October 30 marks National Publicist Day. It’s a day to commemorate Public Relations (PR) professionals who represent brands and help shape perceptions through their work whether through creative agencies or independently. Luckily for minority professionals, you didn’t have to be an official employee of an established firm to commemorate the day. If the rule to celebrate National Publicist Day was to be employed by a firm, some PR pros in Rochester wouldn’t be able to celebrate. Representation in PR remains an issue with many local firms lacking employees of color. Six local PR pros, including myself, got together for a photoshoot and dialogue to discuss access to these positions, representation and what’s next:
Tamara Leigh is CEO of Roc Candy Media Brand Development. Leigh has over a decade of experience in event planning, media relations and content creation and has served as publicist to some of the brightest stars in the town. One of her most popular initiatives is her son Zaire Downs’ “Kick 4 Kids”, a sneaker drive for youth in need organized by Leigh’s son, Zaire Downs. The annual event has allowed Leigh to develop relationships with media professionals throughout the nation since she was able to land her son a feature on the Michaela Show on HLN and on CBS’s Inside Edition.
“Although I’ve applied to several local firms in the past, I’ve never even received an opportunity to interview,” said Leigh. “But to be honest, lack of opportunity birthed my career…the lack of diversity at local firms makes me an asset to the clients that they are not able to reach.”
Jessica Lewis is Principle Publicist and Owner of LáLew Public Relations, the fastest growing Black-owned PR firm in Rochester. Currently serving 16 clients, Lewis and her team has landed client press on WROC News 8, WHEC News 10, WHAM News 13, Spectrum News, Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper, City Newspaper and more. Lewis is host of Ujamma Rising, a television show that features Black-owned businesses and real-life stories of entrepreneurs.
“In 2016, I applied for a job with the Ad Council as a program manager but was bummed when I didn’t get the job,” said Lewis. “What I didn’t know was that God had bigger plans for me… not only am I the Principal publicist and CEO of my own firm, I manage communications for ROC the Future, a collaborative community-wide initiative focused on improving the academic achievement of children in the City of Rochester.”
Vonjula Thompson is a recent graduate of Brockport College with a degree in Journalism/Broadcast and concentration in Public Relations. Thompson is new to the game of Public Relations but has not stopped searching for opportunities in the field. Passionate about the entertainment industry, Thompson currently advises several clients with startup entertainment projects. She continues to gain experience and is constantly looking for opportunities to strengthen the skills she developed as an intern at Dresden Public Relations.
“As a recent graduate, it’s been difficult for me to employ the things that I’ve learned from my studies,” said Thompson. “It’s likely that I can gain an internship and work my way up but it seems nearly impossible for a local firm to offer entry level work and compensation that I know is being offered to my white counterparts who are new to the game as well.”
Julio Jordan is publicist to professional boxer Willie Monroe Jr. He is co-founder of PRLC Media Group and serves as a board member and marketing advisor for Rochester’s annual Puerto Rican Festival. As a community advocate, Jordan prides himself on working with clients and organizations to better position their brands by understanding the importance of marketing and promotions.
“I find it hard to believe that local communications firms are truly in tune with what’s going on in the Black and Brown communities,” said Jordan. “While firms may be equal opportunity by law, the opportunities to gain traction and grow from within aren’t always so equal.”
Portia Nisbeth is a freelance editor and writer. She has provided PR services for entertainment, lifestyle and non-profit clients. As an alumnae of University of Buffalo with a B.A. degree in Communications, Nisbeth is known by her professional peers for providing copy editing services and her professional take on pop culture news.
“As it appears, local firms are more likely to hire or promote within than seek out external talent,” said Nisbeth. “Like any industry, hiring managers want to be sure that people are experienced before offering employment…even with internship experience in a metropolitan area like Atlanta, G.A., I still feel like local employers are reluctant, for whatever reason, to provide me a chance to prove myself.”
Rashad J. Smith describes himself as “jack of all trades” because of his wide-range of skills in public relations. He currently serves as PR and Community Engagement manager for The Beat 105.5 and holds the same title as a freelancer for Tipping Point Communications, where he is the only PR professional of color. He is a contributor to Open Mic Rochester and Democrat and Chronicle’s race relation blog. He has over ten years of experience in the communications industry and has interned and worked for popular mediums such as Black Entertainment Television and C-SPAN. He has helped shape the image of local entrepreneurs and small businesses through his strategic approach when connecting his clients to the their audience through media relations, community engagement, event coordination and content creation.
“A few years ago I learned that local firms are very selective with the type of services that some PR professionals may be able to support them with, if any at all,” said Smith. “While I’m very proud of the relationships that I have developed with some local firms and the professionals that are employed within, it’s no secret to me nor them about what’s missing from the field– and that’s the creative perspective from a unique group of colorful , talented public relations pros.”
National Publicist Day is observed on October 30 because on this day years ago, New York Times fully printed the very first press release by Ivy Lee, the father of modern day PR, according to www.NationalDayCalendar.com,