Hall of Fame Inductee Calls PR Leaders to Seek Diversity; Offers Advice to Career Minded Professionals

Debra Silimeo, executive vice president of Hager Sharp, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others during the Thoth Awards Gala, Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from her acceptance speech.

It’s humbling to be part of this prestigious group of PR professionals. Thank you PRSA, Hall Of Fame committee, and all of the people who have been part of my village throughout my journey.Silimeo Photo

You can’t put a news story on the air, pass legislation, or build a successful PR firm without a strong team. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people…talented journalists, passionate public policy advocates, really cool clients, and of course – the mission driven rock stars at Hager Sharp!

I learned a lot about defying stereotypes and giving back from one of my real life role models and mentors – the late Susan Hager. She founded Hager Sharp in 1973 – when very few women ran businesses- with the specific mission of working with clients who want to make the world a better place. She lived the mission, and she always found time to help other women succeed.

As communicators we’re always trying to engage an increasingly diverse population. So we need that same diversity of thought and creativity at the table. By diversity, I mean gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

That’s not just the right thing to do – it’s good business. In order to reach people where they live, you need to GET where they live.

So tonight I’d like to call on our PR leaders…please take a look at your teams – especially your leadership teams. If you don’t have a diverse team – find the right people. I mean, look around, there’s a lot of talent right here in this room.

If you don’t have woman or person of color on your board of directors…that’s a problem and you should fix it – and you will benefit from it.

It’s great to work in a field where you can be constantly challenged by change, and get JOY and meaning from your work.

If you’re going to spend the better part of your life working, it should be something that gives you  JOY …and that makes a positive difference.

They asked me to share some advice for young professionals – so here are some other things that I believe matter:

  • Stay curious. Stay on top of the constant changes in our industry // and on the issues that affect your client’s world. Keep your clients larger goals in mind.
  • If you do that, you can be a strategist, not just an order taker.
  • Learn the business of PR – this will make you a better manager and help you get that seat at the leadership table.
  • Be ethical. Your reputation is far more important that your job title.
  • Don’t chase all the shiny new objects. Understand them, but at the end of the day, our business is really about people and relationships.
  • Respect your power. I’ve had chance to work with a lot of powerful people. I don’t mean just presidents & members of congress – I mean all of the staff people behind the scenes – the great people at HS – and ALL of YOU in this room, YOU have power.
  • You have: Power to inform people, persuade them, motivate them to eat healthy, get educated, give back, make the world better. Use your power wisely.

And always say thank you. Thank you. Very much.

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About Robert Udowitz

Principal, RFP Associates

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