THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Laura Hall, US Managing Director, M&C Saatchi PR

30/11/2015 20:51 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

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Laura Hall, US Managing Director at M&C Saatchi PR, has enjoyed a near 25 year consumer public relations career helping shape the great stories brands tell to catapult their products, elevate their position, disrupt the status quo, engage consumers in meaningful ways and grow their business. Her passion comes from proven successes helping Fortune 10 companies to start-ups, launching and reinventing consumer brands and products, cultivating consumer conversations and delivering unexpected creative ideas for clients. Laura leads the agency's U.S. operations and heads the New York office, overseeing clients including Bulldog Gin, Nirav Modi, The View from the Shard and Profoot.

 

In this high-touch, high-tech world, critical to communications success and a measureable return on ideas is the fostering of a multi-channel approach to deepen consumer engagement, which drives Laura's approach. From the thrill of the chase of new business to helping clients think differently and take creative risks, she seeks the opportunity to get clients out of their comfort zone, colleagues to channel their creative thinking in new ways and nurture business for growth.

A PR agency veteran and consumer brand and convergent marketing expert, Laura brings deep experience in consumer marketing with special concentrations in marketing to women, integrated marketing and social engagement. With a strong track record directing brand marketing efforts and developing strategic programs for some of the world's mega brands - Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's, Ford Motor Company, The Walt Disney Company, Unilever, Yahoo!, Marriott and Nike - her experience spans consumer packaged goods, beauty/fashion, travel/leisure, food/beverage, spirits, home/shelter, e-commerce, B2B and consumer product licensing. As a seasoned media trainer, she has professionally trained more than 100 spokespersons ranging from a U.S. President, celebrities and musicians to tribal leaders, educators, CEOs and authors. Laura has led major consumer accounts at some of the world's leading agencies and built and ran her own PR business within an integrated marketing communications agency for seven years. In this capacity, she served on the board of directors of the world's largest consortium of independent PR firms, Worldcom PR Group.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I had the privilege of being raised as an Army brat, which means I spent my formative and teen years moving around the world every few years to new towns or countries. As a kid, when you get instantly uprooted and placed in a completely new environment with unfamiliar people and cultures, you're forced to not only adapt but be extremely malleable and flexible. And in order to survive, learning how to "fit in" yet also thrive as an individual took courage, creativity, tenacity and self confidence. I attribute much of how I lead our U.S. agency and teams to how the Army shaped me as the person I am today. I'm very open to new experiences, new relationships and new ways of learning and growing.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at M&C Saatchi?

I've dedicated my career to strategic communications, and chose the agency path as my preferred route. I started my career 25 years ago right after college answering phones at one of Boston's top consumer PR agencies, and moved around the U.S. working in major markets at various world leading agencies and running my own businesses, where my experience has spanned helping start-ups to Fortune 10 companies. At M&C Saatchi PR, we benefit from the size and resources of a large global company, yet we take a nimble, more start-up approach to how we work with clients...where we've shed any corporate red tape so that we can take risks, be disruptive and grow together in true partnership with our clients. We consider ourselves Tiny Giants, and in a city like New York, you've got to have that attitude and personal approach to doing great things.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at M&C Saatchi?

M&C Saatchi PR, while a prominent global brand with solid name recognition across the pond, is in a different place in the U.S., where I've been charged with elevating our reputation, bringing the most dynamic talent to the table and exploring fresh vertical territories across consumer and B2B marketing. Top highlights for me are the people I get to work with here and abroad - they're our greatest assets and come to New York from all over the world to roll up their sleeves and build our US footprint day by day. This is what really separates M&C Saatchi PR from any other agency in the US; we truly function as one global team. I have the benefit of direct access to our global executive creative director and the leaders from our international offices to lean on, collaborate with, share business and build solid partnerships - and this goes beyond PR and includes our teams across mobile, digital, design, research and creative. What comes with great size, often comes challenges, and for our US operation, it's certainly cutting through the chaos of immense competition and finding those very special clients that get us, trust us and want to grow with us. Therein lies our sweet spot. Hence our Tiny Giants mantra.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Being a woman in the communications industry is certainly not uncommon, but the rules of engagement remain the same in business. "Leaning in" is not only vital, but how you do so I believe more critical. I've often witnessed women becoming paralyzed by fear of being perceived as too direct, too pushy or even "bitchy" if she exercises her opinion. My advice to all women is to never apologize for having a voice and being heard, and to always speak up and with confidence when a salient point needs to be made. And if you deliver your opinions with confidence, respect, gumption and influence you'll be heard versus judged.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

Managing up, being responsive and being available. PR has always been and "always on" profession, but today with citizen journalism, social media and the fact that access to anything and everything is instant, over communicating is critical. Keeping your clients, bosses and teams apprised of what you're doing, where you are, what your daily schedule looks like and how best to be reached is not to be confused with micro management, corporate handcuffing or martyrdom. Instead, it's absolutely necessary in order to stay on top of your game and for giving you the freedom to roam, not be tied to your desk and grow beyond office walls. The world moves way too fast, and if you're not keeping all your key constituents fully engaged and aware of your place in it, you'll fail them and yourself.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I'll admit it took me nearly an entire 20-year career to figure it out, but I finally have and it's something I try to cultivate in others. I'm a bit of a fitness junkie and work out 5-7 days per week. Intensive cross training is my passion, and has made me not only fit, but more focused, more efficient, happier and far more productive. So keeping to my fitness schedule is just as important for my performance at work as it is for my body and spirit. I, without fail, go to a 7pm fitness class (AsOne Fitness) for one hour. Up until then, I'm fully available to my team and clients. After 8pm, I'm also available. That one hour a day is my time. I schedule my workouts like the most important client meetings. I've come to learn over many years in this business that unless the proverbial gun is pointed at your head (which honestly is incredibly rare), there's no need to work 24/7. Again, it's about over communicating with all stakeholders so no questions arise. More importantly, it's about creating boundaries, scheduling your life's priorities into your day and sticking to them. I live by the rule of absolutely NO EXCUSES, and nothing interrupts my life priorities, because the minute I table them or put them last, everyone loses, especially the business. I also work in a "free range" culture, built out of our London office, which is something I'm cultivating in our New York office. Free range working means we equip our staff with the technology needed to not be chained to a desk, and we encourage each person to find places of inspiration where they wish to go to think, create and change their perspective. We find with the gift of freedom, trust and respect, comes happier, more passionate and more dedicated employees.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Aside from unequal pay and sexual harassment, which sadly still exists and affects all women in the workplace, one thing women can control is to stop not speaking up and saying sorry. Women have been conditioned to raise their hand when they have something to say, say nothing at all, and even apologize if they say something that not all parties agree with. I see this time and again, especially with younger professionals entering the workforce. Women have traditionally been mislabeled for having a voice and it will take a village of all women to start to speak up in order to force the labelers to shut up.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I've found mentorship a necessary benefit to not just learning from a young age, but for always learning and growing yourself at work and in my personal life. No matter how much experience one has, there is always room for personal and professional growth and development. I've been fortunate enough to turn the first boss I ever had into a lifelong mentor, and I chose him because he was the first person in my career - about five years in - who actually took the time to teach me, mentor me, cultivate my skills and empower. I'm proud to say he not only shaped me into the professional I am today, but he's helped me hone my expertise, create boundaries, respect my needs, have a voice and ask for what I deserve. He's also been a great friend over the years, and I know I can count on him for anything. His name is Ken Jacobs and he runs his own consultancy - Jacobs Communications Consulting - helping PR executives and agencies via coaching and training.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have a laundry list of female leaders I admire, including my own global CEO Molly Aldridge (gratuitous plug, I know), but I must say in addition to my usual suspects, such as Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright and Sheryl Sandberg, I most admire animal rights activist Betty White for her love of animals around the world (a passion of mine), humanitarian Helen Clark for protecting the rights of those with no voice, the Honorable Loretta Lynch for ousting our country's covered up criminals, Laverne Cox for her courage and influence on changing equality in America, and the late Audrey Hepburn, Maya Angelou and Diana Vreeland for their amazing contributions to humanitarianism, the spoken word and my personal passion, fashion. In my own backyard, I admire those I deem my "majors" including three dear friends - Teneshia Jackson Warner, CEO of Egami Consulting; Elisa Camahort-Page, co-founder of BlogHer; and, Naomi Ngina, a working "mother" at the Tumaini Home of Hope who raises 4 of her children, 4 of her deceased sister and cultivates a happy living and educationally rooted environment for more than 30 Kenyan children living with HIV/AIDS. But the woman I admire most is my mother, Barbara Hall, who I consider a true leader who learned to - against the odds - start again on her own and live her best life.

What do you want M&C Saatchi to accomplish in the next year?

That is a loaded question! As a young agency in the U.S., we have room for growth which is extremely exciting, and I'm thrilled that we're already experiencing fast growth. We are well on our way to accomplishing our goals, which is having an incredible team of happy, empowered people; great clients giving us the power to do amazing, disruptive and rewarding things; and more rescue dogs to hang out in our SOHO office!