In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Shelby McRae, APR, board member of PRSA-NCC, technology and communications manager in the Office of Communications for the PG County Government, and president/CEO of PremierePR. As you can see, Shelby has mastered the art of multitasking over the course of her more than 20-year career. And, as you’ll read, she never ceases to learn, advocate and pursue her passions.
PRSA-NCC Insider: Tell us about the work you do for the Prince George’s County Council Office of Communications?
SM: I am the technology and communications manager in the Office of Communications for the Prince George’s County Council and Legislative Branch, Prince George’s County Government. As systems administrator for the Council’s website, my duties include training all users, creating design and coordinating content; creating branding for Council initiatives, workgroups, and events; layout and design of Council publications, including Annual Reports, brochures, and marketing collaterals for the Legislative Branch. Additionally, I maintain the Council’s intranet internal presence and electronic newsletter. The digital monitors ,which feature our content, is also under my purview.
PRSA-NCC Insider: You have a full-time job in Prince George’s County, yet you have still been able to own and operate a separate PR consultancy, PremierePR, for the past 18 years. Please tell us about PremierePR and how you are able to juggle both positions.
SM: PremierePR is a home-based business I started to further enhance my PR skills in the area of entertainment. I saw a lack of firms in Metropolitan Washington that worked in that arena. PremierePR is a one-stop shop for media buys, green room prep, red carpet events and publicity. Projects include movies and event openings, and PremierPR has partnered on the management of major entertainment events and conferences across the nation. I have been richly blessed with opportunity.
My full-time position with Prince George’s County is demanding and requires attention to detail. All remaining days and hours are dedicated to family and managing PremierPR. It’s a balancing act, but I credit time management, determination and commitment for successfully managing it all.
PRSA-NCC Insider: You went to Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. What first interested you in studying communications and where did you get your first experience as a practitioner?
SM: I became interested in communications after hearing a speech from Wendy Walker, a Hollins alum who worked as the senior producer for the Larry King Show for over 18 years. Her speech motivated me to pursue a career in communications. I interned at an NBC affiliate during my senior year and found that I like the crafting of stories better than producing, which led to a transition from news to public relations.
PRSA-NCC Insider: Your pet project is working with cancer survivors at your church. How did you get involved with them and what type of work have you helped them with?
SM: I am a cancer survivor, and I know firsthand the challenges we face from the diagnosis through treatment. It is a horrible disease that requires a village to manage. I am happy to share my experiences and resources to assist others who are learning to live with the battle against cancer in their lives.
PRSA-NCC Insider: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of public relations today?
SM: The most challenging aspect is perception of what public relations really is. Terms like “spin” and “fake news” have tarnished our industry. We also have the introduction of social media, which has saturated many outreach efforts with those who want to be seen as practitioners, without the training and experience.
PRSA-NCC Insider: How do you seek continued education and growth in the profession?
SM: I have been a member of PRSA since 2003 and it has been the main source for continuing growth in the industry. I became an APR in 2005 because I wanted to demonstrate my desire to fully embrace public relations and learn all aspects of the industry. I am currently working on my master’s degree in data analytics as a way of blending metrics and research to assist in developing better strategies and issues management.
PRSA-NCC Insider: As an African-American woman, what is your impression of our industry’s response to diversity?
SM: Diversity remains a challenge in every sector of our country. Even so, the work of those who value the significant contribution of diverse communities to the fabric of our nation inspires me to keep breaking barriers. I wholly agree with PRSA that “while the practice of public relations in the United States has undergone dramatic changes, a lack of diversity in communication management positions persists.”
I am inspired by the commitment of the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and their work to help every practitioner pursue this profession and climb the corporate ladder. I remain hopeful that more minority-owned firms will begin to be more competitive on the larger accounts. The industry is an open window for diversity.
PRSA-NCC Insider: What are some of the biggest lessons learned in your career that you have carried with you and that attribute to your success?
SM: I’m a technology person and I believe in delivering excellence in all I do. Steve Jobs has a great quote, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” I’m still learning, but thus far I’ve figured out that quality work and a reputation for excellence will get you the next big client. I continue to work hard to offer both.
PRSA-NCC Insider: You currently write an online blog about the DC-area fashion scene. What do you focus on and how did it begin?
SM: I started DCMetrostyle out of my passion for fashion and style. There are many professional women in this area who are always seeking new boutiques and designers to help build a professional wardrobe. I am currently revamping the site to produce more video and plan to relaunch in the spring at DCMetrostyle.com.
PRSA-NCC Insider: Where do you think PR is going as a profession?
SM: The media business is quickly changing and so is public relations. Where and how we receive our news or promote events has been greatly influenced by social and digital media. We are also challenged by technology which can fool clients into believing that the untrained can do the job. In this current landscape, we must be careful to respect the basics of our training and foundation, while remaining current on trends and technology.
We must embrace innovative ways to reach reporters and the public, and in many cases, we must abandon our heavy reliance on media as a partner and stand ready to help clients (many of whom demand more and pay less) tell their own story. Achieving these goals would be much more difficult, if not impossible without organizations like the Public Relations Society of America, certifying professionals, providing critical opportunities for training, advancement, and networking.