Strategies & Tactics

Gail Thornton’s Lifetime of Global Success

By John Elsasser

March 4, 2019

Name: Gail S. Thornton

Current status: Founder and Chief Communications Officer, Worldview Communications

Location: Chester, N.J.

Favorite downtime activity: Traveling, skiing, knitting, reading historical nonfiction

Any three dinner guests: Madeleine Albright, Dalai Lama, my great grandparents

Favorite book: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Favorite news sources: All traditional media and social/digital media

Words of wisdom: “We are continually faced with great opportunities, which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” — Margaret Mead


 

The Atlas Award recognizes a lifetime of achievement in international public relations. True to the global nature of your work, you were in Croatia when you learned that you were the 2018 recipient. What was your reaction?

Yes, I was at our home in Croatia with my husband, Eric, when I received news of the award from PRSA’s [Honors and Awards Chair] Fran Onofrio, APR, Fellow PRSA, who left a phone message. I had to listen to the message a few times because I couldn’t believe that I was selected.

Years ago, I remember being at a PRSA conference when John Reed, APR, Fellow PRSA, who was my mentor and a great friend, accepted the first Atlas Award. And now, I am humbled to join the ranks of such an esteemed group of PR practitioners.

 

What initially inspired you to work overseas?

I have lived in many different places over my professional and personal life, and have experienced many cultures. I was fortunate to have my parents, Stanley and Evelyn, who taught me from a young age the value of opening myself up to new cultures and experiences — and traveling with them was one of them. My father lived in China at a time of great uprising. I thank them for guiding me in that way.

That began my journey, where, along the way, I took on many professional assignments that stretched my abilities — from launching new therapies around the world, learning from the perspective of patients and advocacy groups, and talking with country journalists at a time when international public relations was evolving.

Then, along with Dr. Robert Wakefield, APR, I served as chair of PRSA’s International Section, which, at the time, was a catalyst toward the development of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, with nearly 70 national chapters today. I owe a debt of gratitude to him for further expanding the important role of international public relations.

 

What do you consider the key to success in international public relations?

I’ve been part of six pharmaceutical companies and three mergers. During that time, the value of international public relations and broad, multicultural perspectives was not widely accepted as it is today.

I’ve had the honor to work with many well-regarded country and regional communicators. It was our joint dedication and perseverance to building the international PR function that impacted our value to the companies we worked for. We each took responsibility to strive for excellence in driving the business, establishing our individual mark with exceptional programs, and having fun in the process.

International public relations is about working in an uncertain, constantly evolving world — and understanding multicultural perspectives. It’s recognizing that media, cultural values, economic influences and ways of doing things differ from country to country.

I’ve dedicated my career to moving the needle forward in this dynamic profession through my corporate work, my academic research and my published work. The key to success is simple: It’s about growing and maintaining relationships, and respecting different viewpoints.

 

What were some factors in your deciding to open your own consultancy?

Opening my communications consultancy was a bittersweet moment. I left a dream job in a multinational pharmaceutical company managing communications colleagues around the world to care for my mother, who was gravely ill.

Through this time, I valued and appreciated the wonderful memories of my youth and ways that my parents prepared me for life’s challenges, which helped shape me into the best person I could be.

On the other hand, building my consultancy gave me access to companies — and clients — that further expanded my abilities into the areas of animal health, rare diseases, hospital marketing, consumer products and the nonprofit world. I’ve met some truly remarkable and talented individuals along the way.

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