Read a book on management skills! When I first started my business my management skills were subpar. I had no experience in managing people and made a number of rookie mistakes. I was condescending, quick to judge, wanted things my way only, and not open-minded to new ideas. As a result, I had a revolving door of talent, which caused unnecessary stress.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Rosen. Lori is the founder and president of Rosen Group, an award-winning, fully-integrated public relations firm headquartered in New York City. Early in her career, Rosen was involved with a magazine launch that opened her eyes — and directed her career trajectory — to the magical world of media brands. Over the years, Rosen Group has handled public relations campaigns for several dozen storied titles including Outside, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, InStyle, Wine Spectator, AFAR, Inc., Cigar Aficionado, Cooking Light, Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Dwell and People. Since its inception in 1984, Rosen Group has had the great fortune of partnering with leading companies and organizations including Sony Pictures Television, PBS, Land Rover, Lincoln Center, AARP, American Hotel & Lodging Association, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Remy Amerique and Nielsen Business Media. In addition, the firm established a specialty in the epicurean and beverage areas representing the Brewers Association and James Beard Foundation, among many others. In 2013, Rosen Group began serving clients in the budding cannabis industry and, since then, has represented dispensaries, vertically integrated seed-to-sale companies, and leading CBD brands. The agency was recently number one on the Observer’s “PR Power List in Cannabis” and on Green Market’s “Top Most Effective PR Firms.” Lori began her public relations career in 1977 at John Adams Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. She was involved in public awareness campaigns for major trade associations including the Environmental Industry Council, American Pyrotechnics Association, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Investment Company Institute, Home Recording Rights Coalition, and Chemical Manufacturers Association. She is a graduate of George Washington University, with a degree in Speech Communications. Today she resides in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, patiently waiting for Governor Murphy to push through cannabis legislation. She is passionate about politics, running, and most recently, anything that is binge-worthy to get through the pandemic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Lori! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was always enamored with female television newscasters, particularly those who were pioneers in the field such as Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Cokie Roberts, and Lesley Stahl, among others. That led me to an interest in pursuing a career that touched journalism and news. While I was a senior in college at George Washington University, I landed an internship at a public affairs firm and the rest, as they say, is history. I had no idea what public relations was when I walked into the office on my first day — however, something clicked and I never looked back. Almost four decades later I still enjoy the art and essence of public relations. The opportunity to work with journalists in a communications capacity was so exciting from the beginning and it is still captivating and invigorating today. Sitting in the green room waiting for a client to go on-air is something I will never get tired of — and even in the current zoom era, broadcast interviews are still a thrill to book for clients.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting and working with a wide range of smart, inspiring, and accomplished executives both in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. One standout that truly falls in the category of a “once in a lifetime experience” is when I was selected to be a guest on the very first national episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show when it debuted in Chicago in 1986. I was one of four couples talking about a book called “How to Marry the Man of Your Choice,” along with the author. When Oprah came into the green room to greet us and exclaimed: “They are going to see us in Iowa today,” I knew we were in for a real treat. After counseling clients for years on how to maximize your television appearance, when I was in the hot seat, I violated all the rules! I bought a new outfit that was uncomfortable, I spoke too fast, waved my hands like a crazy person, and interrupted my fellow guests. However, once the jitters passed, I gained my confidence and even provoked a few laughs. The segment aired several times over the ensuing years and each time a client or old high school friend would reach out and say, “Was that you on the Oprah Winfrey Show?” Depending on who asked, sometimes I said, “No”!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am not sure if this falls into the category of “funniest mistake,” however when I first started my business, I was young, fearless, and really came with little business acumen, which forced me to shoot from the hip and operate with short term vision. For the first year that I had my business, when people asked me what I did, I would mumble, “work at a public relations firm” and then I would quickly change the subject. At the time, I did not have the confidence to tell people that I owned my company because I was afraid that if I did not succeed, they would later think I was arrogant at the time and somewhat foolish to think I could succeed in owning a business in New York City. This largely had to with that time period. Unlike during the last two decades and largely fueled by the tech boom, there were very few young entrepreneurs, and even fewer women starting companies in the 1980s. It just wasn’t the norm, so I was very mum about what I was doing for the first few years. Then add on the lack of emotional support from my parents, who top-line wanted me to succeed, but on a practical level had no idea what I did day-to-day. Their lack of understanding prevented them from providing me with support because they felt hamstrung. Instead, we skirted the issue. The lesson now is very obvious. Go with confidence and or don’t go at all.
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?
I was in a small satellite office of a Washington, DC public relations agency, and when the DC firm was having financial challenges, I proposed to my boss at the time, that I take over the New York office, along with all of our expenses, to both alleviate his financial issues and still have a New York/DC collaboration. The day the transition was made, my survival instincts kicked in: we cut our expenses by getting subtenants to share rental costs, and more importantly, I became very resourceful in bringing in clients and revenue. The idea of being able to 100 percent control my own destiny was very appealing to me and has been a consistent factor in the benefits of being a CEO.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what an 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?
The short answer is that we need to make sure the lights are kept on and to keep our work colleagues engaged, inspired, empowered, and happy. It is also important to create a positive, inviting, and supportive work culture that allows people to have their own voices and thrive professionally. These are key tenets of being a CEO.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I enjoy the independence and autonomy that comes with being an executive. I make decisions quickly and like to solve problems head-on so being at the top of that decision-making food chain is gratifying. I also enjoy witnessing the successes of my staff. When they book a media interview, get a bylined piece placed, forge a partnership, expand a client’s social media presence, land a speaking engagement — you name it — I enjoy watching them succeed. We are collaborative in general so we try to share in collective accomplishments.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
There is rarely, if ever, a complete piece of mind. If things are slow you are worried about getting new clients, and when things are busy you are concerned about meeting and exceeding client expectations — do we have the right resources in place, are colleagues feeling too much pressure? The list goes on and on. So never completely turning off is one major downside of being the CEO. Your mind never wanders too far from the business.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
It is along the lines of what I said above. People always say “you can set your own hours,” “you can work when you want,” and I think sure, my own hours are 24/7. We are always on.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The public relations industry is dominated by women so overall I don’t think I have been in too many situations where being a woman affected me in a profound negative way or presented me with an unfair playing field. I grew up in the era of the women’s movement with people like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Letty Pogrebin as my icons so I felt like the hard work was already done for me by my “older sisters” who paved the way for women in the workplace. I also had a strong female mentor at my first public relations job in Washington, DC, which was important and helped shaped my view and resolve that being a woman was not going to hinder my success in any way. That gave me an inner confidence to forge ahead with blind ambition. As a side note, early in my career I had the pleasure of representing Ms. Magazine and attended some meetings and events with Gloria Steinem. What a thrill that was for me!
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Everything! On a professional level, the public relations industry is constantly evolving and that profoundly affects what we do. Popular sentiment for public relations professionals is that “no two days are the same” and that has been true from day one. Content creation, blog posts, social media, citizen journalism, and influencers, coupled with rampant newspaper and magazine closings, continuous layoffs in newsrooms across the country and an administration that constantly undermines the media’s credibility all pose challenges that have forced us to rethink the way we execute communications campaigns, both short and long term. There are many more ways to achieve communications goals and the challenge is finding what is most effective. Is it a single tweet that becomes the tipping point, traditional press releases sent over the wire services, or a bylined article placed in an industry publication that has the most impact? What is the magic formula? As a leader, the big difference between my actual job and what I thought it would be is on the management side. It requires a lot of time to manage a business both on the operations and managing people. You need to commit as much brainpower to operations and developing a positive corporate culture as much as you do to the client management side.
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?
In order to be a successful executive, you need to be a risk-taker, have thick skin, be decisive, lead with confidence, and try not to second guess yourself. You also need to have the ability to recognize that you will not always be right and learn from your poor decisions. In addition, you need to delegate effectively and understand that there are several ways to skin a cat, so to speak. In other words, there are many ways, particularly in our business, to achieve success and results and you need to be open-minded in general. You also need to have the ability to make tough decisions and be direct when necessary. By nature, people do not like confrontations. To own and run a successful business in New York City, requires an ability to battle. Finally, you need passion across the board for what you do. You can be smart, talented and a great practitioner, but you need innate passion to be successful. Owning a business is not for the faint of heart.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I share the same principles that I apply to myself. Be bold, confident, and inclusive. Treat people the same regardless of their sex, race, or religion.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I first started my business, I had two “rabbis” that I relied on for business referrals. One was a former boss and the other a former client in the male-dominated automotive world. They both liked me a lot and full disclosure, in retrospect, probably each had a crush on me, but nothing illicit was ever suggested or happened so I benefited from a pipeline of business leads early on. This helped me with building my business. The other mentor was someone I mentioned earlier. Esther Foer was my first female boss who was a strong force and presence for me at my first job. She had a hearty laugh and was extremely articulate and strategic and I did my best to emulate her great characteristics.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I wish I could point to a major foundation that I started but nothing that lofty comes to mind. Here are a few smaller things that I can share. We have represented a number of non-profit organizations over the years such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, University of the People, the first-ever tuition-free college, and currently, Why Hunger, which is dedicated to solving systemic issues related to food availability and distribution and Jerimiah’s Program, committed to helping single mothers gain access to multigenerational education. In each case billed 30 to 40% less of our normal retainers. On a local level, I use my public relations skills to promote annual 5K events and for ten years a youth triathlon, which sends an important health and wellness message and showcases the importance of exercise.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Read a book on management skills! When I first started my business my management skills were subpar. I had no experience in managing people and made a number of rookie mistakes. I was condescending, quick to judge, wanted things my way only, and not open-minded to new ideas. As a result, I had a revolving door of talent, which caused unnecessary stress.
- Embrace new technology: I started my company when fax machines were a new phenomenon, and then (drum roll), computers were introduced. Email followed and the many technology innovations and advancements that are still changing and improving the way we do business. However, along the way, decisions need to made: do we invest in a new server, network, PC or Mac, new measurement tools? The list goes on and on. I wish someone had told me to adopt new technology earlier. I was resistant for years.
- Take time off: I don’t think I took more than a week off for the first 10 years of owning my business. As everyone knows, time off from work brings fresh perspectives, much needed nourishment and downtime. You will never get that time back.
- Where is the bathroom? Small companies sometimes forget the obvious: when new colleagues start, have an onboarding process that includes office protocols, including a key to the bathroom. I had a new employee start and at 3:00 pm she sheepishly walked into my office asking where the bathroom was.
- Be Kind: The old adage is true: you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. I had an old-fashioned notion that a tough boss was a good boss. That is simply not true.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Right now, there are so many issues this country and the world are facing, I don’t know where to begin from racial inequality to global health care crises, extreme poverty, and the environment. The pandemic is shining an even brighter light on these global crises. I would like to inspire a movement that holds citizens accountable for how they use resources — starting with water. Some countries do it better than others; the US and other Western countries need to take the lead in clean water for all movement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? B
e the change that you want to see in the world. Gandhi
In general, I try to be a strong role model for my children by eating healthy, exercising, reading, engaging in external issues, volunteering, exhibiting a strong work ethic, and overall strong values. I can’t ask my family to be model citizens if I am not. I also try to bring up impactful and meaningful issues that are important to me to friends and extended family — and influence them in positive ways.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Three people come to mind: One is Bruce Springsteen, my fellow New Jersey soul mate. I have been a Bruce fan since high school and have been to many of his concerts over the years. I also saw his recent Broadway show. I would be enchanted with anything Bruce had to say! If he wasn’t available, I would like to dine with Trevor Noah. Even though he is half my age, I fell in love with him when I read his book, “Born a Crime.” It was so heartfelt, honest, and funny, I have been a fan ever since. Finally, my new favorite is Pete Davidson. I just watched the King of Staten Island. Prior to that, I was not a big fan, but now I am. The movie was laugh-aloud funny. In fact, after lunch, I would even let Pete give me my first tattoo.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.