by: We Rise and Shine
As a Public Relations Executive who specializes in managing the reputation of a myriad of prominent brands, it’s befitting that Tai Wingfield has successfully cultivated her own reputation as an expert communicator who continues to rise through the ranks of the PR industry. As senior vice president of communications for the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) and managing director at Hewlett Consulting Partners, Wingfield drives corporate reputation efforts on behalf of each brand. In this role, she has effectively counseled public and private organizations on various issues including brand reputation management and awareness, minority outreach, and human rights. She is co-author of the CTI report Black Women: Ready to Lead, and has been featured in esteemed publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Previously, Wingfield worked as a member of Edelman's Business + Social Purpose practice and served as the day-today client contact and lead on various accounts, driving strategy development and implementation for organizations including eBay and Microsoft Retail. Although her list of accomplishments is very impressive thus far, Wingfield has even greater plans for her career. Get a glimpse inside her world and see what she had say about the PR industry, being an African American woman in corporate America, and what she has in store for the future.
As the Senior VP of Communications for CTI and Managing Director at Hewlett Consulting Partners, what do your roles entail?
Tai: My position encompasses a variety of responsibilities, but one of my primary roles is overseeing media relations and branding for the organization. I write content for the company website, manage our social media accounts, and work with an external graphics team to create data visualization material. In regards to CTI reports, I develop strategies to create content and make the data featured in the report digestible. I also create strategies to determine the most effective channels through which to disseminate our messaging.
What advice/tips would you give to someone who aspires to get into the PR industry?
Tai: Relationships are essential! It’s important to build solid relationships with those above and below you. Interning is also critical. I interned every year while attending the University of Maryland and by my senior year, I was interning at Edelman -- one of the leading public relations firms in the world. Edelman considered interns as entry-level employees. That was my way in the door. Strong writing skills are also fundamental to the role; 80% of my day is spent writing. Unfortunately, many people do not make it in the industry because they lack the basic writing skills needed to advance. Many of the large PR firms require candidates pass a writing test before they agree to hire you. Lastly, I would say it’s important to understand how to navigate the structure. The PR industry is not diverse; the top positions are held mostly by men.
You indicated that strong writing skills are imperative to excel in Public Relations. What strategies do you recommend for professionals to sharpen their skills?
Tai: Read, a lot. That is one of the most effective ways to sharpen your own writing skills! You should know who's writing what and study the various styles, especially newspapers and magazines. It’s also important to pay attention to the feedback you receive and ask a lot of questions.
How have you grown professionally over the years?
Tai: I have definitely experienced the most growth in learning how to advocate for myself and navigate difficult personalities. I now know how to push back in a professional and diplomatic way. As a result, I developed a reputation within the company of being able to work with anybody.
As an African American woman in corporate America, what are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
Tai: Lack of feedback or lack of clear feedback has been a challenge. Black women are far less likely than most groups to receive feedback at all. When you receive feedback, many times there is a double-bind. I’ve heard everything from "she's too passive or too laid-back,” to “she is too opinionated.” Those are also examples of the tightrope many black and Hispanic women have to walk.
Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?
Tai: I was so inspired by my first boss, post-college. She’s accomplished and always came across as authentic. We worked very closely together, and I’ve seen how hard she works. I also appreciate her full life, outside of work. She’s invested in her community and family – a great role model. I learned a lot from her. She made the industry really exciting for me.
Having established such a fruitful career at a young age, where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
Tai: I’m very passionate about the communications space; it’s an industry that is always changing. To be successful, you have to remain abreast of the new channels and platforms. I am fortunate in that my current role at CTI has positioned me to become a global leader and has provided me the opportunities needed to manage a team.
What is one fact about you that most people would be surprised to learn?
Tai: I am a horror film fanatic. I’ve always been a huge fan of Stephen King and Wes Craven.
Name 3 things you can’t live without.
Tai: Jesus, family, Maryland Blue Crabs
What book do you think every woman should read?
Tai: Sylvia Hewlett’s, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. It’s a great read for any professional – male or female – who is aiming for that top job.
What has been the most rewarding decision you’ve made in your life thus far?
Tai: Joining six colleagues on a six month stint in Bentonville, Arkansas to work for the retail giant, Wal-Mart. It was one of the best professional moves of my life. I gained solid experience, client face-time, and developed relationships with colleagues that I still hold dear today.
Learn more about Tai! Check out some of her recent features: