NAME: Leigh Woisard
TITLE: Senior VP, Public Affairs
COMPANY: Cox Communications
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Helped launch a nationwide Shark Tankstyle event supporting small businesses in Cox markets and a “pay it forward” mentoring program.
QUOTABLE: “We’re doing better [as an industry] at hiring more women, and the rate at which we promote women has improved, but we have to work on retention.”
Leigh Woisard describes the toughest part of her job in public affairs as the challenge of trying to land several planes at the same time, metaphorically speaking.
But when they all land safely, “I really love that higher-level orchestration type of work,” she said.
Woisard has indeed landed at the right place, overseeing all internal and external communications for Cox Communications, which means both how employees interact with the company and its executives and how the No. 3 U.S. cable operator is viewed by the outside world. She has been recognized as one of the top PR professionals in the nation.
She joined Cox in New England 18 years ago as manager of media relations, then director of public relations, then as vice president of public affairs for Cox in Virginia. Her current post is senior vice president of public affairs. Woisard emphasizes the employee focus at Cox and the importance of keeping those lines of communication open.
Keeping Workers Informed
“I help manage our internal portal and the content that goes on it,” she said, “all with the intent of keeping them highly engaged and happy, the thinking being that a happy employee is going to go out of his or her way to make our customers happy. “
Woisard started out at an ad agency, but says she has always wanted to be on the communications side, and from an early age.
“I was just really enamored by the communications end of my studies,” she said, and she has the sheepskins to back that up — a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s degree in communications management from the Newhouse School at Syracuse.
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She got an internship at an ad agency — in public relations account management, which turned into her first job — and she “never looked back,” she said. Communications “is all I’ve ever done and all I wanted to do and I’m amazed at how long I’ve been doing it.”
That internship-turned-job gave her a chance to work on some big accounts — Chili’s, Stanley Tools — and access to mentors, “people in the business who really knew what they were doing and I felt like I could respect and learn from.”
Mentoring has been an important pay-it-forward process for Woisard as she tries to help other women rise in the business.
Despite that job as the communications version of an air traffic controller, she still finds time to volunteer with professional organizations including Women in Cable & Telecommunications (she is a national board member), the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and NCTA–The Internet & Television Association, where she is co-chair of the NCTA Public Affairs group. She has led regular peer mentoring groups and helped connect newer staffers and managers with accomplished women executives.
Woisard said she has been fortunate to spend a large part of her career with a company that supports women and inclusiveness.
“I know a lot of companies have it in their value statement,” she said. “But Cox is a company that walks the walk. It’s a very supportive environment.”
Part of Woisard’s job is to tell truth to power, even if it stings. “I work a lot with executives, helping them think through what they want to say, how they want to say it,” she said. That includes helping to craft speeches for Cox president Pat Esser, who she suggests is a great communicator, but it also means telling an executive what they may not want to hear or giving them some critical feedback. That, she said, requires being able to build relationships.
If she has any advice for people coming into the communications ranks, it’s “to take the time to invest in relationships where people trust you and they trust the team.” And that trust is crucial.
Trust Brings Influence
“If I don’t have that kind of safe base from which to tell the unvarnished truth, that makes me not so much a strategic counselor as an order-taker,” she said. “And I don’t ever want to be that.”
What does she like most about her job? “Being able to influence outcomes. You know, as you are coming up the ranks you often times are known for rolling up your sleeves and getting things done. In this role, it is more directing what gets done and influencing what gets done.”
Woisard said she likes to hire “really smart” people then give them room to do what they’re good at. Her job, she said, is to “clear the path and block and tackle so they can do their job.
“She’s a pro,” Esser said. “Leaders go to her for counsel; she’s been a significant contributor to our success and has a vision for what we are trying to accomplish and, most importantly, people on her team flourish.”
One silent-but-significant contributor to her success is husband, Neil. “I hear from so many women where the responsibility is on them to have a career but also still the lion’s share of the home duties is carried unevenly at best,” she said. “It is critical to have someone who partners with you at every turn.”