Patricia Baronowski-Schneider
Pristine Advisers
New York, NY
Patricia is CEO of Pristine Advisers, an IR/PR/Media Relations/Marketing firm with 33 years of experience working her way to starting her own Company a decade ago. She can be reached at pbaronowski@pristineadvisers.com

I started working at an IR/PR agency decades ago, right out of high school, which ironically was with only a handful of women (like 6-7). We were part of a global Company, although our New York office only had 6-7 employees. I was thoroughly inspired by them as the firm was predominantly all women. Their minds and approach to things greatly inspired me.

The firm was so small that whenever we had a potential client or a current client coming in to visit us, they would bring in boyfriends, friends, etc. just to fill the seat to make it appear as though we were bigger than we actually were. I thought was pretty funny at the time, but then again, I was basically a kid myself.

I had a small child when I started there and was obviously the only woman there with a baby. After working there for a while, I became pregnant again, The Company did not even have a maternity policy in place and had to call around various other firms to get their plans and then looked through them all and created a plan for the Firm. It was definitely not what I was hoping for, but I did not have any room to complain. I was basically given 2 weeks’ pay and nothing more. I could not take any sick days off, despite my morning sickness and dizziness, and had to save every vacation and sick day to use after I gave birth. I basically worked until a Friday and gave birth to my daughter on Sunday.

The firm started to grow and they started to staff individuals as Administrative, Assistant Account Executive,Account Executive, Assistant Account Manager, Account Manager, Account Executive, Director, Managing Director, etc. Basically, all the same work but titles to make you feel good.

I remember one strict rule was that you were never ever to discuss your salary with anyone else as that would be grounds for immediate dismissal, so I was sure to never do that. I worked my way through college, all the while raising my two babies. After my daughter was born it was not long before I was a single mom of two. I had the children with a babysitter through a program with hours from 8 am – 6 pm. In Manhattan this was a ten block walk for me.

I had my children in a double carriage and I remember trying to walk them the 10 blocks in the rain and snow. I could not hold an umbrella and push the double carriage, so I would more often than not, be drenched or soaked before ever getting to work. Taking public transportation was not really an option, and for anyone who knows Manhattan, trying to carry a double carriage with two babies up and down the subway steps and trying to get into severely crowded trains was just not going to happen, so I walked it to and from every day.

With the business growing, what I soon found out was that the work was always being thrown down to the bottom person, while the higher ups sat back and enjoyed the view. I was doing the work of Account Managers and Executives, yet I was still in the Admin role. As I continued through college I was, like everyone else, given juicy titles to make me happy, but the work flow just seemed to increase for me, but not the salary, and I didn’t see the work increasing as much for everyone else.

As a single mom, I would have to leave the office at 5 pm and run and pick up the babies and then go back to work to finish all that was thrown on me, while everyone else went home. Even on holidays when we would have half-a-day – it seemed that since I lived in Manhattan at the time and most others did not, they would elect me to stay full day and they would all go home. My children spent many nights and weekends at the office with me while I would work to try and get through all that was given to me. I remember once when I spent 2 weeks putting together a report for a client, only to hear the Managing Director telling someone, “Yes, I am beat, I’ve spent two weeks working on this document and am exhausted – I am taking tomorrow off to recuperate.” I was shocked. She didn’t even know what the document entailed, yet had no problem taking credit for it. It seemed to be the norm for me, and they all knew that I couldn’t afford to leave so I would just stay quiet and deal with it.

I remember being at the office one day, after about 10 years, and someone had left their paycheck in the copier. Of course I was able to see it and almost fell on the floor. The Secretary was making about $40k more than I was!! Apparently that was why we were not allowed to discuss salary. It seemed new people were making more due to the job market salaries, yet employees were rarely getting raises or if anything, it was not enough to make a difference really.

Anyway, as a single mom, I could not leave the company – I needed the salary and the medical and such, so I would just go with the flow while I put myself through college, taking online courses due to my lack of time and babysitters.

After 16 years at the firm, they were closing our department, which left me in a position of having to find another job. I had been out of the job market for so long, that I almost forgot what that was like. It was interesting to see what the going salary was for what I was now doing though. Luckily for me, our Managing Director pointed me to another Company that offered me a position, with a raise. That made me quite happy. On top of that, every single one of my clients followed me to the new Company. They did not have to, but I believe they realized the quality of work and dedication that I was providing to them and chose to follow me. I later found out, not only did our businesses not match at all in the new firm, so in essence the President of that firm was making a lot of money on my work, yet he didn’t even know what it was that I was doing – but this firm got the majority of their business from IR firms, so I was not allowed to say that I did IR, because it wouldn’t look good for them. That basically put me in a difficult position, in that I was not able to grow my portion of the business if I wasn’t allowed to promote what I did. I also charged lower than normal rates because I believed it was better to prove yourself and have lasting relationships, than to charge a fortune to clients only for a small amount of time. My new boss wanted to charge for everything, which put me in a difficult position with clients.

Nonetheless, I had an office and did my job, yet no one in the firm had any idea what I even did. I eventually started working from a home office instead of traveling from Long Island to Manhattan every day. After 6 years here, I was informed that the business would be selling to another Company. I thought, “Here we go again.”

I had the option of starting all over at a new firm, or just starting my own business. I opted to venture on my own. To my joy, every client I had followed me again to my new firm. I was   overjoyed and started immediately. In all honesty, since I was not working in my former Employers office anymore, the only thing that really changed was who the monthly check was made out to – the work itself never changed at all.

So – what did I learn through all of this???

  • Don’t have clients pay top dollar thinking that they are paying for a General Manager to oversee the work, when they are in essence, paying an intern to learn the ropes at their expense.
  • Be fair – and share the responsibilities. I never expect anyone to do more than I do – after all, it is my Company. Sure, I could delegate the majority of things and sit at the beach – but whose name is on the line? Mine – so I ensure I am behind all that is done.
  • From my experience – when a firm hires an IR Company and a PR company and a Marketing Company – many things get lost in translation. I found from experience that often times, each firm is pitching a completely different story. How to avoid that? Hire (1) firm that can do it all…..such as Pristine Advisers.
  • The same with website design and such. Often times the people behind this are tech-individuals. They do not necessarily understand the product – so if you provide a 10k or an   annual report or a shareholder notice – they do not always know where on the site to place this. From my experience, we spent so much extra time correcting things in this area that we just started doing it ourselves. We understand the financial markets and know exactly where a shareholder would look for this information on a website – so let us put it  where it belongs.
  • Don’t put a price tag on every single thing and expect the world to pay for it. Establish relationships, understand the task and put every effort to accomplish that. I’ve seen time and time again people charging money for things they are either not doing, or lying about doing it – and sadly, clients don’t know. I am an honest person and am proud when a client succeeds and gets the results they desire. I feel like I helped get them there and it makes me proud – even if we are behind the scenes – I still enjoy helping.
  • I worked with someone who was partners at a competing firm prior and she would tell me all of the lies that this firm would tell their clients. For example – they would have a webinar and tell the clients that they had thousands of people on the call – yet there were, in reality, 4 people only – and they were all staff. If the client asked for the list of attendees – they would say, “We cannot give you that, but if you send us what you’d like to send to them – we will send it on your behalf.” Even with events and breakout rooms, they would say there were thousands of people at the event, yet with breakout rooms – how would they know that there were only 3-4-10 in each room? Very sneaky, yet clients have no way of knowing this.
  • I do not believe in being sneaky, lazy or unqualified. If I do not know something – I will go to the ends of the earth to learn it or find the answer. If I say I am going to do something – I definitely do it. If I cannot do something, I will let clients know that and why – I did not get my reputation in the marketplace by being anything other than professional, honest and sincere.
  • It’s not what you know that matters but your ability to EXECUTE and get stuff done that matters.
  • Don’t air your business to everyone at work because it can and often does – come back to bite you in the booty. It is ok to have friends at work, of course, but keep your private   matters as low key as possible. I’ve seen too many times how Companies can and often do, hold things over an employee’s head. Such as my situation with not being in a position to seek an alternate job, being a single mom of 2.
  • No matter how upset you may be at someone, think about the power and influence they have in your industry. I was harassed at one point by a LinkedIn connection that had befriended me, thinking we were in the same Financial Space as I was in business with clients. I invited them to our conference that we hosted and spent a lot of time  communicating with this person – only to have them harass me and start making insane demands and then this person tried to slander me online. Well, as mentioned, with
    my 33 years of experience in the industry- everyone knows me and knows how I am – and this slander only made “him” look bad in the public’s eye, not me. So always be careful with your temper and be careful in poking the beehive,
  • Be true to what you preach. Before you speak in public or to anyone, make sure you are staying true to your message. If not, you’ll come across as a hypocrite. I’ve seen people change their stories depending on who is in their presence at the time. That does not make anyone look honest and sincere – only a liar and a hypocrite. Especially with social media – once something is “out there” – it is out there for life and not going away – so always stay true to your word/message.
  • You don’t have to follow the crowd. Often times people will say, “Everyone else is doing it this way – we should to.” I ask, “But is it the “right” way?” I have 33 years of experience with trial and error – so I don’t just follow the lead of “everyone else” – I research, investigate and choose the best way for my clients – that is what works – not “following  everyone else”.
  • Be careful who you hire to work for you. I had hired someone from an online agency – who worked out of the country and was paid via the online agency. It seemed like a cheap way to get work done. That was a huge mistake. Not only did this person not do anything that I hired him to do – he also set me up with scammer after scammer after scammer – so that wound up being a complete waste of time and money and is a long story that I may share at a later date. Maybe/maybe not
  • It’s ok to be friendly with your employers – of course – but do not let them abuse that situation. It is too easy for a “friend” to call on many favors and ask for things a normal employee would never ask for – simply because they believe you are “BFFs” – so be friendly – but ensure that you keep things business professional.
  • Learn from failures. Everything is a learning experience – don’t just throw your hands in the air and walk away from a failure – learn from it, grow and move on.
  • Always “give back”. I am not saying “give away” – but rather, give back. I always try and help people and give back wherever I can. We put out a quarterly newsletter and it is in essence, free publicity for our clients – but since it is an educational means for investors alike – we promote many firms in it – some that are not even clients – it is a win-win for everyone.
  • I also recently hosted a free marketing tips webinar as a means of shedding some secret tips on how firms can promote themselves. I plan to do that monthly – with various additional tips and ideas. If you were interested in listening to it – it is only 20 minutes long – here is the replay https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6565559257614094082 . Also – if you have ideas for additional topics – feel free to email them to me pbaronowski@pristineadvisers.com
  • Above all – just be fair – fair to clients, fair to employees, fair to yourself, fair to vendors, etc. Life is too short to waste – so have a focus – know what you are doing or want to do – make sure you have the skills to do so and if not – learn them – and do the best that you can. At the end of the day – you want to be proud of all you’ve done – and that is up to YOU to make that happen.