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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interview with Women You Should Know ® - Cofounders, Jennifer Jones and Cynthia Hornig

By JULENE ALLEN


Co-founders of WYSK- Jennifer Jones and Cynthia Hornig

If you don’t know, then you should get acquainted with Women You Should Know® (WYSK®), a leading media platform that funnels news for women. The company was launched in September 2011, almost exactly 10 years after the September 11 attacks, the very same day that their first company- PR firm Outhouse - was officially launched. It was 1pm when they were getting their phone lines installed in their new office located in New York. The timing was both uncanny and terrifying. It was a day they would never forget. A decade later, they built WYSK to tell stories about remarkable women such as Captain Brenda Berkman, a notable New York firefighter who led 9/11’s mission to locate possible survivors in the rubble, in-spite of the risks. It was the good work of WYSK that surfaced news on women like Berkman which led to mainstream media adopting some of these stories.

With tens of thousands of followers all throughout social media, WYSK has become a source that women can rely on!


Women For Action: I noticed Women You Should Know has an engaging readership. What do you think is drawing your audiences to these the stories on WYSK?


WYSK: From the day the site launched in September 2011, and we got a call from Huff Post Women asking if they could syndicate all of our coverage of Women First Responders of 9/11, a special series we ran to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we knew we had struck a nerve. And the rapid fire pace at which our readership grew echoed that. Our content fills what we, two 40-something women, saw as a gaping hole in the media landscape. “Women’s content” has traditionally been beauty, fashion, and mommy-centric. But what about the rest of the picture? We were looking for more and couldn’t find it, certainly not all in one place. So we set out to create an editorial space where we would not only profile remarkable women, but we’d talk about the wide range of topics that make women tick and that are as varied as women’s interests. It’s relatable and relevant content, the sort that makes you learn, think, be entertained, and moved, presented in an engaging and intelligent way. So that’s the draw… content so many smart, savvy women are craving, and a site and community where women are inspired, especially by one another.

Women For Action: Not every woman wants to give back and contribute to other women. It takes passion. So what is compelling you to tell stories about women? What has happened in your personal lives that may have led you on this path of helping other women?

WYSK: Originally it came from our PR work. Part of being successful in that world is hosting and attending events, and just being out and about. So you are constantly meeting people from all walks of life, and almost every time we were out, we would wind up meeting a woman who was doing something innovative or truly inspiring; the kind of woman who is accomplished, building her own self-made future, reinventing herself or just doing really cool things, and kicking ass in the process. We’d revel in that, and then bang our heads against the wall wondering, “So why does no one know who she is?” Being in PR, we already knew the answer. Truth is, the mainstream media wouldn’t typically cover someone like her because even if she was doing something extraordinary, her anything-but-ordinary story still didn’t have the glitz and glamor or sensationalism that drives the press. It was frustrating. We were meeting women that we as a society should actually be lauding and putting on the covers of magazines. But that wasn’t happening. So we were determined to affect what we saw as a much needed change. And it has never been about giving someone her “15 minutes of fame.” Our mission is and has always been to celebrate true role models… relatable, everyday women and girls. By telling their stories and giving them a voice, WYSK serves as a source of information and inspiration to encourage other women to realize their own potential and go after what they want.

Women For Action: What sort of feedback do you get from women regarding WYSK?

WYSK: Time after time, the consistent and enthusiastic response is always some variation of, “I love what you’re doing.” or “I love your site.” Just last week, a young woman tweeted us and said, “You are saving feminism, or at least making it way better @WomenYSK.” That’s incredibly humbling because we take great pride in the work we do.

Women For Action: How easy it to locate women to fill the roles that are compatible with your mission? Meaning is it easy to find interesting subjects that fit the profile for WYSK?

WYSK: We’re never at a loss for great stories, as there are fantastic, incredible, interesting, passionate and inspiring women around every turn. We’re just the ones who are actively looking for them, and it’s such a rush when we recognize that WYSKy spark in someone. As far as we see it, our subject pool is limitless based on one simple fact… women are a powerful, vital and undeniable force in all areas of society and life.

Women For Action: One side of your business reflects highlighting people the public may not know. However, your PR firm focuses on clients whose names are somewhat recognizable to the public. How do you balance the two worlds? Have they ever overlapped? For instance, have you ever spotlighted someone on WYSK and then they became a client of Outhouse PR?

WYSK: We are incredibly proud of the successful PR firm we built over the last almost 14 years, and of the impeccable work we did for every one of our clients. Part of that brand name recognition you mention is precisely because of the strategic campaigns we conceptualized and executed on their behalf, so your question speaks to a job well done. In terms of the two worlds co-existing, the really incredible thing is that one gave birth to the other. Being involved in media relations for as long as we have, we got tired of how women were being covered by the media, how they were being spoken to by brands, and how they were being portrayed. That was one reason we decided to launch Women You Should Know; we wanted to be able to tell the stories that were not being told, to cover topics of interest that speak to women’s intelligence, and to give truly inspiring women the media attention they deserve.

Women For Action: What are you looking for in a client for Outhouse PR?

WYSK: We are only taking on special PR and marketing projects at this point, as our primary focus is on continuing to build the Women You Should Know brand. And that was a calculated business decision. WYSK’s growth has been exponential, and that is incredibly exciting. So we wanted to be sure we were in a position to devote the necessary time and resources to its continued development. The only way to do that was to switch gears, and make WYSK our full-time focus. While we love the type of work we have been doing for so many years under the OUTHOUSE umbrella, it pales in comparison to the soul-filling work we get to do every single day through Women You Should Know.

Women For Action: Have you ever had to do an Olivia Pope number and save a public image?  If so, tell us about that experience.

WYSK: But that would be giving our trade secrets away. The goal was to always get on top of a potential problem before it posed a real threat, or to be able to spin it into a positive. We have a flawless track record in doing that.

Women For Action: From my perspective, a person that is skillful at public relations is powerful. So one could say that you two have a lot of influence. How does it feel to be able to shape and mold someone’s public image?

WYSK: Our PR work has always been specific to brands not people, although positioning brand executives as experts in the eyes of the media does come with that territory. To have a hand in influencing public perception about a brand is indeed powerful, but we never got power trippy about it. It gives us a great sense of satisfaction and pride knowing that through our work we have helped to build no name brands into market leaders and powerhouses. But some of the most rewarding work we’ve done is revitalizing brand images; taking an existing brand and shaking the dust off an old stodgy image, a misunderstood or ill-conceived image, and breathing new life into it by putting a shine on its best attributes. Spin is part of the game, but integrity has always been a bigger part of it for us.

Women For Action: What do you envision for the Women You Should Know platform later down the road?

WYSK: We plan to take over the world… see response to question 14 for the real answer!

Women For Action: What advice would you give a woman who is attempting to brand herself but could not afford the service of a premier public relations service agency such Outhouse PR?

WYSK: The same thing we would tell our brand clients. No one is going to buy whatever it is you’re selling if you don’t come from an authentic place. So be true to yourself, and like we said before, put a shine on your best attributes. Social media is a great, cost effective way, to start to develop that image, and build personal equity. It allows you to connect with like-minded users, orgs, brands, and influencers, and pitch yourself, which is critical to raising personal brand awareness.

Women For Action: You stated in your “About Video” that you tell stories about women who are doing extraordinary things because people are often unaware. One of the reasons being is that a woman may be too humble to share her own story. What would you say to a woman who may be undervalued and unnoticed but she has something valuable to contribute to others?

WYSK: That’s simple… You deserve it! You deserve it! You deserve it! In certain cases, the women profiled on WYSK don’t even realize how extraordinary they are until they read or see their own story on the site. They have this almost out-of-body-like experience, which allows them to see how incredible they really are. That’s a magic moment for us.

Women For Action: So you were literally installing your business on September 11, 2001. It must have felt surreal and scary at the same time. Yet I do not believe in coincidences. What does this day mean for you now because as you reflected in the video, you felt it could not have been a worse time to start a business?

WYSK: Yes, we were having our OUTHOUSE phone lines installed at 1:00pm on September 11, 2001, and our office sits one block south of the former World Trade Center towers. We’re still in the same space today. It was beyond surreal and scary. But like the rest of our beloved city and the world, we persevered as we weren’t about to let anyone take our dream from us. Then 10 years later, almost to the day, we launched Women You Should Know on September 7, 2011. So for us that month is filled with a sense of hope and determination. But as proud as we are of the anniversaries of our serial ventures into entrepreneurship, those positive feelings will never eclipse the solemnity of that day.

Photo still from Rack and Ruin

Women For Action: I noticed that WYSK is producing its own web television series, Rack and Ruin. There are a lot of insecurities circling around the main character. Does she represent something for today’s women?

WYSK: In June of 2014, we launched WYSKTV, the entertainment programming arm of Women You Should Know. It’s an on-demand, streaming media vehicle we built to showcase the original work of highly creative women. Rack & Ruin is the first comedy series to premiere on it. So we are not the show’s producers; think of us more like a Netflix or a Hulu, but for women by women.

The 5 minisode series was created by, written by, and stars a woman (Angela Dee), was directed by a woman (Zetna Fuentes), and is powered by the spot on comedic timing of the almost all female cast. The show takes on the ugly business of being beautiful by making viewers laugh and cringe at the ridiculousness of the high-end fashion world and everyone in it. So while Rack & Ruin’s anti-hero Saffron is riddled with insecurities, she represents what typical fashion messaging, and the quest for the “beauty ideal” preys on. You just can’t help but root for her as she muddles her way through all of the entertaining dysfunction. The most important part about this series is that women are the true heart and soul of Rack & Ruin, which was entirely by Dee’s design. She wanted to create a show in which female actors could take on roles that they don’t get to play that often, which is a mission we are thrilled to support.

Women For Action: What sort of projects will you be working on next?

WYSK: (#14) Too many to mention specifically, but they involve, among other things, WYSK events designed to bring our mission and message to life (we have one coming up on March 24 in NYC), building women’s leadership programs for brands, consulting for others on women-centric marketing, and a super-secret project we are developing around women’s history that will make it as dynamic, and super cool as the pioneering women who contributed to it. Just last week, to coincide with Women’s History Month, we launched an inspiring illustration - “Feminism At Work” - that we are really excited about and insanely proud of. It’s our vision for a visual salute to some of history’s most fearless females, a great teaching tool, and a monumental source of inspiration for women and girls everywhere. There was such immediate demand for it that we are now in the process of doing a limited edition print run, so people can purchase it.

Women You Should Know ®- Feminism At Work

Women For Action: Is there any wisdom or feedback you’d like to share with our audiences?

WYSK: That you don’t have to be moving a mountain to be doing something of great importance. That women are truly amazing and across the board, we seem to thrive when the going gets toughest (in life, business, career, health, etc.). That women are the mothers of reinvention. That women do help other women and hold each other up, despite what reality TV would like us all to believe. That the need for the type of brand we’re building is greater than we could have ever imagined. That there are women we should all know EVERYWHERE doing really remarkable, important and innovative things… finding them and telling their stories is the most rewarding work we have done.

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WYSK links on the web: 
@WomenYSK