Insider Interview with Pattie Yu, theYucrew | PRSA-NCC
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Insider Interview with Pattie Yu, theYucrew

November 11, 2018

In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Pattie Yu. The principal of theYucrew, Pattie was recently honored at the 50th Annual Thoth Awards for her induction into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. She will also receive the Lifetime Achievement award from PRSA Maryland Chapter at a December 11, 2018 event in Baltimore.

PRSA-NCC: You’re well known as a professional matchmaker, and organizations seek you out to talk about alliance building. Can you talk about the importance of matchmaking skills in PR?

Yu: Building alliances with traditional or strange bedfellows allows clients to amplify their message, expand their outreach, mitigate risk, advance a cause, provide added legitimacy and credibility among constituents, promote policy, strengthen advocacy and also provide financial support and resources for an issue, product, or platform. There is strength in numbers, and you can “build a bigger tent” for public education campaigns, for example, but it’s not always that quantity counts as much as quality matters. The right partners, collaborators and allies can build and bolster your program.

A simple case in point: I was at a board retreat in Sarasota recently. The lunchtime speaker was a dynamic grantee from a school in Boston who expressed a desire to learn how to inspire more girls into STEM pathways. My “aha” moment was to match his organization with our other grantee in Austin that focuses successfully in steering their all-girls student body into STEM college tracks. Now there’s a match with a win-win outcome. This is a quick example, but many partnerships take time, trust, relationship building and an understanding of the shared mission.

PRSA-NCC: When you mentor young professionals and students, what’s the most important lesson you try to teach them?

Yu: Recently, I have been suggesting they begin that discovery of finding their “ikigai”—a Japanese concept for reason for being. It’s easy to accept a job with good pay and continue along a professional path that affords you stability. But you have to ask the hard questions and answer honestly. When you find that intersection of what you love to do, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and be mission oriented with purpose at the same time, then you will want to jump out of bed every morning and live fully and with purpose. Few realize their “ikigai” until they are exhausted by their predictable paths in life.

I recently gave a speech at the Press Club. Artist Breah Parker of blipstudio drew while I spoke. At the end, she sent me this illustration all focused around finding “Ikigai.”


I am also amazed at how many young people are so eager and entrepreneurial to build their own business right out of the gate. I admire their enthusiasm, but I also ask them to temper that with taking realistic inventory on how much they know, learned, practiced and mastered so they can provide that strategic counsel that clients demand.

Sometimes enthusiasm and idealism trumps knowledge and experience. You cannot underestimate the power of both. It’s great that young professionals will take risks and be boldly confident, but they should not forget that beyond the books, there is a lot to learn about business and that it helps to build relationships—that is what is important and meaningful in our industry.

PRSA-NCC: Looking back over your decades of groundbreaking work, what was your favorite campaign and why?

Yu: Whatever campaign I am working on in the moment is my favorite. Each has their unique challenges and, ultimately, significant successes. And I learned lessons from every campaign I had the opportunity to work on under the guidance of mentor Bill Novelli. Those made me hyper aware of the potential for pitfalls and promises of the next initiative.

From my initiation into social marketing with NIH's high blood pressure (know your number; treat yourself right) and cholesterol (How do you know when your number’s up?) education campaigns to SOS (Save Our Seats) for colorectal cancer to ISTH’s World Thrombosis Day and “Think VTE” (venous thromboembolism, blood clots in the legs and lungs), each campaign was powered by a multidisciplinary communications team committed to our client’s mission and goals. These high-profile campaigns were not the brainchild of one but a collaborative effort driven by research, fueled by mission-oriented clients and agency teams.

I loved the 10,000 steps campaign for a healthy lifestyle to fight obesity. Just the other day I looked at my tracker and sighed—I had done only 344 steps sitting in a board retreat. I shook my tracker to make sure it was working. But I am sure my fingers did about 10,000 taps on the laptop.

I live my campaigns and take them to heart. When my kids were growing up they could recite the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids messages. These are campaigns that I just don’t help implement professionally. I take it personally. I live it, blog it, forward one too many campaign messages to my family. Okay, I’m still struggling with getting 10,000 steps in but trying...

PRSA-NCC: After working as a leader in various organizations, you started your own firm, theYucrew. How has starting your own company changed your understanding of the PR business?

Yu: theYucrew is a different model—we’re virtual. It takes self-discipline, yet it is absolutely freeing. With technology, the right mix of best-in-class colleagues and consultants to collaborate with, you can make magic happen—and create impactful campaigns. We are not compromised by meeting unreasonable billable targets, or working on issues that we do not believe in, or charging high overhead, or vying for the next promotion or the corner office. We roll up our sleeves (virtually), dig deep into our clients’ issues (virtually), and divide and conquer (virtually) based on expertise. Together, we’re smarter, stronger and have fun in the process. And did I mention that we’re virtual? I have had the privilege of working with some of the largest and smallest PR agencies in the world and, don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful for those experiences. I am happiest, however, working with a virtual energized crew, and that has translated into Silver Anvils, Best of Shows, Hall of Fame. My model seems to work for me and the clients who believe in theYucrew talent.

PRSA-NCC: You’re active in Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR). What’s your take on the state of gender equity in DC-area public relations and communications?

Yu: Not unlike many industries, women continue to play catch up. In an industry like ours, which is heavily populated by some fierce women, there is still a gap at the helm of leadership, paychecks, promotions. But it’s getting so much better than when I was “growing up” in the industry. There are a good number of women leading at the big PR agencies in DC and many more have launched their own shops, creating the culture and company they want to work in.

PRSA-NCC: You helped develop a program called “Cross Talk,” a national seminar and diversity conference with USA TODAY, to address communicating to minorities, bringing corporations and nonprofits together. What was your hope for this effort?

Yu: The Cross Talk conference was a shared effort with BBDO and USA Today, with Porter Novelli DC as lead. Then General Manager Steve Rabin developed the framework while a fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. It was a new approach to multicultural communications. It transcended both stereotype and stigma by looking not only at the difference between people but the commonalities as well. Our eternal hope then, and now, was to discard preconceptions and myths and truly understand cultures and the process for developing marketing, social marketing and public affairs programs to resonate with diverse audiences.

PRSA-NCC: You’re also well known for your commitment to community volunteerism. Why is this important to you?

Yu: I wake up with a grateful heart. I have done well by doing good. But I know that I can do more. My youngest sister, a psychologist, Dr. Angelita Yu, often teases me when she hears me fret about yet another request to volunteer for this nonprofit or help coach that student when I have already squeezed 32 hours in a 24 hour day. "You know you’re going to say yes," she edges me on. And I usually do.

Sure, I feel overwhelmed at times and want to pull back a bit. However, the reward I get from many of these volunteer and mentoring experiences makes it more rejuvenating than depleting. It’s part of finding my “ikigai.”

My late two brothers were always of service, household names at the very top of their professions. I’m still inspired by how much they gave back to community doing pro bono beyond demanding jobs, raising beautiful families. That’s what struck me most about their unexpected early deathshow they lived.

I am more intentional about challenging myself to do more and stretch my service. And it’s that philosophy that has me heading to a three-hour shift at Mt Washington Pediatric Hospital tomorrow for baby cuddling, helping out in the Feeding Program, and later this week speaking to comm students at my alma mater at UMCP. Friday will see me supporting WWPR’s Woman of the Year annual event not only because my nominee Wendy Hagen is a deserving finalist but because these women are a force to be reckoned with!