Women To Watch: Ruth Presslaff

(By Charese Fruge’) Ruth Presslaff is the Founder and President of Presslaff Interactive Revenue, a software and marketing company dedicated to building first-party databases to benefit ratings and revenue. She is also President of the Board of Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio, Inc. The MIWs are an all-volunteer group committed to developing management and leadership skills for women in radio and advocating for the advancement of women to senior positions within the industry. 

Her passion for the industry began at Tulane University in New Orleans. “It all started at WTUL, literally the first day of my freshman year. One whiff of the vinyl, one on-air shift and that was it. Never looked back!” she says. She moved on to work in radio syndication in NY, Chicago, and DC in both affiliate relations and sales, and for the bulk of her career, she’s been running her own company.

Mentoring and Inspiring Women is one of the organizations working for the advancement of Women which actually “acts,” providing scholarships, on-the-job training, and follow-up for Women looking to rise in the business. “Mentorship is at the heart of everything the MIWs do,” says Presslaff. “We are completely dedicated to helping women in the business achieve success. It’s a win for the women we work with as their career progresses, and it is a win for the industry as a whole as it keeps talent in the business.

“The MIW Board is made up of 15 women who all hold high-powered, demanding jobs yet volunteer their time to sustain and build up the organization,” explains Presslaff. “In the last three years we have become a 501(c)3 and launched multiple new annual mentorship programs including: Behind the Mic, dedicated to women on air; Speak Up, for women in small to mid-size markets; and Launch, a partnership with the NABLF that focuses on engineering. Additionally, we presented a stellar webinar featuring Angela Yee, Dana Cortez, and Patty Steele and, thanks to Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, host an ongoing, informative legal video series. 

“We have also launched a partnership with multiple State Broadcasters Associations to create state-based mentorships in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio (with more to come!).  These opportunities augment our dedicated Programming/Content mentorship and our foundational Mildred Carter program for up to four women looking to grow within the senior ranks of the business. (It should be noted that both Beasley and Entravision have very generously sponsored Mildred Carter for the last couple of years.) Plus, new programs will be announced early next year. We’ve been busy!”

For Presslaff, running her own business and being President of the Board of MIW means she’s got a full plate, but not much discourages her. “I love a good challenge,” she says. “Crazy as it sounds, I love discerning what the real issue is, finding creative solutions, and gaining the satisfaction of mutual wins. (And it worked out that way at least once in my career!) Seriously, while running my company, we had software crashes, employee and client issues, and all the things that make work work. After a while, you see a pattern. Most crises are a lot like a plane trip: Buckle up, hang on, we’re going through some turbulence, but trust that you’ll find smooth air eventually.”

Some of the bigger challenges in the industry include the generation gap, diversity, and the onset of AI. These are obviously priorities for Presslaff and the MIW team. “I think it’s too easy to say kids aren’t interested in radio, although it’s probably accurate to say their exposure may be more limited than ours was,” she says. “Get these kids into a station. Mentor them, give them tours, do meet and greets with personalities and AEs and engineers…let them see all the facets of what makes a radio station run. Provide the environment for the spark to happen then nurture young talent.

“As far as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, it’s very concerning. MIW publishes an annual Gender Study and the year-to-year improvement for women in senior leadership positions is anemic. Especially in programming. That said, you keep marching forward. The women I work with through MIW are as intent on their own success as they are on raising up the women in their orbit. That’s a sea change from earlier days and one that will have a positive impact.  

“And as far as AI, like the rest of the world, we are just starting to look at it to understand how it can help to streamline our organization and at the same time further the growth of our mission. One of the things that separates us is that we are a high-touch organization, and we would never want to lose that personal connection.”

So what keeps her up at night? Presslaff says, “Personally? Gerrymandering. Professionally, the dread that all the creativity and talent in the world won’t fix a weak advertising market or unfavorable valuations or change the dynamics of Wall Street.”

As for finding balance, “Well that’s an assumptive question!” she says. “Who finds balance? It’s elusive and perhaps an unfair expectation to put on ourselves. It doesn’t balance out every day. Sometimes work wins, sometimes family does. I think trusting your internal gauge of what’s important to you and when is critical.”

Having the opportunity to read through so many mentorship applications gives Presslaff huge hope for the future of Women in the industry. These are just a few of them on her radar of superstars, “Behind the Mic surfaced a healthy number of hungry, talented women,” she says. “Our Luminate programming mentorship introduced us to incredible talent: Leslie Scott, Audacy’s VP/Digital Audio Content, and the force of nature known as Amanda “Ice” Habrowski, iHeart Assistant Content Director/VO in Las Vegas, as well as our current mentee (destined for world domination), Meg Dowdy, Townsquare’s Regional Director of Content and National Contest Director. 

“Our Mildred Carter Mentorship brought us so many impressive women including Stacey Kauffman, Regional VP for Audacy in San Francisco, and Sacramento; Lauren “Lo” Sessions, Assistant Program Director, Music Director, and Afternoon Drive host for KKBQ- 93Q Country in Houston; Dana Schaeffer currently with ABC Radio News; Stephanie Thieisen, VP/Sales and Marketing for Leighton in St. Cloud. And while the list goes on in the most promising way, it is not complete without mentioning Lucretia Lee-Arceneaux, Broadcast Engineer for iHeart and our NABLF mentee!

Our Board is also rich with incredible talent. On the station side, we’re lucky enough to have: Lindsay Adams GSM for Good Karma, Chicago; Angie Balderas, Senior VP and GM for Entravision; Lori Flowers, Manager Integrated Marketing and Project Management for Urban One; Tricia Gallenbeck who was just named Regional VP for Cumulus in Eugene and Reno; Brittney Jackson Director, Integrated Marketing for Urban One, and Jenna Miller who recently joined Good Karma from CMG.

That’s in addition to Haley Jones, Head of Independents at Luminate and an esteemed, veteran Program Director; Randi P’Pool, who so many know from her years with Alpha Media and who now runs P’Pool Media; Melissa Mitchell formerly of Bonneville, and industry veterans and legends Erica Farber, CEO of the RAB, Valerie Geller of Geller Media International, Sheila Kirby most recently with Audacy, and Corinne Baldassano, Senior Vice President, Programming and Operations for Take On The Day, LLC/The Dr. Laura Program. Each one a talent, together a powerhouse.”

Presslaff is excited about what’s ahead for MIW in 2024. There are so many projects in the works. She says the best thing to do to find out about them is to, “Stay Tuned!” 

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