PR’s Rising Stars on What Senior Leaders Need to Know

Each year, PRNEWS recognizes the top women in PR, including change makers, entrepreneurs, industry innovators, mentors and rising stars.

Prior to a September celebration of these women in New York, we arranged a virtual roundtable with some of this year’s rising stars. Some of the topics discussed were top-down mentorship, bringing your whole self to work and what senior leaders need to know about the new generation.

Participants were: Pam Anderson, senior lead, Next PR; Angelica Cadiente Kelly, senior manager, corporate communications, BetterUp; and May Huang, account executive, Highwire PR. Remarks were edited for clarity and space.

PRNEWS: You’re honorees in this year’s Top Women in PR Awards in the Rising Stars category. What are some of the secrets to your success?  

Pam Anderson, Senior Lead, Next PR

Pam Anderson: Curiosity and willingness to learn, both about different industries, but also the many different facets of PR, and making sure that I'm not just siloed to one focus area...

Learning about everything from social media to lead generation to PR to analyst relations has allowed me to not only grow in the business...but it also makes me a more strategic partner for clients. 

Angelica Cadiente Kelly: [What Pam] said really resonated. I've always tried to take a very multidisciplinary approach to whatever role or whatever job I'm working in…Being in-house, I've been able to work directly with different teams across the organization. And I think that very quickly helped me learn how different teams function. 

I got my start working in large multinational companies…What I took from each of those opportunities…is basically building an internal lexicon of case studies that I could take from project to project, even within a company. I am able to say, ‘ look, I have a use case for this,’ or ‘I've had a similar experience in this area,’ and finding those transferable skills or transferable learnings has really helped...

May Huang: I love that you talk about transferable skills, Angelica, because I relate to that a lot…I've always been a writer, and outside of my day job [I’m a translator]. So I always think, what is PR, if not storytelling and translating sometimes-abstract concepts into narratives that resonate? So, I think being a writer absolutely prepared me for PR life.

PRNEWS:  One of the stories in our August issue of PRNEWS asks what skill sets the next class of PR professionals needs. What skills would you advise someone who's looking to get into communication consider?

Huang: [Gen Z] grew up with the internet; we're very comfortable having an identity that is shaped through social media or Twitter…and that also is a skill, especially because of the pandemic…Being able to navigate the digital world has become critical for PR

PRNEWS: What should companies consider as they recruit, and hopefully retain, not only your generation, but Generation Alpha? What advice would you give to hiring managers who are looking to build out their workforces? 

Angelica Cadiente Kelly, senior manager, corporate communications, BetterUp

Cadiente Kelly: Workplaces need to realize that people don't live to work. And for a long time, that was kind of the status quo. 

The status quo was to uphold and maintain the fact that when you show up to work, you need to act as if this job is the entirety of your life, the entirety of your being and your identity. There's more space now for people to acknowledge that work can be important, and people can find meaning in the work they do.

That's obviously a really high goal to set...but people have different priorities...And it's not for companies to dictate what those priorities should be, given the wide range of people and identities that already comprise the workforce….

Companies [need to] create the space for people to show up, however they feel most comfortable to show up. Provide the benefits and the programs to allow people to express themselves, and to live their lives outside of work…There are so many other ways that work can be enriching to people's lives. And if companies can tap into that, it will help with their long-term longevity.

Anderson: I agree with so much of what you said, Angelica…and the focus on the generational divides in the workplace. 

We get really caught up [asking], 'What does Gen Z want?'

But in an industry like PR, which is largely white and largely female-dominated, what else you are doing to create a space that goes beyond age or gender or race is also another thing to consider. It's so easy to talk about generations, but we should, as an industry, be talking a little bit more about some of those other things.

May Huang, account executive, Highwire PR

Huang: Both of you touched on this; nowadays, people really want to work for a company that is walking the walk with their values. They're not just posting a black square on Instagram once a year, they're actually putting their money where their mouth is and prioritizing DEI. 

My agency has a head of DEI…And as someone who's a person of color working in PR, I 100% feel her impact every day. And the fact also that we're a woman-led agency has made a big impact on me…

PR has a diversity problem. But there's a lot of women in PR. And a part of me loves that it's so empowering to work at a company where your team leads, or that people calling the shots are women. I find that really inspiring.

Anderson: It's about listening and constantly surveying staff to understand what staff needs, whether it's [in] anonymous forums or open discussions around the business and the strategy.

Any company making decisions in a boardroom or a leadership forum [without input from staff] isn't getting at the heart of what their team wants.

It's really about asking more questions and not asking once; it's asking repetitively and giving different types of people the space to share that feedback. 

Any company that's looking to hire and recruit right now needs to listen to what their team is saying.

PRNEWS: All of you work at newer organizations. Is it harder for legacy organizations to get on board with a lot of the changes? Do you have clients that look for advice on how to change? 

Anderson:  Yes. But what's important is to remember what lane I'm in, which is PR. So I don't like to give HR advice or recruiting advice.

Instead, I try to make sure that what they have on their recruiting landing page and what their practices are, that those align with their public perception. 

Huang: On a similar note, this year we've seen so many larger-than-life issues that really touch every aspect of an organization.

So, on Roe vs. Wade...a lot of our clients came to us for guidance on how they should be speaking.

Everyone's sort of learning and listening together in times like these. It kind of just goes to show how important comms is in a time like this. How do we communicate these ideas and make sure that we're responding in a way that is balanced and well-informed?

PRNEWS: We have a mentorship category in our Top Women awards. What role has mentorship played in your careers? 

Anderson: Mentorship has been the most helpful when people challenge me to think differently. So, I've gravitated to those who maybe have a different way of thinking than I do, whether it's more analytical, or they approach problems differently.

Huang: Mentorship is so valuable when you can receive it at all levels of the organization. And, of course, that involves paying it forward…

Paying it forward is so important, as it was not so long ago that I was a PR intern. I'm very attuned to, and sensitive about, how my interns are doing, because I want to make their lives easier than mine was.

So, when I see one of my interns doing a task that I think could be simplified, or might just be busy work, I try to make a point to resolve that for them and be their advocate. Because I feel like I've had so many advocates.

Cadiente Kelly: I also started my career as an intern. And mentorship was crucial, because my first boss gave me a shot when I was completely green, didn't know anything about the PR/communications industry…My leader at that organization…taught me everything I know about grace under pressure, which is a lesson that we need to learn early, and often, in our field…

Whenever there are interns in the organization, I keep an eye out for them, just to make sure that they feel like they're actually getting something out of the experience, and that they aren't, to May’s point, just doing busy work.

Anderson: I find myself learning from our youngest staff...Mentorship traditionally looks top-down. But it doesn't have to, because, especially in a field where we're all constantly learning, I find and seek ways to be mentored by others. 

PRNEWS: As we conclude are there other things that would be helpful for others in the industry to know, regardless of seniority?

Cadiente Kelly:  We have a responsibility to be accurate, relevant and responsible....I learned that from my college advisor during  my university newspaper days. I'm surprised, it still rings true to this day. 

Whenever I'm working on something, and trying to think through what the right thing to do is, I always try to look at it through the lens of: Is it accurate? Is it relevant? And is it responsible? 

Anderson:  Knowing your strengths is really important…but it's equally as important to be open and honest about the ways in which you want to improve. The best leaders...know where their strengths lie and are keenly aware of where they don't.

So, being honest and real about what else do I have to do to grow? And what else do I have to do to improve? And how can I surround myself with people who either have those skills or who challenge me to be better?

Huang: Work-life balance is key. And although PR is so fast-paced and when you're rising, you're rising fast; I would always say slow down.

Slowing down can be a way of growing, too. Your health and mental wellbeing is the most important, and that's what's going to nourish you. 

Part of work-life balance is work-life integration. If you can bring your whole self to work, if you can find ways to make work fun in the ways that matter to you, that can be huge.

I wrote a Taylor Swift-themed pitch, because I'm a huge Swiftie. I had just signed on to work that day, and her new album had just come out. So that was an example of me trying to preach work-life integration, and it was so much fun. 

Bring your full self to work. Define work-life balance in a way that resonates with you.