Women Role Models in PR — Opening Doors and Breaking Glass Ceilings

By Hannah Taylor, The University of Alabama

As a young woman on the verge of beginning my professional career in the public relations industry, I am quick to look for successful role models I can turn to for career guidance. Luckily, the PR field is ripe with women who consistently break professional barriers, paving the way for young women like myself who want to follow in their footsteps.

The importance of role models for women in PR should not be underestimated. These women exemplify the success that determination and courage, combined with a strong work ethic, can bring.

Choosing role models is a very individual experience, most likely based upon which industry you hope to enter, so you will note that most of mine work in the entertainment segment of public relations. Yet, the qualities of creativity, drive and strategic thinking that these women embody are not beholden to one single industry — these characteristics can be found across many women in leadership positions, regardless of field. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m featuring the five women who inspire me in my career. 

The women featured in this blog are listed in alphabetical order according to last name. 

Juli Goodwin, Chief Communications Officer at the American Film Institute

Before assuming her current position with AFI, Goodwin held several leadership positions with Warner Bros., eventually rising to become the executive vice president of domestic publicity. At Warner Bros., she led publicity campaigns for a number of prominent films including “Wonder Woman,” “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Gravity.” She also successfully helmed the Academy Award campaigns for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Argo,” both of which resulted in Best Picture wins. As CCO at AFI, Goodwin is instrumental in honing its brand image and strategic marketing materials, as well as leading digital communications. Goodwin is an advocate for work-life balance, the pursuit of personal passions and creative collaboration — she is also a strong believer in the power of hard work, attributing her impressive career success to never taking shortcuts. 

Betsy Plank, First Lady of Public Relations

I can clearly remember sitting in my intro to public relations course and learning about Betsy Plank, a pioneering leader in PR who paved the way for the women who came after her. Plank was a champion of mentorship, leadership and lifelong learning. She dedicated much of her career to furthering the field of PR by constantly uplifting and advocating for students of the profession. Notable career firsts for women include her being the first to head a division of Illinois Bell and serve as president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and PRSA in 1973. Plank was also the first person ever to receive three of PRSA’s top individual honors: The Gold Anvil Award, the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award and the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA. Her impressive career achievements remain the primary reason why women today have the opportunity to advance in the field of PR. 

Michelle Slavich, Vice President, Publicity for Film, Series & Documentaries at Netflix

Slavich is a seasoned veteran in the public relations industry. She began her career as a publicity assistant at Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation before becoming a coordinator at the directors Dreamworks/Amblin Entertainment. She joined Netflix in June after a two-year run as the EVP of global publicity and strategy at Warner Bros. In an interview with Variety, Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, said that “Michelle is a respected PR leader who brings us a powerful blend of creative flair, strategic thinking, and an understanding of how to execute great campaigns at scale.” 

Flavia Vigio, Head of Consumer Marketing and Public Relations, General Entertainment at WarnerMedia Latin America 

Vigio’s impressive array of communication skills includes crisis management, stakeholder outreach, customer relations, as well as media and public relations. As the new head of consumer marketing and public relations at WarnerMedia Latin America, Vigio’s creative and strategic responsibilities have significantly expanded following the integration of Turner and HBO regional properties. Prior to her current role, Vigio served as vice president or PR and corporate communications at HBO Latin America. Her role is more crucial than ever as HBO Max forges ahead in the battle of the streaming services, and as WarnerMedia combats the effects of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry. Before she entered the entertainment industry, Vigio held communications positions in both the food and fashion industries. Her fluency in Portugese, Spanish, English and Italian adds to her diverse skill set and range of experiences. 

Madam C.J. Walker

I first learned of Walker’s story while watching the Netflix original series depicting her impressive career journey. Walker rose to fame as the first woman, self-made millionaire after she created a successful line of Black hair care products. Although she wasn’t a PR practitioner in the technical sense, Walker’s unprecedented achievements were a result of her implementing strategies and tactics that today would be considered part of the public relations arsenal. She promoted “cleanliness and loveliness” across all communication materials, ensuring her sales representatives pitched consistent messages. Walker often hosted special events and conventions to promote her products, as well as to give back to the Black community (CSR)! 

Each of these women embodies a penchant for creative strategy, narrative building and the ability to inspire trust and passion from their teams. It is not merely their titles or accolades that are impressive — it is their obvious commitment to the field of public relations and to the stories they work so steadfastly to bring to wider audiences. These women are paving the way for myself and other young women hoping to succeed in public relations, and for that, I will forever be thankful to them.

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