still get calls from former clients today, and I’m still helping them conduct annual agency reviews.
HPRB: What was the most challenging part about your rise to the top of the Public Relations Society of America?
RF: PRSA is the best of both worlds. It is the local chapter in your city, where you meet other professionals just like yourself, and it also is the world’s largest public relations organization, which boasts more than 30,000 professional and student members. Climbing the PRSA ladder has been a challenging combination of knowing how to stay involved locally and yet grow and become more relevant nationally.
At times, I felt as if my analytical mind may have been a hindrance. Having worked with a number of CEOs and senior management teams at Fortune 100 companies, I found that my financial aptitude was always a positive in a corporate setting, but not always in a volunteer organization where most people around you didn’t view math as their favorite subject.
HPRB: There was a lot of misinformation and confusion about why and how PRSA disbanded the Multicultural Section in December. Can you bring some perspective about what happened and why?
RF: We’ve been working hard in recent years to strengthen the value of belonging to PRSA. As a result, more than two years ago we put in place a multi-year plan for all of our Sections to evaluate their performance — we measured their activities, the satisfaction of their members, and their overall financial performance. At the outset, the PRSA Board of Directors and management clearly informed Section leaders that those Sections that were not delivering good value to members could be disbanded.
Over the course of two years, as we worked to strengthen our Sections, we established milestones along the way that were reviewed, and our Section chairs were provided with information for their respective Sections. At the one-year mark, those Sections that received low marks in their members’ evaluations were informed. At the end of the two years, we found that three Sections had not met the minimum levels we’d set. Among them was the Multicultural Section, which had steadily declined on all measures.
At the same time, PRSA’s Diversity Committee — a committee that reports directly to the Board of Directors — had found great success since its inception. So rather than simply abandon our multicultural focus, we met with leaders from the committee and members of the Multicultural Section to see if there was a way to align some of their mutual goals. Today, we have a multi-platform National Diversity Committee charged with several goals, including some of the same goals of the original Multicultural Section. As part of this effort, member value and satisfaction are at the top of the list — and as a result, the activities of the Diversity Committee are now accessible to all of PRSA’s members — rather than just the 71 members who belonged to the Section. We think that’s progress and will ultimately raise awareness of these important issues.
HPRB: PRSA’s partnership with HPRA for the Hispanic PR & Social Media Conference represents a major new step in your relationship with HPRA. Tell us what is behind this step in your partnership and what do you hope you will achieve by potentially working closer with HPRA?
RF: Gary McCormick, this year’s PRSA chair and CEO, approached me about working more closely with all of the organizations in public relations and communications. Gary and I had talked about this several times while we served on the Board of Directors together. He specifically wanted us to take the necessary steps to really develop a national relationship.
With his support, we reached out to HPRA because, frankly, HPRA leaders and members are going to bring something to our own professional development that perhaps PRSA doesn’t have. This sharing of talent, resources and knowledge is what being in public relations and communications is all about. Plus, we know how committed HPRA is to expanding its national reach. We want to be part of that effort as partners.
HPRB: Tell us about your role as the CEO-elect of PRSA. What does your job entail in terms of work and sacrifice?
RF: I am a mother, wife, senior faculty member in one of the largest advertising and public relations programs in the country, and a committed PRSA member. It means I don’t get to sleep nearly as much as I’d like, and I travel so much that it’s no longer glamorous. Yes, I make plenty of sacrifices, and I certainly couldn’t do it all without the tremendous support system I have in my husband and my family. The best part of it, though, is that my kids speak Spanish much better because they spend quality time with my parents.
In my PRSA role, I support Gary in his role as the current chair and CEO however he may need me. Part of that work has involved the partnership with HPRA. I’m also chair of the strategic planning committee, which this year is charged with developing the next three-year plan for PRSA. This means that I’ll be traveling to five cities around the country as part of the strategic planning effort, gathering insights and perspectives from senior-level members. I also chair our leadership training — a retreat of sorts that we call Leadership Rally – where the entire organization’s Chapter presidents-elect, District chairs-elect, and Section chairs-elect participate.
HPRB: You have often spoken about the role of mentors in PR. Why is having a mentor important, who mentored you and how were you mentored in your career?
RF: I never thought about how important mentors were until I got older and realized how they come in and out of your life. The key is to realize you can have a mentor for different aspects of your professional life as you grow and your knowledge and skill set change.
My PRSA mentors have helped me both professionally and personally. For example, John Paluszek, senior partner at Ketchum, steered me to education after a successful career as a practitioner. He is someone whose opinion I always admire because he mentored me at a certain time in my life when I was looking to change careers.
My former boss and then partner Julio G. Rebull, Jr., senior partner at Rise Strategies, mentored me at a time when I was short on confidence but not on cockiness. He was incredibly helpful in really getting me to smell the “cafecito.”
And one of my closest friends, Linda DeMartino, who I met at my first-ever PRSA meeting, has mentored me for nearly 20 years. She is the one person who questions me about every professional decision I’ve made — not in the way you would expect a friend to do, but more in the way you’d expect a reporter to do.
HPRB: Tell us something about you that would surprise even most people that know you?
RF: I’m fascinated by Baroque and classical music. I can pretty much listen to anything composed by J.S. Bach and identify most pieces in two to three notes.
HPRB: You’re now less than a year from being the CEO of PRSA? What are the top goals you’ve planned for your year as the top executive of PRSA?
RF: Gary and I made a multi-year commitment to advancing five areas of PRSA: Advocacy, the Business Case for Public Relations, Communities, Diversity and Education. We are building and establishing all that is necessary to carry these five pillars forward for the next two years. They also will be the foundation of our strategic and operational plans and are based on much member research.
HPRB: If you could wave a magic wand what would you most like to change about the world?
RF: I’d make it so that we all speak more than one language. Language can be the source of so many miscommunications. If we all make more of an effort to understand one another, we might have fewer misunderstandings.
HPRB: How is PRSA working to make its current diversity focus part of its institutional DNA?
RF: As I mentioned before, not only are we making diversity one of our top five pillars organizationally, but we are including diversity as part of the fabric of every PRSA community. This means that our effort is taking a slightly different turn from the past. And, we’re not just talking about it —.we’re developing different, manageable ways that make us and the public relations profession more accountable.