PRSA-SF Women of the Year 2023: Diana Haven, President & CEO, Ellipses
March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate, the PRSA-SF chapter recognizes a local woman whose efforts have made a positive impact in the community. We are proud to announce Diana Haven, president and CEO of Ellipses, as the 2023 PRSA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter PR Woman of the Year award recipient. We asked Diana a few questions to learn more about her career and her advice for PR professionals looking to grow in theirs.
Tell us the story about how you got into public relations.
In high school, I was a cast member of a student-run production of a rather obscure musical called “Celebration.” I checked out a book from the library about public relations hoping to get some attention for our show. I wrote a press release, had my friend take moody, black and white cast photos, and mailed both to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, our local paper. I got such a tremendous thrill when they ran a story–with my friend’s photo no less! The coverage helped sell out our show. I thought the whole process was so easy and effective at driving business – basically for free. I was hooked. I continued as the publicist for both my high school and college theater and music departments, convinced that I wanted a career in entertainment PR. That all changed when I was introduced to the world of hospitality, restaurant and travel PR, of course!
What has been the most memorable experience of your career?
This is nearly impossible to answer as I have had dozens of incredible moments. The overarching winner is founding and running my own integrated communications agency, Ellipses Public Relations, for more than 15 years. My agency worked with over 100 hospitality, food, beverage and travel clients, launching 35 restaurants, and producing major events like San Francisco Cocktail Week and ChefsGiving, in support of Northern California wildfire relief. It also launched the careers of some incredible PR professionals. My second most memorable experience was being the entertainment booker for TechTV, where I met and produced segments with David Bowie, The Cure, Pet Shop Boys and Chuck D, as well as managed our Red Carpet coverage of the 2000 Grammy Awards. That was a great job. I have so many fun stories!
What experience did you learn the most from? Would you have done anything differently?
As my agency grew, I learned to trust my gut instinct when it came to new business inquiries. Before sending a proposal, I really dove deep into the potential client’s overall operation, plans for the future, goals and more. I came to enjoy the consultative sales process and asking the tough questions. Doing so helps mitigate any potential surprises down the road, and may even lead you to decide to steer clear of a client altogether. It’s hard to say no, but it can be very challenging when the client is not aligned on the value proposition of hiring an agency, or when the client is paying you 100% of their limited marketing budget with objectively outrageous expectations.
What has been the biggest challenge or change you’ve navigated as a PR professional?
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed everything, for everyone. The San Francisco Bay Area hospitality industry was gravely impacted, as were agencies like ours. We put all of our energy into making sure our clients stayed open, from small restaurants to large hotels. The word of the year was “pivot,” and it was very, very challenging to advise clients on strategy when no one knew what was ahead. We got even more creative and scrappy, leveling up our skills very quickly to rise to the challenge and help our clients survive–from increasing our digital marketing efforts, to creating virtual events, to making sure they were on every round-up list. I’m really proud of the work we did under very stressful circumstances.
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
The role of communications in every organization has become even more vital, with many companies now relying on a virtual or hybrid workforce. Hone your internal and corporate communications skills, as that’s where I’m personally seeing a ton of opportunities. PR pros finally have a well-deserved seat at the leadership table, where the C-Suite can no longer succeed without incorporating communications at the highest levels. Develop not just your media relations skills, but overall communications strategy, crisis comms and marketing knowledge. The ability to lead and drive the public conversation via every available channel, tailored to specific audiences, has become a requirement. Also, even in a world where you can have AI write anything for you, it’s still imperative to have excellent storytelling, writing and editing skills and to know how to maintain great relationships with clients and media.