The PR pro from Pennsylvania


Marjie  Shanken-Hadad  (photo credit: MUST HAVE COMMUNICATIONS)
Marjie Shanken-Hadad
Few people can claim to have sat in former mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek’s living room chatting over bowls of ice cream. This charming tableau happened when Marjie Shanken-Hadad was 30 years old and had decided her future lay in Israel.
Her great-uncle Abe Cramer from Pennsylvania was part of Kollek’s inner circle, having helped in the formation of the state by running weaponry to Israel. In 1980, he handed his great-niece a check to deliver to the legendary mayor of Jerusalem during her United Synagogue Youth Pilgrimage tour.
Prior to Marjie’s aliyah in January 1995, Uncle Abe asked the mayor to watch over her. Kollek and his wife hosted Marjie in their home and he wrote her a letter of recommendation for prospective employers.
Not that she needed it. On a summer trip before her aliyah, Marjie had been offered a job in policy planning at the Foreign Ministry.
This Pennsylvania-bred woman was a go-getter from an early age. During her studies for a broadcast journalism degree from Boston University, she interned one summer at KYW in Philadelphia. There she was assigned to work on the NBC network production team covering the 1985 Live Aid concert. After graduating, she landed an on-air job at WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, Ohio.
She later returned to Boston to work as an associate producer on a TV project that won a New England Emmy award. She also worked as an agent for Ford Model Management. She recalled with a smile, “One year, I was surprisingly selected to model for the Boston Herald’s St. Patrick Day fashion spread.”
During this time, she began studying for a master’s degree in international relations, also at BU. In the summer of 1993, Marjie applied for an internship at the Consulate General of Israel to New England and was subsequently invited to interview for the spokesperson job. “I was hired and worked there until I finished grad school. This job was my crash course in crisis management,” she said.
The consul general in Boston returned to Jerusalem and it was he who recruited her to work at the Foreign Ministry. She wrote speeches and background papers for the bilateral talks that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords and helped organize events.
A year and a half later, she joined Charles Levine Communications as the director of international media. The late Levine, a beloved leading light in the worldwide hasbara arena, became Marjie’s mentor and signed the ketubah at her August 1996 marriage to Itzik Hadad.
“My husband is the love of my life,” Marjie says. “He is one of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met. The first time he took my hand it was a magical Sleepless in Seattle moment.”
Itzik is from a large Moroccan-Tunisian family in Beersheva. He’s an engineer with Intel and an amateur gourmet chef who does the “serious” cooking in the family’s home.
“Culturally we’re very different but our core values – education, family, kindness – are the same and that’s why it works,” says Marjie. “We both love travel, fine dining, music and dancing. And we love to laugh.”
After her first maternity leave, Marjie came back to work for Ruder Finn, which had merged with Levine’s firm. After her second maternity leave, Marjie started her own PR agency, today called Must Have Communications.
“I got a call from a former client whose army buddy was CEO of a hi-tech firm that needed public relations. He asked if I would be interested. That was 19 years ago.”
Among Marjie’s clients have been med-tech firms such as Gamida Cell, EarlySense and NanoRetina. Currently, she works with virtual personal trainer startup Kemtai and American startup RxE2, which is launching a decentralized clinical trial research platform for pharma.
“I sign on for projects where they’re actually helping people. It goes back to Uncle Abe. I’d walk through the door of his apartment and he’d ask, ‘Marjie Ruth’ – I am named after his late wife, Ruth – ‘what did you do for your fellow man today?’ That is ingrained in my psyche. At least once a day I try to do something selfless for someone,” she says.
Her paternal grandparents, Pauline and Benjamin Shanken, were cut from a similar cloth and Marjie notes that they were major contributors to Israel Bonds.
In a constantly changing business, Marjie has to stay on her toes. “I’m always listening, watching and learning. This is the key to reinvention, longevity and good client service,” she says.
“PR is not the same as it was 20 years ago, when it was all about the press release. Today, social media rules. The one constant, though, is maintaining good relationships – with clients and media alike – always keeping in mind everyone’s interests. This way, the client gets its story told and the journalist gets a really cool story to tell.”
The pandemic didn’t put a dent in Marjie’s professional routine. “I’ve been working remotely for 20 years so I didn’t have even one little hiccup when we all started working at home. I multitask very well.”
Being based in Israel gives her an advantage with time zones, she adds. “During the course of our workday someone is awake in some country. Also, because we are ahead of Europe and the US, my global team of freelancers and I have plenty of advance time to manage last-minute requests for that day or fix any issues before folks wake up.”
Marjie praises Israel’s “unending ingenuity and talent.” But she’d like to see better efficiency.
“Oftentimes, issues or situations which should be easy to correct or where the next steps should be obvious, require moving-a-mountain-type exertion and persistence to achieve the goal. Doing the right thing shouldn’t be so difficult,” she notes. “A little more kindness and respect would go a long way.”
The Hadad children were brought up fully bilingual in both language and culture. Their 23-year-old son did combat service in the air force and is studying computer science. Their 20-year-old daughter is currently in the military and was recently recognized with an award of excellence. Their younger daughter, 15, is finishing junior high.
“I feel proud being the mother of Israeli children. It was a choice to bring them up here,” Marjie says. “I am also proud of the young adults they have become. Each carries the torch of kindness and respect, proactively and with grace.”

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