University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - B.A. Journalism
Maria Reitan is a senior principal and head of the lifestyle marketing group at Carmichael Lynch Spong, a Minneapolis and New York City-based PR agency. As part of that role, Maria leads the agency's efforts in marketing to women, lending her expertise on how to reach the coveted demographic and uses her television news background to coach clients for media appearances. Maria also hosts a weekly radio program titled “PurseStrings,” which features insight from leading marketing executives, authors, researchers and industry experts on how companies can reach women.
It's a busy and demanding career. Maria stays sane by keeping her personal goals realistic: "I don’t believe in work/life balance," she says. "I believe in priorities, which can shift from day to day."
I’ve always felt my greatest legacy is the people I’m able to impact, who then go on to do great things in their own careers.
You have a job any one of us on the I Want Her Job team would die for. What was your path from college graduation to leading the Marketing to Women and Lifestyle Marketing divisions of a major PR company?
Like many people in today's workforce, I’ve had a few career lives.
I spent 15 years in TV news; reporting, producing and managing newsrooms across the country. After graduating college, I worked at WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C. doing anything I could -- including working for free on weekends as a reporter while I spent Monday through Friday answering phones and running scripts. I eventually became a producer and I never looked back. From Spartanburg, I went to WBTV in Charlotte, N.C. to produce their morning show and then their 11 p.m. show before heading to Miami to produce WSVN’s 5 p.m. newscast. While there, I was elevated to Executive Producer, overseeing all day programming, then moved to Senior Executive Producer before leaving for an Executive Producer role at WMAQ in Chicago. From there, I moved from overseeing producer to working with reporters as Managing Editor. Next, I landed in Louisville, KY at WHAS to run the entire newsroom as the News Director. And then, with my husband and I found ourselves back in the north as I took the News Director job at WCCO in Minneapolis.
While in Kentucky, I knew that TV news was not one that I was going to stay in forever. Therefore the move to Minneapolis was made with the intent that I'd eventually leave TV for a more stable, lifestyle-friendly business. And I made that move nine years ago when I came to Carmichael Lynch Spong as a Senior Counselor.
Over my tenure here, I’ve been promoted twice and taken on more responsibility, including launching the Lifestyle Marketing practice six years ago and honing my expertise in marketing specifically to women. As part of that effort, I began hosting a weekly, live radio show “PurseStrings” more than five years ago. This radio show allows me to stay on-trend about all things “marketing to women” so I can counsel my clients and others across the agency.
Jumping from a background in news journalism to one in PR seems like a natural transition, but what has been the biggest adjustment? On the flip side, how do you feel this background gives you an advantage?
The biggest adjustment from moving from journalism to PR is the need for a strong business background, including business strategy and business writing. Although I managed millions of dollars as a News Director and ran a department of nearly 90 while delivering a news product multiple times a day, when I transitioned to PR, I had to broaden my knowledge of marketing while simultaneously learning the PR ropes. What benefited me was my ability to juggle multiple projects, make quick decisions, communicate clearly and deconstruct complex issues to make them easily digestible for a broader audience. My knowledge of the inner workings of a newsroom and how producers/reporters think was also helpful, especially as I media coached our clients.
What types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
I'm the strategic lead for my clients; counseling them on overall public relations and in some cases advertising strategy. Because most of my clients also tap us for advertising, I have to be able to converse in both “languages.” I lead a team of PR and advertising professionals as we create and execute an annual strategic plan that supports our clients’ business goals and objectives.
I also assist with pursuing new business and organically growing my current client base. Growing marketing to women is also a key responsibility, and as director of practice development, I’m charged with assisting the leads of our other practices to do the same.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Working with my teams is the favorite part of my job. I’ve always felt my greatest legacy is the people I’m able to impact, who then go on to do great things in their own careers.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
The future of public relations is bright, but it’s also a discipline that's changed dramatically over the past 10 years, thanks to the growth of social and the metamorphosis of advertising agencies. I worry about how public relations can stake a strong territory in those areas where we deserve to play -- social, experiential, influencer marketing and more. Because I also work with an advertising agency (Carmichael Lynch), I have to bridge the success of both agencies. Integration has become a necessity at most agencies and that brings a host of challenges as well.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I don’t believe in work/life balance. I believe in priorities, which can shift from day to day. One day, work must take priority because of urgent deadlines, but on other days, family or friends might take that top spot. But at a macro level, I prioritize my family over everything. I try to carve out time with my family every day, when I’m not traveling. Part of that is to have dinner with them. I attempt to make every one of my children’s “big events” (concerts, performances, school-related programs). And I stay in touch with my husband via email. While it sounds impersonal, it actually keeps us connected.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?
Just this past spring, I was standing in Death Valley, watching a remote-controlled passenger bus make a record-breaking jump as part of a TV commercial shoot and thought “I can’t believe I have this job.” It was a surreal moment.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Be honest. Keep your word. Never bend your ethics and values. Stay true to yourself.
What qualities does one need to possess to be successful in your line of work?
Strong writing skills are key, as are strong communications skills. If you can use your left and right brain, you'll have a leg up in this business. We have to be analytical and creative at the same time. Be curious. Ask questions. Never stop learning. I’ve always said that “hand-raisers” do well. These are people who jump in, take on responsibility and drive things proactively.
What advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Know that it’s okay to fail. As a reformed perfectionist, I'd make sure my younger self knew that failure was an option and one from which I would learn so much.
What do you think the future holds for PR?
I think PR is primed to dominate the advertising, digital and social industry. These industries are increasingly coming together, toward the middle. PR needs to ensure that we’re leading the conversation and not giving up any ground to traditional advertising firms.