Over the next few weeks, PRsay will post Q&As with several thought leaders who spoke at PRSSA’s ICON 2023 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Following her Oct. 14 workshop, a line of students waited to talk with Alex Ebanks. With a session titled “Strategies for Success in Your Dream Industry,” it’s no wonder. Ebanks is the vice president of communications at Essence Ventures, overseeing all executive, external and internal communications for the private equity company that aims to empower, connect and give ownership to Black communities.
Prior to joining Essence, Ebanks led the consumer PR and multicultural communications on the global communications team for Xbox at Microsoft. For five years, she served in various PR roles at The Coca-Cola Company.
Here, she offers a variety of career advice for communicators, including insights on mentoring.
What’s an essential skill that communications pros need today?
Number one is writing. Oftentimes we focus so closely on the media and building those relationships, which are also key. But we forget how important writing is, whether it’s an email, a press release or a pitch. Those components seem to have gotten a little lost over the past few years, but they’re still a critical piece of PR.
How has mentoring aided your own career, and what’s your advice for PR pros who are seeking mentors?
When I look for a mentor, or if someone’s looking for a mentor, it’s definitely a person who is transparent. I call my mentors all the time and say, “Hey, I need a quick gut-check on this. What do you think?” And then you have to be OK with the feedback that’s given. You’re not always going to hear what you want to hear.
But that feedback is valuable. And knowing it’s coming from a good place — that’s helped me over the years, both from mentors and when I mentor my own mentees. They always know they can call me. I’m going to give them honest feedback and make sure they succeed in their next endeavor.
What’s the best career advice you have ever received?
Have fun with PR. Make sure you’re making great connections. Bring your creativity to the table. Don’t take it too seriously. We aren’t heart surgeons, but we are telling great stories.
Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to the start of your career, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell myself to start at a PR agency and spend at least three to five years there. It was my second job out of college. You learn so many great skills starting at a PR agency before going in-house: how to manage multiple projects at one time, how to connect with others. In-house [PR] always seems the place to be but, at agencies, you get to spread that creativity, utilize your skills [and pull] together awesome client campaigns.
What communications-related issues, trends or topics are on your mind these days?
AI is going to be a huge topic for communicators. Earlier this year, I came over to Essence from Microsoft. I got to see a lot of the earlier planning around AI and all the exciting things that are going to come with that. Another big topic for PR pros will be figuring out how to utilize AI for our work. Does it help us with writing? Does it help us with ideation and planning? How best can we utilize AI in our day-to-day work?
Here, Ebanks discusses what she looks for in her team members: