By Alexa Grunder | January 28, 2020

As part of our spotlight series on the team members of MSR, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary Shank Rockman, the CEO & Principal of MSR Communications. Mary is more than just the letters behind MSR Communications, she’s the brand’s heart, soul and passionate spirit. Mary’s strong relationships—with clients, with her team, with key influencers and with the San Francisco community—continue to drive MSR’s growth and that of her clients.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Mary! Can you tell us about your journey into the PR industry?

People often ask me “What’s your story? How did you decide to open your own PR firm?”  I attribute it to several risks and opportunities that I took as a young professional to explore and find my true passion. Having grown up as an identical twin with entrepreneurial parents who risked it all to create a rather unconventional business——, I understood early on the value that hard work, ambition and flexibility play in envisioning and living out a dream. I was also empowered to believe that no matter what you put your mind to, you can accomplish it.

In my 20’s, I often imagined what my future would hold, and what it’d be like to be that working woman who “has it all.” I  envisioned a successful career, loving marriage and growing family. Back then, I was entering the workforce during a recession where jobs were few and far between. My first jobs were in high tech advertising. I was intrigued by the promises that new technologies could potentially bring to the business world and consumers. Despite the techie nomenclature being somewhat foreign,  the communication of these ideas was exciting and inspired me to learn as much as I could about this rapidly changing, new world of technology. Subsequentially, I decided to work for one of Apple’s first peripherals vendors, and I took the chance to expand my career horizons in to product marketing and marketing services. When the company then asked me to create their first PR department, I froze. I wasn’t sure I’d be successful especially as high-tech PR was a relatively emerging space and most were learning by trial and error. I embraced the challenge by educating myself with instructional PR classes for traditional industries and worked with a veteran consultant who helped me shape these tactics for the tech world.

What initially felt like a scary process: cold calling reporters, writing news releases, faxing and mailing hard copies by snail mail, and learning the coding necessary to simply send an email via MCI Mail to the few reporters who were using that new technology (yes, you heard me correctly, in order to send an email, I had to learn to code (lightly!), became natural for me. Little did I know when I took on this opportunity, one of the most important characteristics for PR practitioners is to be a people person who enjoys engaging with others and telling creative stories! Before I knew it, I was developing strong, in-person relationships with numerous top-tier reporters from outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle and The LA Times as well as tech trades eWeek, PC Magazine, MacUser and MacWorld (remember those magazines?!). I am lucky to still be in touch with several contacts I made back then all these years later…

Fast forward getting married and several professional opportunities with a variety of companies from start-ups to multi-national and public companies, I had discovered my true professional passion: public relations and the impact of relationships and messaging on brands and companies. It wasn’t until two of my senior-most positions that I recognized what was required for a PR agency to provide real value to its clients. After spending nearly four years heading global PR and executive communications at a multi-billion-dollar database software company that quickly went from media darling to one in crisis, and subsequent turn-around mode in one fell swoop, I understood the real meaning of robust strategy, trusted relationships, service orientation and impactful results.

After these important learnings, I believed I’d earned my stripes and felt the need to share this knowledge and level of expertise with start up companies that’d benefit from creating strong foundations for future successes. With that, MSR was born in my living room. Within the first year+ in business, each of my acquired skills was put through tests that I wouldn’t have ever predicted: having more clients than I was able to service alone and the need to immediately hire a seasoned team of professionals; moving into office space that could accommodate all of us; and handling a massive international crisis for one of my first clients for which MSR won dozens of awards due to our management of the situation. I was truly in my element!

Stay tuned for more of Mary’s story and helpful advice for PR professionals! 

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