…I would say to join professional networking organizations for women. Being a CEO can be isolating, and while the work world has changed where there are more female leaders now than before, our numbers are still small. Joining a peer-to-peer group can open to doors to different thinking, ways of approaching issues/challenges, and new opportunities. All of that translates to a team that benefits from a CEO getting a different perspective that can benefit them, the company and provide an approach that enhances the way they work and the work itself.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennefer Witter. Jennefer is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group Inc. (www.theborelandgroup.com), a public relations agency focusing on corporate and executive visibility headquartered in New York City. Witter is the author of “The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed” (HarperCollins). She is a passionate advocate for women in the workplace, and a public speaker, with presentations at The Pentagon, Brown Brothers Harriman, Vital Voices Global Ambassadors Program, Ellevate Network and The Brookings Institution, among others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I fell into public relations. I studied print journalism at Fordham University; I didn’t take one PR course in my entire four years there. My goal was to work for the BBC in London. I graduated in 1983 during the worst recession since the Great Depression. I was working part-time at The New York Botanical Garden in the PR department during my senior year (I wanted to go to England to visit family after graduation and was saving for that), and found I had natural talent for the profession. My boss, Marge Lovero, hired me full-time after I graduated, and graciously told me I could leave whenever I found a job in the field that I trained for. I never left PR because it is an ever-changing field — interesting, dynamic, creative.
I also fell into being an entrepreneur. Sometimes, you need to ‘fall’ to find out where you should be. I was a vice president at Ketchum, a top global public relations firm, when I resigned in 2002. I was exhausted. PR, while fulfilling, can be draining. It is not the Sex and the City fun-filled, party-filled life. It is stressful and demanding. I had lost my mother, it was right after 9/11, and I needed to stop and rest. I took a year off. When I decided to go back into the work world, I wanted to go into an environment where I would like, respect and admire my clients. So, I decided to start The Boreland Group Inc. (which was named after my mother to memorialize her) to do just that. I did not leap into it willy-nilly. I took classes at the SBA, got counseling at SCORE, and haunted the Science, Industry and Business Library in NYC to get a firm footing before I launched.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started my business, I sent out about 200 emails telling all within my network that I was starting a business and if they knew of anyone looking for a PR firm, to contact me. I got ONE response back — a friend said he had a friend, who had a sister-in-law who was looking for a publicist. She turned out to be my first client.
At the start, I invested 50% of my time (in all, I invested over $10,000, a large amount for a business that I was bootstrapping). I knew that once others saw what I was doing, I would get other clients. And that happened. Word-of-mouth built, and I began to develop a client portfolio. As for the client for whom I invested 50% of my time, I made a deal with her that it would last for six months. At the end of the six months, all of my time thereafter was billed; no more investing. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of one’s entrepreneurial venture, you have to give in order to get. Do it strategically and with firm goals — if not, you won’t get the ROI that you intended.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
We develop close relationships with our clients. We are not their vendors — we are their partners. As I say to my clients, “your success is my success” and I take my success very seriously.
I also look within my universe to see what I am doing in my professional life that can benefit them. Just because it is not in the agreed-upon program or budget doesn’t mean I overlook opportunities that can benefit them. For example — I connected an architect client of mine — Antonio Argibay, the managing principal of Meridian Design Associates — with Columbia University regarding a speaking opportunity. Columbia originally approached me (I am scheduled to speak at their Career Week in February, along with other top executives), and I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce my client and suggest him for a speaker slot. And guess what? He is now scheduled to speak in 2019. Fabulous! Another example is a security client of mine — Soyini Chan-Shue, CEO of City Safe Security Partners — who wants to become more active within non-profit volunteering. I connected her with the 92Y’s Extraordinary Women’s benefit committee (see more on that below) to recommend her for a position on the committee. This opportunity looks very promising for her.
What I find most rewarding is that many of my professional relationships morph into true friendships, and that brings me great joy.
Can you share a story about that?
One of my clients developed cancer. She is a lovely, warm, very special woman. I knew that the time was obviously very fraught for her. She had a wonderfully supportive network, which included her fiancé. I went with her and her fiancé to one of her doctor’s appointments because I felt it was important to be there (and they said it was OK for me to accompany them). She had a long hard road and when she eventually regained her health, she invited me to her wedding. To say that I was overjoyed for her is an understatement.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working with Dress for Success Worldwide (www.dressforsuccess.org) on their #GivingTuesday campaign. Dress for Success not only provides professional attire for their clients, they also offer programs for long-term financial independence. Their clients are women who need a little help to find their confidence and achieve their goals. The work that The Boreland Group will do will increase visibility for their #GivingTuesday efforts: Dress for Success is asking individuals to share their power by donating to the organization and by shopping a curated collection from partners who will donate a portion of proceeds from items purchased on Nov 27th to the organization. The more money generated will enable them to assist even more women gain a firmer economic footing. I am very excited and honored to be contributing to the effort.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would say to join professional networking organizations for women. Being a CEO can be isolating, and while the work world has changed where there are more female leaders now than before, our numbers are still small. Joining a peer-to-peer group can open to doors to different thinking, ways of approaching issues/challenges, and new opportunities. All of that translates to a team that benefits from a CEO getting a different perspective that can benefit them, the company and provide an approach that enhances the way they work and the work itself.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
DELEGATE! You can’t do it all yourself. And don’t micro-manage. Off-loading to well-trained, responsible employees will mean you have more time to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business, which should be the priority for all entrepreneurs.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It would be Marge Lovero, who I mentioned earlier. When I initially went to the Botanical Garden to meet with the personnel director, he basically threw my resume in the trash because I had no professional work experience. Marge told him to call me back — she saw that while I did not have professional experience, I was active in school, writing for the school newspaper; working at the University’s radio station; and holding internships at a newspaper and magazine. She had faith in me when no one else did, and brought a very green person into her department, spent time training her, and gave unselfishly of her time and support. Marge gave me my start and helped me to create a foundation in career that turned out to be life-long.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am a passionate advocate for women in the workplace. As such, I serve on the advisory board of the 92Y for Women inPower, (http://womeninpower.org) an effort to move senior level women into the C-suite. I am on the 92Y’s benefit committee for Extraordinary Women, which is an annual awards program honoring women who are making an impact within their community (https://www.92y.org/extraordinary-women-awards-event). I serve as the executive mentor at M Booth, a top-ranked PR firm, where I mentor and work with staff to navigate the work environment. In addition, I am active member of Ellevate Network (www.ellevatenetwork.com), a professional networking organization for women. I have given presentations; hosted webinars; and have spoken on panels on topics of interest to women, such as implicit bias.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Self-care — For a company to operate efficiently and profitably, the owner needs to be in the best of health, emotionally and physically. Running a business is hard, and the day-to-day stress can be overwhelming. Taking time to refresh and rejuvenate is critical. I used to work seven days a week — and was slow-walking to burn-out. Now, I take at least one weekend day off, and work in Me Time during week, even if it’s just for a manicure or reading a book. I work out four days a week, and am committed to walking 10,000 four times a week. The better health and emotional space you’re in, the better your business will run.
- Allow Your Team to Make Mistakes — I always say that I will never be annoyed by an error. What will make me angry is when one does not learn from that mistake. No one is perfect. A staff member once sent an email with errors in to a client because she was rushing to get it out. I spoke with her, and reinforced that no matter what the deadline is, taking an extra minute to review the information ensures fewer mistakes are made. From that point on, she would take time to review material with a closer eye, especially under deadline pressures.
- Delegate — You can’t do it all by yourself. That’s why you have a staff. Trust them, and empower them. I truly believe this will make employees feel like they have more a personal and professional stake in the company and its objectives. It will create stronger and deeper ties, and that leads to long-term loyalty. This is important, as the unemployment numbers are at record lows and you want to keep and attract good staff during a highly competitive time.
- Listen. Leaders have A LOT on their plates, and while we hear a lot, we really need to listen. What I mean is to give your undivided attention to your staff in meetings or in one-on-ones. When you’re in meetings, put aside your phone, look away from your laptop. Focus on the person speaking. This will make them feel that you truly care about what they have to say. That, along with delegating, fosters team spirit. And it makes staffers feel special.
- Care. What I mean here is that it always doesn’t have to be about work. I work with a set group of independent contractors — we call ourselves our ‘work family’. We have been through births, deaths, and major surgeries. We truly care about each other, and have each other’s backs. They know that I will defend and protect them — for example, a client was extremely hostile and rude to one of my contractors. I called and spoke with the client and told her in no instance was she to behave that way again. She did not. We are loyal to each other, and that makes our work, which can be highly stressful, palatable.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
What I would like to do is get people with opposing views to get together over dinner to discuss their views and their reasoning behind their opinions. We are too closed off from others who differ from us in their beliefs, due in large part to the tribalistic atmosphere in which we are now living. I think if we learned more about one another and the views we hold, we could be more accepting of differences. And having it over dinner — well, the dinner table is traditionally a place where there is warmth and communication. We can agree to disagree, but we can be civil and open-minded about it. And have a good meal while at it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every profession has its dips, and being an entrepreneur, the valleys can sometimes seem overwhelming. The strongest knows that they just need to keep moving forward, that each step is a step to climbing out of the valley, and not to give up. You don’t need to do it alone — get support from your trusted network, ask for help, but don’t give up.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
· Twitter — @JenneferTBG
· LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenneferwitter/
· Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/jennefer.witter
· Instagram — jennefer_witter