A Higher Ed PR Focus :: Test Drive My Job Tia Gordon
Founder and CEO
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR: How did you wind up in this field? TG: After failing statistics twice as an electrical engineering major, I decided it was time for a change. I became a communications/PR major during my junior year and quickly embraced the field of PR by taking on several internships. I interned with different types of organizations in many industries to understand the full scope of work involved with PR. In order to accomplish my goal of being a well- rounded PR professional—from writing to pitching—I knew it was important to take full
advantage of learning the field through internships. All of my internship experiences helped me to land and be prepared for my first full-time job after college, which was serving as the national spokesperson for the U.S. hotel and lodging industry (American Hotel & Lodging Association).
Mopwater: Describe a pivotal moment in your career. Did you have a mentor or internship that really solidified your interest in this field or helped you hone in on a specific focus area? TG: As someone who now works in education, ironically my very first PR internship was with an education scholarship organization in Washington, D.C. It changed my life. I’m definitely living in a full circle moment.
Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day? TG: Since working in PR requires staying on top of the news, my workday typically starts at 6:30 AM and may not end until midnight. All day I’m multitasking and juggling—going back and forth between conference calls, writing, counseling, pitching, luncheons, dinners, and networking events. It’s a nonstop lifestyle (not just a job) that requires me to be “present” every step of the way in order to keep my finger on the pulse.
Mopwater: Describe your office setting and workplace. TG: My office is located in downtown Washington, D.C., but I’m hardly ever there because the hour-long commute from my home office takes away from the time I could be spending to manage client projects, pursue business opportunities, and/or work on other important issues. Bottom line is: I work where and when I can to make it all work.
Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR tasks and why? TG: I absolutely dread writing news releases; it’s an arduous task that no one should have to experience after spending at least two years in PR. Writing a news release is literally the bane of my existence. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve type “For Immediate Release”—it must be close to a million times. Fortunately, and all jokes aside, I know that drafting/distributing a news release is critical to the success of any outreach campaign as it’s the granddaddy of communications tools. When it’s done right, an effective news release can take you many places. Conversely, I love pitching reporters
and seeing that pitch land where I want it.
Mopwater: Who are some of your (or your company/organization’s) clients, and what kind of projects do you take on for these clients? TG: As the nation’s only communications firm focused solely on issues of diversity and equity in higher education, our clients are national organizations working to improve opportunities for traditionally marginalized or underrepresented students. Our goal is to always facilitate an open and honest dialogue about the issues impacting certain students who may have an inopportune path toward earning a college degree. We work only in select areas of communications that includes branding and messaging, crisis communications, media relations, social media and interactive marketing, and strategic communications. For example, we recently managed an event with a select group of Historically Black College and University (HBCU) presidents for an unprecedented, candid discussion about the collective impact of HBCUs and how these institutions (and their students) contribute to the national college completion agenda.
Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results of which you’re really proud. TG: We’re really proud of our recent work with an organization working to highlight the unique needs and concerns of Asian American and Pacific Islander students. Although the client had engaged previously with a large and well-known communications firm, they were not pleased with the results. The client shared with us that the other PR firm didn’t fully seem to understand their needs or those of their constituents. We felt pressure from the beginning—to both win over the client and make up for any missed opportunities with the other PR firm. But because our style is to be a full communications partner with all clients, we produced impressive results for this client that were clear, decisive, and had a profound effect. And, now we’re looking forward to
having a long and fruitful relationship with this client.
Mopwater: What is your favorite thing about this job and do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? TG: I love asking clients, “What are your ‘dream’ results from working with us?” (Most of the time they aren’t really sure.) Once they tell me—and we both agree they have what it
takes in order for us to pitch them successfully—I, along with my team, will fight to make it happen. Because I understand that ROI (return on investment) is critical in any relationship, I’m always committed to giving each client my best so they can reap boundless benefits. And, yes, I believe I will be in this position for another 5 to 10 years; afterwards, I’m leaving PR to sell flowers (my running, but true, joke).
Mopwater: What aspect of the industry are you most excited about? TG: Authenticity. I believe that the world has long been rejecting the notion of “spin” and “canned” PR. Nowadays people, and organizations, want messages that resonate with them. People want to be met heart to heart about matters that are most important to their lives.
Mopwater: If you could work on any dream project of your choosing, what would it be? TG: My dream project would be to work with Michelle Obama on her healthy eating initiatives for young people. Although the goal of her campaign focuses on nutrition, I believe that having a healthy lifestyle should be holistic. Why should a young person just stop at making better eating choices? Let’s expand the effort and direct them toward
making better decisions all around—most importantly, the pursuit of their college degree. I would love to be a part of such a project.
Mopwater: What if anything would you have done differently in your career up to this pointand what advice would you give someone who is trying to break into your field? TG: Looking back, there’s nothing I would have done differently in my career. Every choice, every open or closed door, and every position helped me get to where I am today. And, where I am today is where I am supposed to be. My advice to others who want to break into PR is to be well-rounded in your experiences, be nice, and be willing to work hard—everything else will fall into place.