Public Relations Tactics

Bonus Online Article: Terrie M. Williams on Career Development, Mental Health and Eddie Murphy

May 2, 2016

Terrie Williams
Terrie Williams

On her eponymous agency’s website, Terrie Williams’ bio states that she is “an advocate for change and empowerment.” But it might also read that she is accomplished in those areas as well.

In addition to running her firm, Williams is also an author and licensed psychotherapist. She has been recognized as one of Ebony’s “Power 150” for Activism and Women’s Day magazine’s “50 Women on a Mission to Change the World.” In 1991, she received The New York Women in Communications Matrix Award in Public Relations, and is also a recipient of PRSA New York’s Phillip Dorf Mentoring Award.

How did you get your start?

I have a master’s in social work, and worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at New York Hospital for three years. I heard that the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis was a patient at the hospital. I introduced myself to him and we developed a friendship. One day, out of the blue, he asked, “What are you doing here? I don’t know what it is, but I just get the feeling from you that you are supposed to be doing something else.” His words confirmed my own feelings. He eventually became my second client.

I soon came across an article in the Amsterdam News about a PR course being offered, and I got hooked. I started to do a lot of volunteer work for friends who were actors or musicians and offered my services for various organizations’ events.

Can you tell us about one of your most memorable client experiences?

My most memorable client would have to be [actor] Eddie Murphy, and the way I met him.

My friend [actress] Cicely Tyson, who was married to Miles Davis at the time, threw Miles a lavish party on a yacht in Los Angeles. I was invited and developed friendships with people I met, and I was invited to Eddie’s comedy show after the party. Soon, I was also invited to Bubble Hill, Eddie’s home in Englewood, N.J., and to other parties and celebrity gatherings.

One day, I was walking down the street in Manhattan and I bumped into a woman I had met who told me, “I know that Eddie Murphy is looking for a PR person.” I wrote him a letter, told him about the work I was doing at Essence magazine and gave him a few professional references.

When Eddie called to say, “I would love to have you represent me,” I was beside myself.

Did everything just fall into place after that?

There was a bit of a learning curve, since Eddie had not worked with a personal PR practitioner before, even though he had been in the business for five years. I connected with Carol Jones, a woman who worked at Paramount Studio, who helped me negotiate my way within the corporate structure, and strike the right balance with the studio people who work with the talent.

There is an increased emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion in public relations. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s the right thing to do. It makes sense to have practitioners who are well-versed and knowledgeable about multicultural perspectives and experiences.

As PR practitioners, we are supposed to be creative and think of as many angles and perspectives as we can for our clients. Broaden your horizons and learn about all kinds of media outlets, and respect them. It makes someone in public relations more appealing to be able to see how many different outlets you can go to in order to really penetrate the market and give your client what they deserve.

You created a mental health advocacy campaign for the African-American community under your Stay Strong Foundation, titled, “Healing Starts with Us.” Can you tell us about this journey?

I was on a CNN panel and I said, “I suffer from depression.” It was the first time I spoke those words out loud. I wrote an article about my experience with it, which generated over 10,000 responses. That’s when I knew that there was a need to write my book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.” I feel enormously blessed to have been a vehicle to help enlighten people, and to help them understand that they’re not alone.

Corporations need to be more sensitive to this, too. I spoke at AARP and NBC, and as I shared my experiences with depression, everyone ended up sharing theirs, too. It’s a powerful experience to sit next to someone in a company setting, and not know who that person really is. When you share, it causes a layer of the mask to come off. It’s life-transforming and liberating.

To be able to use my skills and experiences as a PR person to get that message out there is one of the most gratifying things that I have accomplished.

What advice would you give for new PR professionals just starting out?

Step outside of your comfort zone. Dare to be different! Everything that we are, that we do, has something to do with relationships. It is key to how you interact with people. Treat everyone with the same respect.

It actually means something to hold the door open for someone. It’s the little things in life that make us more human, and that is a quality that we should bring to our work as authentic PR professionals.

Sheila Tartaglia
Sheila Tartaglia is chief operating officer of Tartaglia Communications LLC, chair of the PRSA National Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a member and on the board of directors of PRSA New Jersey. She is also a talent promoter and diversity strategist and can be reached via email at Sheila@TartagliaCommunications.com.

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