LaToya Evans is vice president of communications at Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina. She previously worked at Wal-Mart as a senior manager for corporate communications. Evans started her communications career while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, writing for magazines such as People, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses her job at BOA and her transition from journalism to public relations.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?
A. I am a vice president of communications at Bank of America’s corporate office in Charlotte. I do both reactive and proactive media for the company, specifically covering the Northeast region and also some smaller markets throughout the U.S.
My typical day starts fairly early, and one of the first things I do is check my email, calendar and social media as that can dictate what my morning will look like. I spend a lot of my day pitching media, counseling executives and local banking employees about media initiatives or issues, discussing strategy and giving direction to the PR agency that I work with on a daily basis. I also spend a good amount of time writing and chatting with reporters about potential story angles.
I’ll work on something in New York in one hour and something else in California the next. It could be an issue at a local bank in one of the geographies that I cover or it could be the company donating a mortgage-free home to a veteran. Sometimes, I’ll go to media events in the evenings or other events that the bank sponsors, whether they be conventions or formal events. It’s a sincere range of things that never gets boring or old.
Q. You previously worked in public relations for Wal-Mart. How is it different working in the financial sector? Are there similarities?
A. I’ve worked in a variety of industries as it pertains to PR – business to business technology, consumer technology, retail and now banking. In my opinion, the skill set in PR doesn’t change much because it comes down to having the ability to ask the right questions to understand a reporter’s true motive and story, build relationships, manage difficult situations, work one on one with senior and c-suite executives, establish trust and be strategic enough to not necessarily get the most coverage, but the most meaningful coverage that pushes ahead a company’s reputation.
So there are many similarities, but I would say as an organization, I covered six different areas of business at Wal-Mart. So if there are any differences, it’s only because the subject matter has changed.
But Wal-Mart was a great experience that taught me a lot about crisis and reactive media because of the nature of the business and also that it is a company that people frequently wanted to attack. That makes for the best training ground for PR professionals – the more difficult the climate is, the more you really learn in the long run.
Q. You started your career writing for magazines such as People and Glamour. What was it like to make the transition from print journalism to public relations?
A. It wasn’t as tough as it probably could have been, looking back on it. I came out of undergrad during the financial crisis. I was very fortunate to receive offers from magazines, PR agencies and also client-side corporate communications.
I chose to go to IBM for corporate communications, and within a few months, I was also doing media. I think the company took the chance on me because the original role I took was very writing-intensive, which I had the background for. But having the media knowledge and the contacts helped me early on when I didn’t necessarily know PR yet, but knew what stories worked where.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever love PR as much as I loved seeing my name on bylines in places like Cosmopolitan as a writer. Seeing my name in print gave me chills.
But when I got into PR, there were television interviews and spokesperson duties, which also gave me chills. My career is one of the most rewarding things in my life, and I am genuinely in love with my profession.
Q. What advice do you have for college students considering a career in public relations? What are your keys to success?
A. I’d have quite a few pieces of advice. Strengthening your writing skills will help you across the profession in general, and internships are a must.
When assessing internships, consider paid and unpaid opportunities, because it’s the value of the experience that counts and not the money. If finances are an issue, there are plenty of grants and fellowships that will help you pay for living expenses while doing unpaid internships.
Start defining what your personal brand is right now, and don’t let your in-school status stop you from achieving your goals. I started my freelancing writing business when I was 19 and still a student at UNC. Had I listened to naysayers, I might have passed up a lot of good experience.
Also, it’s great to understand social media, too, but I always caution students to learn traditional PR practices as well, mostly because someone can easily find themselves pigeon-holed into jobs that are only about social media. It’s certainly not a bad thing, but because social media PR roles are so new, a path to advancement in those areas hasn’t necessarily been built yet in a lot of corporations, making it harder to get to do other things or get the first promotion.
Lastly, it’s important to build and nurture your relationships. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of friends at Bank of America, and it’s made working there that much more fun. Across the public relations industry, it’s important to remember that everyone knows everyone. So the industry becomes very small, very quickly.