Papillion native makes home in Manhattan, finds place in luxury goods
By Natalie Kozel
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That sums up much of Michele Gallagher’s professional career. Gallagher is now the public relations director of Panerai North America. Panerai is an Italian-designed, Swiss-made, high-end sports watch manufacturer owned by Richemont Group. Gallagher, who is based in New York City, also has worked for different fashion and luxury companies including Conde Nast, Cole Haan, Porsche Design and Judith Leiber. She started her career in the advertising and marketing department of a life insurance company in Boston while putting herself through undergraduate and graduate school.
Being from a military family whose roots are in the Boston area, Gallagher actually spent most of her childhood in Nebraska. She attended Papillion-LaVista High School in Papillion, Neb. After three semesters at Creighton University in Omaha, she boldly moved to Boston and graduated with degrees in journalism and marketing communications from Suffolk University. She also received her MBA with a concentration in marketing from Suffolk a few years later. Gallagher talked about her career and experiences in a phone interview.
Q: What are your specific responsibilities for Officine Panerai?
A: I am responsible for the overall press communications for the product and the brand for North America, and, in addition to the president, I am one of the lead liaisons to our head office and CEO’s office in Milan. I am also responsible for the Influencer/Ambassador Program, which mainly deals with building relationships with local influencers in the regions where we have boutiques, and also building relationships with celebrities and ambassadors in Hollywood. We do not have an official spokesperson at Panerai, nor do we pay famous people to wear our watches, so it is incumbent on me to try and organically grow relationships in Hollywood. I work with a consultant in Los Angeles who has been very effective in helping me to do this. We measure our investment in PR and communications quite methodically and so I have to report our results every month and every quarter to the head office.
Q: What’s a typical day for you when you’re in the Officine Panerai NYC office?
A: Since I work for a European company based in Milan, there is usually a large amount of emails in the morning when I wake up (I can hear them starting to “ping” in around 3 a.m.) so I keep my work phone in the other room, and I try to make a point of not checking my work emails until I leave my apartment. Once outside my door, however, it’s full steam ahead in the email department. I work with a group of about 10 to 12 individuals in a large office building near Rockefeller Center alongside other luxury watch brands who are part of the Richemont family (our parent group). The Panerai team members are really close and committed to each other, and we all work very well as a team. As a director, I try hard to foster a fun yet dedicated work environment. I have two direct reports so I usually start my day making sure they are good to go with their projects before attacking my own.
Q: How often do you travel and what is your responsibility on these work trips?
A: I travel approximately two to three weeks a month. Oftentimes it’s to Europe (about four to six times a year), primarily Geneva or Italy. Much of my travel is U.S. based, such as hosting events where we have boutiques in southern Florida, Southern California or Dallas. Oftentimes my travel takes me to Antigua or New England where we host the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge (classic sailing regattas). We have 11 regattas worldwide, including six in the Mediterranean, one in the Isle of Wight (UK), one in Antigua and three in New England. I am primarily responsible for the operations and press/hospitality success of the Antigua and New England regattas.
Q: What’s your favorite or most rewarding part of your career?
A: As part of communicating and building the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in New England, when I first joined Panerai in 2010 I proposed the idea of starting a non-profit organization called “Sailing Heals” (a double entendre of the “healing power of the sea, and a sailboat “heels” when it tilts to its side). Despite multiple setbacks and management concerns about Panerai founding a non-profit, my executive management in Milan eventually let me pursue it, and I recruited my identical twin sister who lives near Boston to run the non-profit. After three years, it has turned out to be a phenomenal success and we have taken more than 450 cancer patients/caregivers out for healing days on the water, including recently the Boston bombing victims who have decided that sailing together with Sailing Heals will be the activity they do together every summer under the burgee “Wicked Strong Day.” The fact that my twin sister and I can work on this very special project at this stage of our careers is a dream come true; Panerai has received a lot of accolades and credit for founding the sailing non-profit program in the press and among the yachting community.
I also am proud of the fact that I put myself through both undergraduate and graduate school while I was working full time, which was no small feat back in my 20s. That determination, focus and ability to juggle multiple priorities at once has boded well for me over the last 30 years of my career.
Q: What has been your biggest career challenge?
A: When the economy was bad in New York (and in the entire country) about five years ago, it really affected luxury goods and fashion. After being laid off during a buy-out of another luxury goods company I worked for, it took me about 18 months to find another position in which I could effectively utilize my experience and skill set. I came very close to leaving New York at that time, but I stuck it out and took every freelance project I could, and I was rewarded by landing a fantastic job in early 2010.
Q: As PR Director of North America for a major luxury watch company, you have to be constantly reading, writing and editing news releases, emails and anything printed about your company. What are specific ways editing comes into play in your job?
A: I am a pretty obsessive compulsive proofreader and early in my career I worked with a phenomenal copyeditor and proofreader from whom I learned a lot. I can’t look at a menu at a restaurant without finding a typo (there almost always is one!). Excellent writing and proofreading is a must in our industry – no excuses. I don’t tolerate sloppy work but, of course, an accidental typo in a draft is understandable. I make them all the time but am pretty diligent about proofing and re-proofing.
Q: How do you think your MBA has helped your career? Would you recommend an MBA to current students?
A: Definitely. I have always said “An MBA gets you out of the $60,000 zone.” There are so many professionals with graduate degrees these days and the job market is so competitive that an MBA, along with applied working experience, is really going to show a future or current employer that you are committed to working hard, and committed to having your eye on the bottom line. You’ve paid your dues and you want to apply your skills and learning to help make their business a success. An MBA for an individual like myself who is strong in the liberal arts, and also possesses some analytical acumen that is under-utilized at times, makes your employer take you more seriously as a senior player and contributor in the organization. It is almost like your MBA is an “Aha!” for management to not think of you for just the “softer” roles but also allow you to have more bottom line accountability for the business.
Q: What advice were you told (or wish someone told you) when you were just starting your career?
A: These are my pearls of wisdom in this regard, that see me through every day:
- Energy, passion and determination will see you through a lot of highs and lows. Intelligence and preparedness help a lot too.
- Always remember who gave you a hand up, and make sure you pay that forward to others younger than you, as much as possible.
- A career is much more than your resume: it’s the network you built, the successes you had, the failures you endured, the friends you made, the people you helped, the ideas you had, the risks you took. That is your career.
- When in doubt, don’t be afraid to negotiate hard for something you believe in. If it’s defensible, you’ve creatively and fiscally envisioned how it can be possible, and you can prove that “all parties will win” and visualize the benefits to others, you will always win your argument.
A former boss, an attorney who was extraordinarily organized, once told me: How you organize yourself is key to your success. I think there are many keys to success, many of them I have listed above, but I always thought this was interesting and a pearl of wisdom I constantly strive for.
Regarding advice for copy editing: the aforementioned copy editor once told me she reads copy once top to bottom, and then a second time back to top, in order that she doesn’t get swept away in the sentence meaning and she is focused on each word. Both reads are important.