Bea Arthur on ‘The New PR: Psychology and Relationships’

September 5, 2017

Although Bea Arthur’s first venture failed after less than a year, she remained resilient and pivoted to success. Today, the Columbia University alumna and licensed therapist is the founder and executive director of innovative mental health think tank “The Difference” and was the first African-American woman accepted into the startup accelerator, Y Combinator.

She believes that “the right talk at the right time can make all the difference” and that “psychology and relationships are the new PR — knowing what people want and knowing how to tell them that they need it.” Arthur hopes to conduct a “Shark Tank”-like pitching scenario with a focus on audience participation at her Oct. 9 keynote at the PRSA 2017 International Conference.

As an entrepreneur, what advice do you have for striking out on your own?

I have the opposite advice: Don’t strike out on your own. Find a co-founder or business partner because you need to have a lot of strength and stamina to go the distance and have a successful company.

With my last company, I was a solo founder/employee for three of the five years that we were in business. It was rough but I wouldn’t have made it as far if it wasn’t for having a tribe of other women in tech and media in New York City who lifted me up and gave me free advice. Try to find your tribe.

People don’t talk about it enough: Entrepreneurial life [isn’t great]. I don’t know why it’s so glamorized — you’re broke and tired a lot. You need people who understand. Your family’s going to love you and your friends are going to be proud of you no matter what. So have a strong support system.

How can people learn from their mistakes and overcome failure?

The best way is to really prepare yourself. I was on “Shark Tank” — it didn’t go great. As far as failure, you can’t understand until you go through it. I would not be the person I am or have that experience and those lessons any other way. I couldn’t have known how far I’d go, how much I could do, what kind of people I’d meet.

Fail fast and fail forward. But also, from a psychological perspective, remember that most people don’t care. It took me a long time to close my company, but most people aren’t thinking about what it’s like for you. They will say, “Congratulations” or “I’m sorry for your loss,” and go back to their own lives.

If you’re doing something for the sake of keeping up appearances or hoping people won’t see you as a failure, [know that] people love a comeback or underdog story. And people love the next big thing. They think, “OK, well, I learned from this. I’m not going to make that mistake again.” But you know: no risk, no rewards. [Failure] stretches you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined.

What are some tips you can share for finding work-life balance?

In the beginning phases [of building a company], you have to be laser-focused on it. It’s a stressful experience. Exercise and also see your friends as much as possible. Remind yourself of who you were before you started the business. You run on empty a lot, so remember to add things back into your life that you enjoy. That’s probably a better balance than taking weekends off, because that’s hard to do in the beginning. Don’t bring work home and be present when it’s time.

What would you do differently now or go back and tell the 25-year-old you?

 I would say: Don’t be soft. I was picking up all of these things by myself because I didn’t want to tell anybody what I was up to. But it would’ve moved so much faster if I had just asked for help. People love to give advice and talk about their expertise.

If somebody knows how to do something better than you, [then learn from them] and ask them how they did what they did. Always be listening and always be learning.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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