My interview with PR pro, Jessica Abercrombie

Originally posted May 9, 2019

Jessica Abercrombie, Director of PR and Marketing for the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa

I had the honor of interviewing Jessica Abercrombie, the Director of PR and Marketing for the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa last month. I found her contact on the PRSA directory and asked if I could interview her for 15 minutes about her profession. She gladly accepted my invitation and we spoke for about an hour. Our conversation began by talking about our recent travels and the similarity that we both love to stay busy. Abercrombie has lived in Phoenix for most of her life but has also lived in San Francisco, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Guam, and more. She is excited for the Superbowl, NCAA tournament, and the growth trajectory of Phoenix as a city.

What’s a typical week like for you at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa?

No week is the same which is one thing I love about the role. I think that alone, in a very short time frame, will differentiate those who like PR and those who don’t. Sometimes I’m traveling and meeting with different clients or different stakeholders or different media or I might be in town in which case doing a bit more internal facing communication and working with my team here on the ground.

My role as Director of PR and marketing spans traditional communication, marketing, social media, and public relations, public relations is just my personal favorite and sweet spot.

How did you earn your position as the Director of PR and marketing?

I actually started in editorial, I worked at Esquire magazine fresh out of college. I loved New York, I loved working with Herst and it was such an incredible experience. But I didn’t have any family there and the fruits of the labor are not as sweet when not shared with anyone you truly love and care about. So I found my way back to the West coast and I had worked with publicists at Esquire and thought that what they do is interesting and I loved writing. I wanted to pursue a career in which I could still write and have viable opportunities so I tried my hand in public relations and never looked back.

Agency is where I started and agency is where I gleaned the bulk of my public relations skills and knowledge and that makes all the difference. You’re working at a fast pace and when you’re young you have all that energy to invest. You work those long hours and learn as much as you can and I think I applied that to my experience here with in-house. In-house is a lot different from agency because you only have one client. While I only have one client, I still kind of have my mini clients because I still have my different stakeholders in ownership property so I still kind of get the best of both worlds but I get to fully wrap my arms around one client.

How did you come to the decision that you preferred in-house over agency?

I love agency, I’ll always love agency. I was just reaching a point in my career where I had agency down. There’s a lot to learn there but I hit the point where I had it down and thought, ‘okay, I have a really good handle of what this looks like in terms of agency life, whether that’s securing new business or working with existing clients or leading teams. I had grown up the ranks in that space and was ready to take that acumen I had built and apply that internally. I wanted to, again, fully wrap my arms around one client so I had that foundation upon which I’d be building for all of my strategic efforts as opposed to how that would be juxtaposed with a multitude of clients. I get to dedicate all of my loyalty to one client this way so this is my personal preference.

How has PR changed since you entered the field?

Oh my gosh, it has changed dramatically. When I first was entering public relations, social media was just gaining some steam. Instagram launched shortly after I started, Uber wasn’t around yet, and Lyft wasn’t around yet, so that idea of on-demand services were really a sort of bourgeoning service outside of markets like New York. So over the years as these on-demand services have moved their way to the mass public psyche and consumer psyche, that changed the way the public relations landscape was shaped. Our job became something where you really had to be strategic about how you were positioning your brands and helping them reach their goals and helping show your ROI as a communicator as someone who was an advocate for these brands. We’re now in a consumer space where we are growing by on-demand so this idea of ‘right now’ in communication and how consumers have a limited attention span is a result. So what we had to do changed a lot. Our formula had to change. How quickly we moved had to change. How strategic we had to be in our storytelling had to change to stand out because we were now in a place where the masses have become the experts. That makes it really difficult to break through and resonate with the consumer in any meaningful way to drive ROI for your client, drive those bottom-line revenues and really help navigate their goals.

What do you do to keep current in the PR industry?

You know what, I’m always a big advocate on the more you know. So I’m constantly reading and I have all of my favorite news outlets and blogs and social influencers that I follow on a multitude of different platforms. I also learn something new every time I go to a PRSA event or I’m talking to other industry professionals or when go to speak somewhere. It’s that idea of forever learning. I live and die by that because you have to be tapped in to everything that is going on as tied to your client. So if your client is in an international space, you need to be up to date on all the latest and greatest international news, tech developments, whatever that might be. The same goes for if you’re in the domestic market, local market, whatever the market looks like for your client. I’m always ensuring that I am as diligent as possible and that I know what is going on. I know that sounds hard because you get so busy but I literally start my day by looking through all the different platforms because it ingratiates yourself so much to your clients and journalists. Journalists are really smart people and they need to know that they’re talking to someone who gets it because that’s how you get them to listen to what you have to say about your client. It also just helps you relate to people in different ways because you will always find that common talking point if you’re somewhat ahead of the curve. Your clients will look to you to be the expert on different topics so it’s really important to embrace that because you can only fake it for so long.

What do you wish you would have known before starting your career in PR?

Don’t be afraid to have confidence. I think for me personally I was really able to invest in myself from the very beginning and I invested myself 1000% in everything I could possibly do and I continued to do that for many years. That allowed me to advance very quickly at a very young age. I think every time I accomplished something, it felt amazing, of course, but it seems very linear with promotions and such. You always think ‘okay, I did this and this but I have x, y, and z to still accomplish.’ You kind of reach a point when you realize if you’d just believed in yourself, you’d have the opportunity to achieve so much more. You learn that it isn’t so linear and that it’s your path. You may go here, then there, then over there and generally your trajectory is North but it isn’t as cut out as you’d imagine it to be and that idea that you can be young and accomplish a lot is big for me personally. I always thought that I wasn’t doing enough or I wasn’t old enough to have that seasoned experience but then you kind of realize that if you put in a lot of work and you care a whole lot, you can do it. It’s not that I lacked confident but in that piece it was hard for me to be confident. I always was super humble. I wish I had just owned that a bit more instead of trying to constantly downplay it because I was so young. I would often say, ‘oh, this is good, but.’

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in PR?

-Say yes to everything

-Don’t be above anything.

Don’t think you’re above going and getting your client coffee or making copies. Regardless of the level I’ve been at, I’ve always had that mindset. One, it immediately ingratiates you to whomever your stakeholder is because they’ll think ‘whoa, this person will do anything for me’ and you just add to your value and become invaluable

-Don’t be afraid to work as hard as you possibly can

Push yourself to take on as much as you can without overdoing it because burnout is a real thing.

+ An honorary fourth

-Grammar is a real thing

Journalists will not listen to you if you have poor grammar or if you cannot write well or speak well so it’s important to invest in your AP Stylebook and live and die by it.

A huge thank you goes out to Jessica Abercrombie for taking the time out of her busy schedule to speak with me and helping me make this blog post possible. Having the opportunity to interview Jessica was a great learning experience and she touched on some concepts I really needed to hear as a college student studying public relations. If you would like to see what Jessica is up to now, check out her LinkedIn account.