Leslie Friebert: “Carving out time for myself each day has become key”

More and more companies — and many of FORGE PR’s clients — are taking great strides towards implementing meaningful giveback initiatives. Our environment is becoming less polluted. I have absolutely loved reading stories about pollution rates going down across big cities and animals emerging and playing across urban and suburban areas they wouldn’t normally be seen, all because humans […]

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More and more companies — and many of FORGE PR’s clients — are taking great strides towards implementing meaningful giveback initiatives.

Our environment is becoming less polluted. I have absolutely loved reading stories about pollution rates going down across big cities and animals emerging and playing across urban and suburban areas they wouldn’t normally be seen, all because humans have slowed down.

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 Leslie Friebert.

Leslie Friebert has nearly 20 years of PR and communications experience having worked both in-house and at agencies in Chicago and New York. Leslie has a deep understanding of how and why spreading meaningful messages is key to successful communications programs and strives to strategically analyze every media opportunity, partnership and tactic in an effort to engage with press and consumers in a relevant and impactful way. Leslie is a committee member for the Robert H. Friebert Social Justice Award and she sits on the board of Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC), Chicago’s first domestic violence services organization. Leslie also serves as co-chair for CAWC’s 2020 annual fundraiser gala, Sounds of Silence.

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?

Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity to share my story! The path to my career as a public relations executive began immediately after I graduated from school in Washington, D.C. I secured a job as the Executive Assistant for an extremely well-known and prominent political pollster. A large part of my job was acting as a sort of gatekeeper for my boss, managing his schedule, fielding phone calls and taking messages, helping him get organized for meetings, etc. Every day, calls would come in from journalists that wrote or produced for major national news outlets ranging from The New York Times and CNN to The Washington Post and MSNBC, all seeking interviews with my boss. I began to establish a rapport with each journalist and realized that this specific part of my job was what I enjoyed best. After about a year and a half, I knew that I needed to pack up my life in DC and head up to NYC so that I could gain experience as a publicist in the media epicenter of the world, and that’s exactly what I did! With no real experiences in the PR industry, my friend and I rented a tiny apartment in the East Village, I landed a part time job at a hat store and I reached out to every possible contact that I could think of that could help. After a few weeks, I lined up an interview for a part-time PR Assistant position at a little-known company based in Whitestone, NY that was right on the tipping point of becoming an internationally recognized brand…you may have heard of it; it’s called vitaminwater! After a couple rounds of interviews, I got the job, and I haven’t looked back since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

One of the most interesting things since my two partners and I started our firm, FORGE PR, is actually how we came together in the first place. We all had very different professional backgrounds both in the places that we had previously worked and the clients that we worked with. Between the three of us, we covered a huge range of experience that we could each tap into, however, the two major things that drew us together were our passion for working with clients and developing programs that had a tie to social impact and corporate social responsibility, and that we are all moms (and soon to be moms!) that needed, accepted and appreciated flexibility.

My son was 10 weeks old when we had our very first meeting, and he was with us every step of the way as our firm went from an idea to reality, growing from his Dock-a-Tot to a bouncy chair into a standing bouncer. Knowing that I had partners that I could lean on professionally that also understood what it was like and what it meant to be a new mom was beyond priceless. It immediately established a space for all of us to truly talk openly with each other and created a work environment that was centered around the hustle of getting the work done on our own timeline, not necessarily during “traditional” work hours, but we supported each other and gave each other that flexibility and trust in knowing that the work was being done well right out of the gate. We are actually now approaching our one year anniversary, and while the pandemic has thrown a major curve ball our way, we are thriving and I have no doubt that it’s because of the groundwork that we laid as a company when we first came together.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our motto at FORGE PR is “Helping clients do good for others while we do good for our clients” which is a nod to a major aspect of the work that we do, incorporating a social impact component to every strategy that we create for our corporate clients. We also work with quite a few non-profit organizations, one of which is an international humanitarian organization that works with and supports refugees and migrant populations and communities all over the world. One amazing campaign that we just wrapped was an initiative that launched in mid-April as COVID-19 was surging globally and millions of people still hadn’t heard of the virus. It was developed to share bite-sized, positive health messaging and prevention techniques derived from World Health Organization guidelines, while also dismantling prevalent myths and misinformation about COVID-19. Our team led media relations for the campaign globally and supported our client with influencer outreach in 10 countries.What started as an effort in the 19 countries that our client serves quickly grew and has since been translated into over 40 languages and expanded to get lifesaving information to marginalized and remote communities in 86 different countries, ultimately reaching over 100MM people worldwide.

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 worked with some incredible people over the years, all of whom have impacted my professional growth in different and meaningful ways. After about eight years of living in NYC, I once again picked up and moved, but this time I ended up in Chicago, which is closer to my family. I got a job at a boutique PR firm that focused on architecture and design, and once again started as a part-time gig. The founder of the firm, Mary Jo Fasan, and I hit it off right away both personally and professionally and we very quickly fell into a way of working together that balanced each other out and ultimately let both of us shine in our own ways. I was still very much working at a pace that was NYC-oriented aka GO, GO, GO, which is very much what PR is most of the time. However, MJ led by example and taught me the power of stepping back and slowing down. There’s a phrase in the industry that our work is “PR not the ER,” which I never truly appreciated until I worked with MJ, and I am so grateful that I have since been able to apply this approach to my work and bring this perspective to my partners.

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?

TIME! Finding the time to do it all is challenging enough when we’re not facing a pandemic, but being in quarantine and working from home seemed to compound this challenge. My son, who is also my first child, just recently turned one, so I feel lucky that my partner and I didn’t have to tackle all of the virtual school related issues. However, my firm, FORGE PR is also just about one year old, and also requires just as much if not more of my attention particularly when the pandemic began surging in the US. The strategies that we had previously developed for all of our clients were immediately tossed out the window and we dove head first into crisis communication mode, which had my partners (both of whom have kids as well) and I working at such a rapid clip that maintaining a healthy separation between work life and personal life became difficult to maintain.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Carving out time for myself each day has become key. This time allows me to clear my head, set my priorities for the day and ultimately determine a schedule as best I can with a very active toddler! I also strongly feel that it’s important to TURN OFF on the weekend, which is an approach my partners and I practice as best we can with each other as well. Because my home has also become my workplace, it can be really hard to keep a healthy divide between the two, so I’ve really leaned into the weekends as my time to spend totally focused on myself and my family, with as few work distractions as possible.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

I don’t think that I’ve faced any work related issues that have been particularly challenging because I am a woman. However, as a publicist working in a time of massive upheaval and social unrest, my partners and I have had some surprisingly difficult conversations with clients about how best to approach messaging. The pandemic put most of our clients on an unprecedented path that was never remotely considered when we were initially developing strategies earlier this year. Add to that the murder of George Floyd and the rightful rise of BLM protests, and we saw some of our clients really struggling to figure out what their next move was, despite our guidance to pause, listen and learn from this monumental time in our history (and become better as individuals and brands).

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We’ve had extremely hard and candid conversations with our clients and talked through different approaches, while also ensuring that our position for the brand was heard, which can be tough to do in a client-based industry.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I feel very fortunate that my son is not old enough to be in school yet and is still young enough that he’s not going to remember this time of his life. I also know how lucky I am that I have a strong and healthy relationship with my husband. That said, the best approach that worked for me and my family was getting into a routine as quickly as possible, which mostly centered around my son’s naps, and checking in with my husband every evening about meetings and schedules the next day so we could establish who needed to parent when.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Carving out time to exercise 2–3 times a week was very important to me. So much of my “me” time prior to the pandemic was centered around going to the gym or a yoga class with girlfriends, so when the shelter in place orders came down and I didn’t have those options any longer, I knew that I had to continue exercising in some capacity. In that same regard, eating healthy and not snacking too much were also key for me to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

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.

  1. Knowing that this too shall pass. This was advice that I was first given by my nana after my papa had passed away, and it rings true for pretty much every difficult experience I’ve been through since. While this small phrase can seem silly while you’re in the challenging moment, I’ve found that the more I’ve applied this to my life, it brings me comfort because it’s true.
  2. There have been major shifts to the workplace, all of which will likely have a lasting impact. Working from home, flexible work hours, shorter work days and weeks — there have been so many articles written about these major shifts that have taken place since the start of the pandemic that it’s hard to imagine we’ll 100% go back to pre-pandemic work environments.
  3. More and more companies — and many of FORGE PR’s clients — are taking great strides towards implementing meaningful giveback initiatives.
  4. Our environment is becoming less polluted. I have absolutely loved reading stories about pollution rates going down across big cities and animals emerging and playing across urban and suburban areas they wouldn’t normally be seen, all because humans have slowed down.
  5. Developing a stronger sense of self. Before COVID, there were so many social plans to uphold, meetings to attend, schedules to maintain and outside forces pulling on my time. While my family and I are still juggling a lot, there has been a renewed sense of self-reflection because so much of the outside noise and “clutter” is no longer there.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Really listening — which is often underrated as an important skill to practice and maintain, personally and professionally — and engaging in conversation can make a world of difference, especially for someone that is feeling anxious.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” My mom actually gave me a ceramic plaque with this phrase on it! I have had so many ups and downs when it comes to my career path. I’ve worked at massive global firms with offices in 30 different countries and very small boutique agencies. I’ve been laid off and moved to cities with zero job prospects. Every time I’ve felt like I was in hot water, I’ve come out the other side stronger, happier and more knowledgeable than I was before, which I know I would not have achieved if it wasn’t for setbacks.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please visit www.forgepr.com to learn more about my firm and my amazing partners, Jaime Grodsky and Carly Leviton Eilian!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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