PR Legend: Debra A. Miller


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Miller photo

Public relations leader, strategist, counselor, researcher, educator and advocate. The 2006 Gold Anvil winner and 1997 president of PRSA is the first woman of color, and the second educator to head the 30,000-member organization. Miller currently leads a team of marketing and communication professionals at Clark Atlanta University, the only private, historically black college or university classified as a Doctoral/Research Intensive Institution in the country.

Two thousand six was a very good year. Becoming the first woman of color to win the coveted Gold Anvil Award was a defining moment for me personally and professionally. I have been fortunate to practice this craft for almost 30 years in a variety of organizations. I have educated and mentored practitioners, contributed to the body of knowledge and created a new discipline that helped practitioners become proficient in communicating with multicultural audiences.

What I’ve learned over the years is that this profession challenges each of us to be prepared to chance the unconventional; to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with change; to master the art of good storytelling; and to be trustworthy, passionate, forward-thinking visionaries.

I’ve also learned that success comes from knowing the answer to the question, “What is your deepest fear?” Author Marianne Williamson’s eloquent words serve as a mantra for all of us high-achievers who view the word “no” as an incentive to be more creative:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I offer these words of wisdom to educate, energize and empower the next generation of public relations practitioners to be fearless. Those of us who have come before you have had to push open doors and envelopes, challenge the status quo, take calculated risks and continue to be outspoken advocates for this profession. We have savored the accolades, borne the criticism and given our time and talent to help create a profession that values itself and those who practice it ethically. The following recommendations have inspired me and continue to keep me energized.

Perhaps they’ll work for you as well.

  • Every problem can be solved with effective public relations.
  • Learn how money is made and spent in the world.
  • Lead by example. You either stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.
  • Develop your own vision statement, develop a plan and work that plan.
  • Become your own brand and let it guide you to personal success.
  • Find your passion in this profession and then do what you enjoy throughout your career.
  • Learn how to communicate directly and professionally.
  • Stay abreast of the new technology.
  • Become proficient at writing for non-captive audiences.
  • Read, read and read some more. A well-read person is a great conversationalist.
  • Make a commitment to lifelong learning today: You can’t change behavior if you don’t understand it.
  • Not measuring is not an option. Numbers are our friends.
  • Mentors are a necessity throughout one’s career. Develop relationships with colleagues at various stages in their careers. You’ll be surprised what you can learn from their mistakes and successes.
  • Approach diversity as an opportunity, not a problem.
  • Keep your own counsel, but never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
  • Always give back to the profession by using your talent and experience to help others.
  • Join a professional association such as PRSA and become involved.
  • Don’t take yourself seriously–take your work seriously.
  • If you have a sense of humor, great. If you don’t, find one quickly. You’ll need it if you want to survive in this profession.

Your career journey in public relations will be full of surprises. There will be great successes and perhaps a few failures. No matter what lies ahead, stand tall, hold your head up and don’t be afraid!

DMiller SignaturePublished: 2007