A New Reality: Women of Color Meet at C2 Miami

As organizations adjust to cultural shifts within their businesses internally and search for ways to connect with multi-layered audiences externally, diversity becomes a major topic for senior leaders. A new reality for women of color in the communications industry leading the conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion is now before us.

I had the exhilarating experience of attending the ColorComm C2 Conference last week in Key Biscayne, Florida. Women of color in public relations, marketing, advertising, media, and digital gathered from all across the country to share experiences and learn from one another to enhance their personal and professional development.

The three-day event for women focuses on leadership training, executive positioning, business development, and expanding financial literacy. The event also attracts leaders in diversity and inclusion.

I asked some of the nation’s leading women in the communications industry their thoughts on diversity and inclusion, and they all agree on one thing: the practice must be a priority.

Hear what they had to say.

With a star lineup of speakers including women’s activist Gloria Steinem and CNN’s Lisa Ling, the women dived deep into discussions about diversifying the communications industry, remaining professionally competitive, navigating promotions and achieving work-life balance.

This event exchanged rich moments of wisdom, intellect and sisterhood. Click below to see the great rundown of highlights from social media with the #C2Miami hashtag.

Aerial Ellis

I’m definitely counting down to #C2Miami 2016!

Are you a women of color in communications? How do you think diversity impacts our new reality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comment here and tweet me @aerialellis using the hashtag #PRdiversity.

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Can You Recover From a Public Scandal?

I’ve had just about enough this Rachel Dolezal craziness, haven’t you?

When the news reached me last Thursday evening, I was extremely puzzled and will admit to giggling at the #AskRachel comedy on Twitter and Instagram (Sorry, I’m human..lol). By Friday morning, it had made the national news circuit and I started to receive a few calls and messages from colleagues at media outlets asking for some expert quotes on this scandal.

Questions like “what should she do?” “should she speak to media or make a statement at this point?” “how can she recover?” were the focus of their inquiries. I find major conflicts with the facts of the Dolezal crisis – mainly cultural conflicts that bother me personally. Meanwhile, though the professional conflicts are equally as offensive (I cringed at her response in an interview where a reporter asked what she thought of the things people were saying about her), we’re all too familiar with the central theme of this kind of public scandal and it all starts with one thing – a presumed lie.

A public scandal is tough to cope with and often times even tougher to recover from. Most times, scandals that surfaced from a cover-up or hidden truth are the worst to bounce back from. I have a lot of advice here so this blog post will be one of three in a series about personal brand management in the midst of a crisis situation.

Let’s start by defining a crisis:

Crisis PRA crisis is anything that has the potential to have lasting damage on the public’s perception of a brand.

Whether the news broke, leaked or spread, you are now exposed, ashamed and embarrassed.

What should you do?

Accept your wrongdoing.

The recovery period of a scandal is often the most sensitive because it’s a time of reflection where the consequences of the situation start to hit hard emotionally. The shame that lingers during the aftermath can be painful. You must admit that you were wrong in order to start the recovery process. Have you noticed how critical we’ve become of public figures nowadays? We’re probably a bit too critical of each other sometimes considering no one is perfect but we certainly don’t appreciate being lied to – we want honesty and we respect transparency. This is a time when you need to take a moment to heal in private so you can ultimately try to make a public effort to present yourself in a repented and reformed fashion.

Receive and accept the right guidance.

Many times, in a public scandal, you discover who has your best interest, loves you unconditionally and will give you the best advice they know how. On the other hand, you realize who may have never truly had your back, was only along for the ride when things were good or who want to be attached to your drama for selfish reasons. Stick close to professional supporters such as legal and PR counselors skilled and trained in helping you mop up the mess and to the loved ones who give sincere guidance. Avoid the ambulance chasers who only want to be affiliated with your failure because it gives them a chance at 15 minutes of fame or a potential payday.

Come back with credibility.

Your image took a blow and you’re going to have to handle your comeback with care. The ultimate test of a full recovery shouldn’t be whether the public accepts you back as you once were. Even years after a scandal takes place, it can linger in the memory of the public if your comeback plan is not intact. The court of public opinion is tough but most people love a comeback and will often root for a fallen brand that is making a real attempt at earning the public’s trust again grounded by the truth. A successful reintroduction effort can make the scandal a vague memory. Don’t expect this overnight. Don’t even expect to be a loved as you once were. Just expect that slowly but surely, if you are true to your talents and consistently building toward the future, the public will grant you a measure of grace.

I will say more about the keys to damage control and the do’s and don’ts with any crisis situation in my next two posts. Stay tuned!

Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story. http://sfy.co/f0bvK

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22 Tips to My 22 Year-Old Self

I was excited last week to see LinkedIn presenting a series with professionals sharing stories about what they wish they knew at 22 so I joined in on the fun. 11 years today, I graduated from college and I’d just turned 22 years old a month or so prior to crossing the stage.

#IfIWere22, I’d give myself these 22 wise pieces of advice.

  1. Entrepreneurship can put you in a personal deficit. You often give more than you get. Do not forget to take care of yourself.
  2. A relationship/marriage is a partnership. Choose a man who is loyal, spiritually grounded and focused on building a future that includes you.
  3. Passion leads to purpose. What you are passionate about today can change tomorrow. Search for your God-given purpose instead.
  4. Wake up early enough to pray, meditate and have some quiet thinking time before the day gets started.
  5. The countless happy hours, late nights and industry parties can add bags to your eyes and pounds to your thighs. Be easy.
  6. There will be many things in the world that will make you sad, angry and confused. Instead of letting them discourage you, find the courage to advocate for them.
  7. Not everything needs to be announced. Thanks, social media. Let folks see what you did, not what you’re doing.
  8. The right people and right situations always occur in your life at the right time. Respect and cherish them. Don’t force anything, chase anyone or mourn over lost time or missed opportunities. Whoever/whatever is meant to be, will be.
  9. Write yourself a reality check, boo – money does not grow on trees! Appreciate what you have. Eat at home. Shop less. Save something. Make a budget and stick to it.
  10. You are enough. You don’t need anyone to co-sign for you.
  11. Careful welcoming people into your space who make you question yourself or second-guess your ability. Many people will come into your life, push their own insecurities onto you, then walk away leaving you to heal in places where you were never broken.
  12. Make a to-do list everyday. Cross off as much as you can by the end of the day. If anything is left, no worries. Put it on tomorrow’s list.
  13. Those quirky things about you are totally fine. You’re weird sometimes and that’s okay.
  14. Women sometimes get the short end of the stick, especially black women. Don’t let that fact hinder your progress.
  15. No matter how sweet or humble or smart you are, people will be intimidated by your strength and your confidence. That’s not your fault. They’ll just have to get over it. Do you.
  16. Time is money. You’re either moving toward making it or getting closer to losing it. Period.
  17. A failure is often a set-up for a win. You will drop the ball sometimes and that’s okay. Pick it up and keep it moving.
  18. Your “hustle” or your “grind” is not badge of honor. In fact, it can be your own worst enemy. Focus on the quality of the outcomes instead of the amount of hours you clocked. Your success is not on deadline.
  19. You shouldn’t always be the smartest person at the table. You should have people around who are sharper than you. Keep them close and let them rub off. Iron sharpens iron. Your network is your net worth.
  20. Forget about work-life balance. You’ll never master it. Attempt to achieve balance from within.
  21. You are not a slave your phone or email. Stop sending and responding to work messages or calls past bedtime. The perception conveys that you have no boundaries and no life. Refresh, power off, unplug.
  22. Chill. God is in control and life is good so enjoy it.

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Photo: College graduation day, May 2004, Age 22. My mom giving me a diamond tennis bracelet as a graduation gift. I sold it a month later to invest in the launch my first company. #IfIWere22 today, I would probably do it again.

PR Pros Should Do Good & Be Well

Last month, I worked with a personal trainer. I knew my upcoming four-week stay at Johnson & Johnson was going to come with a slight adjustment to my regular exercise routine back home in Nashville. I know how travel can cause major setbacks for healthy dieting and exercising. More than anything, I know that having a balanced life is a major ingredient for handling the stress that comes with a career in public relations. Exercise is one of the necessary must-haves for me as I fight daily fires and face complicated dilemmas.

To prepare mentally and physically for the work ahead, I did strength training with heavy weights at low reps for 3-5 sets, 15-30 minutes of high-intensity interval (HIIT) cardio and timed full-body circuits three days a week at 7 a.m. for an hour. The other four days of the week, I was instructed to do 30 minutes of HIIT cardio for two days and take the other two for rest.

Once I arrived at J&J, I learned about the “Do Good, Be Well” program and the communication strategy created to support it. The initiative links like-minded fitness enthusiasts to volunteer and participate in charitable activities that make a difference in the community such as biking, running, swimming, hiking, walking and playing team sports. The employee platform is an internal initiative that connects to an online community to recruit team members for events, post goals and share success stories. As a component of “Do Good, Be Well,” 500 Johnson & Johnson employees recently teamed up at the TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon to raise more than $250,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s the perfect reminder to stay active and commit to giving.

So often, working in public relations can take you away from living a happy and healthy personal life and inspiring others to do so.

Our stresses often come with second guessing deliverables, asking “is this what the client wants?” and ending up with mismatched results and mismanaged expectations. We find ourselves over-committing or overcompensating to frantically find a solution.

Our stresses can derive from budget problems. Internal mismanagement, nonexistent ranges on accounts, and lack of access can cause frustration with client relations or interruption in account services.

Our stresses are many times the result of mounting or overlapping deadlines. The pressures of delivering a quality product at a moment’s notice, responding to a crisis or pulling multiple all-nighters add up and may impact our ability to function properly.

Our stresses can develop from the perfection myth that exists in the PR industry. If media doesn’t cover a story, an event starts five minutes behind schedule or – God forbid – a typo is found in a campaign piece (gasp), the entire effort can feel worthless.

These things and more are issues PR pros cannot always control but we can control our response. We can manage our time in ways that allow us the freedom to make room for things that give us balance.

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

Instead of sitting at the computer all day or working through free time, ‘do good’ by volunteering at your favorite local charity’s big event or enlisting your company to sponsor a community health fair; ‘be well’ by adding a quick 30-minute workout to your calendar two to three days a week or walking in an upcoming 5k hosted by an organization you support.

As PR pros, we are brand advocates. Organizations depend on our expertise and knowledge. If we are to be champions for their cause, we must make our own health and well-being a priority.

 

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

PR+ 2014 – Our First Conference

Lipscomb University hosted its very first public relations conference, PR+ 2014, on April 22. The successful event took place in the Ezell Center and included breakfast, two panel discussions, lunch, and a keynote speaker. Coordinated by dGE PR’s Aerial Ellis, the event had a turnout of 85 attendees made of professionals and students from all over the region. The day was filled with learning about how PR is used across different fields as well as great networking.

 The first panel discussion revolved around the topic of evolution strategies for some of Nashville’s most iconic brands featuring rockstar panelists were Bob Higgins, CEO of Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon; Michelle Lacewell, PR/Marketing director of Nashville Chamber of Commerce; Andrea Lindsey, senior VP at DVL PR & Advertising and David Reuter, VP of corporate communication at Nissan. dGE PR’s Perri duGard Owens was the moderator for the discussion and posed some great points for the guests to delve into. Each one had priceless input about gaining momentum for new brands and re-establishing relevance for existing brands.

 The next panel was focused on the future generation of PR. The young, vibrant, and distinguished speakers discussed ideas about the positive effects of cross-brand collaboration and what is next for the public relations industry in Nashville. The group was moderated by Meagan Rhodes from 12th and Broad and consisted of Jamal Hipps, CEO of MPYER Marketing & Advertising; Nicholas Holland, CEO of Populr.me; Marcia Masulla, co-creator of Nashville Fashion Week and senior marketing manager at Yelp Nashville; and Ryan Witherell, partner at Seigenthaler PR.

Lastly, the keynote speaker was stand-out Steve Buchanan who took the stage to talk about his hit TV show Nashville and how the PR industry related to his work with the Opry Entertainment group. The entire conference was highly interactive and received positive feedback from those who attended. Students from Kennesaw State, Austin Peay, and Belmont all mentioned how they enjoyed how the panelists were so accomplished, yet relatable. PR+ 2014 would not have been successful without the support of its sponsors PRSA, DVL, BWSC, Seigenthaler Public Relations, duGard Ellis Public Relations and Nissan along with its media sponsors Yelp and Google.

Vision + Voice + Brand: NCAA Women’s Final Four Leadership Academy

NCAA Womens Final Four Nashville“Vision + Voice + Brand = CEO of Me” is the title of the workshop I had the honor of facilitating for Music City Girls Lead! – a leadership academy produced by Lipscomb University  in cooperation with the Champions4Women Committee of  the Nashville Local Organizing Committee, proud host of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The Academy was a series of classes and experiences for high school girls in grades 9, 10, and 11 in the Middle Tennessee area aimed at strengthening girls in their pursuit of excellence through classroom and online learning, community experience and direct mentoring.

Engaging the students were a few of Nashville’s deep bench of local leaders and mentors, as well as experts on leadership development.  The Academy curriculum covered six different areas: developing as a leader, becoming an ethical leader in multicultural society, developing vision and voice, learning to use technology in leadership roles, promoting wellness and health, and transforming vision into results. Each academy culminated with a graduation ceremony and served as a lasting legacy of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Aerial Ellis presented NCAA Women's Final Four Personal Branding for GirlsI spoke to the young women about creating a personal brand using entrepreneurship and technology. I started by having them write a vision statement. A vision statement is your declaration of what you want out of life. It is your opportunity to answer the question:

“When I get to the end of my life, I will be the most disappointed if I never accomplished ___________.”

We talked about female visionaries such as Michelle Obama and Taylor Swift. We also looked at young girls who had the vision to become successful entrepreneurs at an early age.

Next, we defined voice. Your voice is inherent to who you are. You have to find it. We did an exercise that allows the girls see the various ways we can find out voice through writing daily. That allows your content to be your voice and for your story to inspire someone. It proves that what you have to say has value.

Then we defined a brand. I explained they each have their own brand and that it will always follow you throughout life. When you hold true to your brand personality, opportunities come to you.

We did an exercise that allowed the girls to write their favorite brand on a name tag and introduce themselves to the group as that brand as a parallel to who they are personally. We then discussed online protection and privacy, the best tools to use for distributing your voice across social media and how to find your passion through these activities. I also gave the girls a worksheet as brand map to take home and chart their future success.

This was a great opportunity to teach and inspire. Girls rock!

 

 

PowerShift Panel for Leadership Nashville

Leadership Nashville Panel Aerial Ellis Today I participated in the PowerShift panel today for the 2014 class of Leadership Nashville – a great group of highly influential executives and community leaders. We gathered at the First Amendment Center to talk about the move from influencing to creating a community of influencers and being in the conversation real time all the time.

Leadership Nashville provides a three-dimensional view of the city and becomes a bridge connecting people and the issues facing this community. The nine-month program is designed to assist local community leaders in their roles as decision-makers. The course, which begins in September, focuses on issues related to government, media, education, business, labor, diversity, quality of life, human services, health, arts, entertainment, and crime and criminal justice.

Our conversation was an important one, especially when we consider the relationship between government and media which was a topic of focus. My fellow panelists Alexia Poe from the TN Governor’s Office, Kasar Abdullah from Valor Collegiate Academy and Colby Sledge from McNeely, Piggott & Fox. Ronald Roberts, president and chief executive officer of DVL Public Relations & Advertising, served as moderator.

 

Be Your Own Boss: Young Professional’s Guide to Entreprene​urship – Memphis Urban League

Leadership Memphis Aerial Ellis Entreprenuership PanelI love working in my hometown of Memphis!

It was a special opportunity for me to serve as a panelist at the April General Body Meeting for the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP)

We talked about how to start a business, how prime yourself for entrepreneurship, challenges in being a young business owner, and a variety of other topics. Other panelists included Phillip Rix, Jacque BoNey, Edward Bogard and Nikki Smith-Brown.

Memphis Urban League Young Professionals

Chapter President Cynthia Daniels has done an excellent job growing the chapter. It is one of the city’s largest networks of young leaders; it is recognized throughout the community for their member’s accomplishments.
MULYP is working to fill a void in the Memphis community by attracting, assisting and supporting the next generation of Memphis leadership to create positive change. The YP’s are a collection of Memphis area professionals that believe in improving the lives of others. Our members are doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, students, public administrators, financiers, entrepreneurs and more!
As a native of Memphis, I am so pleased to see this spark of energy spreading throughout city among young professionals in the African American community.