Mariana had been working in corporate for 16 years when she started feeling like she is stagnating. She also noticed a need in the market for a bespoke service that embodied luxury brands in the fields of architecture, interior design, high fashion, jewelry, and the automotive industry. Thus, Mariana Wehbe Public Relations, MWPR, came to life. We speak to the exquisitely talented Mariana Wehbe all about PR, women empowerment, and charity auctioneering!
After 16 years working in corporate, what prompted you to start your own PR Agency?
Resigning from the company was looming over for a while. One day my intuition was pushing me harder than usual to just do it, so I did. People around me kept telling me I’d be great at PR, but I was resisting. I didn’t know enough about this sector, which at the time wasn’t very developed. Noticing that a lot of my connections would do great business if they were put together, I started organizing some dinners and connecting some dots. From there, the agency came along organically.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced when you first started MWPR? How did you overcome them?
To be honest, I can’t really say I had obstacles. I saw everything as an opportunity. When my first client Aziz and Walid Mouzannar came to me, it was so clear to me what they had to do: they needed a business development strategy, which my sales background at DHL had instilled in me, so I developed it. That was the edge I brought to the market, a strong sense of sales with a passion for creative talent; it was a matter of getting visibility to the right clientele.
Tell us about your work as NGO Auctioneer and what prompted you to start it.
My ex-husband is on the board of the Human Rights Watch in Lebanon. They had a big event, and one of the auctioneers canceled the night before. He thought I would be a great substitute and pitched me to the board without me knowing. I was in my 20s at the time, and they convinced me to do it somehow. We raised 200,000$ that night. I was truly surprised at my alter ego that came out on stage for the first time – I used my personality, and improvised as if I was doing a theater show to get engagement. I loved it, it was and still is a lot of fun for me.
Do you believe entrepreneurs have a responsibility to promote charity work?
I fully believe in that. Giving back should not be just an option, but a responsibility. In a country like Lebanon, charities get zero income from the government. They rely solely on individuals and the private sector. So yes, it is imperative for the community to support, whichever way they can. Sometimes you can help by offering your skill, services and time, there are so many ways to volunteer and it doesn’t have to involve money.
In your opinion, how can strong female entrepreneurs such as yourself join forces to raise awareness and inspire young girls to follow their dreams?
Luckily today, more female entrepreneurs are joining forces. I think as women, we realized the power of joining our forces. There is a misconception about how women should be, and what they can and cannot do or say, and we have to actively break that. I urge you to watch the video “Be a lady, they said!” by Girls Girls Girls Magazine, if you haven’t. It’s extremely liberating to see women get rid of those mandates about being a lady. This is how we join forces to inspire a new generation, by collectively not buying into this patriarchal narrative about what it means to be a woman or a mother. That’s why I’m completely myself on Social Media, I don’t have a content calendar and I only promote designers or causes I believe in.
You have raised $7 million for charity. Do you see yourself one day sharing your expertise as an NGO Auctioneer for the greater good?
I would love that. I miss being on stage. Charity auctioneering is completely different from classic auctions. What’s great is that you can get creative and break the rules. For example, I created a bidding system to raise more money for NGOs based on pledges. By making small pledges, rather than high bids, more people could participate without having to pay a fortune. I’d be happy to share my experience in detail with an aspiring charity auctioneer.
There are plenty of strong, inspiring women in PR. Why do you believe women gravitate towards, and excel at, PR so often?
Women are naturally skilled communicators. We are generally more emotional, which in PR is an advantage because the work relationship has got to become more personal. What we do is grow a business, nurture it, care for it, and this comes from our maternal instinct. When people tell me to detach from work, I simply can’t. This is why we excel at PR: by putting our hearts and souls into business, we have proven it doesn’t need to be rigid or systematic to thrive.
What are your future plans for MWPR?
Due to the current situation in Lebanon, it has become very difficult to sustain business solely in Lebanon. My plans for expansion are aimed at the Gulf and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I feel like I have so much to offer to these regions who trust Lebanese talent, and who make the working process so pleasant. My aim for 2020 is to contribute more to the local community and the restoration of all its sectors, to serve my country and develop my business at once. The sky is the limit, even in times of adversity.