As one whose primary interests revolve around reading, writing and listening to other people’s stories, there could be no better career for Phyllis K. Ershowsky than public relations. Over the past 30 years she has had some extraordinary opportunities that have provided a well-rounded professional experience: in-house corporate PR and marketing at the start of her career; public information officer for a county-level government official; full-service marketing/PR agency; and for the past nine years, her own practice and consultancy, PKE Marketing & PR Solutions. Phyllis also taught PR as an adjunct for three years, which she says was an incredibly rewarding experience. She tells Women in PR USA that she hopes to teach again someday!
Name: Phyllis K. Ershowsky, APR, CPRC
Business Name: PKE Marketing & PR Solutions
Describe yourself in 3 words: Communicative, Creative, Collaborative
Education: B.A. Vassar College, MBA Dowling College
Location: Fort Myers, FL
What inspired you to start your own business? What made you decide to take the leap?
After working in a full-service agency for 15 years, the business climate was right for me to start my own business. Having always been part of a corporate team, I did not know that I could be an entrepreneur, but I received encouragement and mentorship from clients, husband and family members who urged me to take the leap. It took a while for me to have the confidence to move forward, but today, I am happy with my decision.
What was your first job in public relations/communications/media and what did you take away from the experience? How did you discover your passion for working in the field?
After graduating from Vassar College with a degree in English, my first job was as a marketing/PR coordinator for an international cruise line in NYC. My six-year tenure there as I was promoted and given more responsibilities served as the foundation for whom I became as a professional. The work was exciting, rigorous, mind-expanding, demanding, creative, and multi-dimensional. Luckily, I had inspiring mentors who guided me and constantly raised the bar to be better. Working there fueled my passion for the field, and confirmed that I would continue in the profession. I have always tried to maintain the fast-paced, high-level work ethic I learned from the incredibly smart and talented people I worked with at that first job.
How do you prioritize and start your work day?
The start of my work day begins with the end of the day before. I view my calendar weekly rather than daily, and always do tomorrow’s to-do list before I end for the day. That way I don’t have to think about it when I wake up – I just get to work! I also set deadlines for every project, even if they are self-imposed, to keep myself on track.
Have you had any challenges in your career? Any specific challenges as a woman in the industry? How did you overcome them?
Like most women who balance work and family life, my biggest challenge arose after my two children were born, two years apart. At the time, I was commuting almost 2 hours each way to my job in NYC, and working 10 hour days. There was little flexibility at that time and if you wanted to be on the management track for your career, you had to put the hours in without an option to work from home or have “flex” days. Ultimately, I made the decision to get off the corporate track and to find a position closer to home. I was able to find fulfilling work in my field that allowed some flexibility when my children were little, shifting my schedule to accommodate work deadlines with time to go on class trips, etc. During my children’s middle grade years, I put more focus on my career, and my husband took on much of the childcare responsibilities. Looking back and seeing the fabulous young adults my children have become, I know that we made the right decisions for our family.
On the topic of being a woman in the workplace, I think things have definitely improved over the past three decades, even though we have more work to do.
When I started, there was no talk of “leaning in” and although “mansplaining” was not a word, it happened frequently. I can’t even count how many times I was interrupted in meetings, or suddenly heard the idea that I had voiced 10 minutes before being applauded when the man sitting next to me claimed it as his own.
What is one of the greatest misconceptions about the field of public relations/ communications/ media?
Too often I have heard that public relations is an “easy” job, one that college students who are not that serious will choose. One only has to take a look at any traditional or social media outlet today to see how challenging it is to develop an effective communications strategy and to convey messages in concise, positive ways. In today’s climate, communications should be viewed as one of the most important components of business and government.
What is your greatest achievement in your career?
PR professionals strive to be included at the management table, and for me this has always yielded the best results for the client. I had an 11-year relationship with a client which began before the company even had a name, a logo or a brand. Our team helped build that brand to become the most respected business in their industry in their marketplace. They grew to eight locations before being sold to a larger company. This growth was due to best business practices, being a wonderful employer, dedicating themselves to many community efforts and in general, being everything a business should aspire to become. Being part of their 11-year “life span,” sitting at their management table, and learning and growing with them was my greatest achievement in the for-profit sector.
On the non-profit side, I provide pro-bono work for a school dedicated to teens who have made poor decisions in their young lives. Generating awareness for that organization has resulted in more donors and a higher profile in the community – hopefully helping some of those kids get back on the right track. If my work helps them succeed even in a small way, I look at it as a major achievement.
What are your tips for setting yourself apart in the workplace?
I still believe that the “cream rises to the top,” and that if you are doing the best that you can, and continually learning how to do even better, you will be noticed.
A client once said to me, “You are quiet but powerful.” It really meant a lot to me because she recognized how much I can accomplish without a lot of noise or pushiness. Each of us has our own strengths and if we focus on how we can use those strengths to help others, it will be noticed.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I don’t know if I would have taken this advice, but I would say, “Stop waking up in the middle of the night worrying about everything that happened that day. You can’t change it now, and you can’t control every situation.” I think many of us second guess ourselves, raising the level of anxiety until it is almost paralyzing. I still worry a lot, but now I try to learn from those nagging issues: What could I have done differently? How can I do better? Who should I ask for help?
How can a new graduate set themselves apart in the hiring process?
Having interviewed many new graduates, I have observed that there are simple tips that can set you apart. I have also learned from my daughter who has recently successfully navigated the job search process by practicing the following:
- Show up on time
- Consider your appearance
- Show your curiosity and interest in the firm and in the field you are pursuing
- Cite examples of what you have accomplished in your internships and what you hope to accomplish in this job
- Bring writing samples and/or photos from campaigns or events
- If asked, be prepared to describe your outside interests or what motivates/inspires you
- Read current books or articles related to your field and be able to speak on a few trends or best practices
- Ask questions
- Write a thank you note
What’s next? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Even after 30 years, I am always excited about what’s next. I am interested in current trends and new information – my goal is to learn something and to teach something every day.
For the first time ever, I have an answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” It stems from a recent client experience that involved a one-year contract to “build” them an in-house communications department from the ground up. A rapidly growing manufacturing firm needed effective, consistent communications internally and externally so I implemented a comprehensive program that included: a one-year and a two-year strategic communications plan; hiring a qualified four-person staff; creating planning calendars for each department member; helping them set up a creative office environment; developing industry-wide media contact lists; bringing their social media channels up to date; identifying appropriate trade shows; and facilitating meetings to coordinate and monitor their activities for several months until they were ready to “fly” on their own. It was a fulfilling experience, and even though I knew it had an end date, it was rewarding to watch them succeed. My goal within the next five years is to evolve my practice to focus on clients regionally or nationally who need this type of work.
I also enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction, and my five-year plan includes finally completing at least one of the books I have started.