Doing for others is doing for yourself. Wearing a mask and staying at home (unless an essential worker) isn’t a sacrifice, it’s an act of self-preservation. Civic engagement, philanthropy and activism is really the same thing. When you give to or fight for others in your community, you and your family ultimately benefit.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanine Karp, vice president, affectionately known as the firm’s “Jane of all trades,” brings a broad range of media relations, brand development, corporate reputation management, consumer, and business-to-business marketing experience to rbb. From railroads to real estate, to hotels, health care, insurance and even the performing arts, Jeanine creates holistic public relations programs to bring burgeoning brands into the national spotlight as thought leaders in their category.
Notable client experience during her more than 10-year tenure at rbb communications includes Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Brown & Brown Insurance, Florida Blue, FirstService Residential, Florida East Coast Industries and Hilton Hotels.
Earlier in her career, Jeanine held several positions with strategic communications firms in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. While in these positions, she launched a media relations campaign for a global biotechnology company and developed and executed a national get-out-the-vote campaign corresponding with the 2004 presidential election.
A community activist and graduate of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Leadership Miami program, Jeanine volunteers on numerous political campaigns and civic initiatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Broward County.
Jeanine holds a bachelor’s degree in political communications from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
As a young child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d confidently say “the first female President of the United States.” I remained as precocious and outspoken through High School, but rather than student government I found my leadership stride as the editor-in-chief of the school paper — a role which helped me secure a coveted internship at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel during my senior year, which also happened to be an election year.
On election night it was all hands on deck in the newsroom and we worked alongside veteran political reporters until the wee hours of the morning as they prepared their stories on the winners of races big and small. Not only was it thrilling, but it was also an early education in the layers and overall importance of local politics and how they were covered. That night was seminal in my choice to apply to George Washington University’s political communications program. While I no longer have political aspirations for myself, my Sun-Sentinel internship and the Washington D.C. experiences that came after has provided me with behind-the-scenes roles supporting political issues and influencers, CEOs and community leaders that I have truly relished.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
This is a difficult question to answer as the beauty of a dynamic organization like rbb Communications is we are constantly rethinking the status quo to deliver desired outcomes to unique and complex challenges. A way of thinking that has given me a wealth of memoir-worthy career experiences. But, if I had to pick just one, it would be when, in 2014, a long-time client and prominent member of the community became increasingly disturbed by the media’s lopsided coverage of the most recent Israeli/Palestinian flare-up in Gaza. At the time, most TV stations had a running ticker of the number of Palestinians killed but failed to show the true toll the violence was taking on Israeli civilians. While this client is not Jewish and has no direct ties to Israel, he held a long-standing conviction that the media and related influencers, especially those based in his backyard, should make it a tenet to present the facts of both sides. He asked for rbb’s help to coordinate what eventually became part seminar, part roundtable discussion for Miami’s media, business and cultural elite. The session was led by a former member of one of Israel’s elite intelligence agencies who provided a behind-the-scenes look at the conflict and the circumstances on the ground. My client funded the entire event, including flying in the former Israeli intelligence officer on his own dime. While the session was not publicly promoted, recorded or ever directly referenced by the attendees, it was more impactful in changing the narrative than any public affairs initiative I had been involved with previously.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
COVID-19, and personal health issues I dealt with even before the pandemic hit, made me realize more clearly than ever before that I was a “have” and that the divide between me and the “have nots” has grown alarmingly large. This chasm isn’t just in some far off third-world country, it’s very real in my own community. This is what led me to the Urban League of Broward County (ULBC), where I have tried to help them where I can in their efforts to create economic equality in my community. Recently, their focus has been filling the gap of needed resources to help Broward County’s Black community who were hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. ULBC’s headquarters became the first walk-in testing center in the county and they relaunched their Families First Fund to provide financial assistance to impacted low-income families, with a focus on emergency needs. But, before the pandemic hit, I had been speaking with ULBC executive leadership about how we could bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to minority communities living in food deserts with no walkable access to grocery stores or other retailers with fresh produce for sale. An effort I I hope we can work to get off the ground in the near future. I credit access to good quality, whole, plant-based foods with my recovery from recent health battles. Our state ranks in the top 5 in the U.S. for the production of hosts of fresh produce like oranges, squash, snap beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, cabbage and fresh market sweet corn. I see no reason why any Floridian should lack fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet.
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 am where I am because of a village of people that supported and championed me in big and small ways. But, if I have to name only the person that most directly influenced my career path, it would Renee Carl, who hired me for my first job out of college at Jascula Terman Strategic Communications (JT). Renee championed me while there and championed my leaving when it was time to move on to new pursuits. The irony is not only is Renee any longer with JT, she has since become a professional genealogist and built her own genealogical research firm. That said, my time at JT, a Chicago-based public affairs firm specializing in the management of public policy issues, where I was mentored by numerous communication veterans, shaped the professional I am today. It’s where I learned to trust my instincts, be bold when called for, and honed my ability to hold my own with distinguished and elite leaders.
Among numerous other major political events, while at JT I was given the opportunity to help coordinate a campaign stop for Rahm Emanuel, former Mayor of Chicago, when he was running for Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives. The stop was meant to showcase Emanuel’s work to secure the funding for Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program (CHIP) and included a photo opp with President Bill Clinton. After being responsible for getting the former leader of the free world to stand and stay on his designated ”x”, sharing what I know to be good PR counsel with powerful CEOs, even when contrarian, has never been a challenge.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
I think the biggest obstacle was carving out time and space to be productive, regardless of whether the task at hand was personal or professional. In the beginning of the pandemic, with both my daughter and husband at home and constantly in earshot, I struggled to accomplish anything in a manner in which I was truly proud. I was distracted on conference calls, assignments felt phoned-in, runs were rushed, dinner — which had previously been a sacrosanct family time with a strict no-screens rule — was thrown together and eaten in shifts while challenging school lessons and client deadlines were completed. There was no satisfaction or real quality to the motions we were going through, just a quantity of tasks.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I went back to basics and dusted off and reinstated the original structure, parameters I created for myself when I went back to work after having my daughter and embarked on the life of a working mom for the first time. I had to be both strict and kind to myself, developing a schedule and routine where work, family and a few brief moments of “me time” had defined time slots on the calendar each day. If I just hoped to get in a run, it wouldn’t happen, but if I was deliberate about scheduling it, most days I could pull it off. I also tried to live by my own advice. I often tell my staff, “the answer is always no to a question never asked,” but I hadn’t always applied that to my personal life. Marrying that with the age-old advice of, “ask for help when you need it,” I was more forthright with my husband and daughter about the tasks they could take off my plate and had more frank conversations with my company’s leadership about both the support I needed and overall workload I could feasibly handle in this “new normal”.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
They are fairly similar to what I already outlined above. For me, it’s never been about work-life balance. It’s always been about the work-life blend. As an employee-driven workplace, rbb has afforded me (and all employees) the ability to set my own schedule and get my work done as I see fit. This has enabled me to be an active volunteer in my daughter’s school, remain civically engaged and a member of nonprofit boards, all while achieving strategic career goals. The CEO of rbb often jokes that there is rarely a workday she doesn’t attend to something personal, but also few days off where she doesn’t address a work matter. I have tackled the role of working mom in a similar fashion. The pandemic certainly has upped the ante, but working moms have been refining and recalibrating the ideal work-life blend for centuries. Actually, make that millennia. (I googled it and found a 2017 University of Cambridge archaeological study that concluded women have been juggling work and motherhood for at least 7,000 plus years.) Jokes aside, the lessons already learned by the working moms that came before me is what I applied to the COVID-related career conundrums of today.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Again, creating and defining a set schedule is really key. There is a wealth of research on the benefits of having a routine and how it holds the key to productivity and progress. That said, the schedule can’t be all business. You have to be kind to yourself and to the needs of your family and schedule in times for learning, work, play and relaxing.
Also, if your employer offers flexibility, which thankfully is becoming more the norm, consider asking to start or end your day earlier than the standard corporate hours to create a schedule that will align more naturally with your family’s rhythm. If this isn’t possible, at the very least try to work with your supervisor to define a set window of time for responsibilities like video and conference calls when you can more easily minimize interruptions from small children.
It’s also important to think through the resources available to you and not be bashful about accessing them. If your child’s teacher has online office hours, access them. If you have a family member, friend or neighbor that is very skilled in a particular subject, ask if they might do a Zoom tutoring or enrichment session for your child. This will expose your child to a new mentor with a fresh perspective and possibly provide you with some added work or downtime.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
While the pandemic and its ripple effects are certainly unprecedented, I have tried to approach it like the other heavier challenges in my life. When adversity hits, I try to remind myself that I have two choices, I can focus only on the doom and gloom and how it’s unfair that I should be met with this hardship, or, I can re-channel my angst to fuel my way forward. While it may not be immediately apparent and is hardly ever one-size-fits-all, there is almost always a solution to improve the situation around you.
Moreover, along with all the bad it has brought, the pandemic has delivered some hopeful moments.
First and foremost, COVID-19 has reminded, and for some finally driven home, our connectivity. Doing for others is doing for yourself. Wearing a mask and staying at home (unless an essential worker) isn’t a sacrifice, it’s an act of self-preservation. Civic engagement, philanthropy and activism is really the same thing. When you give to or fight for others in your community, you and your family ultimately benefit.
As I touched on earlier, Coronavirus has also shined a spotlight on the vast socioeconomic divide in this country. Minority populations weren’t hit harder by chance. Years of poor access to quality healthcare, education and housing as a result of systemic racism became a death sentence. It’s appalling and something I feel shameful for not doing more to change. But I am encouraged by the growing number of privileged individuals like myself that are now taking a hard look at these inequities, how we’ve played a role, and how we can be instrumental in undoing them.
The pandemic has also helped expand flexibility and family-friendly policies in the workplace. Something I hope will be permanent. I am encouraged by the increasing number of corporations striving to create employee-driven workplaces, where working moms, and their battle-tested ability to multi-task, prioritize and adapt, can thrive, even in these extraordinary times. I’ve been lucky to build my career at a family-friendly firm with an employee-driven culture. Even before I had my daughter, I had first-hand experience of why working moms consistently get high-marks from co-workers for diplomacy, communicating, multitasking and remaining calm under fire.
Finally, quarantine has brought me closer to my family and friends, while renewing my focus on living in the now. Once I got over the initial shock of my world being turned upside down, I, like many, remembered to be grateful for the small moments. It sounds trite but I had taken for granted the joy of baking with my daughter, beating my husband at monopoly, pajama dance parties and so many other simple pleasures.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote comes from Audrey Hepburn who said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” It’s been the underlying motivation for all the goals I’ve set for myself and struggles I’ve had to overcome, and it will continue to be the soundtrack for the challenges I take on.
How can our readers follow you online?