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PR Leader Spotlight: Carole M. Howard

Published on October 26, 2020, at 4:55 p.m.
by Kendal Lambert.

Photo provided by Carole M. Howard.

As a child, you daydream what you want to be when you grow up, and it evolves multiple times throughout school and maybe even college. Eventually, you find a career that clicks, and you know what you want to do for the rest of your life. When you immerse yourself in that career, you meet individuals along the way that you look up to and strive to be like someday. Carole M. Howard is one of those individuals.

Howard is a longtime industry professional who has made an impact on the public relations world in many ways. She has worn multiple hats in the industry: She is a former reporter and an award-winning writer, speaker and public relations counselor. In a recent interview, Howard gave great insight into the industry and advice for future public relations practitioners.

Howard pre-public relations
Canada was home to Howard for the first 20 years of her life. She lived in a suburb of Vancouver where her dad was a lawyer and later a Supreme Court justice. Her mom played an active role as a volunteer in multiple community organizations. Howard and her husband, Bob, have been in the U.S. since they moved to Berkeley to attend the University of California as young married students. Howard explained that, initially, she wanted to immerse herself in the public relations world because she loves to write.

Howard and public relations

Photo provided by Carole M. Howard.

Howard has earned many accolades in the PR world. To get a sense of how she got to where she is now, here are the positions she has held:

– multiple public relations positions for AT&T in Seattle, New York and New Jersey
– vice president of public relations and communications policy for The Reader’s Digest Association Inc., based in New York
– president of the Reader’s Digest Foundation
– lead author for the book “On Deadline: Managing Media Relations”

In addition to these positions, Howard has provided chapters for 11 other books and written many magazine articles on global PR, media relations, integrated marketing and management. Howard is also a frequent speaker at universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The public relations industry
“The more jobs within PR you can experience the better,” Howard advised. The more you know about communication ranging from media relations to speech writing the better. Having expertise in all realms of the PR world will help you get to the top, Howard said.

In an article titled “Practical Advice for Students: Training for Public Relations,” Howard stated that being an outstanding writer in all media is key to being successful in the industry. Being a confident spokesperson and a strategic thinker are also important skills. The ability to think strategically is important because you never know what issues might confront you or your client on any given day.

The main advice Howard has for the new generation of PR professionals is to never stop learning. Howard shared that one of her mentors gave this advice to her: “The professional of today who decides to rest on past knowledge and techniques becomes the amateur of tomorrow.”

When asked what advice she would offer up to a college senior trying to find a job during a pandemic, Howard said, “The basics still matter.” By the basics, Howard means having an online and print portfolio, crafting a well-written résumé that highlights your skills and leadership roles, and researching the organization before an interview. Also, it is important to think about how you can best position and sell yourself to a potential employer. “Think about your core competencies,” she advised.

Women and public relations
Howard noted that throughout much of her career she was one of the only women at the decision-making table; sometimes the only one. “Now the glass ceiling has been cracked — but not broken,” she said. Women have made tremendous strides in the industry, but there is still a lot more to accomplish. Howard believes, “It is the responsibility of women in leadership positions today to pay forward the legacy of those who paved the way before us.”

Liz Müller and Lynn Munroe had the privilege of working with Howard. Müller has known Howard for about 35 years and first met her when Howard was appointed to the top PR job at The Reader’s Digest Association. Müller became PR director for Reader’s Digest Asia even though that was not the field she originally worked in. Even from across the world, Howard found a way to connect with her employees.

“I will always remember our global PR meetings with such fondness, again something else Mrs. Howard initiated, which brought all nationalities together across cultural boundaries,” Müller said. “The bond was amazing.”

As for Munroe, she has known Howard for more than 30 years as well. Munroe thought her path in life was to be a journalist until she met Howard. Munroe noted that under the direction of Howard is where she learned what her true professional passion would be. Today she heads her own PR agency. Munroe said that she has very fond memories of Howard and added, “She not only created a ‘family’ of professionals, she also was a mentor to each and every one of us.”

When asked to explain Howard in one word, Müller said “meticulous,” and Munroe said “exceptional.”

Howard’s legacy
Howard has had a remarkable career in her time in the industry, one that she continues to build upon. When asked how she would like to be remembered, she answered with two aspects of her career. First, she stated that a highlight was building a professional global PR organization for The Reader’s Digest Association with staff in 15 countries. Second, she said, is being the lead author of the book “On Deadline: Managing Media Relations.” It debuted in 1985 and a sixth edition will come out in January 2021. The book has had many rave reviews over the years.

Howard is an influential person in the PR industry and continues to share her knowledge today. She advised, “Live your values. Remember that a compass points only to the North Pole. Never be in doubt which way you are pointing.”

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