Sultana F. Ali, APR | PRSA-NCC
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Sultana F. Ali, APR

Senior Public Relations Manager
Liquidity Services, Inc.
Sultana F Ali APR

Years as a Member of PRSA-NCC: 2

Why did you join PRSA-NCC?
Contributing to my profession and staying up to date on the latest trends helps me to be the best I can in my role as a Senior PR Manager for a global company based in D.C. Tools such as Strategist Magazine and Public Relations Tactics help me to stay-in-the-know and opportunities to network and connect with like-minded professionals in my business in the D.C. area are very beneficial.

How long have you been in the PR field?
8+ years, not counting my marketing and sales jobs, which I feel contribute to my PR background.

What was your first job in the profession?
I started as a sales consultant 14 years ago and from there, went into marketing and technical writing for technology companies. Working firsthand with engineers and technicians provided me with insight into their world and my role in shaping the product marketing. Over that period of time, I gained teaching and training experience, even spending a year as a high school math teacher, which was an exercise in daily crisis communications!

In 2004, I formally entered the public relations industry. I started at a boutique agency in Florida where I was a generalist, helping a variety of clients – from a leading university to a top running retailer (Track Shack) - to shape messages and tell their story.

I relocated to Washington, DC to work for Ketchum, an award-winning global agency, where I worked with clients like FedEx and Bayer, providing counsel on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and strategic PR support for other clients in health care and public affairs, including a Federal government agency. This year, I moved over to the in-house side, providing strategic public relations counsel as the Senior PR Manager for Liquidity Services, Inc., a fast-growing company and the market leader in surplus asset recovery.

Tell us about your range of experience and/or your greatest skills.
Public speaking (I’ve addressed audiences from 5 to 500) in a range of circumstances, sometimes with only five minutes’ notice (I am very good at “winging it”). Critical thinking and problem solving skills are also core assets – the ability to work through any challenge and find a way to gear a team toward a solution.

I’m also skilled at writing to fit a variety of purposes and formats - from press releases to talking points to web content - as well as to communicate the purpose and goals of tools and programs to C-suite leaders. I have also found that the general good nature and friendliness I inherited from my mother has come in handy in my earnestness to work with a range of stakeholders to ensure the story of an organization or goal of a project is told in a compelling and accurate way.

What’s your greatest career achievement?
While I have some notable achievements in my PR career (helping to launch the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Launch Experience comes to mind), my greatest achievement has been what I did outside the office. I spent nearly a decade mentoring high school students in academic competitions in Central Florida, coaching them to become international champions. From them I learned that when you pull together the right ingredients for a team, provide leadership and direction and then fuel your team with passion, you ignite possibilities you could not have imagined. My former students are working at places like Microsoft, SpaceX, Space Composites, and many other reputable companies, but more importantly, they are leading happy and fulfilling lives, and it’s an honor to have been a part of that.

What are your current career/professional goals?
I work for a global company in the Washington, D.C. area that employs talented and intelligent professionals, and has a great story to tell, especially around our capabilities in developing sustainability and surplus asset solutions in innovative ways. I’m excited about putting my skills to work to increase awareness of both the company and the industry. 

How would you describe your professional philosophy?
Never compromise your integrity; we usually know the right thing to do and it’s important to choose that even if the path is steeper to your goal. Not only is your reputation in the PR field paramount, but it’s important to be able to face yourself when you look in the mirror. Always be honest and transparent whenever possible and exercise excellence in all things – whether writing, speaking, or leading. If it is within your power to go the extra mile, it’s always a wise course of action.

Who would you consider to be your mentor, and why?
I feel very blessed to have had a number of mentors in the PR field as I “earned my stripes.” Nick Ragone at Ketchum’s D.C. office has been influential in my PR career; he is an inspiration to me as he finds a way to combine his interests and passions while leading one of the top agencies in the area. Additionally, his commitment to make a difference genuinely separates him from many other executives in the business.

Bud Brewer, one of the best crisis communicators and strategists in the state of Florida, was my mentor and PR coach as the president of the boutique agency where I started out in the PR field. Todd Persons and Kathy Pierson also taught me the nuts and bolts of media relations.

I have also learned valuable character lessons from indirect role models: humility from Mother Teresa, integrity from Abraham Lincoln, ingenuity and courage from Amelia Earhart, conviction of character from Mahatma Gandhi, and the power of learning from others and staying open to possibility from Oprah Winfrey.

Offer any advice you have for maintaining work/life balance.
This is a challenge, especially in the PR profession where we are expected to not only master our role and scope of work, but to be responsive to last minute requests and crises and be "in the know." This is exacerbated by the hectic pace of "work hard, play hard" in the National Capital Area.

The key is to select a couple of nights a week where you refuse to turn on your computer at home and leave the phone at more than an arm's length away to prevent any desire to check e-mail; this will encourage you to unplug to read a book, watch your favorite show, or just putter around the house (puttering around really does not receive the accolades it deserves).

In addition, finding one or two things that relax you that you can incorporate into your routine - for me it is running and yoga (this often means saying "no" sometimes to other requests). Remember that your downtime is not optional, it's mandatory! After these activities, I find I'm able to return to the phone and work with a refreshed perspective and keep my upbeat zest for life.

Offer any advice you have for today’s PR practitioner.
If you don’t have a passport, get one and if you already do, then book a trip somewhere you always wanted to go in the world. The greatest things I have learned about public relations have been from interacting with people in other countries and on other continents.

I also spent a month as a goodwill ambassador for Rotary in their Group Study Exchange program in the Philippines in 2008. On this trip, I presented daily on my work in PR and my life to large and small groups across the country. The opportunity to address their questions and talk one on one with the families I lived with drastically changed my perspective.

We live in an interdependent world and the more we seek to embrace our humanity and understand other cultures and beliefs, the more we will excel in our profession and throughout our lives. I also recommend giving back through your profession.

Many nonprofit groups lack the resources to effectively implement PR programs and we can serve our community in a meaningful way. I served on the national board of directors for the UN Association of the USA, which was an amazing exercise in learning about global issues firsthand and it was only one of the many boards I served on over the years.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I embrace the adventurous side of life. I like to travel to farflung places, oftentimes on my own, and immerse myself in new cultures. I enjoy staying fit through day hiking or backpacking trips and love to run in Washington, D.C. through the gorgeous parks and trails this area has to offer. I also have a deep love of music and sing in a local choir.