Emerging Voices: Laura Fooks

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Laura Fooks is a Digital Content Strategist at Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colorado. 

Please summarize your professional career and its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? What have you learned along the way? What factors most contributed to your success?) 

I’ve worked in marketing and PR for almost five years (three of which have been full-time). I think two main things have led to my success so far: First, is a priority of people over projects. (I think Betsy Plank herself would agree with me on that one.) Second is (as obvious as it sounds) building trust. I’ve found that by showing compassion for others and consistently delivering excellent work on — or ahead of — deadline, I’m able to be seen as a trusted confidant and adviser.

According to The Holmes Report, women make up about 70% of the PR workforce, but they only hold about 30% of the top positions in the industry. Why do you think there is a shortage of women leaders in PR? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Women have the education and know-how, but I think we (myself included!) need to do a better job of offering ideas with authority. We shrink back for a variety of reasons, but it’s so important to remember that you have a seat at the table for a reason — you are the only one who can share YOUR unique perspective.

However, I think the biggest barrier to women in leadership is the lack of progressive paternal leave policies in the U.S. If our country were doing a better job of offering generous maternity policies and workplace flexibility as the norm, women would feel less pressure to choose between pursuing promotion and raising a family.

What can organizations (and the industry as a whole) do to prepare women for top leadership positions? What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in leadership?

Organizations can: Give women the tools for self-awareness; choose to offer parental leave above and beyond the legal requirements; specifically seek out the ideas and opinions of women, and other minorities.

Employees can: Ask multiple people you admire to be a mentor, so you can learn from them and develop your leadership style; pursue professional development and educational opportunities that match your future goals; ask your VP or CEO if you can shadow them, so you get a fuller picture of what it’s like to lead at your company.

As a role model for women, what advice do you have for women interested in a career in public relations?

The biggest advice I can offer is to always stay true to who you are. Listen to your gut and push back when something doesn’t feel right. Know your values and your limits before you commit to a company or client. In one of my first internships, I had a male (higher up) try to get me to lie to a reporter. I refused. Just remember… you will NEVER regret doing the right thing.

What has been the hardest thing about being a woman in PR?

The hardest thing for me has nothing to do with my gender, but with my self tendency toward perfectionism. I have to remind myself daily that perfection is a myth that keeps me from moving ahead. I can receive and give grace, and still be amazing at what I do.

What are the three ways you inspire and encourage teamwork among your team?

  1.  Give credit where credit is due. I’m very careful to highlight teammates who contributed, so they know they’re appreciated and noticed.
  2. Treat them as people, instead of robots. I try to get to know my teammates as fellow human beings before asking anything of them. I also avoid asking teammates to work outside our normal hours, unless absolutely necessary.
  3. My IM status at work literally says, “It’s going to be a great day!” I bring a positive outlook to every work day. I’m not overly optimistic, either; I know I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond.

How did you manage the transition from the classroom to the boardroom? What was the biggest shock or surprise during that transition about the profession?

The biggest shock for me was how little time there is to be strategic and measure results. While we stressed the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, evaluation) model in my undergrad, I spend 80% of my time in the PI stages and only 20% in R and E.

What’s something you wish you had learned in college but didn’t? What do you do to be an eternal student? 

I wish I had learned more about coding to create an effective website, and how to read financial statements. My classes did immerse me in the world of coding to some extent, but taking an additional class would definitely come in handy in my current position. I didn’t have any financial training in undergrad, but it definitely would have helped me understand how to be strategic early on in my career.

As far as being an eternal student goes, I’m currently pursuing my MBA at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. While the amount of homework was quite a shocker, I’m so glad that I’m expanding my skill set and knowledge base beyond the world of communications. I have loved taking courses in accounting, law and quantitative analysis because it’s SO different from — yet still applicable to — my everyday work.

With the myriad of industry changes, what inspires you to stay motivated and encouraged?

I know that at the end of my career, my projects and accomplishments will fade away and be replaced by cooler approaches and better results. What inspires me is Christ’s example to treat everyone with dignity and to pursue excellence for the sake of glorifying Him with my life.

What questions have you not been asked that you want to address?

Jobs will come and go. Your career itself will ebb and flow over the years. But people (and relationships) will be the one constant throughout your entire life. Invest in the things that matter most to you now, because it’s only going to get harder if you put it off for later.

The Plank Center created the Millennials in PR series for rising public relations professionals to detail their experiences and share messages of counsel with students and other professionals.

Published: March 25, 2019