March 1st officially kicked off Women’s History Month — and while every day should be spent celebrating the vital role and contributions of women to American history and society, we are more than happy to have a full month dedicated to elevating women across the world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we will be talking to several successful women who we feel will inspire and empower the next group of female entrepreneurs and executives.
I had the opportunity to chat with the owner and Senior Account Executive of AM PR Group, Vanessa Anderson. AM PR Group is a boutique public relations agency specializing in the entertainment, digital, and lifestyle industries. The agency’s current roster of clients includes Issa Rae, Marsai Martin, Cassie, and Melina Matsoukas. Vanessa opened up about not only the moment she realized she wanted a career in the public relations field, but what she went through mentally and emotionally before deciding that this was the career path she wanted to take.
“I felt like I had been so pressed to find a job and start my career that I had gotten myself into something that was detrimental to my emotional and mental stability.”
Vanessa also expressed how much it meant to her as a Los Angeles native to be selected as the Publicist for Destination Crenshaw, an art project spearheaded by City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson that aims to reclaim the neighborhood for black L.A.
“In 5 or 10 years, the people walking their dogs and pushing their strollers around Crenshaw and Slauson may not look like me, but they’ll very clearly know that they are walking on OUR streets, in OUR neighborhood. This is the largest project of its kind in the U.S. and I am honored to be on the communications team. I imagine my grandparents, who raised me in this community, would be proud.”
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (March 8) is #BalanceForBetter, which is all about marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance. Find out what Vanessa Anderson had to say about conversations surrounding diversity, inclusivity, and gender-balance by checking out the full interview below. She also offers advice to those looking for a career in public relations, as well as who she celebrates for International Women’s Day.
When did you realize that you wanted a career in public relations — and what was the first step you took towards making that happen?
“I graduated from college in 2007 just as the recession was hitting and upon graduation could not find a job —anywhere. At the time, I wanted to be a high school history teacher and couldn’t find a school or district in LA to hire me. Here I was with this very expensive Ivy League degree and couldn’t get a job. By the end of the summer, I had found a job as a first-grade teacher. And even though I loved the kids, I absolutely hated the principal and would cry every day on my way home. I knew I was destined for something — anything — better, so I put in my notice and started working part-time at the GAP. I felt like I had been so pressed to find a job and start my career that I had gotten myself into something that was detrimental to my emotional and mental stability. So, I worked at the GAP for about a month and in that time went from folding clothes to a junior management position. My bosses there quickly recognized my genius (laughs) and wanted to put me on the corporate tract, but I knew retail was not for me long term. I had gotten the job to hold me over while I figured out my life and when they told me they felt like I could have a real career within the company it really made me get my shit together. I started thinking about the things I enjoyed— music, tv, movies — and how I could be a part of those worlds without being talent. I had a friend in high school who’s aunt was a high-profile entertainment lawyer, so I called her and told her what I had interest in and asked if she could help point me in the right direction. She was the one who suggested I look into publicity. After talking to a few people in the field and doing my own research, I was like “YES! This is the career for me!” I felt like it was a job where I could utilize all the best parts of my personality and character as well as my education. My friend’s aunt helped me get an assistant position at a boutique pr firm and that was the beginning of who you see today.”
What were some of the challenges you faced early on in your career — and how did you overcome them?
“Well, I was 25 when I opened up my own company and even though I had saved some money, it wasn’t enough. No one in my family had ever opened their own business so I didn’t have anyone close to me to show me how to run a business so it really was trial by fire. I was also struggling to get clients because people were hesitant to work with me and pay me because I didn’t have 20 years of experience and wasn’t coming from one of the large communication firms. It was hard to get paying clients so I worked for free for a long time until I got enough experience. My unemployment and savings were enough to pay my rent, car insurance, and basic necessities every month. Everything else my friends covered for me out of pity (laughs).”
Last year, you announced that you were selected as the Publicist for the Destination Crenshaw project. How important was this opportunity to you as a woman who grew up off of Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. and Crenshaw?
“This project means everything to me, especially because I grew up in this area. Destination Crenshaw is a very L.A.-specific project, but the history of Black L.A. is really the history of Black people in America. Like most urban enclaves in major cities, South L.A. is undergoing a serious change. It is vital and mandatory that we document and memorialize the contributions Black Angelenos have made to L.A. and the world for that matter. Often times these types of projects are done or conceptualized after Black people have been pushed out but not this time around. In 5 or 10 years, the people walking their dogs and pushing their strollers around Crenshaw and Slauson may not look like me, but they’ll very clearly know that they are walking on OUR streets, in OUR neighborhood. This is the largest project of its kind in the U.S. and I am honored to be on the communications team. I imagine my grandparents, who raised me in this community, would be proud.”
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter, which is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the government, boardroom, media and sports coverage, in wealth, etc.. How important is a gender-balanced world to you?
“Conversations surrounding diversity, inclusivity, and gender-balance are always so interesting to me. I honestly believe that the idea that people have to be “called-to-action” is moreso for my white and male counterparts than for me. Every day that my company is open is a call-to-action. Women of color, and in my case a Black and Latina woman with an immigrant parent cannot and will not thrive without us living and breathing inclusion and gender balance. I don’t need a special occasion to remember to hire women and people of color. However, if days like this can encourage people to look twice at women for executive positions, not just assistants and coordinators, then I am in full support.”
If you could celebrate someone in particular for International Women’s Day who has inspired you, who would it be?
“First would be my grandmother, Nettie Martin, who taught me everything about life and being a woman and a partner. She died when I was 17 but managed to give me all of her life gems and lessons before she left me. She taught me that when you leave a room people could either remember you for your beauty, your intelligence or both. The decision was up to you.
Aside from her, I would want to celebrate a woman who I aspire to be like and who constantly inspires me, Tammy Golihew. Tammy currently is the head of Amazon Studios Television Publicity, International and Prime Video but used to run the Unscripted and Scripted TV PR department for Warner Bros. Studios. She and I met when I had a contract at WB doing publicity for The Real, and she singlehandedly changed my life. This version of Vanessa would not exist without her support, guidance and example. She and I are cut from the exact same cloth and our birthdays are days apart — she actually has the same birthday as my grandmother. She is a constant reminder that I can be a boss, command respect, get what I deserve, and absolutely never compromise on what I’m worth — and do it all with a red lip and a pair of designer stilettos.”
What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for a career in public relations?
“Think twice. This is the era of #publicists. Thinking this career is for you because you see someone on Instagram pretending to be on a private plane will have your feelings hurt and your bank account on life support. To really be great at this job you need to be willing to work hard and put your ego to the side. I get passed up all the time for bigger agencies and you can actually google and see the covers and exclusives and work I’ve done. Constantly hearing “no” or “you’re not the right fit” is hurtful and could make you start doubting yourself and your capabilities. It’s disappointing but I have to remember that it’s not about me. This field of work is built for those who can withstand a bunch of no’s because the real blessing is on its way.
Owning a company is hard and requires constantly thinking of new streams of revenue, new ways to engage with potential clients, constantly building relationships with agents and managers and brands and writers — it’s a 24-hour job. The private jets do come but you need to be okay with the basic economy first and for a long time.”
What is a quote that you live by?
“For a long time:
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Every lyric in Drake’s “Mob Ties” (laughs).”