Heather Mitchell: Life is All About Managing Expectations

November 22, 2016

Heather Mitchell is without doubt one of the world's most inspiring PR professionals. 

She has nearly two decades of PR and social media experience, currently leading earned media strategies for Unilever’s global hair care portfolio, including TRESemme, Dove Hair, Toni&Guy and Clear, among others. She previously lead PR and social media for Unilever’s personal care brands in the US, including award-winning and sales-generating work on AXE and Suave. Some of her achievements at Unilever include revolutionizing how the company measures PR by creating a proprietary qualitative measurement system and creating one of the industry’s first and most successful community management strategies in the social media space. Prior to Unilever she held PR roles at Gatorade and Jim Beam Brands, and began her career at PR agencies working on P&G, Mattel, the 1996 Olympics and many other consumer brands. Heather was named the 2012 PR Person of the Year by PR News for her innovative and industry-leading work at Unilever.

We recently sat down with Heather and talked about being a working mom, motherhood and of course, her upcoming gig at the Marketing Kingdom Amman 2 in Jordan.

Heather, you are the Global Head of PR, Digital Engagement and Celebrity for Unilever's Hair portfolio in London, a wife and a mother to two kids. You seem really busy! How do you manage work and family?

Being a working mom is all about managing expectations -- your spouse's, your colleagues' and most importantly, your own. I have always felt that women tend to be people pleasers, always wanting to make sure everyone is happy and taken care of. So many of us want to do it all, but there are many times where you have to say no to things in order to keep balance for yourself and everyone you care about.  To be honest, most of the time it feels like I'm not managing both very well at all!  But every single day I try to do the best I can at work and at home. 

Also I would be remiss if I didn't mention how hands-on my husband is. Having a strong support system is key for working parents. We are fortunate that it is much more the norm for both parents to be equally involved in children's lives today and taking on equal responsibility for caring for your children is commonplace compared to our parents' generation. 
They say women undergo a fundamental shift in perspective and priorities upon having children. Do you find this to be true?

I was very fortunate that both of my kids were easy babies so I was able to really focus on them and our relationship and really create a bond with them in the first six months of their lives.  This gave me a lot of time to focus on being a mom and thinking about the kind of life I wanted to lead and the kind of mother I wanted to be. I did have a bit of an epiphany during my second maternity leave. I remember reading something something inspirational on Twitter while I was feeding my baby son and just having a moment of clarity that this is what life is all about. No matter what life or work threw at me I could handle it because I had the best things in life I could ever want. It is really tough to keep that peace and sense of balance once you go back to work but I've tried to rely on yoga to help me keep that mindfulness and perspective. 

In what ways has motherhood changed you most?

I feel eternally grateful. I have always been someone who lives life to the fullest and someone who appreciates every opportunity, every celebration, even every mistake for what it teaches you. But now that I have two beautiful, healthy children who bring me so much joy, that appreciation has just multiplied in immeasurable ways. 

How does being a mother influence your work? Have you noticed an evolution in how you approach your work in light of being a mother?

I do find that having kids to come home to makes everything that much more worthwhile.  When you have a bad day or can't solve a problem at work, knowing that you can come home and focus on what really matters in life helps put things into perspective. 

If you could share one lesson on motherhood with us, what would it be?

I believe that kids only make your lives better and that the more you incorporate them into your lifestyle the better. A lot of people feel that their social lives and sense of freedom are going to be compromised when you have kids. Sure, things change and you may not have the same lifestyle as you used to, but I strongly believe in the philosophy that you should incorporate your children into your life as opposed to completely ending so many of the things you love. 

For me that's travel. I'm proud to have taken my kids to 26+ countries and getting to experience new places with them is such a blessing. Sure, it becomes a bit more complicated and requires a bit more work, but to me making memories with my kids is priceless. 

From a work perspective I would encourage working moms to find people who can support you in the office, your journey and in your career path. Look for a working mother who you respect and ask her for a coffee or even to be your mentor or sponsor, in line with Sheryl Sandberg's philosophy. We can all learn from others and truly we are all in this together, so I find that connecting with other working moms as a peer or mentor helps a ton. 

We’ve heard, “Motherhood is difficult in all the ways you least expect and easy in ways you never imagined”. For you, what was most surprising about becoming a mother?

It wasn't surprising to me how much I would love my kids because I've always loved children and babies. But what you can't really ever quite comprehend before you become a mom or a dad is just how intense and all encompassing that love is. You create this little human who is a mixture of you and your partner and it is the most perfect thing you've ever done. Sometimes I feel like my love and adoration for my kids is borderline obsession! Once you have kids you honestly can't imagine what life was like or ever could be like without them. Anyone who is a parent will understand this. 

What have you had to sacrifice as a mother?

Everyone has to sacrifice something at some point in their journey but to me there is nothing that is not worth sacrificing when it comes to your family. My kids always come first. I am fortunate to work for a company who provides working parents flexibility including the option of working from home, bringing my kids on business trips (which was especially key when I was breastfeeding) and even working from my home country as needed for family reasons. 

What is your definition of “having it all”?

Everyone's definition of having it all certainly varies, but for what it means to me, I truly do feel like I have it all. I've been blessed with two beautiful children who make me laugh and show me the true meaning of love every day, and I likewise have a job that makes me excited to get up and go to work every day. I've had a career which has taken me all over the world and I've even been able to bring my kids with me on some of those trips. I feel incredibly grateful for everything I have and don't ever take it for granted. 
This coming March you are speaking at the Marketing Kingdom Amman. Have you ever been to Jordan before? What are your expectations from the event?

I've never been to Jordan and am very excited to visit. The P World is an incredible Organization and I'm proud to have participated in their events over the past two years. I find the conferences really valuable and learn something new to take back to my role every time I present -- including big picture and day-to-day applications. I also always find the other speakers incredibly inspiring and the Jordanian event will feature some speakers who I haven't heard or met yet so it is going to be very beneficial personally and professionally.