Interview with PR Expert Jennefer Witter on Being a CEO, Women’s Rights, Social Media + Fake News
PR expert, Jennefer Witter, founder of The Boreland Group, weighs in on how social media is reshaping the way we communicate, and how The Boreland Group is different from other PR companies out there right now. If you’re ever at an event where Jennefer is speaking, make sure to sit down and listen and take tons of notes! Read on to find out more about this thorough entrepreneur.
GLITTER: How long have you been a PR expert?
JENNFER: I can’t pinpoint the time that I became a PR expert. I started in public relations in 1982, when I went to work in the PR department at The New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx. I was a senior at Fordham University, where I majored in print journalism. My goal, at the time, was to work with the BBC in London, where I had family. I never took a PR course. I had no interest. You have to understand – public relations back then was the red-headed step child in communications (no insult to redheads!). It didn’t have the respect or prestige that it has today. I got the job because I wanted to go to London after graduating to visit family, and I needed money to finance the trip. To make a long story short, I had a knack for PR. I also had something more important – a mentor and backer in my corner. Marge Lovero was the director of PR at the Garden, and she took a chance on me. After I got back from London after graduating, she offered me a job. Remember, in 1983, there was a recession going on and it was the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. There were no jobs. So, I leapt at the chance to work at the Garden. Mrs Lovero told me that if I got a job that I had aimed for all my college years, I could take it with no negative feelings from her. She was my first mentor, and it was the first time in my career where a woman supported another woman. That graciousness and generosity would stay with me, and still stays with me through to today, and I try to help as many women as I can because of that.
GLITTER: Who have you worked with in the past?
JENNEFER: As mentioned, I worked with The New York Botanical Garden. I joined my first PR agency in the 1980s at a small firm called Gibbs & Soell, where I worked on product-based accounts. My accounts were the International Hotel, Motel & Restaurant Show. In my first year, I was named “Rookie of the Year.” I then worked about another firm, and after that, I joined Thomas Associates. It was a high-tech firm. I never did high tech, but Susan Thomas, the founded, took a chance with me (another mentor). My accounts were *dense* tech – IBM Application Specific Integrated Circritry (ASICs); Entrust Technology, a cryption firm and several Silion Valley start-ups. Thomas was purchased by Ketchum, a top ten global PR firm. There, I created and led the Corporate Technology Practice, which generated a million dollars in revenue in its first year. Accounts that I worked on included FedEx, PMC-Sierra, Pitney Bowes among others.
GLITTER: What can you tell us about your group, The Boreland Group (TBG)?
JENNEFER: We make people famous. But not Angelina Jolie famous. More like Mary Barra famous. We focus on B2B corporate and executive visibility, using a customized public relations plan to raise awareness to our clients to their target market. We are based in NY, and have represented clients all over the country, from New York City, Westchester County, Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida and Washington, DC. TBG is a S corp.
GLITTER: How long have you been in business? Who do you represent?
JENNEFER: I launched TBG in 2002. Our sweet spot is small business. We have represented a gamut of clients in various industries ranging from cybersecurity to real estate to hospitality.
GLITTER: What makes The Boreland Group different from other PR firms out there right now?
JENNEFER: Many things makes us different. We do not see ourselves as vendors – we are our client partners. Their success is our success. Unlike many firms, I remain actively involved with the accounts. Yes, there are account leads, but I am the supervisor and the client can always call me and discuss the account whenever he or she wishes. I also hold monthly meetings with the client to discuss the coming four weeks’ strategy to ensure that our activities dovetail with what they are doing. This maximizes our actions as well as their budget. Note, we do have start with a PR plan from which we work, but today’s work environment is so fluid, that it is necessary to ensure that our work matches the moment to ensure that the overall objective is being met.
GLITTER: What pushes and motivates you on a daily basis?
JENNEFER: I’m a Virgo – type A, crazy perfectionist. I want the very best results for my clients, and I work hard to ensure that.
GLITTER: Do you think that it’s important for people to be aware of fake news?
JENNEFER: I just did a presentation on this. In addition to being the CEO/Founder of TBG, I am also an active speaker. Yes, it is very important to know what is fact vs fiction. Believe it or not, fake news has been around for a long, long time. Back in the early 1900s, it was called “yellow” journalism. We have to learn to trust the news deliverer – journalism, for 99% of the time, is the truth. There are some outlets that expose absolutely insane theories – such as that Sandy Hook never happened – and there are people who believe this. Many are fringe, but their base is growing, in large part because of the current administration and its drumbeat of cries of “fake news” when facts SHOW that the content is actual and real.
GLITTER: Do you think social media is replacing PR?
JENNEFER: No, but it changing the landscape of how we communicate rapidly. PR professionals need to know how to communicate with our audiences via the channels to which they are dedicated. Studies show a good portion of Americans get their news from Facebook. Millennials are primarily mobile based. If you don’t get to the audience, you don’t get your message heard.
GLITTER: What do you do on your free time?
JENNEFER: This is my year, meaning I am making it a point to focus more on me. As an entrepreneur, and like all others, we often work, literally, all the time. I didn’t take a vacation last year. I’ve put me to the back of the line in many cases, to keep the business healthy and thriving. But I have to be healthy and thrive in order for TBG to do so. Hence, I took up running and plan to run a 5K this spring and am planning a trip to Amsterdam. I also took a fabulous class in December that was on time management for C-suite executives, and it was extraordinarily helpful.
GLITTER: Highlights of your career so far?
JENNEFER: One, being named as one of the country’s top ten black CEOs/entrepreneurs in the country by Madama Noire Magazine; two, being able to present to women’s groups. I am a passionate advocate for women in the workplace, and have had the honor of presenting at such prestigious organizations as The Pentagon, The Brookings Institution and Brown Brothers Harriman. To share my knowledge and see how it helps other women makes my heart sing. Three, publishing “The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed” (AMACOM).
GLITTER: What is your definition of self-love?
JENNEFER: To be able to accept yourself as you are, and have the strength not to compare yourself with others.
GLITTER: What positive message do you hope to send women who follow you?
JENNEFER: That when one of us is strong, all of us become stronger. There’s more than enough room for all of us to succeed. Let’s stand together and support each other.
GLITTER: Many women are coming forward in media and standing up for their rights as women. How important is this issue to you?
JENNEFER: Very. I have been sexually harassed and molested. These topics were never really discussed. The former was at work, and for decades, virtually nothing was done. It was almost a matter of course. No more. Women who speak up need to be supported. However, not all men are pigdogs – many are just as appalled as we women are by their gender’s behavior. We need to enlist men, educate them and have them become stronger allies. Working together will help to solve this problem.
GLITTER: Who do you look up to in your profession?
JENNEFER: I have been blessed to have had many wonderful women bosses. Marge Lovero and Susan Thomas, who I mentioned. Dale Bornstein, CEO of M Booth and Barri Rafferty, the CEO at Ketchum. They are all warm, generous and brilliant women who are generous with their time and talent.