WWPR’s Woman of the Year (WOY) award ceremony is designed to keep you in suspense. There are three honorees, and each gets a moment in the spotlight to speak to the colleagues, friends, clients and families who are gathered.  It’s WWPR’s annual event to celebrate women leaders in public relations. You hear terrific stories of accomplishment, as well as the challenges we’ve faced – and overcome! – along the way. 

Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, WOY 1992, will always remember: “It was a priceless moment for a Puerto Rican “kid” from the South Bronx.”   

I have to admit, as a “kid” with South Philly roots, my “moment” was also a remarkable. None of us set out with the purpose of winning these awards, but when they come, it is so wonderful to have your work recognized by your profession.  It is also a source of inspiration and opportunity. 

What makes the award so special, I think, is that it recognizes a combination of traits: leadership, integrity and community involvement. It’s meant to showcase smart, confident women who can serve as positive role models and mentors for the next generation. 

So, I was honored to join an amazing group that believes in paying it forward: Pattie Yu, WOY 1998, speaks often of the value of mentors in her own life; and Susan Hager, WOY 2004, whose passion was leveling the playing field for women. 

Debra Silimeo, Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow and Pattie Yu

Washington PR Women of the Year at a recent gathering – Debra Silimeo, Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow and Pattie Yu

For most of us, it comes at a point where we have pretty lengthy resumes. But it’s more than that: statues, titles and the corner offices don’t really tell the story of your character. Or the mental muscles you’ve earned through trial and error.  

It’s a big tickle to be called, if even for a moment, the “best.”  Apparently this is true even when you are beyond amazingly famous. Halle Berry was dubbed the “world’s sexiest woman” at age 42. At first she wondered why this was happening long after her Bond girl days and after becoming a mom. Then she said she realized that over the years, she’d learned a few things, including how to be more comfortable in her own skin. So yes, this was the right time. 

So, once you have the “tiara,” what’s next?  First, show up more.   

WOY 2002 Denise Graveline says there is real value in participating. “Because I kept showing up, people felt they could ask me all sorts of tough questions, and that’s an important part of what we all can be doing for one another.”

This year, I had the opportunity to participate in WWPR and PRSA panels, and to emcee WWPR’s Emerging Leaders Awards.  Now that was inspiring! These events are filled with young women who are paying their dues every day, taking delight in their achievements, and energizing each other. 

It’s also been a pretty intense year at Hager Sharp, where “communications that make a difference,” is our mission.  We’ve danced on the White House lawn with the First Lady to promote bone health; alerted women to the signs of a heart attack; promoted educational access and fairness; and told important stories about children in poverty.  No matter how busy we get supporting our clients, there still has to be time to make a difference for our colleagues and friends and families. 

When Lady Gaga was named MTVs Woman of the Year, she said it meant she needed to work harder. OK, she was wearing meat.  But, she’s actually right. 

Getting the award means that it’s time to step up your game! 

So when I look back on the year so far, I am grateful for the inspiration provided by the WOY club and WWPR members.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to play a role representing our profession and to be part of network of professionals, who support each other in our careers and lives. And it will continue!

I’m really looking forward to seeing who joins the Washington PR Woman of the Year club this year. 

For information on nominating yourself or another deserving woman for the 2011 Washington PR Woman of the Year, please check out the event’s page on the WWPR website.