Christina’s Coffee Talk: Stephanie Smirnov

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Stephanie Smirnov
Stephanie Smirnov

This week I had the pleasure of getting to know more about our favorite PR Mama: Stephanie Smirnov, president of DeVries Public Relations. Stephanie relies so heavily on three gargantuan mugs of Starbucks coffee a day that her family is trained to not talk to her until she’s had the first sip. Sounds familiar. She’s a pro at wakeboarding, Wii Resort Wakeboarding that is, and relaxes in her Catskills home with her husband and son “swimming, skiing, grilling and chilling.” Stephanie listens to the best old-school funk, disco, and R&B and reads her favorite mommy blogs (The Bloggess, The Pioneer Woman, and Rock and Roll Mama to name a few) and design/trend blogs—a new favorite Design*Sponge. Okay, enough of the fun stuff. When Stephanie said she would participate for Coffee Talk, I couldn’t wait to find out how she is so successful in her career and also a great mom with a very solid family. How does one find the time for it all? And so I give you, Stephanie Smirnov . . . super mom and PR pro:

  1. Did you see yourself going into PR?
    1. Not at all. I studied Art History in college and graduate school and planned to be a professor. I didn’t even know you could major in things like communications back then. I fell into PR by accident during my tenure at the Donna Karan Company: I went there to “take a break” from school before heading to the University of Pennsylvania for my doctoral program. I was hired as an assistant in Donna’s office (very “Devil Wears Prada”)and was able to work my way into a marketing/PR role after about three years. I absolutely adored my years at Donna Karan. It was a thrilling place to be as a fashion- and beauty-obsessed 20-something.
  2. Tell me about your current role in PR
    1. Once I got into PR, I knew I wanted to stay in this industry. But because I started in the business on the client side, I figured I’d stay there. I hoped I’d end up running a department at one of the big beauty companies like Estee Lauder or L’Oreal. That dream really had a hold on me, to the point where I left DeVries to do a stint at L’Oreal, gave it three good years, and realized ultimately I missed agency life. So I came back to DeVries in 2003 and I’ve been here ever since.
    2. Did you find any resistance at being a woman in business, or a family-oriented mom? Not at all. I’m fortunate to work at a company where family/work balance is respected. I’m grateful for this every day.
      There is no doubt in my mind that I could not do what I do without my husband. That he gave up his career in dancing to focus on our son and home blows me away.
    3. Do you think husbands and wives can both have successful careers while juggling family? I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’ve never been in that situation. I’m sure there are couples making it work but I imagine it comes with tremendous sacrifices. I have friends who have wonderful nannies, but I never considered that option. I felt strongly that my husband and I be our son’s primary caregivers.
    4. What challenges have you faced in juggling family life with career? The worst thing for me is the business travel. My son is old enough now to express his unhappiness about my travel in no uncertain terms (he’s 6 ½)—he understands the concept of getting on a plane and being in another city for a week. Until recently, it was all abstract for him but the more he understands that I’ll be gone, the more painful it is for me to leave.
    5. What advice or top 3 tips would you give to women looking to have both a career and a family.
      First and foremost: if your gut says you’re ready to be a mother, do not wait. There will never be a perfect time to go on maternity leave. If you’re putting off having a child because you’re afraid of what your employer will think then you are probably working for the wrong people. Second: Get your support systems in place. Motherhood is hard work. You may be a rock star at the office but trust me, your children will outwit and outplay you every time. Whether it’s neighbors, family, girlfriends, your partner or spouse, a nanny or babysitter . . . do not be afraid to ask for help, to delegate, to get support. You cannot have a career and be a mom by going it on your own. It’s not fair to you or your child. Third: Don’t be afraid to be creative and make requests of your employer so that you can take care of things at home. Employers are more open than ever before to flex time, shared positions, compressed work weeks, telecommuting. If you’ve proven yourself at the office and have a thoughtful plan for how to manage your workload with less time in the office, do not be afraid to present it.
  3. A little off topic, however recently there is a lot of discussion about men losing jobs and women gaining jobs and the roles are being reversed. There are a lot more stay-at-home dads than before.

    1. Do you agree or disagree and why? I have to imagine there are more men at home with their kids now as a result of the economic downturn. I’m not sure I see this as an opportunity for women, though, because there are plenty of women out of work, too. It’s not like WWII when women could fill factory jobs left open by men shipped overseas—now, the jobs simply aren’t there. Not for men OR women.
    2. From your experience, how has the role for women in PR changed over the last 20 yrs? I’ve been in consumer PR (with a specialty in beauty) practically my whole career, a sector of the industry that seems to skew female. I’ve had amazing role models my entire career, women like Madeline DeVries and Marina Maher who founded their own agencies in the 1970s and went on to become huge industry leaders. The generation that followed Madeline and Marina has gone on to attain positions of great visibility and influence in our business, women like Weber Shandwick’s Gail Heimann, Marina Maher’s Nancy Labadie, Porter Novelli’s Julie Winskie. They prove it’s possible to balance work and family with grace, and are role models for PR people of both genders.
  4. Now onto PR—have you always worked in Consumer PR? Yes, the portion of my career that’s been focused on PR (which is most of it) has been in the consumer arena.
    1. What is your favorite aspect of consumer PR? I love it because I’m such an avid consumer myself and get so absurdly excited about my favorite brands—I could carry on about Prius, Sharpie and Nintendo till the cows come home, and I don’t even represent them! It’s easy to channel this passion into client work. And as luck would have it, I happen to actually be the consumer many of our clients are targeting—it’s easy to do program development for Olay or Pepperidge Farm when you can get inside the head of their consumers so easily.
  5. What are some of the daily tasks and/or obstacles you encounter as president of DeVries?

    1. The tasks are more fun to discuss! I oversee our Strategic and Creative Services team, which includes digital strategy, research and analytics and digital production. My team works across all our businesses and partners with the account teams on program development and execution. I also spearhead new business efforts, which I love. (It appeals to my competitive nature!)
    [Editor’s Note:  There was simply too much fantastic material to include it all in one post.  Please check back in with PRBreakfastClub on Thursday September 17th, for the rest of Christina’s interview with PR Mama Stephanie Smirnov.]

    As always, feel free to join our coffee talk and add to the questions/comments. If you have any additional questions for Stephanie Smirnov please post them below and we’ll see if she can spare a few more minutes for some answers.

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  • http://twitter.com/missmotorcade sherri haymond

    Great interview, Stina. I always love me some Steph wisdom. I can relate. A lot. Hubby and I are the two-career jugglers – we've both always worked, and I can't imagine it being any other way. Though there have been adjustments – especially on my end – since we decided to start a family. I've always been a hard worker – and I loved my law firm gig – but I realized that if I stayed that path, I'd literally never have time to spend with my child[ren]. Don't get me wrong – I still work a lot. Actually, all the time. But I've evolved into a position that gives me a lot more flexibility, more time in the morning with Mack and more time in the evening, too. Hubby's schedule is also very flexible, and so when I'm not around he arranges things that he can be. Granted, our situation is pretty unique. But it works for us. One size just doesn't fit all in the work/family balance thing – but know this – after talking with so many successful working moms who also juggle family life – including Stephanie – it definitely is possible. And for some of us, it's the only thing that will truly make us whole.

    On having a baby – I for sure didn't follow Stephanie's advice. I waited and waited and waited. I put arbitrary rules in place that I had to be making $X at Y job for Z years before I'd consider getting pregnant. I didn't want to give my employer the wrong idea, that I was “one of those girls” who'd have the baby and then make the “I'm not coming back to work” phone call the week before my maternity leave was up. I can't say I regret my decision – it was what I needed to do at the time (I've worked in male-dominated environments for quite some time now). But as a result, I'm a little older than I wish I was since I do want at least one more, and given my current situation (working on a new biz, trying to learn PR on my own, etc…) it looks like I'll be playing the waiting game again. My choice, for sure. But reality is, I don't think I have any other option right now. Steph, I'll give you a call to discuss ;)

  • Sandra

    I can’t wait for Sept 17th for the rest.
    Great job again Christina!

    It’s great to read about other women who have a job that is demanding, children and husband. Don’t forget the rest of the family that always needs something too.

    My son (7) is now demanding that I stay home and not work. I show him his Nintendo DS games and tell him “no more of these if mom doesn’t work”. So far that shuts him right up. My 13 year old daughter is too used to me having to work and only minds if it interfeers with her social schedule. I was allowed to take both to work if I ever needed to in the past. That kind of help from your employer surely makes you an even more loyal employee.

    Juggling is great so long as you are not sick or have pms…then it’s a whole other story.

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    Sherri what a great comments and points made here. When I told friends and family members that I wanted to go into PR they all said made comments about how I wouldn't be around for a family. That I should get a job like teaching so I could be home with my children.

    It's nice to see the differences between your family dynamic and Stephanie's and that it still works. Of course there are bumps but it gives women hope that we can make it work and it's possible to juggle a family and a career successfully.

    As far as having a baby.. I'm no where near that, therefore I'm not commenting ha! (No babies needed here. Not right now at least)

  • Sandra

    I can't wait for Sept 17th for the rest.
    Great job again Christina!

    It's great to read about other women who have a job that is demanding, children and husband. Don't forget the rest of the family that always needs something too.

    My son (7) is now demanding that I stay home and not work. I show him his Nintendo DS games and tell him “no more of these if mom doesn't work”. So far that shuts him right up. My 13 year old daughter is too used to me having to work and only minds if it interfeers with her social schedule. I was allowed to take both to work if I ever needed to in the past. That kind of help from your employer surely makes you an even more loyal employee.

    Juggling is great so long as you are not sick or have pms…then it's a whole other story.

  • Sandra

    I can't wait for Sept 17th for the rest.
    Great job again Christina!

    It's great to read about other women who have a job that is demanding, children and husband. Don't forget the rest of the family that always needs something too.

    My son (7) is now demanding that I stay home and not work. I show him his Nintendo DS games and tell him “no more of these if mom doesn't work”. So far that shuts him right up. My 13 year old daughter is too used to me having to work and only minds if it interfeers with her social schedule. I was allowed to take both to work if I ever needed to in the past. That kind of help from your employer surely makes you an even more loyal employee.

    Juggling is great so long as you are not sick or have pms…then it's a whole other story.

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