Powerhouse Roxana Lissa has one of the most fascinating Made Woman stories I’ve heard to date. A true rags to riches story, Roxana arrived in the U.S. from Buenos Aires in 1992 when she was only 21 years old. She had graduated with honors from Argentina Business University but didn’t have much when she came to this country. Young but determined, she didn’t let the “take no prisoners”, American workplace intimidate her. Roxana moved from one global PR firm to another, killing the game at every stop. In 1996, it was time for her to make her first big power grab and open her first business, RL Public Relations + Marketing. Roxana quickly took center stage in the PR industry, becoming a pioneer with her work in the Hispanic market. That same year she was featured on the cover of La Opinion’s business section -- the nation’s leading Hispanic daily.
RL Public Relations is now the largest independently owned Hispanic PR agency in the U.S., with a client roster that includes Nike and Verizon Wireless to name a few. In 2003, the agency opened a New York office and launched sports marketing arm Sportivo. Lissa is considered a visionary and mentor in the Hispanic PR field and was recently honored in PR Week’s first 40 under 40 issue. Not too bad for a Buenos Aires transplant who came to this country with pockets full of only dreams and determination.
For this interview I met with Roxana on location at her newest business venture, Iobella -- a stylish and innovative body-shaping spa for women. A few minutes into our conversation, I realized that I was completely in awe of her. This woman is unstoppable! A cancer survivor, with two small children and a growing PR firm that has huge corporate clients lining up, Lissa’s reasoning for opening a second business? She wanted a new challenge. Inspiring to say the least.
Serena Watson: So let’s start here. Tell me a little bit about your background?
Roxana Lissa: I’m from Argentina originally, Buenos Aires. I came here when I was 21 years old. I studied public relations in Argentina. I was engaged to an American here, we ended up getting divorced later. I’ve always lived in Los Angeles and I’ve always done Public Relations. That has been the core of my career. I’ve worked for different agencies, global PR firms and I’ve developed an expertise in the Hispanic, Latino and multicultural markets. I opened my agency back in 1996. We have offices in Los Angeles and New York. We represent a lot of Fortune 200 and 500 brands, from Proctor & Gamble to NIKE.
SW: What was your first job in PR?
RL: My first job in PR was in Argentina, for a non-profit foundation. I was in college so I was 19. When I came here I started working at a small PR Agency, called Cooper Communications. It was great. I was an intern working for free, and I didn’t care. I took a bus there everyday, because I didn’t drive. The true immigrant story, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t know how to drive, I had $500 in my wallet.
SW: That’s amazing, look at you now. What was the transition to living in the US and being in the American professional world?
RL: You know, that was one of the things I was very happy about, my training in Argentina was amazing. So I could compete easily with the professionals here. [My education] was kind of like a doctorate in Public Relations. It’s much more thorough and comprehensive in terms of the subjects. Here’s it different. You study communications, you study journalism, but it’s not quite like that in Argentina.
SW: So flash forward a few years and you had worked at a few different agencies including Helan Althen and Manning, Selvage and Lee. You started your own agency and things were going well. What made you want to do fitness?
RL: I think after doing PR for so long, I needed a new challenge. I knew I didn’t want to be a bigger PR firm and open more offices. And then the fact that this program is very effective and really gets results for women – I’ve always felt like an advocate for women. I meet a lot of women -- there are more women in PR than anything. So if I can do something to help women feel amazing, from the inside out, I think I want to do that.
That’s kind of what inspired me. Not necessarily the fitness business, per se, that’s not what drew me, what drew me was being a supportive place for women. You come here to lose inches, but we treat women with respect and this is a place where we pamper them. We have to go through so much as women. With kids, and jobs, and all those things.
Three years ago I went to Argentina and I tried this [program] over there and I loved it. I was like “oh my God, this is great.” I did 10 sessions in 3 weeks and my results were amazing. I was able to reduce inches. And I loved it so I said “You know what, I have to bring this concept [to LA.]” It took a year and a half to put it together. And then in November 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, I’m in remission now but I had to do everything; Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation – the whole thing.
SW: You’re a busy girl. How do you juggle all of this?
RL: It’s hard, it’s hard. First of all, you have to hire the right people. My manager here, Nicole is amazing. The first step so you don’t get completely overwhelmed is to rely on your staff. So you have to have an amazing staff that believes in your vision, and that believes in you. And at the same time can execute and carry out your vision. With my involvement but I can’t hold their hand. I need to have independent thinkers, good leaders that can carry out my vision. That’s kind of how I do it.
SW: Some of your clients are Fresh and Easy, NIKE, Verizon Wireless – all huge national brands. They come to you and ask you to add a dash of color, so to speak, to their campaigns. Can you talk about diversity in marketing and if you think it’s getting better?
RL: I still think there is a long way to go. There are many companies that are doing an amazing job with diversity. Verizon Wireless is one of them. Proctor and Gamble has made amazing inroads. Dominoes Pizza, for example, is another client of ours that has done an amazing job. But I think there is still a ways to go. In terms of having senior people and also advancements in the workplace. But I think it’s getting better, I think more and more companies value diversity. If you look at some of the companies that truly are successful, they have strong, diverse teams internally and that drives the company. And it starts at the top.
Now you see a trend called the total market approach. A lot of the companies are integrating and only doing one advertising campaign to target the multi-cultural markets. I think it’s a new thing and people are testing to see if it’s going to work. I think when you talk about the Hispanic market; it’s a little bit different. Language plays a big role. Again sometimes its separate, sometimes it not integrated. For example, we work with Nike and Nike is all integrated. That’s who they are as a brand.
SW: Talking more specifically about the Hispanic market and speaking directly to them, what are some of the strategies that you apply that are unique to that market?
RL: I think for the PR campaigns we develop, I think relevancy is very important. There are certain things that are more culturally relevant than others. We just finished a big event Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it has become more of a mainstream celebration. But it’s anchored in Latino culture. This is the type of things where you can promote certain brands that have the right association while tapping into something that the Latino community is going to love. So sometimes a client will give me a general marketing campaign and ask, “can you just translate.” Sometimes that works but usually we have to look at it and say we need to make it more relevant. And that’s what we do.
SW: What was your most memorable campaign?
RL: The most memorable and the most fun was this series of concerts that we did for five years for Miller Genuine Draft and it was called Solo Con Invitation. It was so much fun. It was a series of intimate concerts – no more than 1,000 people -- with top Latino acts. I think this was one of those core programs that became a memorable program that people still talk about because it was just very unique and very cool.
One of the cool programs that we are doing right now is for “Got Milk.” We are doing the Breakfast Challenge with schools in California to make sure kids drink milk with breakfast and to highlight the importance of eating breakfast before you go to school. We try to do good programs that are going to have a good message in the end.
SW: What’s next for RL Public Relations + Marketing?
RL: Right now my goal is to also work with more entrepreneurial companies, not necessarily the biggest companies. Maybe before I was more focused on that but now I want to be more geared towards entrepreneurial brands that have a purpose. So changing the focus a little bit.
I can wish Roxana well on her goals for both RL Public Relations and with Iobella but I know that with her track record she can do whatever she sets her mind to. Oh, and I’m definitely planning to try out the Iobella workout and let you all know how it works! Stay tuned for my review and keep up with Roxana Lissa here.
There’s a new school of professionals who are taking over these days. Young men and women in business who are clearly a part of the changing guard in their respective industries. They're bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives to the game and large corporations are taking notice. Made Woman Zoe Zeigler is one of these trailblazers. A USC graduate, she started at Toyota fresh out of school and has risen in the company to her position today as Assistant Manager, Integrated Marketing. Never one to let grass grow under her feet, Zoe divides her time between her demanding day job, her newly launched blog and her leadership position in one of New York’s hottest women’s organizations.
SW: I know you started at Toyota as an intern and you’ve been with the company for ten years. So, what is a day in the life like for you now?
ZZ: It varies based on what type of projects I have going on, but typically if I’m launching a campaign, I work very closely with my in-house marketing team and 360i, the digital ad agency we work hand-in-hand with. During the day I’m setting the strategy for the campaign based on insights and research, and coming up with the creative outlets we want to use to execute on that strategy. There’s also the actual production on the creative, for me that’s a lot of overseeing website development, going on photo shoots, and traveling to oversee commercial shoots. Once we have the production figured out, my role is about making sure we are hitting our objectives and numbers, that we are optimizing and making sure the campaign is running smoothly. Along with the marketing part of my job, I also oversee the PR for all of our corporate marketing initiatives. That includes everything from media relations to serving as a spokesperson from time to time myself, talking to different media outlets about what we are doing at Toyota from a brand perspective.
SW: That’s really interesting, the marriage of those two things. I mean it makes perfect sense that it would go hand and hand, but I haven’t heard that too much. Digital marketing is usually pretty compartmentalized in large corporations.
ZZ: Yes, it really is. At Toyota I was very hands on with my career trajectory. I started in marketing as an intern and I came on full-time after graduation. Over the next few years I sought out different roles that would help me learn both the PR side of the business as well as the marketing arm. I was learning a lot of good stuff. There aren’t a lot of truly integrated communications people who know PR and know digital marketing. So I always felt like while I was doing the PR side of my job, I would have ways to showcase my unique expertise when I moved back to marketing. When I moved to my company’s New York City office, from Los Angeles, I kind of made a new role for myself and it really worked out. It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent role for me, but I really showed the value of how we could make this a more integrated group, and they offered me a full time position and a promotion within a year of coming on the team.
SW: Wow, that’s impressive.
ZZ: Yeah, it was really important for me to really defend what I wanted before anyone else.If you wait around for people to ask what you want to do, you are never going to get to do it. You really have to be proactive. I feel – especially as a professional woman and as a woman of color in the corporate world – you have to raise your hand and make it known what you have an interest in. And then find ways for people to support you in aligning yourself with that. Which I found was very important in my career.
SW: Interesting, that’s a unique path. So which one are you more in love with? Do you like digital marketing more or PR?
ZZ: I don’t know… It’s a tie. In addition to my role at Toyota, I am the Executive Director of an organization for women of color in communications called ColorComm. I really took that role because I have a passion for supporting other women in business and communications, and I wanted to find a way to continue to hone my PR skills in a different way. And I really like having an outlet for doing that outside my job while doing a lot of integrated marketing work at my job. I really can’t pick or choose one. I really like both.
Zoe pictured in the center wearing white, surround by other female executives at the first ever ColorComm Conference
SW: Dope. Can you tell me a little more about ColorComm?
ZZ: Yes. The organization just launched in New York about a year ago last August. The mission of the organization is to connect like-minded, women of color in the industry of communication -- whether its marketing, journalism, PR or social media -- and help us all get to the next level by supporting each other. Every month we have various events, where we bring out influencers and focus on making valuable connections. Jacque Reid just did an intimate dinner with us, and we talked about her career in Journalism and how she supports women of color in the industry. This year we also launched our first national conference with key-note speakers like lauded journalist Soledad O’brien and Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing and former White House social secretary—these women are leaders in our space but also supporters of the organization as well. My job at ColorComm is to lead the overall strategy and direction for the New York chapter, and to amplify the organization and its profile by helping to get media coverage and helping to plan events.
SW: Wow! You’re a busy girl! [Laughs] Do you think that participating in women’s orgs is important to career development?
ZZ: I just think that -- especially being in corporate America – there’s still not enough of us at the very senior positions. And even in an industry like communications, where I feel like there’s a larger majority of women than men, when you get to the senior level it’s still mostly men. So, if we’re not committed to supporting each other, giving each other opportunities, and making sure we advocate for one another – who really is?
SW: So you are a woman of color in the corporate world. What challenges come from that?
ZZ: Well, I learned early on that I need to be proactive about my career trajectory, but one of the challenges when you are in a large organization is that it’s easy to get swallowed, and easy for people to not notice you. Even if you are doing good work, you can stay unnoticed and without a promotion for a long time. So, I’m very conscious of trying to make sure I’m telling the right people about what I’m doing. It’s not about bragging; it’s about making sure people know how you are contributing to the organization in very subtle ways. Also, like I said, you aren’t waiting for people to tap you on the shoulder, but you are raising your hand and letting people know what you have an interest in, which is really important.
SW: It seems like you really know how to navigate the corporate world. What made you decide to start your blog Curlz And The City?
ZZ: After thinking about it and saying I don’t have the energy, time or resources for like two years. I finally decided to move forward and do it. I’m very interested in doing marketing and PR for beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands and I was trying to find ways to connect myself closer to those industries without having to switch jobs.
It’s a fair assessment to say that Zoe Zeigler is a bad ass who is tapping into all areas of the communication industry and making a name for herself in the process. We are sure to see more of this Made Woman as she advances and takes other female professionals with her to the top.
The character Olivia Pope has forever changed the way people think about PR and crisis management. Most assume it’s all about coming up with elaborate stories to cover up other people’s mistakes. But what happens when you work in PR and your client is a mouse with big ears? Shawn Turner manages external communications for Disney Consumer Products’ $9 billion classic portfolio which includes global brands Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh. She has also managed corporate communications and public relations for Disney Store North America, the retail division of Disney Consumer Products, representing more than 220 retail locations across North America. A brand targeted at kids may seem easier to “handle” but since Disney is one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, all eyes are on Shawn. Especially during the launch of the first Disney Store in Times Square, for which Shawn led the PR campaign. Keynote speakers at that event were Disney CEO Bob Iger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg… No pressure right?
Luckily for Shawn, she is a PR pro who has a deep passion and respect for the field. A strong writer, Shawn started her career off as a journalist, but felt stifled by the lack of career opportunities. She enjoyed thinking strategically and covering local city council and board of education meetings wasn’t cutting it. “I wanted more variety in my day… a lot goes into developing a PR campaign. You get to write and be creative,” she says. Shawn made the switch to PR after meeting “networking guru,” the late Pat Tobin. Those in the PR field may have heard of Pat, a legend who ran the boutique agency Tobin & Associates and founded the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS). BPRS serves as an advocate and resource for African-American PR professionals. Pat’s influence on Shawn’s career can’t be denied. When Shawn left Tobin & Associates she went on to work for multi-cultural integrated marketing firm Lagrant Communications and later served as senior account executive with global public relations agency Rogers & Cowan. Because she considered Pat a catalyst in launching her career, when Shawn re-launched the Los Angeles chapter of the BPRS it was partially to honor her memory. The LA chapter had lapsed but Shawn stepped up to handle the re-launch and even got Disney on board to host the launch event. “It was really important to have a mentor and I strive to continue to do that as BPRS-LA president,” Shawn says.
The consummate professional, Shawn manages a day packed with team brainstorms, and meetings with synergy partners –Disney PR teams from other divisions, like TV. She formulates storylines and drops exclusives on media outlets. “I try to keep it interesting. For example, with the classic portfolio, we positioned Minnie as a fashion and style icon. She’s on runways in Paris and Milan. We launched a collection at Forever 21 and Old Navy for her. We even launched a nail color line with OPI.” Pretty innovative and hip for a brand that has been around for ninety-one years. Shawn says that it’s definitely easier in some ways working for such an established brand and throwing the Disney weight around a bit. When media outlets recognize a brand they are more likely to pick up the phone when you call. But it isn’t always a cake walk. Shawn says that with consumer goods the battle for press coverage can be tough depending on the product. “When I first started it was harder [to pitch] Hannah Montana wigs. You have to come up with a fresh approach to make it newsworthy.” And this twelve-year veteran is good at what she does. She was named one of PR Week’s “40 under 40--Ones to Watch” in 2011 and ran a key film franchise product launch for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which became one of their top merchandising programs of 2009. After the campaign ran she recalls, “I was at the Cheesecake Factory and saw a little girl with a Tiana doll and I was so proud. I love being a part of something that makes people happy.”
If balancing Disney PR and BPRS wasn’t enough, Shawn has served as director of marketing and communications for the UCLA Black Alumni Association. An advocate for mentorship she focuses on giving back through her work with BPRS and UCLA. “It’s important for like-minded people to… come together, be visible, find solutions, and gain access to areas we might not have access to.” Shawn and the BPRS team are hosting an end of the year celebration for college students and young professionals this month and a PR bootcamp in June. Check their website www.bprsla.org for more information. And keep your eyes on this rising star in the PR world. I know that just like Mickey, Shawn is set to be around – and successful – for a long time coming.
December 18, 2011
Let’s start with full disclosure: I am a public relations specialist, so I write this article with a fundamental belief that every business should utilize some type of PR. I assume that many Made Women are somewhat familiar with PR, if for no other reason than the popularization of it by the one and only Samantha Jones’ of Sex & The City. Thank you, Samantha, for calling attention to PR, but there’s a little more to it than party planning.
Whatever product or service you’re selling, you have an audience. You have a message. You have a goal. PR ensures that your proper message is developed and that it reaches the appropriate audience. This ultimately helps you or your business achieve its goals.
Whether you’re running a small business, working with a Fortune 500 company or working independently to become a best-selling author, here are three key elements of PR that may benefit your company’s image and visibility to the public.
Quite possibly the most traditional PR tactic, media relations--or working with reporters to earn a company news coverage--scores a PR person major points with clients. Media relations is key for a few reasons. For one, potential customers or clients will consider your business more reputable if they’ve heard about it in the media. Secondly, it increases brand recognition without paying the big bucks for ad placement. When an article is written or a story is aired about your company for something it’s doing, you become a newsmaker. This helps your business appear more credible, provided it’s a positive story. If it’s not a positive story, read on.
Think of some of the major news stories over the last year. The JetBlue flight attendant flipping out aboard a flight. The BP oil spill. The Toyota recalls. Sure, everyone aspires for their careers to sparkle with positive press and repeated success. But as we’ve seen time and time again, the unthinkable can happen. A crisis can hit.
Crisis communicators specialize in handling the negative publicity that comes with a company’s bad turn. They know how to talk to media, and they know how to answer the tough questions from the public. They can provide you with a strategy and a plan. You need to respond to whatever crisis may occur so that your business doesn’t tank over an “oops” moment. If you’ve never thought about what type of crisis your company or business could experience, think about it now. Talk to your boss, or if you’re self-employed, contact a consultant who can work with you on understanding the basics of crisis communication. Trust me: You want to have a crisis PR pro on your contact list.
What is the most valuable asset to a company? You may have a few answers, but it all boils down to the people who buy a product or the clients who utilize your service. These individuals make the purchases that provide revenue to keep a company afloat. Good PR translates to good service. It means establishing rapport with customers, clients and other major stakeholders (vendors, potential investors, or employees). Do you have a strategy for building a relationship with your stakeholders? Do you know who your stakeholders are?
In a world of widespread social media use where companies are engaging more directly with consumers than ever before, it’s vital that you have a PR strategy to build relationships and show that you care. This can be as easy as having a company Facebook page where you respond directly to customers. It can entail having a monthly newsletter sent out to stakeholders, or inviting your most loyal clients to lunch each quarter to thank them for their business.
Using public relations for your company or business does not mean you have to devote a huge percentage of resources to a PR budget. It just makes good business sense to include it somewhere along the line. Whether you hire a PR firm, a solo consultant or just read PR for Dummies and handle it all yourself, PR should be part of your business plan. After all, every Made Woman needs her business savvy and proper public image in case the Los Angeles Times ever calls.