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Rosemary Ostmann: “What you do is less important than who you do it with”

Abolish, “I can’t wait,” from your vocabulary. Very early in my career, I used to think once I turned 30, people would take me seriously. I learned from a mentor that when you do that, you fail to appreciate and learn from the present moment. As part of my publicist rockstar column, I had the pleasure […]

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Abolish, “I can’t wait,” from your vocabulary. Very early in my career, I used to think once I turned 30, people would take me seriously. I learned from a mentor that when you do that, you fail to appreciate and learn from the present moment.


As part of my publicist rockstar column, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rosemary Ostmann. She owns a boutique communications firm in Hoboken, New Jersey. She started her career as a copywriter in Washington, DC, and worked for two different advertising agencies in Baltimore before taking a job in New York City to try living somewhere else for “a bit”. That was 20 years ago.

Rosemary has created and directed communications strategies for some of the best-known brands in the business, including Sony, United Airlines, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and Cigna, to name a few. Her firm, RoseComm, also handles social justice campaigns for the likes of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and Shared Hope International. Rosemary and her team have several national awards to their credit, including the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil, the SABRE Award, and the Bulldog Award.

Rosemary graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish.

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

I helped my alma mater, the University of Maryland, plan an alumni event in Manhattan where a then-new professor, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, shared that she was teaching a class about imprisoned journalists. I approached her after the event and in a classic case of one-thing-leads-to-another, we launched a student-led campaign called Press Uncuffed to raise awareness of imprisoned journalists around the world. Among the people we profiled was Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post who was held in an Iranian prison for 544 days as a pawn in the nuclear deal negotiations. We made and sold bracelets bearing the names of 13 journalists to support the Committee to Protect Journalists. The global media exposure we generated helped put pressure on their governments to release 12 of the 13 journalists. Measuring results is an age-old challenge in the field of public relations; it doesn’t get much better than that. Our firm continues to work on protecting press freedom in the United States and abroad.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

Early in my career, I had a client who was always serious. She never let the line between personal and professional blur. One day she was challenging our media director about a publication he recommended for advertising. Her product was in the outdoor decor space and she felt the magazine was geared more to hardcore DIYers than it was to affluent homeowners. I was trying to explain to her that people who “build their own decks”, also make purchasing decisions to design them. Instead of pronouncing deck with an e, I said it with an i. Had this happened with nearly any other client and I would have giggled my way through it. How did I pick the one client with no sense of humor for this doozy of a malaprop?

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’d been accused of taking myself too seriously when it came to my career. From this experience, I learned that I’m not perfect and if someone can’t laugh about an innocent mistake, then that’s his or her issue, not mine. We spend too much time in the office to not see the humor in our day-to-day work lives. I can tell you the media director and I fell apart the moment she stepped into the elevator. And I’m obviously still telling this story more than 20 years later.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Every single client of ours is now challenged by COVID-19 and its impact on their business. We are helping organizations communicate through the crisis. This involves adapting the way they engage with audiences and ensuring the substance and tone of their message is timely and relevant. A global pandemic is unlike any other crisis I’ve faced in 30 years of being in business. As one of my clients said, “It’s like there’s a brick wall in front of us and we’re very slowly skidding into it.” After 9/11, there was a complete moratorium on commercial messaging and then we all shifted to a resilience narrative — don’t let the terrorists win. I recently heard a colleague say COVID-19 is a crisis still in search of a narrative. Companies have an opportunity to stand for something during a time of extreme uncertainty. We’ll also be ready to tell their stories again when we’re on the other side.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. What you do is less important than who you do it with. Life is about human connection. Working with smart, interesting, and caring people matters more than the work itself. That’s why I started my own boutique agency.
  2. Happiness comes from collecting experiences, not things. Everyone is motivated to work with different incentives. For me, the return on investment is far greater on travel or going to the theater than it is on a new car or a handbag.
  3. You don’t have to accept criticism from everyone. I had a superior who gave me a hard time about my commitment to his project. I later figured out he’s a “manage by fear” personality and was testing me. For a while, I thought less of my abilities simply because of his style. I later learned to love this guy!
  4. Not everyone operates with the same code of ethics. I’ve been surprised by colleagues who plagiarized work, stole from an employer, and spread vicious rumors that could cost someone their career. It’s hard to really know someone even when you spend more than 40 hours a week with him or her.
  5. Abolish, “I can’t wait,” from your vocabulary. Very early in my career, I used to think once I turned 30, people would take me seriously. I learned from a mentor that when you do that, you fail to appreciate and learn from the present moment.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

It all starts with making the effort to stay connected to people you meet. That comes easier to people who are naturally outgoing, of course. When you genuinely know someone, you see opportunities to introduce them to other people who may be helpful. A journalist once gave me the greatest compliment when she said, “Most PR people I’ve met are mercenary, but you are more like a missionary.” If you believe in what you do and operate with integrity, you will attract likeminded people who want to help you. Social and digital tools make it easier to stay top of mind. I use them to supplement more direct communication. As for lead generation, I always say, “Excellent work breeds more work.” In a service business, referrals are everything.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

As a mother of two active kids, it’s hard to find time to read or listen to podcasts. When I do, I generally choose leisure over the business. I find when I allow my brain to escape work by reading fiction or listening to RadioLab or This American Life, I’m better able to think about business. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m sleeping! That said, I read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins as part of an executive education course I took in the early 2000s and it definitely shaped my ideas of what it means to be an effective leader.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The issue that keeps me up these days is how polarized we are. Coming together is not surrendering. It’s critical to solving our biggest problems. When we strive for a government that, in spite of its imperfections, works for the majority of its people, we are better able to address many of our challenges. I’m not ready to give up on that idea.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow RoseComm on:

Linkedin — @rosecomm

Twitter — @rosecomm

Instagram — @rosecomm_inc

Website — www.rosecomm.com

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