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Friday, June 19, 2015

Five Minutes with a Legend: Sara Gavin

Sara Gavin, president of Weber Shandwick North America, received the Donald G. Padilla Distinguished Practitioner award at this year's Minnesota PRSA Classics Awards.

1.      What role has PRSA had in your career?

Early in my career, PRSA was a bit of a lifeline – it was a place to meet people, a resource and, in many ways, the place to learn what great work looked like. I was on the awards committee that named our Minnesota chapter’s awards, “The Classics.” Earlier this month I attended the Silver Anvils, the national awards celebration, and so many awards went to Minnesota pros – an acknowledgment of superb work by a professional community that focuses on high standards, integrity and creativity. PRSA and the professional community here nurture that ethic.

Weber Shandwick actively supports participation in PRSA by our colleagues. We have only one requirement: Be involved – participate in a committee, attend, hold office. And I always see how those colleagues grow professionally as a result, including the talented Brooke Worden who served as president of the chapter several years ago.

2.      What are some of the key lessons that you have learned in your career?

They probably boil down to five:
  • Listen well.  Most situations have nuances, considerations and complexities.
  • Integrity is core.
  • Kindness and attentiveness matter. That doesn’t mean you have to be a milquetoast or are absolved from making tough decisions. But we work for and through and with people.
  • Be an avid learner. Our discipline – and marketing services, generally – are on a bullet train of change.
  • This profession requires that we work very hard. So seek out – and help actively create – an environment that attracts and keeps talented people, infuse it with creativity, openness, humor, laughter and fun. It’s our jet fuel.

3.      You have been very involved in the community. What are some noteworthy milestones/accomplishments by organizations in which you have been involved? 

This community has such a rich array of organizations and people who daily work to make it better.  

Sara Gavin, President of Weber Shandwick North America
Some highlights for me: Being a past trustee of St. Kate’s during the time when Andrea Lee came as president to lead the university so brilliantly; being a past trustee of MPR/APMG as it resourcefully led during such dynamic change in the media industry; serving currently on the board of College Possible as it scales nationally its proven model for college access; and recently joining the Second Harvest Heartland board, an incredibly innovative organization that tackles the fundamental problem of hunger in our community. 

It’s been inspiring, humbling and exciting. My takeaway is that this is a community that steps up. The more we do so, the more resilient the Twin Cities and Minnesota will be. It’s an imperative, not a nice-to-do.

4.      What advice would you give to new public relations practitioners?

There’s never been a better time to enter our field. The core precepts of our discipline – storytelling, authenticity, transparency, engagement, two (or more)-way conversation, trust – have more salience than ever. The power of digital and social and visual communications makes so much more possible.  

My advice is:
  • Be insatiably curious. 
  • With all the skills, knowledge and teamwork that it takes to build out an integrated solution, give up on the idea that you’ll be the smartest person in the room. Hone your teamwork skills. Share credit generously.
  • Be comfortable in your own skin. Be yourself very well.
  • Mistakes can be your friend, if you choose to learn from them.
  • Be aware of your sphere of influence (you have one) and use your personal agency to improve the work we deliver, and the workplace.
  • This one is important: Find a place that fits for you, that aligns with your temperament and work style. Be on the lookout for a place that values innovation, even though it is hard work.
  • Last, have fun. Sweat the details of course, but don’t worry too much. Embrace the ride. It’s a good one.