While it is hard to give a definitive definition what public relations is, it is easier to give you an example of a publicist giving her all to her craft and sharing the blueprint for greatness in the field for younger women, specifically black women, to follow. Tequilla White, founder of Tequilla White PR and publicist at a global public relations firm, is a proud Black woman and loves bringing her blackness and unique perspective in the field.
While public relations looks to be a female dominated industry according to Data USA, only a little over 10% of publicists in the field are Black. White admits that navigating the field can be lonely at times, but she finds solace in knowing her particular skill-set and knowledge makes her an asset wherever she goes.
21Ninety wanted to know more about White, her PR firm and how she defines being a black publicist:
21NINETY: Let’s go back, before your company and before your degree and countless experience, did you always know public relations was for you?
TEQUILLA WHITE: I actually had no idea what public relations was until my sophomore year in college. I had always combined marketing and advertising together, never fully understanding how different they are and the role that public relations plays in selling a product. I took a public relations course as an elective and fell in love with it immediately. It involved all of the things that I was great at. Writing, talking to people and planning events. I was able to lean upon my strengths as a writer, public speaker and planner to excel in my course and I knew that I would be successful if I pursued it as a profession.
21N: Your life mantra is "Nothing is impossible — it's just about figuring out a way to make it happen," and after applying to countless agencies and not receiving any offers you went beyond applying for other positions and created your own company. What led you to that decision?
TW: It was a combination of frustration and impatience. I knew that I was qualified for these positions. I had completed several internships in college, volunteered at events to build my experience and completed the research in terms of what firms were looking for in new hires. I went to countless panels, networking events and even cold emailed some of the HR representatives to see what I was missing. I had to realize that I didn’t have anything missing, it was just a matter of luck and connections. Instead of waiting for someone to see the potential in me and give me an opportunity, I went out and created one for myself. It paid off in the long run and I was able to learn my own style of how I like to conduct business, truly building my brand.
21N: What has been one of the biggest challenges in working in an industry where only 10% of its talent is black? And what has been one of the biggest challenges being the boss of an agency in this type of market?
TW: One of the biggest challenges of working in an industry where I do not see my likeness reflected has been that sense of loneliness. I found it difficult to find professionals in my industry that I could bond with over shared experiences. Tacking on the stress that already comes with being black and being a woman, combining both and not being able to express that at first was extremely difficult and made me feel very isolated in the beginning. Being the founder and principal publicist of an agency in this type of market is actually not as difficult as people may think. Being able to bring my life experience to my clients is actually a huge advantage. A lot of companies are looking to tap into our culture and often fall flat because they do not have an authentic voice to contribute ideas and strategies. I can not only provide my expertise in the industry as a communications professional, I know what resonates with our culture and that is an invaluable asset.
21N: After the storm comes a rainbow, so in light of overcoming those challenges, what have been some of your biggest triumphs in the field?
TW: Although many of my successes have connected to my work like landing a major hit for my client or being asked to speak on a panel, my biggest triumph came in seeing the work that I did to amplify the amazing impact that my clients are making by supporting and educating communities of color. Being able to use my talents to help raise awareness for great people doing amazing work, for me is the greatest triumph.
21N: Overall, in your opinion, what does it mean to be a black publicist?
TW: Being a black, female publicist I am constantly battling with my identity and how to balance bringing all of my life experiences to the work that I do. Being a black woman means everything to me and knowing that I am bringing my blackness into every meeting that I take with a potential client and every time that I am representing a client strengthens me. It means working at the highest level of professionalism and always having more to prove than everyone else in the room.
21N: You now work for a global public relations agency, while maintaining Tequilla White PR, what are some key differences you notice from working with a global agency?
TW: The politics of working at an agency is the major difference for me. Not being able to work with certain clients solely off of how much money they can pay you and the connections the agency may have with executives, is different for me because I am used to working with clients that speak to me and that I truly believe in.
21N: Do you believe your voice is valued and your perspective is sought as a woman of color?
TW: I do believe that my voice is valued because I represent the demographic that brands are trying to reach on a consistent basis. We have so much power in our influence and we need to capitalize on that. I provide value to my team because I can provide a perspective that they don’t. Knowing what will come off authentic versus what will come off offensive is a key and that along with my expertise as a communicator allows me to add value to my team.
21N: As the industry continues to grow, what are some things you feel still need to be worked on in terms of diversity?
TW: Investing in talent at the junior level is key. Developing an intern and teaching them the politics of agency life can help them to be a greater asset to the team and a better communications professional in the future. Having more diversity in leadership roles trickles down to the junior talent. If you focus on the company culture making sure it is an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable and valued, it makes for a more productive workspace.
21N: From what you know now, what are 3 key pieces of advice would you give to women of color looking to break into the public relations field?
TW: 1. Do your research. If you can find the answer before you ask the question, you need to do that research and always be prepared.
2. Stay professional always. Make sure that you come into meetings prepared with all of your assets. Your website, business cards, social media platforms, and email etiquette should always be in order.
3. Do the work. Research can only get you so far. You have to put yourself out there to gain the experience that will make you a better publicist and grow your network. Opportunities aren’t always about the money but can sometimes expose you to people that can get you your next paid opportunity. Take advantage of those opportunities.
21N: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
TW: I want to make sure to stress the importance of collaboration over competition. Making sure that you lift as you climb, sharing opportunities with those around you is key. In an industry where the community of black, female publicists is small and connected you have to make sure that you are creating authentic relationships with those around you. Provide opportunities for others when you can and it will always come back to you.
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