Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Mary O'Connell, Clorox

A Journalism and PR Background Ultimately Led Exec Into Digital Role, Where She Found Success Using Social Media for Unlikeliest of Brands

By Published on .

When Mary O' Connell was just out of journalism school, she was chased by a moose. She started her career working for a TV station in Fairbanks, Alaska, where her co-anchor sold used cars on the side, apartment ads specified rentals that came with running water, and once, while on assignment, she spotted a moose closing in, ultimately without incident.

Mary O' Connell
Mary O' Connell

More than a decade later she came to Clorox Co. to start the company's brand PR effort. Nearly two years ago she also became a digital executive as director-global digital media and public relations.

The common thread may be a willingness try to almost anything, at least for a while. And it usually seems to work out (notwithstanding Alaska, which she quickly left for Dallas).

Ms. O' Connell, 56, with a career entirely in TV journalism and PR, may not seem the likeliest candidate for digital duties. And the global part of the title aside, she said, "I'm mostly a lower-48 girl."

But the brand PR programs she was running already were taking on more of a social-media dimension -- such as a back-to-school PR effort for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes focused on teachers that last fall got so much uptake by bloggers and others that it briefly made Twitter's trending topics.

The other reason behind her taking over the digital role, Ms. O' Connell said, was that she had already demonstrated a positive return on investment for PR to the highly analytical Clorox. Now, she's out to do the same for digital. "There was a sort of doubt, particularly in social media, what role would brands play there," she said. "'How could you have a conversation about Liquid Plumr?' was, I think, the going-in question."

Clorox decided if anyone could answer that question, PR could, "because we had just taken the same journey, as they say in corporate America," Ms. O' Connell said.

On social-media ROI broadly, Ms. O' Connell believes it will take at least a couple of more years to develop the metrics and analytics to fully prove or disprove the case. On the specific Liquid Plumr question, she made a go of it earlier this year with a program that focused not on clog removal so much as what goes into the clog. The "Big Locks Rock" program asked people to send in their big-hair high-school photos to the brand's Facebook page.

"We've decided," she said, "that social gives us permission not to take ourselves so seriously."

Most Popular