We’re Not Just Pretty

Working in public relations has its perks. There are invites to hot parties, exclusive sneak previews of films and products, and rubbing elbows with the occassional celebrity. Generally though, PR is not about glitz and glam. Our lives do not resemble Whitney Port’s or Samantha Jones’. There are regular 18-hour days, delicate situations to be negotiated and smiling despite the bad news – all the while working at a pace that gives the Molson Indy racers a run for their money. We love it and it’s often fun, but we’re not just bubbly blondes that chat about Angelina all day long, while dashing from party to party.

We’re Not Just Pretty” is our latest regular feature. We’ve asked some top PR professionals to give us the inside scoop on their work lives, and clear up any misconceptions that exist about what it really means to work in PR.

We’re thrilled to feature Tara Wickwire, Director of Public Relations for Gap Inc. Canada. She oversees PR efforts for Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Gap Outlet, Banana Republic Factory Store and the upcoming Gap Inc. e-commerce launch.

Tara graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science, then moved to Toronto to complete the Public Relations post-graduate program at Humber College. She began her career at The Bay and later joined Gap Inc.

Outside of talking about jeans for a living, Tara loves to play tennis, wax poetic about Nurse Jackie, visit the library, enjoy the great outdoors with her family, cook successful recipes and converse with Gwyneth Paltrow about the merits of vacationing in Nova Scotia.

How long have you been in your current position?
I have led the Gap Inc. PR team since 2006.

How does your company leverage PR?
The function of the PR team in Canada is certainly multi-faceted. It’s up to our team to execute PR campaigns that reflect our product and marketing focus. We are the means through which the brand’s messages are communicated, so we need to keep it distinct among the brands and also find new ways to tell our brand stories from season to season. Obviously social media is an exciting new dimension and it enhances the PR function in such a challenging new way.

What do you love most about your job?
Each day I come to the office and work with a fantastic and inspiring team. It’s a real joy to be able to think and work creatively in support of the brands I feel very passionate about. I love the challenge of finding new ways to tell our brand’s stories and to ultimately engage the customer.

What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member?
Obviously, credentials and experience play a role in finding the right team member. But for me, it’s very much about a vibrant work ethic and a personality fit with the entire team. It’s finding the right combination of enthusiasm, warmth, polish, curiosity and relevant experience.

Who is your mentor or professional in the industry you admire?
I have a bank of many fond memories of working with my previous boss and mentor, Jane Shaw. She taught me a lot about perseverance and understanding your own strengths and opportunities. A mentor can teach you what it takes for success–but this starts with self-awareness and confidence.

I also really admire Mark McEwan’s leadership style. I love how he interacts with his team and keeps a very calm aura during intense moments.

What are your feelings about how PR has been positioned in the media in more recent years, on popular TV shows (Melrose Place, Sex and The City, The Real L Word, The City etc.)?
Aside from the misleading melodrama, it’s great. I actually think it’s fantastic that PR has developed such a high profile in pop culture because it’s an incredibly positive career path, full of opportunity and great experiences. But with these shows, there is a drawback that people are misguided about what the job entails. So many classic moments – it’s pretty much an enduring Facebook status of “Really??????”.

I would love to see a show following White House interns. Now that would be good.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior?
It sounds basic, but read as much as possible, for both inspiration and research. You can achieve greater success with your message once you are thoroughly familiar with what your reporter, publication, blog, etc., has covered. Soak it all in and add it to your arsenal of information. It’s one thing to talk about a trend, but it’s quite another to use context and how it relates to cultural and societal shifts.

But most importantly, be absolutely genuine.

A little more from the fourth floor:
Website: Style.com, The Huffington Post, Vogue.com, Flare.com, Fashionmagazine.com – and more!
Designer: A.P.C., Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, Miu Miu.
Store: Aside from the obvious- A.P.C., Barney’s, Holt’s, Jeffrey, Alexis Bittar and West Elm.
Book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
Snack: Let’s just put it this way: not carrot sticks.
Season: Fall.
Inspiration: My parents.
Drink: Orangina.
Motto in two words: Be grateful.
Idea of perfect happiness: Sitting on a dock looking at the ocean with my boys.
Indulgence: HBO, designer shoes, Whole Foods mac and cheese, roasted marshmallow ice cream, Diptyque candles. Shall I continue?
Celebrity crush: Tim Riggins.
Favourite tweeter to follow: (Other than @GapCanadaPR, @OldNavyCanadaPR and @BRCanadaPR of course!) – @thesulk, @3rdand10, @tiyanagrulovic is a wit at the tweet, @Flarefashion, @Seacrest. And love the stream of consciousness from @dkny, @lakebell