Don’t take it personally. PR is a business that is based on earned media. Not every client will be happy with the headline a journalist writes, which means they might not be happy with you or your team’s work. Everyone knows it is not personal, it’s business, but that is a hard pill to swallow when your name is on the door. It will make you work even harder at ensuring your company has a stellar reputation.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffany Guarnaccia. Considered a “visionary with a finger on the pulse of the industry” by PRWeek, Tiffany is the CEO of Kite Hill PR and the Founder of the first industry week to connect, inspire and inform the public relations industry, Communications Week. Since founding Kite Hill PR, Tiffany has been recognized as one of PR News’ Women toWatch, a DMN Hall of Femme and PRWeek 40 Under 40 award winner. Under her leadership, Kite Hill PR has been recognized as one of the “Top Tech Specialist PR Agencies in NYC” and “Most Powerful PR Firms” by the Observer and a Best Place to Work by PR News. Before starting Kite Hill PR, Tiffany headed communications for The Huffington Post. Earlier in her career, she was at the center of the music industry’s most disruptive years as a PR director at LimeWire and eMusic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Tiffany! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always had a passion for PR. I started my career in-house leading marketing and PR for a growing ad tech startup. During some of the music industry’s most disruptive years, I held positions at two music companies that represented the industry’s reinvention: first LimeWire where I was the spokesperson for LimeWire in the Arista Records v. Lime Group case, and also headed up PR for LimeWire Store, then eMusic as the Director of PR and Communications in early 2011. I later joined The Huffington Post as Senior Director of Communications to launch their new streaming platform, HuffPost Live. I then expanded my role to include PR for the Huffington Post Media Group in its entirety, including international editions.
In 2013, I recognized the need for a new type of PR agency and founded Kite Hill PR, a strategic communications consultancy. Since its founding, we have grown to include offices in London and affiliates in Germany and APAC. We work with some of the top movers and shakers in the advertising, marketing, media, and tech sectors, from social influence platforms to video ad platforms and innovative startups. It’s my mission at Kite Hill PR to continue to set the bar high and redefine what it means to be a public relations firm today. We take a unique approach to an “in-house” model, meaning the agency gets deep inside a client’s business to drive the right results.
In addition to founding Kite Hill PR, I recognized the need for the PR industry to have a larger platform to showcase innovation in times of media disruption and reinvention. With that thought in mind, I launched Communications Week in 2014, a global cross-industry celebration of the public relations, communications and media industries. The week takes place every October and consists of inspirational, informational and social events held in New York, London, and Germany.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Without a doubt having my first child was one of the most exciting and interesting life events that happened since I began my company. It is challenging and rewarding to be a mom and a founder. In that vein, growing a company can feel like raising a child. You need to work through different phases of growth and learn from them as you grow.
OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
It is exciting to build a company from the ground up and watch it grow into a successful business. There is a lot of sweat equity that you have to put in, but if you believe in your vision and yourself, there is no better job out there.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
That’s a great point. Many people think it is all about management. But you shouldn’t aim to be a great manager. You should be a great leader who develops and inspires other great leaders in your company.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
For me, it is all about the people. It is rewarding to watch both the business and the team grow. I love investing in our team and helping them achieve their career goals at our agency. I encourage all team members to focus on their professional development, even if that means their ultimate career goals are outside of the four walls of our organization.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
There are upsides and downsides to any position. When you are a CEO, you have to be always on and always be fully invested in your company’s success. That requires tenacity and perseverance. That doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice work/life balance, but instead focus on leaning in and leaning out when you need to. Sometimes work will need to come first and sometimes life comes first.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Today’s female executives are shattering the glass ceiling. I’m energized by the societal shift that I’ve witnessed over the past two decades. Female executives have more room for advancement and more resources to help them get to the top than ever before.
I have had the pleasure of working with very powerful female leaders including Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post and the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, as well as Bonnie Kintzer, the CEO of Trusted Media Brands. Both women showed me that you don’t have to worry about shattering a glass ceiling. The only ceiling is the one you create for yourself.
As I’ve created my own path as a female executive, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is balancing time with my family and still investing in my career. Women executives are challenged by the same ‘mom guilt’ and ‘overwhelm’ that all working women are challenged by. It’s a challenge that most of us are up for!
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
You might think that your job is about growing a company. But as an executive, your job is about people. Instead of thinking about platforms and procedures, you need to think about your people. That mindset shift will help you succeed.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Face any roadblock as a chance to grow rather than a setback. By embodying this mindset, I have had a lot of chances to manage up and grow in my professional journey. Early on in my career there were ample times where I was the only female in the room with senior leadership. I learned at a young age that if there is not a seat specifically reserved for you at the table, it is up to you to make one.
I also like to remind those coming up in their professional path that they are in charge of their own destiny. Too often, young professionals feel limited by their official title and don’t allow themselves to “think outside of the box.” At Kite Hill, we actively encourage all team members to make their voices heard and manage up beyond their basic responsibilities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a number of great leaders, both male and female. A specific female mentor I continue to look up to is Arianna Huffington. Before launching Kite Hill, I worked directly under Ariana at the Huffington Post. The best advice she gave me was to never stop managing up and exceeding expectations as you develop in your career. This is advice I hold myself accountable to each day and encourage my team to do the same.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t take it personally. PR is a business that is based on earned media. Not every client will be happy with the headline a journalist writes, which means they might not be happy with you or your team’s work. Everyone knows it is not personal, it’s business, but that is a hard pill to swallow when your name is on the door. It will make you work even harder at ensuring your company has a stellar reputation.
- Don’t be afraid to fail.
- It will be harder than you think it is. Entrepreneurs have a very positive outlook on the industry and see big opportunities for their business.
- You will have to push through plateaus.
- Don’t drink too much of your own Kool-Aid.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.