Women in PR: Alicia Thompson


Alicia Thompson, APR, serves as VP of Communication for Edible Arrangements. She has more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing marketing, corporate and crisis/issues management communications strategy and programs for privately-held and publicly-traded companies and agencies. Alicia is a member of The Plank Center’s Board of Advisors.

Please summarize your professional career and its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? What have you learned along the way? What factors most contributed to your success?)

I began my career in a boutique agency specializing in entertainment and lifestyle PR. I represented music venues, like the Fox Theatre and Lakewood Amphitheatre, and restaurants like Planet Hollywood and Brasserie Le Coze. Since those early years, I’ve had the great pleasure to work for and with some of Atlanta’s iconic brands including The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, Bellsouth Corporation, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen; and some of the city’s top global agencies – Edelman, Porter Novelli, and Cohn & Wolfe.

Along the way, I certainly have had highs and lows. Amongst my lows, my first job layoff from a job that I loved and the departures of some beloved bosses and mentors as they pursued new opportunities with other companies. There have also been a number of highs like the opening of Planet Hollywood Atlanta, turning Times Square orange to celebrate a bold competitive claim for Popeyes and the successful navigation of a couple of CEO transitions. All in all, I have had an amazing career and I am so proud of all that I have accomplished.

According to The Holmes Report, women make up about 70% of the PR workforce, but they only hold about 30% of the top positions in the industry. Why do you think there is a shortage of women leaders in PR? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I wish I had a definitive answer for this question. I think the problem is multi-faceted. First, I think you have men at the top that are not open to promoting women into leadership roles, no matter what they may say. Second, I think female practitioners are groomed to be the best practitioners possible but they are not groomed to know and become leaders of the business. And third, I think that there are very few role models in leadership positions that demonstrate to younger women how to lead and have a family.

What can organizations (and the industry as a whole) do to prepare women for top leadership positions? What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in leadership?

Organizations must do a better job of exposing and teaching women the business of our business. Young women must be introduced to P&Ls, Balance Sheets, etc. at a much earlier point in their career. Organizations must invest in classes in these areas. They must also invest in leadership training with consistency.

As a role model for women, what advice do you have for women interested in a career in public relations?

I constantly strive to demonstrate the importance of lifelong learning to women in the industry. Having a natural curiosity is important, but if you push yourself to continue to grow and look for opportunities to expand your knowledge, you will ask for the training and opportunities that can push you to those leadership positions. You can’t sit back and wait for someone to recognize your value, you have to show them and ask for the opportunities to do so.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

“People may hear your worlds, but they feel your attitude.” John Maxwell It is so important that you recognize that people are often watching you more than they are listening to you. Your attitude speaks volumes and as a good leader you have to reflect the attitude you want your team to carry as well

What are three ways you inspire and encourage teamwork among your team?

  1. I encourage open, honest communications, always stressing that constructive conflict is ok.
  2. I make sure they know that I have their back and that I roll up my sleeves alongside them to get things done.
  3. I constantly remind them that failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more wisely (Henry Ford). We fail as a team and we win as a team.

Was there a pivotal moment in your career when you knew you were empowering those around you?

When I took over the Edelman Atlanta office as General Manager, I had an office staff of 120 people. It was during my second or third management team meeting with my 13 direct reports that I realized that I was empowering them to implement my vision for the office to their teams on a day to day basis. It was scary to entrust such an important initiative to others; and yet it was exhilarating at the same time to know that I was also helping to enhance their leadership skills.

With the myriad of industry changes, what inspires you to stay motivated and encouraged?

If I’m honest, I will admit that I have my days where the change feels overwhelming. That being said, most days I am stimulated by all the change, especially as I see it through the eyes of my younger team members. Their excitement is contagious and inspires me to want to learn more from them.

Posted: March 7, 2019

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