Brooke Graham is a Consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. She graduated from Western University and currently works for Argyle PR. She also volunteers for organizations such as Code Black Communicator Network and Black Talent Initiative.
Which post-secondary school did you attend and did your education successfully prepare you for the career you have now?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology and a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations at Western University. I think that my background in sociology was especially helpful as sociology is all about how people interact with different groups, organizations and societies, which is a lot of the work we try to do in PR. As PR professionals, we think: How do I engage with this audience? What matters to them? Sociologists often ask these same questions.
I also really enjoyed my PR program because it helped shape the type of communications professional I wanted to be (even though I didn’t know it at the time!). My favourite class was Communications Strategy with Sonya Gilpin because I loved researching, gathering insights, working collaboratively with my team to structure our approach and then pitching the strategy to our class. And funny enough, my least favourite class was PR Writing which is probably why I am not the go-to for media relations, haha!
What tips do you have for someone who has just been hired at an agency?
Build boundaries and bring yourself to work! Super cheesy, yes, but balancing being a keener and my capacity has been something I’ve always struggled with; however, I also know that I do my best work when I respect my time and stay true to myself – and they are more deeply connected than we think!
Coming into an agency, or any industry where there are multiple stakeholders, we think we have to mold ourselves to the various clients’ needs, but in reality, we should be bringing the insights and interests that are important to us and integrating them with our work, research and the project objectives.
Included in this is having the time to give your all and pitch new ideas which you’ll only be able to do if you consistently organize your schedule and be clear about the time you have available.
Keep in mind that I’m still learning how to do this for myself! And I find, especially as a junior employee, creating work/life boundaries is the hardest part because we want to be everything for anyone at any time, but I’ve found that managing up shows more dedication and professionalism than scrambling to complete every single assigned task.
You started as an Intern at Argyle PR and progressed to becoming a Consultant. What advice do you have for someone looking to move up and take on a more senior role at their workplace?
Find your “why”. My VP, Jessie Sitnick, always says this and it’s become my professional and personal sage advice.
If you’re working in the PR/communications industry, odds are that you can already read, write and research coming into the profession so how you hone those different skills and merge them with who you are will be unique and wonderful – and that’s what will carry you further and further in your career. It’s not just how you do the work, it’s why you do it as well.
What should communications professionals keep in mind when crafting and putting out statements in response to political and social movements?
One of the famous PR/comms industry one-liners is “be proactive, not reactive” and this is also especially true for any communications surrounding political and social movements and/or diversity, equity and inclusion.
We are currently hypercritical so not only are folks actively watching organizations engage in these conversations, we are doing our research and will look to see if an organization’s statements match their previous actions and if/how this is being addressed. And if the brand doesn’t walk the talk… they will get called out.
As PR/communications professionals, it is our job to keep our clients honest and evolving. If they haven’t spoken up about XYZ before, but they now want to be a part of the conversation, that needs to be addressed. And most importantly, it needs to be authentic.
If the external communications don’t match the internal sentiment, then there is misalignment; when there is misalignment, people will see right through it.
What do you know today that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
That my self-worth is determined by me. When I am truly myself and I have the space to bring that to my professional endeavours, that is where the magic happens and how I’ve been able to advance quite quickly in my career!
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I don’t… yet! It’s a work in progress. But something I’ve learned is that having things that are just for you and that speak to your passions/interests is crucial.
In my case, I take ASL (American Sign Language) classes once a week and there’s no reason I’ve taken the course other than that I really wanted to learn ASL – and I love learning!
For volunteering, I’m a part of two non-profit groups, Code Black Communicator Network and Black Talent Initiative. The people and Black advocacy-focused missions inspire me and allow me to connect with like-minded, amazing people and this taught me about finding community inside and outside of work.
You are part of PR Ramp’s mentorship program. Why did you get involved and what do you hope to provide as a mentor to new professionals?
Mentorship has always been a key part of my personal and professional development. Something that has always resonated with me is this podcast episode with Jodi Kovitz and she spoke about an instructor at an executive leadership course she took that transformed her life.
Her exact words were that the instructor “really saw me … having people that see you and help you see yourself and believe in yourself along the way is absolutely critical. And in each moment where I’ve leaned into the pursuit of the next goal, it’s always been as a result of somebody seeing me.”
And to this day, it still makes me all sentimental because, in big and small ways, my success has been moved forward by the people who have seen me and through the ways I have helped others see themselves.
So I believe it is my life’s purpose to help people, particularly fellow Black folks, see themselves the way I see them – limitless with opportunity. It is a reminder that those same opportunities exist for me too.
You recently launched an Instagram page as a space to share diversity/inclusion educational resources. What advice do you have on how communications professionals can become more knowledgeable about these issues and then use that knowledge to inform their work?
I always say there is no bad PR, there is just PR. In my opinion, if someone puts out a “bad” PR statement, it’s not that the PR person is bad at their job; it’s that the PR person also didn’t see the gaps/misalignment. We’re human too and limited by our own biases and life experiences.
I think the same way we keep up with journalists’ beats and our clients’ media monitoring, it is our job to continually research and seek out unique perspectives that connect to the audiences we are representing. There are so many resources out there now, all we have to look and engage with an open mind.
There’s a statement from Thomas Sankar that I believe is connected to PR/communications professionals: “As revolutionaries, we don’t have the right to say we are tired of explaining. We must never stop explaining. We know that when the people understand, they cannot help but follow us.”
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
Wow. Big question. I’ve been nerding out a lot about strategy and how much I love that specific element of communications work. I’m currently reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull – so many learnings about leadership, organizational strategy and how to foster creativity in a corporate environment. As I said, nerding out!
Connecting to this, a long-term goal for me is to be in a leadership role focused on inclusive strategies and thinking about how we can embed diversity, equity and inclusion into the core components of a business such as communications, organizational management, product, etc. and continue being a part of Code Black Communicator Network and Black Talent Initiative.
My personal goals are to become financially literate and stop online shopping as a hobby, haha. Also, to continue learning in every facet I’m able to.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your career or the communications industry that would be interesting or helpful to students and new grads?
I’m very approachable, so please feel free to talk to me and send me cool articles/resources about anything. I love getting the opportunity to discover new perspectives and speak with students and other PR/comms professionals so call me, beep me if you want to reach me!