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So What Do You Do, Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR North America?

The advertising vet and noted trendspotter gives tips for breaking into PR

- April 18, 2012
Marian Salzman has made a career out of predicting the future -- or at least the trends of the future. Known for her annual list of trend predictions and work on influential campaigns for major brands like Pepsi and Aol, a career in advertising gave her the room to think big. But she didn't realize just how much her own perspective would change until, right before making a TV appearance in the summer of 2007, what she initially dismissed as "the worst cold known to man" turned out to be anything but.

"My makeup artist at Good Morning America said, 'Hey Marian, I'm not sure if we're going to keep booking you; you're starting to look terrible.' And instead of reacting like every vain, middle-aged woman, I said, 'I think I have a brain tumor,'" Salzman recalled.

After getting confirmation from a doctor and going through treatment, Salzman decided to give up her jetsetting lifestyle as CMO of JWT and enter the world of PR -- a world that, although she's grown to love, doesn't always agree with her way of thinking.

Name: Marian Salzman
Position: CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR North America
Resume: Started a career in advertising after co-founding a small market research firm with Jay Chiat in the 90's. Became head of new media and consumer insights at Chiat/Day, then moved to TBWA when the agency was sold. Served as the worldwide director of TBWA's Department of the Future and helped launch Apple's Think Different campaign. Left for Young & Rubicam, then headed to Euro RSCG as EVP and chief strategic officer. Named CMO of JWT and, later, CMO of Porter Novelli. Returned to Euro RSCG to run the company's PR agency in 2009 and was promoted to CEO last year. Author of 15 books and winner of countless awards.
Birthday: February 15
Hometown: Bergen County, New Jersey
Education: Studied sociology at Brown University
Marital status: Lives with her boyfriend and his four children
Media Idol: Carrie Bradshaw. "Because I feel that she is both acting and writing simultaneously."
Guilty pleasure: Trash novels, New York Post and eating dinner for breakfast
Last book read: Falling Apart in One Piece by Stacy Morrison
Twitter handle: @mariansalzman

With the job market the way it is now, many people are thinking of changing industries. For example, people with journalism backgrounds are thinking that PR would be more lucrative.
I'm going to be honest: It is a more lucrative way to go. It's not as pure a way to go. In journalism, you can chase the good story. In PR, you are forced to craft the good story. Notice my choice of words? I believe if you are enormously hard working and incredibly able, you will do very, very well in the PR business.

What does it entail today to get into the industry and be successful if you're making a transition from another field like journalism?
I think you need to have a vast amount of intellectual curiosity. You need to have an enormous amount of personal flexibility. You've got to not only be interested in the great story but the great package. Some of it's the aesthetics; some of it's the spin in terms of you have to figure out how to both be radically transparent about the facts, but then position the facts in such a way that the consuming public can absorb them.

I've never met a journalist who doesn't have the skills. They're great writers; they are great interviewers. They tend to be pretty well organized intellectually. They may not be great with budgets, so they need to have basic budgeting skills.

"In journalism, you can chase the good story. In PR, you are forced to craft the good story."

How was making the transition from advertising to PR for you?
In advertising, you have very, very large budgets and you are very aesthetic. So, I was used to big budgets where there is a lot of room to experiment and things are very aesthetically pleasing and very visual. In PR, things are not as aesthetic; there's not as much attention placed on how things look, and there was no margin for error because the numbers are so tight. Also, PR people tend to be afraid, and advertising people tend to be provocateurs. And so I had a very hard time... because I've grown up in a world of, 'There's no such thing as a mistake; there's just a bigger challenge to repair.' Because that's the nature of the advertising industry: You're only as big as your last failure.

So did you go in and make a big mess?
No, I went in and challenged every assumption. I'm the kind of person that looks at the faucet and says, "Wait, we have a hot water and a cold water faucet here. Shouldn't our third faucet be miso soup, because in my house the third most popular beverage is miso soup?" And you say that in a PR agency and they'll say, "What?" You say that in an ad agency and they'll say, "What are you talking about? It should be watermelon shots." That would be the beginning of a difference.

I wasn't used to all this group think. In an ad agency you're really on your own; it's sink or swim. You're really out there with a couple of other people just thinking great thoughts and just doing and pushing the envelope from a young age. In PR, it's really hierarchical. In advertising, there's a badge of honor for being really young and really smart and getting it really fast.

And it seems like you thrived in that kind of environment.
Right. To me, age has no place in the conversation. I don't care if you're 19 or 91. If you have the answer for me, you can sit next to me. I don't believe in physical offices. I think offices are the most middle class permutation on work. And so I think PR -- where people are worried about the corner office, the big couch -- just give me a computer and let me work. Again, I don't believe in titles. I have this big title, big deal. Can you just tell me what needs to be done? So that's really off-putting to a lot of PR directors.

Do you feel like the definition of PR has been changing? Just a few weeks ago there was a definition of PR that came out...
Those imbeciles at PRSA [Public Relations Society of America]. I'm trying to figure out what kind of committee would form a committee and then retain consultants to figure out the definition of what they do. Every agency has to figure out what its deliverable is. I believe we're in the business of newscasting. I love the media relations side of it, so to me, I've pushed us away from the high flying, brand building stuff, which I still see as more brand consultancy and ad agency stuff. And I love the newscasting, the making news side of it. That's just my opinion, but I don't think we need trade organizations to sit down and figure out the definition of public relations. We need a different industry if that's what we need.

"I don't think we need trade organizations to sit down and figure out the definition of public relations."

What can women in any industry do to get to the CEO level?
I actually think it's a lot easier to do than people realize, but it's about making choices. And I think men tend to be more prepared to make the choices. You have to choose to delay your family plans well into your 30's. You have to be prepared to live on at least three continents early in your career. And that means that someone's career is going to come first, and someone's career is going to have to come second, so you have to be in a subordinated relationship, which means that guys have to be prepared to be with a partner who is going to be subordinated, and women have to be prepared to be with a partner who is going to be subordinated. And I think if you're going to be comfortable with that, that's fine. It creates a lot of serial relationships; I think people move in and out of things as they grow through them.

How has your methodology or strategy for predicting trends changed over the years?
Because of social media, I'm in communication with 8,500 people on Twitter alone. I was just doing a piece for CNBC on the state of real estate in Dubai, and I put out a tweet question and I was in touch with 35 people who really know the state of real estate in Dubai. So, it's very different. I can have real-time conversations on really any topic.

Is there a trend that you regret making or that you wish you could take back?
Oh, sure. I wish the whole real estate collapse... I could have postponed it long enough to remortgage or sell houses that I own. I always think these trends are never going to impact me. I'm very good at advising other people; I'm absolutely stupid when it comes to myself. I'm not very good at acting myself; I'm good at observing.

NEXT >> AvantGuildSo What Do You Do, Kelly Cutrone, Owner, People's Revolution?

Amanda Ernst is a freelance writer living in New York. She also manages business development and social media marketing for B5 Media, the publisher of five women's lifestyle sites.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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