Principal, Harrison & Shriftman
Posted on: February 3, 2012 | Go to profile
Lifestyle and public relations expert Elizabeth Harrison co-founded Harrison & Shriftman, a full-service public relations agency with dedicated press, marketing, events production and celebrity services departments. Along with her partner, Elizabeth has steered the agency towards a global presence with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and London, and written multiple books including Party Confidential and Fete Accompli. Despite her busy schedule, Elizabeth has made it a priority to give back by serving on the board of Love Heals the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education for over ten years, and as a member of the Step-Up Women’s Network’s Luminary Circle.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: My first job of any consequence was as an assistant to the fashion director at ELLE Magazine. At 23 years old I met everyone who mattered in the world of fashion, photography and nightlife. I took full advantage of it all and worked with world-class stylists like TYEN and went on shoots with supermodels like Rachel Hunter and Naomi Campbell. I was working with an international fashion crowd that up until then I had only read about in magazines and it was all fabulous for a while… until and one day I woke up and realized I had lost myself.
I was overcome with a need to go away and find myself, and a deeper meaning to life. So I embarked on a journey that was supposed to last six months but ended 18 months later. Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji became my formal entrepreneurial training with my biggest learning: that when my eyes were open to opportunity, incredible experiences found me, and with little effort on my part.
When I finally made it back to New York, I worked for Peggy Siegal to create film premieres and screenings for all of the best films with the biggest stars. I met the most powerful producers and directors including Harvey Weinstein and Scott Ruden. I also had access to every gossip columnist at the top newspapers in the country… This experience proved invaluable and gave me the confidence to strike out with my partner, Lara Shriftman to start my business: Harrison & Shriftman.
We bootstrapped it from the get-go with 5K in capital and a very inexpensive office on Madison Avenue that we shared with a real estate company. Advertising guru, Ed McCabe literally designed our logo on a napkin at a popular restaurant on the Upper East Side. We had very few clients, but we were movers and shakers and we knew how to hustle and put projects together.
We looked at the industry and saw that PR and events were being done in what appeared to be an old fashioned and stale way. There was a new young society of people that didn’t want to be segregated or categorized as uptown, downtown, socialite, celebrity or editor. We organized events that would appeal to them all and then invited companies like Mercedes-Benz and Motorola to gain exposure to these coveted crowds. Celebrities and tastemakers followed and we were able to generate great press and get hard to reach influencers to act as ambassadors for those products and launches.
Our agency prospered — we went from three to ten to 50 and then 60 staff, opened offices in Los Angeles and Miami, and then ended up on the cover of New York Magazine. In 2002 we were named a top entrepreneurial leader in Inc. magazine’s list of 500 fastest growing private companies. In 2003, Harrison & Shriftman joined Omnicom Group, the world’s largest communication company and in 2011, we joined the prestigious global Ketchum network as a complimentary partner, providing our successful foray into the international business sector.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mindy Grossman of HSN. She leads by example and is incredibly diligent and aggressive about getting results. Mindy had the tenacity and vision to turn HSN around despite the skepticism that she faced with the task. Mindy was smart politically and internally and leveraged her great contacts, which enabled her success with engaging a new customer without alienating her current client base. Mindy is also a kind and thoughtful person who looks to learn from others.
Q: Innovation requires creative thinking. How do you tap into the creative thinking resources within your business?
A: Continuously being creative for clients can be challenging. By the nature of our business, we are all required to be huge consumers of pop culture, read as much as possible, travel, indulge in theater and art and dance, and go out of our way to discover new talent, especially in music and film.
Brainstorming the right way has become key. Recently we all took a course in creative brainstorming which opened a lot of doors for all of us in how we work together to inspire creative ideas. I also encourage our staff to attend seminars and talks for inspiration. The Summit Series was a great discovery for me personally as its focus is on innovative young people and big ideas.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: I am a huge believer in networking and I do it everywhere! (Sometimes to the chagrin of my friends and staff.) I have a three-card rule for when I go out and try to give my card to at least 3 new people. I was recently on vacation in Fire Island and mentioned I was looking for an assistant. One of the women I had just met recommended a friend’s daughter and I hired her that week. You never know when someone you meet randomly will lead to new business or access to a brand or organization that might be helpful.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable negotiating?
A: To be a good negotiator you have to be willing to walk away. This is very hard for most women because we are taught to accommodate and get along. There is always tension in negotiation and it can be uncomfortable.
One of my favorite examples was with a very high-end Spanish fashion brand. We had met with them several times and had been going back and forth on fees. Finally they asked me to give them my celebrity strategy and then they would decide who they were hiring. I put my foot down and refused until they would commit to hiring us. They were surprised, but ultimately they hired us in part because they respected the push back and knew that we were confident in our abilities. It was a highly successful event and they were very pleased with our strategy.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: For many of us, myself included, the past year and a half were difficult because of the economy. My business fell off dramatically and there were days when I was extremely relieved I had sold my business or I wouldn’t have made payroll. I cut all of the fat out of the business and our company learned how to be more productive and efficient. The tough environment also forced us to be more strategic and to refocus on areas of business that we knew we could win, and expanded us to do work that we might have been afraid of taking on prior to. Morale was challenging… we weren’t replacing employees and there was a lot more work which needed to be absorbed by less people. 2011 has been the best year financially since 2008. I’m proud of what we have accomplished this year and looking forward to 2012.
Q: In the world, what are your thre favorite destinations?
A: My favorite destinations are: Peru, Turkey and pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean. I also love Miami… We have an office in Miami and I love going and staying at the W South Beach. The Latin culture fascinates me and the weather always makes me feel like I’m on vacation.
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite places to get lost?
A: I love Morocco for getting lost and exploring. I always loved strolling the boulevards of Paris and getting lost in the tiny streets of Le Marais and St. Germaine des Pres.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: There really isn’t such a thing as balance. I’ve found the trick is trying to focus on the moments. If I am with my two girls over the weekend, I try to really be with them as opposed to on the phone or my BlackBerry. We enjoy our rituals like reading a story at bedtime, or just cuddling before everyone goes to bed. We take long vacations to exotic places and we really get into being together and sharing new experiences.
When I’m at work I am very single focused. I don’t waste time feeling guilty for the time I am not with my children. I have always worked so my girls don’t know any other way. I’m sure I don’t do it all correctly, and I do miss out on the occasional play, or sports competition, but when I read my older daughter’s English essay and she wrote about how proud she was of me and what I do, I feel like I must be getting it right on some level.
Q: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
A: Getting my hair colored; I’ve been completely grey since I was in my twenties. Taking baths with lots of bath oils and special soaps. I especially love SABON products. My Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer!