PR executives charge students to be ‘unapologetically you’ when working in the industry

In partnership with the PR Council, the School of Communications hosted its PR Agency Careers Diversity and Inclusion Panel Discussion on Feb. 25. The wisdom session and ensuing networking reception featured strategic communications and human resources executives from W20 Group, Ketchum, Weber Shandwick, Taylor Global, FleishmanHillard, Finsbury and EP+Co.

As the PR Agency Careers Diversity and Inclusion Panel Discussion unfolded, a common theme became apparent as the strategic communications and human resources executives addressed topics relating to diversity and inclusion initiatives, career advancement, company culture, salaries, industry trends, analytics and personal experiences.

During the PR Agency Careers Diversity and Inclusion Panel Discussion, held Feb. 25 in Turner Theatre, panelists discussed their experiences in the public relations industry. Pictured (from left) are moderator Donna Renella, Gabrielle Easley, Tameka Green, Jordan Kaye and Karla Wagner. 
That theme was best described when Gabrielle Easley, an account executive at Taylor Global, summed up what advice she’d give her younger self. “The main thing is be you. Be present,” she said. “Be unapologetically you. That’s how I’ve maneuvered the corporate landscape.”

Easley was one of seven panelists invited to participate in the hourlong conversation and subsequent networking reception that was co-hosted by the PR Council and Elon’s School of Communications on Feb. 25. Led by Donna Renella, president of ABW Solutions LLC, a recruitment and consulting firm, the discussion highlighted the panelists’ personal experiences and anecdotes, with several of them addressing the industry’s challenges in terms of diversity and inclusion.

Yet, as the panelists shared advice on topics ranging from interview approaches to which size agency you should work in, the answers often circled back to one main point: Embrace who you are and be sure to make the most of your opportunities.

For a glimpse of the panel discussion and networking reception, visit the school’s Flickr gallery. If you are interested in watching the full panel discussion, click here

“It is important to be authentic, which is something I definitely didn’t understand (at first),” said Tameka Green, a director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Weber Shandwick North America. Green noted that it wasn’t until she got older that she became more comfortable and confident in the workplace, which ultimately allowed her “to be who I am.”

Following the panel discussion in Turner Theatre, panelists gather for a group photo. Pictured (from left) are Gabrielle Easley, Lindsay Glosson ’14, Tameka Green, Matt Owing, Elizabeth Romero, Jordan Kaye, Donna Renella, Karla Wagner and Communications Dean Rochelle Ford.
“The more that you are able to show who you are, it makes it easier for others to see the potential that you bring to the table,” Green added. “But there are a lot of tough conversations that I have had with senior leaders in helping them understand the importance of diversity in the organization. A lot of it is giving them refreshers on what diversity is and what inclusion is, and why it is good for the business.”

The key, Green explained, was to make leadership understand that the company will prosper because of an emphasis on diversity.

“When you talk about talent and the ability for the organization to remain sustainable, their ears perk up a little – a lot – because they understand that,” she said.

As Karla Wagner, the head of talent and human resources at Finsbury, North America, was interviewing for her current role, she realized the global agency was the right fit for her.

While she admitted she is the “only person of color at her level,” Wagner felt energized by what she heard during the hiring process.

“Over the course of my nine interviews with Finsbury, every single person talked to me about diversity,” she said. “It demonstrated a willingness to change.”

Since her arrival, Wagner said she’s been pleased to see the firm refocus its hiring and recruitment approaches.

Elon senior Gabrielle Beamon (center) looks on as Gabrielle Easley, an account executive at Taylor Global, speaks with students during the reception. 
“We’ve stopped talking about ‘cultural fit’ because that just continues to allow the culture to be the same,” she said. “The concept we’ve introduced is ‘cultural add.’ What are you bringing to the party? Are you smart? Can you write? Do you have an insatiable appetite for current events? What is the flavor that you bring? How can you advance the culture?”

While she’s optimistic about the future of the industry and her agency, Wagner acknowledged that she’s always aware that she is a black woman in a predominately white field. “There are ‘age-old attitudes’ that you come up against every single day,” she said.  

Elizabeth Romero, too, is hopeful that the PR industry is embracing diversity. And she sees it firsthand.

The senior vice president of public relations and diversity and inclusion leader at FleishmanHillard recalled her early start in the industry, working at a small boutique firm in South Florida, where she was the only Hispanic and Spanish-speaking employee. “That was always really interesting for me,” she said, noting that she embraced the many opportunities she had in the role.

Years later, Romero has championed her agency’s diversity and inclusion efforts and is a prominent supporter of the company’s global initiative focused on making the company the world’s most inclusive global communications agency.

Lindsay Glosson ’14, a digital strategist at Ketchum, draws a crowd during the networking reception in Snow Family Grand Atrium.
She noted that diversity isn’t just about color. “Diversity can be many things. It can be diverse thought, perspective, experiences,” she said. “There is a lot of great work going on in agencies in the diversity space. You just have to look for it.”

Like most industries, the PR field is evolving and changing with new technology. This has resulted in a significant emphasis on social media and the power of online communities.

As an Elon undergraduate, Lindsay Glosson ’14 studied English and when she first applied to Ketchum, it was for a copywriting position. Four years later, after accepting a social media role, she is a digital strategist for one of the world’s leading communication firms. During the panel discussion, the Elon alumna stressed that social media is no longer an afterthought. 

“Social media has become an integral part of every company’s business plan,” she said, adding that she enjoys working across the agency’s different departments to develop and launch campaigns.

She also finds some humor in how her own life has changed in the past decade. 

“I’m working in a field that 10 years ago I wasn’t allowed to have – my parents didn’t let me have a Facebook,” she said. “Now I’m making my living off of it. I think that’s pretty cool.”

In addition to Easley, Glosson, Green, Romero and Wagner, Jordan Kaye of W2O Group and Matt Owing of EP+Co also served as panelists during the discussion. The event was presented by Elon’s M.A. in Interactive Media (iMedia) and M.S. in Management (MScM) graduate programs.