Q&A: Jinx Coleman Broussard, 2021 Dr. Bruce K. Berger Educator Honoree

The Plank Center recognizes and promotes the critical role mentors play in helping to develop leaders and advance the profession and honors leaders throughout the profession who, by word and deed, have demonstrated a superior commitment to mentoring others, and who are committed to accelerating the success of others in the field at its annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. Our question and answer series introduces the 2021 Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.

Meet Dr. Jinx Coleman Broussard

An award-winning professor, scholar, author, and public relations practitioner with more than three decades of experience, Dr. Jinx Coleman Broussard holds the Bart R. Swanson Endowed Memorial Professorship in the Manship School of Mass Communication. While teaching journalism, public relations, and strategic communication on the college level, Broussard earned a doctorate and solidified her career in the academy. She had been director of university for Dillard University in New Orleans, press secretary to the city’s mayor and director of public information for the city. She also was CEO of Jinx Broussard Consulting and Public Relations for several years.

What makes a successful mentorship?

Several components make a successful mentorship. First, I view mentorship as a calling. That’s my no. 1 overall approach. And based on that approach, I do certain things every day of my life, whether in the classroom or with emerging professionals. Those components are teaching, counseling, advocating and intervening. I was on a committee last year and I’m still on it, where we discussed the roles of a mentor and what and what mentoring involves. And as I said, mine is about seeing this more as well, this is another task that I have to do. But I also embrace this as something that I want to do; it’s an opportunity to enhance and impart knowledge while empowering young people, whether they are young students, junior professors, which is where I’m working now in an academic setting, or young professionals. My goal is to empower them to learn not only in the moment, but to become lifelong learners. So, learn everything you can about what it takes to get into the field of public relations and what you need to do to become a successful public relations practitioner. That’s the first one with regards to teaching. Now, you might ask me, ‘How do you enact that teaching component?’ One of the first things I do is set high expectations. That is the key. I use myself as an example. And I tell students stories and young professionals about my life and getting into the field of public relations. Then, I help them to see the possibilities of what they can be. So, I help these young professionals to see that, well, if Jinx Broussard could do this, then I can.  I challenge them immediately to dig deep inside of themselves to do things that they did not even think that they could achieve.

I’ll give you my PR campaigns class as an example. Some students who enroll in my class can be anxious or even afraid. I say to them — and this is what a mentor does while teaching — ‘You can do this. Now let’s figure out how. I will be with you every step of the way. You are not in this alone. I am going to engage with you; I am going to brainstorm with you. I’m going to empower you to get engaged in doing this right in a way that best serves you and your organization.’ 

Counseling is equally important, from providing advice on a subject they deem important to career development to setting goals for our campaign, or even just trying to find an apartment if the mentee is new to the area. I want to make sure that the counseling component is not only about job counseling, but who the mentees can go to for feedback on a press release or interacting with upper management or a client.  As an advocate, I can be a voice who can use my status in the organization to intervene for that individual.  Intervening can also mean reaching out via a phone call, email or Zoom and welcoming that young professional, or offering to have coffee or lunch. In that way, you make the mentees feel they are part of the organization before they arrive. When they arrive,  you check in with them periodically to see how things are going.  Hence, mentoring involves teaching, counseling, advocating and intervening, and empowering while doing all of those things.

At its core, mentoring is about advancing the learning and development of the mentee. But how do both parties set goals for professional improvement?

Yes, that’s a great question. As soon as I identify a mentee or a mentee identifies me, we talk first. We get to know each other. We don’t just start  the conversation by saying, ‘My goals are to do this or to do that.’ First, we break the ice and make sure each of us is comfortable in the mentoring relationship. One of the things I have done is helping the emerging professional to overcome the view of me as intimidating. I do that in the college setting where I am now, but I also did it in my professional public relations settings. My students sometimes say to me, ‘Dr. Broussard, you’ve done so much, and I can’t believe you want to take the extra time with me.’ My usual answer is, ‘I’m just a regular person who has worked hard, and I would love nothing more than to mentor you. So, think about me as a person who wants to be involved in a mentor-mentee relationship that’s going to benefit you. But ultimately, I benefit because I get such satisfaction.’ Having broken the ice, I then look at ways to constantly engage them. I ask questions and they ask questions. We talk about goals and objectives, about what’s realistic and what their timeline is and what strategies they might employ. Time management, relaxation, being proactive. Nothing is eliminated until we reach consensus. A lot of times mentees come to me and have no idea what they want to do or how they plan to succeed in the organization or how to work with a client. Right away, we start brainstorming ideas, while we jot notes. And then I say, ‘So give me some of your ideas; what are your takeaways?.’ To sum up,  I try to reassure mentees that I’m just one person who is invested in them and who wants to engage them in their goal setting. They set goals, we talk, and we collaborate on how they’re going to achieve their goals. This is an organic process that grows and is sustained.

How can mentors be most effective in their relationships with their mentees?

I would say, they should build trust and be available. Trust means reassuring mentees that our relationship is a collaboration where they have agency. Assure the mentee that nothing is too trivial to discuss. Convey to mentees that you can be an advocate, a counselor, an advisor, and a source of support who can intervene when challenges arise that they don’t feel equipped to meet or because they rear reprisals. Always be willing to intervene.  Being available also is very important. You cannot be a mentor and meet with your mentee once a month. While some professionals may not agree, being available, for me, involves giving mentees my telephone number and asking them not to call me after 9 p.m. Or taking an emergency call when I’m at a Saints football game. These are only examples among many that convey that I am invested in mentees; however, I also tell them I will not be more invested than they are. 

What advice would you recommend for those who are interested in a mentor-mentee relationship?

I would tell the mentor to recognize that the relationship is organic and will grow as both parties build trust.  Ask  ‘How are things going? Did you go home last weekend? What’s on your mind? How’s the family? Also, set high expectations.  To the mentees, I would say, “have the confidence to know and believe that someone is really interested in you as a person and a professional, because those two aspects align. Then I give professional advice or discuss plans or options,  I seek to get menteens to recognize the value they bring to the organization and believe it is a place they can find professional fulfillment. Mentors, likewise, should not behave as if the mentee is just another number on the organization’s checklist because the worst thing that can happen is to have the mentee feel as if the mentor is checking a box.  

I convey to the mentee that with confidence comes responsibility on both of our parts to be engaged. I’m the kind of mentor who accepts no excuses. If we’re planning to meet at 11 a.m., you need to be at my office or the designated location at 11 a.m., not five after, not 10 minutes after. One of my favorite pieces of advice is “make yourself necessary. Go the extra mile.” Finally, for the mentor, recognize that the mentee is just beginning the professional journey and be patient and understanding while being firm. 

What have you learned personally from a mentorship experience?

I have learned that the mentoring experience gives me joy. I know that might sound trite, but, in my view, there is nothing more fulfilling than engaging young people and emerging professionals in developing the roadmap to self-empowerment; that can bring immeasurable satisfaction. As I said, I have learned that my mentoring is a wonderful calling that impacts so many lives. I have been so fortunate over the years to witness people such as John Deveney, who I selected one summer as a Mayoral Fellow when I was press secretary to the Mayor of New Orleans, then selected him as an intern the next summer, and then hired him when he graduated from college the next summer. I did not know that what I was doing was mentoring, and only found out that John considered me a mentor when he told me. This was an organic process. With John and others I have mentored, as soon as they step into my office or even meet me, before you know it, I have started mentoring. Because I’m probing, and I’m asking questions, I’m showing interest. And when they move on, I remain in touch, letting them know that I’m still available. That’s one of my major lessons.  If you continue doing this for the rest of your life, you can have a major impact on the progress of hundreds of young people.’ 

What inspires you to mentor others?

I don’t know if I can say any one thing inspired me. I just started doing it. It’s part of my everyday life. I will say that I had people in my life who gave me advice and counsel and who went the extra mile with me? Maybe I found myself imitating them and that might have been the inspiration. But you know what? I think it’s always just been part of who I am. I like to give advice and I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. So, it’s always been a part of my personality, such that I can’t point to any one thing that inspired me.

Why are mentorship relationships so important in our industry specifically?

I think mentorship relationships are perhaps more important now than ever because we know that young professionals who are not people of color often have mentors. But it’s important overall, because for someone, no matter what the race or ethnicity, entering the work world could be daunting. So having someone who can be a teacher, a counselor, an advocate, and someone who’s willing to intervene, can provide them the extra security and the extra motivation to succeed. So that’s one part overall with regards to why mentoring is important. Someone who can, again, show people the basic kinds of things, such as where the copy machine is in the office, but also, who can help them to focus on what it takes to develop within that organization. The same applies, I believe, even more so with people of color, who often walk into a place that’s foreign to them. Beyond it being a different city, it’s a different environment. So, having a mentor who can be that advocate, who can be that person who can intervene, who can help them to understand the machinations of the organization, and who can show them that their voices and their presence are more important than just being a number on the organization’s spreadsheet — that’s so important. Too often, you know, people of color, just feel as though they are on an island. And not having a mentor might mean a very short stint in that organization.

Please summarize your professional career and its high and low points. So, you know, how did you work your way up the ladder? What have you learned along the way? And maybe what factors most contributed to your personal success?

I’ll give you a little backstory. I grew up on a plantation in Louisiana and went to an all-Black high school. I  did not have indoor plumbing or a telephone. But my personality was such that I always thought I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be. I wanted to be a journalist and LSU offered journalism. So, I was able to get my high school teacher’s son to give me a ride to LSU where I prayed the whole time that I would not be the only Black person in my class and the only Black person in the dorm, which wound up being almost the case. And I wound up, four years later, graduating as the first African American to earn an undergraduate degree. That was the beginning of my professional journey. Deciding to leave the plantation and go to an all-white school from a Black high school that didn’t even teach foreign languages, to graduating four years later, not five or six, to getting a job at the New Orleans States-Item [inaudible]. That was my first professional job. 

During my first three days on the job, the city editor sent me to the mailroom to seal envelopes. I was the only female reporter on the news side, and I was one of two Blacks on the news side — there was one other male. I was one of two Blacks, period, in the whole newspaper. So, automatically, I was relegated to failure. After a few days, I believe the city editor would have said, ‘She just didn’t cut it,’ not even giving me the opportunity to go out and cover stories. So, that African American young man went to the city editor and said, ‘You know, this story idea just came to me.’ Then, he said, ‘Why don’t you send Jinx out to cover it?’ So, I did. That was during the days when you took a cab to the assignment; you used pen and paper and typewriters. I did the interview and came back to the newsroom. I was given a job at that paper, but not given a typewriter or anything. So, when I came back and tried to write the story — this was a low point, you know, going to work and being overtly discriminated against. Everybody I asked to use their typewriter said, ‘No, I’m busy.’ They were not doing anything for the most part. One person said, “Jinx, you can use my typewriter.” So, I banged out that story and the copy editor read it. The city editor then sent me right away on another assignment. I stayed there for a year. As I think back, this could have been my dream job — being a reporter. But it was probably the low point in my career because of the discrimination. I ate lunch in the cafeteria everyday by myself. I learned quickly during that first week that nobody was going to eat with me. So, I decided to start going to the cafeteria about 10 minutes before they did and get my own table. That way, if anybody wanted to sit with me, they could. I tell you, they would pass my table with their heads up not making eye contact. So, that’s the low point. Ever since that, it has been phenomenal. 

So, after leaving the newspaper, I got a job opportunity at Dillard University, where I was director of university relations, and that was a phenomenal experience. After being there for 14 years, I got a call from the newly elected mayor of New Orleans. Just to make a long story short, he offered me the opportunity to be his press secretary. During the Clinton campaign, I took a leave from the mayor’s office, with his encouragement, to be the Louisiana media director for the Clinton-Gore campaign. When I left City Hall and the mayor after almost eight years, I started my own PR company. I was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I was a one-person staff. Every client thought he or she was my boss. One client even told me in a meeting with all men, ‘Jinx, just take notes.’ But I was there to provide advice and counsel. 

So, while running my one-person consultancy, I went to Dillard University and volunteered to be an adjunct professor. I wound up teaching two classes as an adjunct. I kept my PR company for about three years but ended up letting go of it because of the reasons I just told you. I found that I enjoyed teaching so much. Even when I was doing university relations at Dillard, I set up the first media writing class. 

So, my career has been nothing but highs quite frankly. And I think, in fact, I know that I have been able to succeed because I have always gone that extra mile. I have never allowed myself to be idle. I use a philosophy by a  former president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, who, decades ago, helped put that college on the map. I’m paraphrasing his quote, but he said, ‘Do your job so well that no man living and no man dead could do it any better.’ This is what I tell my students; this is what I tell young professionals. That is my mantra. So, I live and breathe mentoring. I always want to do it right. It’s the philosophy of doing my job. I don’t care if I do it any better than anybody else. That used to be my philosophy, but now it’s to do it to the best of my ability.  That has stood me in good stead over the years.

Leadership in any field, seems crucial to success and the future of that field. But leadership is a broad term with many dimensions and connotations. So, could you please define what leadership in public relations means to you?

One: being a visionary. That is, being able to see the big picture, what is happening, and what is about to happen or what might happen? That’s the boundary scanning function. A visionary also sets the tone for the organization, and inspires and empowers others to be and want to be a part of this enterprise that we call public relations. I go back to one of my favorite words; invest. So, a visionary has the capability and skills set to get others to become invested in the organization, whether it’s a PR firm or an agency, as invested in the client, and as invested in the global community. 

I also see a leader as someone who is an expert communicator, who is candid, who is clear and who is focused, and who can build a team. So, I tell my students that they are a team. We form public relations agencies in my PR campaigns class, and the students are the team. I tell them, ‘You are the staff and I am the CEO. You will accompany me in envisioning how to best meet the needs of your clients.’ Along the way, I watch them become team leaders. That’s where that visionary part comes in–helping them to see they can inspire others to follow. But notice what I’m also talking about. I’m talking about engaging and empowering them to be a part of the process. 

Another is being decisive and being flexible. As a leader, you are the chief decision maker, right? You’re not the administrator; you might be the chief goal setter and perhaps the chief visionary, but you cannot be a dictator. So, you can be decisive, yet flexible. You can instill in people the desire to follow you down a  path and you involve them on the journey. So, to me, that’s what leadership is about. And a leader has to have integrity and be trustworthy, because without that, who wants to follow this leader over time?

In your view, what are the three or four most important characteristics or qualities of excellent leaders and public relations?

No 1.: Integrity, honesty and trustworthiness. If you are honest, if you have integrity, if you behave ethically, you will inspire trust. That’s key to me. Another goes along with what I just said — being visionary and insightful. That is, being able to see that big picture. Somebody has to be able to do that; to help others see what the big picture is and how to get there. That was number two. I’ve talked about integrity. I’ve talked about being visionary and insightful. The other is being able to recognize and respect differences. You know, we hear a lot about DEI. Hopefully, that’s not just a moment in time. We’ve seen it happen so often where an incident occurs and people, and organizations — be they PR agencies, governmental institutions or educational institutions — everybody focuses on diversity, some only for the moment, which is unfortunate. DEI has to be part of the fabric of everything we do. So, recognizing and respecting diversity has to be crucial to how we practice public relations. It has to be part of the core values because that is the only way that PR professionals, in my view, can build organizations that meet the needs of clients while operating and remaining viable in the global society in which we live. So, what you’re doing is being clear to the client, the staff, and anyone else involved in the process, about why DEI is not just a moment in time, but a major part of the lifeblood of an organization. We fail to do so at our own peril.

And it goes without saying that the qualities I’ve discussed all will coalesce around caring, and compassion and communication. In that way, you can assure that you can achieve success, again, for your organization, or your client, for your team. 

And I mention the word team now because I haven’t used that term the whole time we’ve been talking today. Team building is virtually at the core of what I’ve been talking about regarding leadership, engagement, encouragement, enhancement and empowerment. Teamwork enables PR to build and sustain lasting and beneficial relationships. An excellent team equates to excellent public relations, whether it is the agency/client,  the organization and stakeholder, or the mentor and mentee.

Do you think that leadership can be taught, or are you born with it?

I think in a lot of ways people are born with leadership qualities. But I think almost anything can be taught. So, this is what I tell emerging professionals and young people. ‘You can dig deep down inside. There are enough seminars, there are enough courses, there are enough examples that can guide you in the whole visionary process.’ So, I think you can learn how to be a leader. Now, some people never will be because it’s not a part of their personality. I think I was born with leadership qualities because I’ve always been assertive. I’ve always been aggressive. I’ve always been sure of myself. Some people will never be leaders, and that is fine. But I do believe that others have the capacity for learning how to become leaders, by taking advantage of what I’ve just said, by looking at The Plank Center and similar organizations, by being involved, by attending conferences. Before you know it, you’ve become this visionary; you’ve become one step above or two steps above the administrator. You’ve become someone who sets the tone and guides and inspires.

What is the most powerful learning experience that you have encountered with respect to leadership in the field?

I was an AEJMC fellow years ago, where participants were administered different tests to determine where their talents lied. When the results of the tests came back, the facilitator said, ‘Wow, you’re quite an administrator. Based on your results, we don’t see you as being a leader.’ Again, I had been leading organizations and doing all of the things that we have talked about. So, that was kind of a shock to me. I worked on letting go. That’s one thing I learned — empower. Don’t try to do it all yourself. That was a very important lesson because of the main factors the test indicated made me an administrator, as opposed to a leader. It detected that I often took it upon myself to make sure that everything was done right, and often did it myself. But a key leadership quality is empowering others and giving the necessary feedback.

Please name one individual who you believe to be the most outstanding leader in the field today, and what makes this individual such an outstanding leader?

John Deveney. I have watched John’s career from when he was a student at Loyola, to becoming one of the top leaders, not just in the United States, but internationally. And I think John’s success — I’ve never sat down and talked with him about it, but just having observed him — is that he is visionary. He is thoughtful. He has integrity. He is honest. He is a teacher. John is someone who has always gone that extra mile and made sure that excellence was his lodestar. I believe that is what has made him the phenomenal success and the phenomenal leader in public relations that he is today. A leader leaves no one behind; John teaches and tries to bring people along with him and elevate them. He is a mentor.

In your view, is there a historical figure who exemplified outstanding leadership in the field and why?

Let me tell you, yes. And I’m going way back. I wrote a chapter on Ida B. Wells in my first book. As I was researching her for my dissertation, and then for the book that was based on my dissertation, I realized that Ida B. Wells practiced PR before Ivy Lee Ledbetter and Edward Bernays. But she was invisible as a PR person. Wells, from the late 1890s to the early 1900s, waged an anti-lynching crusade that was an ongoing public relations campaigns, applying the strategies and tactics that we associate with PR today, beginning with the research to provide the evidence, to identifying the problem, coming up with goals and objectives to implementing by giving speeches and lectures and traveling abroad, evaluating at the end, and achieving success. So, hats off to Ida B. Wells, not just a muckraking journalist, but a pioneering PR professional.

What can the profession do to help new professionals or those with experience in the field develop greater leadership skills?

Well, everything I’ve talked about. Mentoring for sure. Being a mentor to young professionals, providing for them, advocating for them, being their intermediary when they run into problems, counseling young people so that they remain in the profession, letting them know that there are listeners, that the organization or that PR as a profession is as invested in them and their success as it is into maintaining the sustainability of PR as a profession, especially in this day and age of fake news and alternative facts given by people who are viewed as public relations practitioners, which in turn provides a negative connotation. 

So, honesty, integrity, providing that roadmap, providing the mentors, making people aware of available opportunities to obtain training, to enhance their development, to help them to become lifelong PR learners, and lifelong PR professionals who never stop growing in the field. If we instill and we embody honesty and integrity, if we seek the best and the brightest — and we don’t always have to just look for the best and the brightest because others can be nurtured and their skills enhanced so that they can also be attractive. That’s part of what I also encourage. Everybody will not be at the top of the class; everybody will not participate in or win the Bateman competition. As I indicated, somebody might be ‘average,’ in your view. But your organization can help that person achieve near greatness by investing in them, sending them to conferences, having a cup of coffee with them, advocating for them, making them feel that they have allies in the public relations world. I hear the word allyship a lot now. That word embodies what I’ve talked about with you. That ally, that advocate, that mentor can, from the very beginning, motivate the emerging professional and even those with experience to dig deep, never giving up on them if they show potential. Try to get to the root of their lack of success and help them with the strategies and the tactics to address whatever that shortcoming might be. If someone is an excellent writer, but doesn’t have the best grammar when communicating orally, I sit down and I say, ‘You express your thoughts well, but your grammar is problematic. This is what you can do. There is a course you can take, there are seminars that you could attend, but you know what, you can pick up a grammar book. Because that might be the one thing that holds you back. You might write an excellent campaign plan; you might write an excellent pitch. But if you are not speaking standard English, you might lose the client.’  I do that in a way that’s not threatening, but that communicates concern and a desire for that person to succeed within the organization. And then I tell them, ‘Ultimately, you’re responsible. I’m sharing a roadmap; I’m giving you advice. You’re going to have to be the person to improve your  grammar because that’s the one thing that will hold you back.’ That’s where the candor comes into play. As a leader, you have to be able to speak to young professionals. Point out their shortcomings, but don’t call them shortcomings. And you must celebrate their success.