Women in Business ’13: Carolyn Mandelker

The Indefatigable Founder of Harrison Edwards PR and Marketing

Armed with the “three T’s”—a telephone, a thesaurus, and a typewriter—Carolyn Mandelker got her nascent PR firm off to an inauspicious start in 1987, with just one client, “a small corporation that needed a newsletter.” What Mandelker needed was a computer and a name for her business. Unknowingly evoking the premise of the ’80s drama Remington Steele, about a female private detective who hires a man to be the faux face and name for her agency because of her concern that a female private eye wouldn’t be taken seriously (or hired), Mandelker eschewed using her own name for her new biz—as many PR people do—and instead constructed the Harrison Edwards moniker from a combination of her sons’ names. “I decided the name should be generic because maybe someday I’d take on a partner or sell the business,” she says. “It needed to sound established—even though I had terrific experience in New York City working for three mayors—and it should sound male. Yes, male, because, 27 years ago, it was a little tougher for women business owners to be taken seriously. We’ve lived happily ever after since then.”

Indeed. Mandelker’s firm has since grown to three locations (including outposts in Manhattan and Memphis, Tennessee) with annual revenues in the seven figures. Harrison Edwards has won more than 150 industry and trade awards for its work for a diverse, high-profile clientele Mandelker characterizes as a “rich mix of business, corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations”—including the American Cancer Society, Nordstrom, Coldwell Banker, Pace University, SUNY Purchase, Montefiore Medical Center, the Westchester County Association, and the Neuberger Museum of Art. “Our staff has greatly benefited from Carolyn’s presence, because she has introduced us to effective marketing strategies and helped us sharpen our communication and outreach skills,” says Paola Morsiani, Neuberger’s director. “As a result of her long-term efforts, the museum had a thousand visitors in one afternoon at our reopening celebration this past April, after a year-long renovation closure—a number that quadrupled our previous record.”

Reflecting on her firm’s success, Mandelker defers credit to her team. “I encourage collaboration and prize out-of-the-box thinking and performance and a can-do attitude,” says Mandelker. “My view is that every professional on our staff was hired for his or her talent, accomplishment, and drive, so the idea is for each person to perform to the max. Personally, I am quite driven and have extremely high standards, so I believe that permeates our culture here.”

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Mandelker says she would still name her firm Harrison Edwards if she founded it today, but, believing that “overall, the business climate is a lot better today for women than it was 27 years ago,” it wouldn’t be for the same reasons she had back then. “I just like the name.”

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