What makes one person stand up from the crowd, defeat obstacles, fears and adverse circumstances to become an overachiever? In less than six years at Porter Novelli, a global public relations leader based in New York, Sonia Sroka, Senior VP, Director of Hispanic Marketing, has piled up a number of awards and recognitions for her work with the Hispanic market.
“I remember the day I came into the office and I had been named to the PRWeek’s 2012 “40 Under 40” list, but I did not know that,” she told VOXXI. “Our office has an open space type of layout, and as soon as I came in the door, all my colleagues stood up and starting clapping and cheering me. It was an overwhelming and humbling experience, both physically and mentally. I immediately called my mom and my husband; both are huge supporters of my career.”
But her life was not always easy.
Being born in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, at the time of the civil war, Sroka witnessed a lot of pain and suffering. Fortunately, her childhood was protected by a caring, close-knit family.
“We lived in a big city, far from the rural areas where the war was being fought. As a small child, I remember the conflict, the uncertainty. However, there was a positive outcome from it, a group mentality. The war created strong solidarity ties, a sense that coming together as a community was the only way to end the conflict.”
Sroka believes these experiences have marked her life forever, making her who she is.
“I attended a Catholic school for girls only, the College of the Assumption in San Salvador. This experience also was an impactful piece in my life,” she affirmed.
Despite the controversy about single-sex education, there was no competition with boys, no set or traditional roles where boys were encouraged to the sciences and sports while girls were directed to humanities and arts. Sroka felt she was motivated to succeed in all aspects of life, to become a strong woman and leader with no limits and no stereotypes in mind.
In 1990, her family decided to come to America for opportunity and growth. They moved to Los Angeles, Calif. With no English under her belt, and finding a great contrast while attending a co-educational public school, Sroka went through some challenging times.
“As a child, I was a natural communicator, outspoken and outgoing. I always thought to pursue a career in communications. However, the lack of English knowledge became a serious barrier and I felt intimidated at first,” she confessed.
She thought to pursue a career in architecture, which would allow her to communicate her ideas through visuals instead of language. But her family soon talked her into pursuing her dreams.
“I had to accept that I might not be the top student in my class or the best writer or speaker but with time and dedication I was going to succeed. Accepting your own circumstances and limitations is sometimes a key to success,” Sroka believes.
Her career started in Telemundo, and she had some mentors to look up to. “Even when people don’t know they are mentoring you, they still help you!” she said.
The growing globalization of the corporate world was an attractive opportunity to work with brands, and Sroka decided that an agency was her best option. Since then, her career developed into a climbing ladder of awards and recognitions.
At her present job, she has provided services for clients including SOYJOY, Bayer, Timberland, Gillette, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HP and Merck. She launched and chairs Porter Novelli’s National Diversity Council, is a member of the Omnicom Diversity Development Advisory Committee, and served two terms as the national chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s Diversity Committee.
Sroka was also named to Profiles in Diversity Journal’s 2013 Women Worth Watching list, a 2011 CSR Professional of the Year by PR News, and 2011 LATINA Corporate Executive of the Year by LATINA Style magazine.
At the end of 2011, Porter Novelli won the “Best PR Firm Community Initiative” award in the first annual “Diversity Distinction in PR Awards” sponsored by the Council of PR Firms in association with PRWeek for Sroka’s work. This year, the firm received several awards including the 2012 PR News Platinum Awards and the PR Daily Awards presented by Ragan and Dow Jones for her white paper “Census, It’s all in the Numbers.”
“We work hard at showing companies the immense opportunity the Hispanic market represents, now at $1 trillion and growing. However, around 50 percent of all U.S. brands still don’t include Latinos in their marketing mix, which is surprising. Numbers don’t lie and companies should start asking what they can do better to connect with this powerful market,” she concluded.