Profiles in PR: Sharon Barbano on ‘Finding Your PR Strong’

February 1, 2018

Name: Sharon Barbano

Current status: Vice president of public relations, Saucony

Location: Waltham, Mass.

Work experience: The Women’s Sports Marketing Group (founder and president), Reebok (group director for women’s global marketing), Saucony Run for Good Foundation (board of directors), Road Runners Club of America (certified coach), official announcer for many of the nation’s top running events

Best place to travel: Australia

Any three dinner guests: Author Annie Dillard, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and Jesus

Favorite race or course: The National 50K Trail Championships

Best career advice ever received: “Focus and finish the job.”

You’re an avid runner and athlete. Are there lessons that carry over from sports and training to your professional life?

What I’ve learned in many years as a world-class athlete, executive and life coach, and also as somebody who’s been in public relations for 30 years, is that we have to think about our purpose, our possibilities and our presence.

Everybody needs to have a purpose in life. We need to have a purpose to wake up, to do our job. But brands have to have purposes too, more than just what financial contributions can do. Because when you have a compelling brand purpose, you are going to do much more competitively than all of the other brands out there. You’re going to have a reason to be, and the whole company’s going to get behind it.

When we talk about possibility, your beliefs are all about what you think is possible. And that can be in your job, life, sports — whatever you do. What you believe is possible becomes possible. Ultimately, as you keep doing it, it becomes unremarkable.

And presence is how you show up in life every day. You, yourself, are an experience. When you go out and you meet people, let that experience be a powerful one — one that you can connect with people and make a difference in their lives.

What does it take to have the winning mindset of a world-class athlete, a key to becoming a successful communications pro?

As a runner, when you make the commitment, you stay with it. There will be days you don’t want to get up, but it’s all about perseverance.

An accountability study by [the American Society of Training and Development] — and coaches have even underlined this — showed that people who set goals [and are held accountable by someone] increase their probability of success by 95 percent. But the key here is this: You can only reach these goals if you meet resistance head-on and get through it.

When running an ultra-marathon, you have ups and you have downs throughout that race, even in your training. You have to believe that those ups are going to come back. And you also go through those dark points, whether it’s in a race or in a long run, and you just have to say, “I know it’s coming, I know it’s coming,” and stay with it.

What trends do you see on the horizon for the communications profession?

The communications profession is different, and has been now for a number of years, especially with social media. It is no longer us speaking to our consumers. It’s all about listening to our consumers and letting them know they’re heard by answering them regarding the types of products they want and creating communities around them.

And where it used to be having these giant consumer events, we’re now meeting consumers in the tribes that they all share. Look at mommy bloggers — that is an amazing tribe of women who create communities and meet up. Also there are runners, who now go on Sundays to meet at their local running retailer, for example.

But all of this is also happening online, in communities online. And I think that’s a big trend, and one that we’re enjoying seeing now.

How have social media and the 24/7 news cycle changed the PR world?

Journalists and news staffers are under constant pressure from the unrelenting 24/7 news cycle deadline. They require nonstop fresh content and information to populate websites and social media channels. 

It puts PR pros in the content manufacturing business. And if you have a great story, then there’s always someone to share it with. Yet the need to put out constant content also means there is less time for journalists to fact-check.

Want to help? As PR professionals, the opportunity is there to follow the key journalists in your industry and provide them with accurate stories that meet the interests of their audience 24/7.

What advice would you share with a new pro looking to break into communications?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, fall on your face, fail. Jump into new things and challenge yourself. You won’t succeed at everything but if you don’t swing, then you won’t succeed at anything.

Become an authentic storyteller. Facts don’t inspire; stories do. And that includes being able to tell your own personal story. The human brain is hardwired to remember stories, not to recall facts or data. Be remembered.

Learn to communicate at the top level. Writing, speaking and body language are forms of communication that you’ll be judged on daily. As a PR professional, you’ll be expected to be the best communicator in the company you represent. Don’t let them down!

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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