Choose your partner wisely. A partnership is like a marriage. I never thought it would be difficult, but it was the hardest thing in the beginning — two business owners coming together to manage one entity. It took a lot of honest conversations and a terrific business coach to get us on the right track.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darlene Fiske.
Darlene Fiske is the owner of The Fiske Group Public Relations and co-founder of S’Well Public Relations, a national PR and communications firm specializing in the 4.5 trillion dollars global wellness economy. A self-proclaimed spa junkie, she has served on the marketing task force for the International Spa Association, is currently on the Women in Leadership committee for the Global Wellness Institute, has spoken at industry conferences such as SXSW, IECSC, and ISPA and has written for a variety of publications including FathomAway, Organic Spa, Spa Opportunities and Forbes. Respected by the country’s top media professionals, Fiske’s clients have enjoyed enormous exposure in leading lifestyle publications including the New York Times and USA Today and she has been referred to as the “Unicorn PR Gal” by the press.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised in a small town outside of San Antonio, Texas — my dad was an entrepreneur (and former math professor) and my mom passed away when I was just 10 years old, leaving me as the oldest to help care for my two younger siblings. That event shaped much of my life in ways I am still coming to understand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I can’t remember where I heard this, but I once read, “You are the problem, You are the solution.” I love this because it makes any overwhelming issue surmountable. Take the smallest thing that you could complain about. “the coffee I just paid 5 dollars for isn’t even warm.” If you are the solution, you might go back and ask to heat it up, or if it’s a common occurrence, decide not to go there again, or want to give constructive criticism and contact the coffee shop manager and share your feedback. OR — take a HUGE problem — the divisiveness of our country due to Covid, politics, name it. If I take that on as MY issue, what is the solution? I can practice being kind. Share quotes, stories of love, hope and compassion. Don’t post stories on social media that come from unqualified sources — those typically lead to more division and it’s how we got here in the first place.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There is a podcast that really impacted me but not for the reasons you might think. In 2019 my S’Well Public Relations co-founder Kim Marshall had this idea to help the Global Wellness Summit create a podcast. I said, “good luck, I’m out.” We had not one ounce of knowledge in starting a podcast, I’d maybe listened to one in my lifetime and I didn’t want to embarrass ourselves trying to figure it out, on a client’s behalf! Also, did I mention we had less than two weeks to put it all together? She persevered and I followed along — that fall, we recorded 21 live interviews in Singapore at the Summit interviewing visionaries in the wellness space and our production team was stellar. The content and information that we produced for them is compelling and conversational and it’s one of my favorite podcasts today. Risk taking is oftentimes a very good thing.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in journalism and public relations and have owned my own PR firm for the last 15 years. In 2018, I co-founded a new firm, S’Well Public Relations, aimed at servicing the 4.5 trillion dollars wellness economy.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Much of our business is in the hospitality space. When spas and resorts shut down or scaled back, our PR outreach shifted from pushing information out to bringing people in. We wanted to strengthen current relationships, create new ones and have frank conversations with influential leaders. That came in a variety of ways — zoom calls, more one on one phone calls and coming up with the idea to host live interviews on Instagram within the wellness space. We called the series, the Instagram Leader Livecast #FiveinTen (five questions in ten minutes) on behalf of the Global Wellness Summit.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
The Global Wellness Summit had pivoted rather quickly too when the pandemic hit and began offering online Master Classes around a particular topic. My partner and I presented about Public Relations, Dr. Richard Carmona talked about health — it was a way for our industry to gather in a classroom type setting, all online. The idea for the Leader Livecast came from one of these calls when Nancy Davis asked for specific ways we could contribute to the coming together of our industry — this was our idea and she let us run with it.
How are things going with this new initiative?
A total of 37 interviews so far have been conducted, capturing insights from experts in travel media, hospitality design, hotel and resort spa owners and executives — such as the CEO of the Forbes Travel Guide and an SVP from Virtuoso and the Editor in Chief of Travel + Leisure Magazine — and even non-profits rooted in the hotel industry.
Some of the interviewees S’Well secured for GWS Leader Livecasts included:
October 27 — Jessica Shea, Senior Director, Spa & Fitness Operations, Americas, Hilton
October 29 — Terry Gilbey, GM & CEO, Esalen Institute
September 22 — Chip Conley, Airbnb Strategic Advisor for Hospitality & Leadership, and Founder of Modern Elder Academy
August 18 — Jacqueline Gifford, Editor in Chief of Travel & Leisure Magazine
August 11 — Bill Bensley, Creative Director and Founder of BENSLEY
August 6 — Stacy Shoemaker, Editor in Chief, Hospitality Design Magazine
May 26 — Filip Boyen, CEO, Forbes Travel Guide
May 21 — Belgin Askoy, Founder, Global Wellness Day
May 19 — Alcide Leali, CEO, Lefay Resorts & Residences
April 30 — Anna Bjurstam, Wellness Pioneer, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas
April 23 — Terrie Hansen, Senior Vice President Marketing, Virtuoso
April 14 — David Dronet, Owner, The Springs Resort & Spa
April 2 — Dilip Barot, Founder, Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences
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?
There are so many powerful and inspiring women and men that have made it possible to be where I am today. But I must say thank you to the bravery of Nancy Davis, the CEO of the Global Wellness Summit. When she asked people that day to speak up, give their ideas and step forward, I did, not knowing she would trust us with this grain of an idea to unify our industry. She said yes immediately, didn’t blink an eye and I think organizations with this type of leadership — who can shift and bend at a moment’s notice will thrive in the coming years. I am grateful to her and the Global Wellness Summit for trusting us to cradle their brand through the pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I’m still amazed at the caliber of people we interviewed. Bill Bensley is a world-renowned architect (just google him!) and at the end of our interview he started to take his clothes off to go for a swim after our interview. He didn’t get undressed completely, but his charisma and humor stole the show. He makes beautiful things in a way that disarms people and draws you into him.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Create a separation from Work and Home. While it’s nice to be able to work from home, it’s also important to create a space that is just for you. I could do better at this — it’s not unusual that I take a work call while cooking dinner.
- Choose your partner wisely. A partnership is like a marriage. I never thought it would be difficult, but it was the hardest thing in the beginning — two business owners coming together to manage one entity. It took a lot of honest conversations and a terrific business coach to get us on the right track.
- Invest in great equipment. Office chairs, computer, phone — all important to producing quality work. Don’t skimp on those things.
- Think about your five-year plan. Always good to know what goal you’re working towards.
- Be brave. Take risks, let your path be uncomfortable, speak your truth.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
NATURE. A daily hike does the mind and body good.
FRIENDS. Working from home is isolating, my friends keep me connected and feeling like I’m part of something.
NETFLIX. Let’s be honest. Escapism works. Thank you Outlander, The Crown, and My Octopus Teacher.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would start a movement called “Talk to Strangers.” We’re taught from a young age NOT to talk to strangers, but I think we should do the opposite. You never know what lesson you might learn from someone sharing their story with you. It brings us together and encourages kindness — a vital quality for living in a harmonious world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I admire her in so many ways — her pivots in life, her backstory and of course the bounty of recipes she has presented to all of us in her cookbooks (I think I have every single one). I’m obsessed. I literally cannot cook a bad meal when I follow her direction. I’m so grateful to her for that.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow S’Well Public Relations on Instagram at @Swellpublicrelations and on Twitter at @swell_pr. You can always personally connect with me on Linked In too.