Marketing pioneer Pat Forester has a tip for female communicators: Look like a woman, act like a man.
She learned to play the game in the 1970s, when men dominated the marketing industry, and women’s roles involved shorthand and coffee service.
“So I started to think like men did,” says Forester, who, after 44 years in the business, is arguably one of Delaware’s most prominent marketing strategists.
Forester credits the men in her life—her father, husband, male business partner and five sons—for her success. Yet as a young woman on an upward trajectory in a competitive field, she was not aware of the feminine qualities she brought to the table: She ran a business while raising children, she was collaborative, and she had the emotional intelligence to calm nervous executives.
“We were in the business of building relationships,” she says, adding that she maintained many of those ties for decades.
In Delaware, it’s all about connections. Forester is the networking queen, largely because she earned her stripes without Google or iPhones and worked, as she says, “during the brick and mortar days.” Then, communicators used typesetters, landlines and X-ACTO knives to fix errors. There was no email. People had to speak to each other, and they valued human interaction.
Impressive awards sit on her mantel, and, at 67, Forester is still energetic and ambitious. But her success has come with compromise. After four decades of telling clients what to say and how to say it, she has solid advice for modern marketers.
Raised in Brookhaven, Pa., Forester inherited her work ethic from her dad, who, as a teenager, supported his mother and three sisters by putting blocks in his shoes to appear taller, lying about his age and landing a job as a tractor-trailer driver. Forester comes from hardy stock. Her mother is 94, though she suffers from dementia and lives in an assisted-care facility in Wilmington.
She married Jerry Forester when she was 27. He was the breadwinner (which enabled Forester to build her career) and took each of his five boys on separate trips every year. He loved his mother, too, and that clinched the deal for Forester. The couple remained happily married for 42 years, until Jerry died from Parkinson’s disease in 2008. He was 69.
Forester’s professional mentor and business partner was Edwin Golin. Known to many business leaders, Golin owned the Gauge Corp., a full-service marketing and public relations firm in Wilmington. He hired Forester as his lead account executive in 1977, and, for 13 years, they served an extensive list of clients and acted as PR counsel for Delaware governmental agencies like the Delaware Economic Development Office, Delaware Department of Transportation, Delaware Division of Corporations, Delaware River & Bay Authority and the Port of Wilmington.
Golin was the face, Forester was the researcher. Male clients dealt with him, while Forester supplied the data and conducted focus groups. That never bothered her. Working with Golin “was like a master class in business,” she says.
The firm changed ownership in 1990 when Golin retired. Forester then founded Forester & Co. and represented numerous high-profile companies. In 1995, she was elected as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business, and, three years later, she was named Business Advocate of the Year by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce. She sold her firm in 2004 and now acts as a marketing coordinator for clients.
Forester likes to push the envelope. For Sonitrol Security of Delaware Valley, she hired actors to dress as Keystone Cops to perform at trade shows. They blew their whistles and apprehended attendees. Then, she hired Michael Hoffman of the Juggling Hoffmans to be a juggling prisoner. The new company slogan: “Don’t Drop the Ball on Your Security.”
Each client has distinctive needs, a point she thinks today’s marketing professionals are forgetting. “They’re too siloed,” she says. “They want to specialize in one thing: graphic design, Web development, writing. It’s a disservice to the business owner when you don’t have someone who looks at the entire communication plan. I develop, implement and customize a plan with
every project. This was Ed Golin’s genius. I learned it from him.”
Forester’s turning point came in 2004 when her business partner was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, her best friend moved to New Mexico, one of her sons was deployed to Iraq, and her husband got sick. “If I didn’t crumble then,” she says, “I never will.”
She won’t retire either. Her clients remain loyal. Joe Allen, vice president and owner of Sonitrol, calls Forester “sincere, upbeat, informative, creative, family-oriented and a true friend.” Janet Killian, president of Gemini Building Systems, thinks she’s a “stand-up woman who says what she thinks while being sincere and devoted.”
Still, there’s emptiness. Forester has her boys, all successful adults. But she misses her dad, Golin and Jerry. It seems, at least for her, that you can have everything, just not everything at the same time.
“Having it all comes with sacrifice,” she says. “It helps to have a good partner in life, and Jerry Forester was the best. But you must stay in the moment and be passionate about all phases of your life. Don’t waste a second on petty things.”