General Session D: One Woman’s War Stories in Media PR: How to Get to the Top and Stay There

By Devon Chestnut, APR

The last session of the day featured a fireside chat with Shirley Powell, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications for The Weather Channel Companies. The fireside chat was moderated by FRPA’s own Roger Pynn, APR, CPRC. Powell addressed a variety of topics during the discussion, fielding questions and comments from Pynn and from the audience. Here’s a snapshot of some of the points made during the conversation:

• Women make up a majority of public relations positions but many of the top positions still belong to men. For whatever reason, women continue to face challenges obtaining those roles.

• Powell’s advice for young women, especially those questioning how to balance work/life obligations: You can never really balance work and life obligations. You can’t look at any given day and decide if you are successful at it or not. Any given day can be disastrous. One day ­ work wins. The next day ­ family wins. Look at it in big chunks. ­ Is my husband still speaking to me? Are my kids still speaking to me? Is my boss still speaking to me? ­Iif yes, you’ve won!

• What was it like working for a media company full of media people? While at CNN, anytime an internal memo was sent out, reporters always thought there was more to it – ­ they reached out to get the “real story,” even though it was just a memo. When there was real internal news, her team made sure to get the information to the reporters so they could be the first to break the news. You can’t have an outside news source break the news before your own reporters.

• When asked about the retransmission dispute between The Weather Channel and DirecTV, which was a very public battle, Powell noted that no one wins in these types of situations. Although both parties are trying to do what’s best for their consumers, the consumer is in the middle and uninterested in the basis of the battle. In this situation, The Weather Channel pulled a small crisis team together, meeting twice a day, for seven days, for three weeks.

• Powell shared the story of her biggest crisis. While at Turner, Cartoon Network’s marketing team did a marketing stunt for a show on Adult Swim which featured “light bright” figures placed in various cities around the country. In Boston, people began reporting what they thought were bombs located throughout the city. The bomb scare appeared all over the news and caused a panic within the city of Boston. It turned out that the “bombs” in question were actually the Adult Swim marketing pieces. The crisis required Powell to work three days straight in order to address and rectify the situation ­ including numerous radio and print statements.

• Powell believes that a public relations leader should report to the CEO, ­ not to marketing or human resources.

• When it comes to talent, Powell looks for intangible qualities. A good resume is important but it is only a point of entry. One trait that is critically important is desire to continuously learn, read, study. Another trait is a strong knowledge of what is going on “outside of the building.” People should have a broader view than just a press release.

• Powell was asked about the placement of The Weather Channel staff, ­ specifically Jim Cantore. Powell shared that Jim is sent to areas expected to receive the greatest impact from a weather condition. If you see Jim in your town, assume a storm is about to hit. With regard to the viral footage of Jim kneeing a rowdy fan, Jim was initially embarrassed by the situation but once it became viral, he loved the media it generated.

• Powell’s advice on how to get to the top and stay there:
⁃ react quickly
⁃ juggle lots of things
⁃ maintain an intellectual curiosity
⁃ add value

• Powell’s best piece of advice? People join companies but leave bosses. Do as much research on your potential boss as much as you would do on the company. You need to know who you are going to work for.

Shirley PowellABOUT SHIRLEY POWELL

As executive vice president of corporate communications for The Weather Channel Companies, Shirley Powell has executive oversight of all internal and external public relations, communication and social media strategies for the company’s valuable portfolio of consumer and business-to-business weather businesses including The Weather Channel, weather.com, wunderground.com and WSI.

With more than 25 years in the media industry, Powell’s understanding and broad experience play a critical role in taking the company’s message to key constituencies. Prior to Weather, Powell served as senior vice president of corporate communications for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. overseeing the strategy, development and implementation of TBS’s external messaging and serving as its chief spokesperson for networks and businesses such as CNN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network. She was also responsible for internal communication, as well as government affairs, corporate contributions and community relations. In addition, she held senior communication positions with NBC Entertainment and Disney Channel. Powell led publicity and helped launch large projects, such as the launch of Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, Nickelodeon Studio and Universal Studios Florida. She started her career at Curley & Pynn Public Relations.

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