I had the pleasure of interviewing Brenda Christensen, CEO of Stellar Public Relations, a world leader in public relations, investor relations, branding, funding and corporate guidance for startups, Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companies, with direct attributable growth worth over millions of dollars. She currently serves as an adviser on private boards in North America, and previously served as corporate officer for a leading publicly held technology company, across multiple continents.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ever since I was a little girl and started a neighborhood newsletter, I’ve had a yearning to be in publishing and public relations. I was the first female editor in chief of a high school yearbook, as well, and later earned a journalism degree and became a daily newspaper reporter. My father worked on all of the NASA space manuals and provided Walter Cronkite’s commentary for the televised space missions. Even my grandfather started as a newspaper boy and eventually owned a major newspaper distribution network. It must be in my DNA.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I used to have an office in NYC in lower Manhattan — this was right before 9/11. And I was usually meeting with a WSJ reporter in the WTC that week on media tour. But that year was the first time in a decade I was on vacation. Luckily, everyone back at the office was fine, but it was a very horrifying experience. I felt like we all dodged a bullet.
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 was representing the largest corporation in the world — General Motors — and coordinating the groundbreaking of their new offices. For some reason, I didn’t hear my alarm and overslept on the morning of the press event. I drove 100 mph and made it there just in time — with seconds to spare. Lesson learned: Always have a backup service to call you or another alarm set for important morning events.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
I was fortunate in that I learned from the best — the leading Top 10 PR agency at the time and the current national president of PRSA. I learned how to structure the agency around positioning the service value up front with clients. So many people in our profession undervalue their worth. The key is to keep your top-line revenue and profit goals front and center and align your business tactics to achieve those goals.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most exciting projects are always introducing a new service or product to the market that is currently being underserved or not served at all. For instance, we recently launched an incentivized blockchain healthcare provider platform that truly transforms the way patients and healthcare providers interface. The launch was so successful, the company was acquired for $100 million just a few months later.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
You must have a passion for informing and educating — and you must be a good listener. PR people have often been considered to be talkers, but the best in our profession are excellent listeners. I launched some of the most successful brands in marketing history — Nintendo’s GameBoy and Kmart’s Jaclyn Smith — by listening carefully to what the client wanted to achieve.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
The best networkers are very open to new ideas and meeting new people. In general, they are very curious about others and authentically interested in getting to know them. If you don’t have a natural inclination in these areas, focus on the areas of interest you are passionate about and your general enthusiasm will be infectious and others will gravitate to you. Once you’ve established a small network, expand it by introducing others to new ideas and people and watch it grow exponentially. As a result, you will be seen as a “connector” and your sphere of influence will expand.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I am a huge fan of classic literature and there are so many business lessons in many books that have been around for centuries. The classic Greek or Shakespearean plays contain many business lessons you can learn in contemporary career books. Basically, human nature hasn’t changed for thousands of years. Reading The Prince or The Art of War is a great foundation for any business career.
Because of the role you play, 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?
In light of the #MeToo movement, I think we’re on the cusp of something far greater — a seed has been planted that will bear even greater fruit in the future. It’s so important to approach life and business with an open mind, acceptance of others and without prejudice. We are all creative and have much to offer the world. I’ve made the greatest advancements in my career when I was treated with respect and kindness. I would hope an inspired movement would be to #Engage&Enlighten. If everyone did those two things, the world would be healthier, hopeful and happier.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
Play the long game — Keep your eyes on the horizon. So many times the short view is necessary, but I think those in our profession tend to get into “deadline mode” quite a bit. Remember that long term goals always take priority, and if you keep them front and center, the tactical activities will always fall into place.
It’s not about time, it’s about quality — Early in my career, I was consulting for the top real estate corporation in the world. My work was compensated based on estimated time to complete the project. When the client asked me how long I had worked on a particular project, I asked in return, “Is it what you wanted?” They replied, “Yes.” I let them know that the end result was what was important. It always has been and it always will be about quality outcome.
Be the client — It’s really simple but it is best to have a client mindset. Always put yourself in the client’s shoes and remember why you were hired. I cannot overstate how important it is to make sure you are always communicating and aligning on goals and expectations.
Don’t be afraid to say something that is unpopular — I was advising a hot tech startup and Inc. 500 company that had just been awarded the top business recognition in the world. I reminded them to stay humble and always serve the customer and the market. It wasn’t a popular thing to say, but I knew that it would prevent a potential communications crisis down the road — especially if egos weren’t in check.
Always pay it forward — Once you achieve your goals remember to give back in kind and pass the torch to future generations coming up the ladder. Not only does this enrich others but you’ll find you’ll learn a lot, as well. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career nurturing young professionals. One person I mentored very early in their career eventually oversaw WW PR for Disney. I advise clients to do the same and frequently recommend that they choose a nonprofit to donate to and give back to the community.