Fast 5: Q&A with Sharon Barbano, head of Public Relations, Saucony

Fast 5: Q&A with Sharon Barbano, head of Public Relations, Saucony
January 9, 2017 Kelly McFalls

Sharon Barbano

PRSA Boston was thrilled to sit down with Sharon Barbano, Saucony’s head of public relations, to discuss sports PR, marketing to women, and what were the best and worst PR/marketing experiences that she has faced during her career. Sharon will be PRSA Boston’s featured speaker in January as she talks about “Find Your Strong: The PR Athlete” on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Wolverine Worldwide headquarters in Boston.  To get your ticket, visit eventbrite HERE.

Here are five questions that we asked Sharon during our conversation.

Q1: What does it take to be a winning PR Athlete?

A: Two runners stand at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Both have similar body types, training programs, and personal bests. Who crosses the finish line first?  The one who expected to win finishes first.

Winning is an action. But first, you need the mindset to be a winner. Just like that runner, a winning mindset is the key to becoming a successful PR pro. But you can’t develop a winning mindset until you program your mind to be a winner. That’s where the hard work comes in. Discovering your life’s purpose, exploring your possibilities, and establishing your presence in the world are part of the groundwork. Next comes goal setting, planning, and visualization.  Of course, all of this is futile without the passion to win. You’ve got to love what you do.

Q2: You’ve always been passionate about marketing to women and even ran your own agency?the Women’s Sports Marketing Group?which tapped into the power of women’s sports to help high-growth brands gain female market share. What’s the secret to winning this majority consumer?

A: There is an old journalism adage: “Follow the money, follow the women or follow both.”  I’m suggesting that marketers do the same. Women drive an estimated 85 percent of consumer spending with their purchasing power and influence, yet women still say that marketers don’t understand them. Here’s my Eight-C Chicklist ™; it was developed based on the principles I learned and continue to follow while working with the majority consumer:

  • Connection: A woman’s purchasing decision is based on how a certain service or product will improve her life.
  • Communication: Understanding the difference between listening and hearing are crucial in the communication process between a brand and its female customers. Once you’ve listened, respond. Only then will she know that she’s really been heard.
  • Choice: According to research, the average 30-year-old woman has nearly 24 pairs of shoes in her closet. Why so many? She wants a choice: she works at the office and works out at the gym; she runs errands on Saturday and 5K’s on Sunday; she meets her friends in the city and her kids’ teachers at PTC. Her 360-degree lifestyle demands options.
  • Customization: And while we’re on shoes, if the shoe fits, she’ll wear it; but only if it fits her really well. They need to feel and perform to her personal needs. Today’s female consumer expects products created just for her.
  • Consistency: Defection comes easy. Let her down once, and she’s off into the arms of another brand. It’s not fickleness; its unmet expectations.
  • Cause-Related: According to a recent AOL study, 54 percent of millennial women switched brands because it supported a cause they cared about. What does that mean? More cause marketing, of course.
  • Convenience: Millennials crave convenience stores with women now shopping at them as much or more than men. It demonstrates how valuable time is for today’s multi-dimensional woman. By streamlining her life with apps and ease of accessibility, a brand can become part of her solution, and she becomes part of the brand.
  • Credibility: Millennial women are digitally-savvy people. They know what’s fake and what’s not. They crave authenticity. Female shoppers respond strongly to content shared by other women, transforming everyday consumers into influential brand advocates.

Q3: What is your worst PR/marketing experience and what did you learn from it?

A: During the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in NYC’s Central Park, Saucony athlete and friend Ryan Shay collapsed and died at the 5-mile mark from a sudden cardiac event. Ryan’s family, the Saucony family, and the entire running community were devastated. A month later, we established a memorial bench at the site in Central Park where Ryan collapsed and held a memorial event there with Ryan’s family, the media, and the whole Saucony team attending.

Each year since then, the day before the NYC Marathon, the whole Saucony team runs together before dawn to Ryan’s bench, leaving behind a pair of running shoes in his honor. This experience continues to underline the importance of always having a crisis communications plan ready to execute. Because of our plan, we were ready and able to do the right thing in the midst of tragedy, not only to manage the media but also to grieve with Ryan’s family and the running community as a whole.

Q4: What was your best PR/marketing experience and what did you learn from it?

A: I was given the opportunity to launch the PR function at Saucony 15 years ago and have continued to successfully oversee the brand’s communication strategy single-handedly. While it would have been easy to use the excuse that we didn’t have an agency to support my individual efforts and thus accept self-mediocrity, I took it as a challenge. I now know from experience that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Wishing will not. Talent will not. Bigger teams will not. Persistence is a powerful force.

Q5: Can you describe yourself in one word?

A: Passionate.


Sharon Barbano, head of Public Relations for Saucony, is an industry leader in strategic communications and sports marketing with more than 25 years of experience in entrepreneurial and corporate leadership positions. At Saucony, Sharon has applied her passion as a former world-class runner to communicate the brand’s award-winning performance running technologies while inspiring others to experience the transformational power of running.  Prior to joining Saucony 15 years ago, Sharon was Reebok’s Group Director for Women’s Global Marketing.  Sharon is the race analyst for many of the nation’s top running events; her on-air commentary has included television and radio coverage of the Boston, Chicago, LA, and New York City Marathons.  Sharon was named a 2015 Achilles Hero by the Achilles Foundation for her work in the encouragement of disabled people to participate in mainstream running events. She was presented with the Women’s Trailblazer Award by Running USA and is a recipient of the Woman of Distinction Award from the National Association of Women in Education.


About Fast 5

This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as … winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 


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