International Women’s Day: Q&A with Ellen Ryan Mardiks

March 8, 2021

Ellen Ryan Mardiks sitting in boat Ellen Ryan Mardiks sitting in boat

Ellen Ryan Mardiks is Golin’s fourth and first-ever female chairman in the agency’s 65-year history. As an industry veteran of 35+ years – most of which Ellen has dedicated to Golin – we asked her to shed some light on her leadership and career path, world-class client service, mentoring advice and more.

Q1.  What does International Women’s Day mean to you as a global leader?
IWD is a moment to pause, to celebrate progress and to look squarely at the work yet to be done. There’s no question that women have made enormous advances in the last few years, in business, in government, in life—and this is happening in most regions of the world. It’s now accepted that the way to succeed is to fully tap the talent, energy and expertise of women. That is a great thing. I love seeing it.

Q2.  This year’s IWD theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” How can communications professionals work together to advance that mission?
As I write this, I’m looking ahead to a post-COVID world. Meaning, the time when we manage the virus vs. it managing us. It’s coming! But for now, I am keenly aware of the impact COVID continues to have on everyone – but particularly on women. Too many have lost jobs or stalled careers due to mind-boggling responsibilities at home. Others are simply stressed and stretched, sometimes without sufficient support. The realities of COVID have had a disproportionate impact on women – one that impacts their present lives and their future. What we communications people can do is shine the spotlight on this unfortunate reality. Seeing it clearly will help us to change it. What we Golin people can do is aggressively, generously support each other as we persevere through and past the pandemic.

Q3:  What is one piece of advice you either wish you had when you were first starting out or that you would give today’s future rising stars in our industry?
I have had brilliant advisors and mentors since the day I started at this great agency. I hope I’ve taken full advantage of all the advice they’ve given me. As for today’s rising stars: Embrace the career path you actually want, not the one you think you should want or the one you’ve seen others before you take. There are so many ways to shine in this industry. Stay true to yourself.

Q4:  How has the PR industry changed since you started your career?
We’d need a much longer Q&A to answer this question! So much has changed, but here’s what hasn’t: Brands want to mean something to people, something special, different and distinctive. We, as PR people, help them do that, and that has always excited me enormously. Aspects of our industry will always evolve, but the core purpose of our work remains fundamentally the same.

Q5.  What advice would you give developing talent who are looking for the right mentors and sponsors to help them become future leaders?
Find mentor(s) who will pull out the best in you vs. imposing upon you their own vision of success. And know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor helps you hone your talents. A sponsor is invested in advancing your career. Sometimes this is the same person but not always.

Q6:  What is it about public relations that made you dedicate your entire career to this industry?
It’s the fact that I believe in PR so much and always have. I’ve seen the power of earned ideas, and I know the difference earned can make for clients who leverage it well. It also doesn’t hurt that I love and believe in our clients.

Q7:  If you weren’t in PR, what would you like to be doing professionally?
I could pretend and say I’d be an interior designer or a motivational speaker or an astronaut.  But in reality, I’d probably be in advertising!

Q8:  When you’re out of the office, we can find you _____________.
In Wisconsin’s Northwoods.  I might have an Old Fashioned in my hand.

Q9:  What measures do you take to maintain a good work-life balance for yourself?
In today’s 24/7 world, I fully support putting guardrails around personal and family time, as much as you can and need to. That said, while this may not be how others manage it, I have found that a work-life blend works better for me than trying to find balance. For instance: When a client or colleague needs me over the weekend, I’ll be there for them. Conversely, if I have a chance to hang out with my grandbaby on a Friday afternoon, I’ll do it. This is pretty much how I’ve done it throughout my career. The main point: However you manage the blend or the balance, do it without guilt.

Q10:  What does it mean to you – and to Golin – to be named the first woman, and fourth ever chairman?
I am honored and humbled to have this job at this pivotal time in our great agency.  And I’m committed to help us achieve our full potential. I have enormous energy and passion for Golin and for the people in it who make change happen for world-class clients and for each other. This job is both a privilege and a major responsibility. I’ll do my best to be worthy of it.

Q11:  What is your favorite memory of Golin’s founder, Al Golin?
Sitting next to Al, which I was fortunate to do for many years, gave me so many opportunities to soak in his quiet and understated brilliance. I will never forget his stories, some of which are hilarious but all of which taught me something important that has shaped my career. Here’s a great memory: I witnessed Al being honored at a huge meeting of McDonald’s global executives, where they said very plainly that McDonald’s wouldn’t be McDonald’s without Al Golin. Truer words were never spoken. I doubt there is an external advisor in any discipline who has had a greater impact on a brand and a business than Al had on McDonald’s. And that’s the number one lesson I learned from him: Be relentlessly client driven. Believe in your clients, never take them for granted, push them to greatness.