Interview with Arielle Patrick
Arielle Patrick is the Senior Vice President and Transaction Director of Edelman, the world’s largest communications consulting firm. She was featured in Forbes as one of the youngest senior executives in Public Relations. I spoke with her about her career, her advice for undergraduate students, and her insights regarding success.
Business Today: I wanted to start off by asking if you could please talk a little bit about your field of public relations and communications before delving into your role at Edelman, just to provide some background.
Arielle Patrick: The portion of my industry that I focus on helps companies build, maintain, and recover trust with the stakeholders that matter to them. Often, when people think of PR, they think of media relations, and while getting an article written in the Wall Street Journal is a small part of my job, a larger part of it is the consulting role where I am brought in to counsel a CEO or board of directors. I speak with them about strategies to communicate more effectively to all the company's stakeholders about difficult or critical issues with a message that resonates so that trust is either not lost or is recovered if it has been lost. The situations in which I’m often doing that work are financial challenges or opportunities, such as mergers and acquisitions and other transactions. Additionally, Edelman has several different practice areas ranging from consumer brand, to corporate communications, to public affairs and government relations. I sit within our Financial Communications & Capital Markets business.
BT: What drew you to the field of PR, specifically in financial communications? This advice would be useful for students who are currently discovering their passions and future careers.
AP: When I speak to mentees, or anybody who asks me for advice about their career, I tell them that when deciding what career to choose, they must always look at what they like to do on a daily basis and what they’re strongest at. They should make a list of skills and core competencies in order to match them with careers that involve several of them. For me, when I was an undergrad, the reason that I was a Classics major studying Ancient Greek and Latin was because I loved research, analysis, and history. More than anything, I loved languages and writing, and my current job allows me to write all day, every day. It is a place where research and analysis are key and actually are core to how we come up with ideas and create for our clients. I’m always writing messaging, speeches, letters, press releases, all kinds of content. I would say, for me, it was about looking at the things I loved to do in my academic life and seeing how they could translate to a career.
BT: What are some habits, values, or certain disciplines that really helped you succeed in your field and allowed you to gain confidence in your area when you first started?
AP: My core values have always been the importance of hard work, consistency, resilience, and staying on course, because those are what I was taught growing up. Some days might be difficult, some days might be awesome, but if you keep your eyes on the prize — the big picture — hopefully that can give you the ability to overcome circumstances and stay consistent in what you do. That doesn’t only apply to my career but also applies to my life: how I look at physical exercise regiment; how I look at the way I treat people; and how I look at the relationships that I keep or don’t keep. It’s always important to have a big-picture vision of what success looks like to you. Success doesn’t have to be defined by a certain dollar amount or a corner office — it can be something else, like having a family. You need to map out the course for what behaviors you need to exhibit on a day-to-day basis that will get you to that core goal and stay consistent with them. Another important value is the importance of faith. Faith in the plan, and trusting the process. Some days will be grueling and you’ll have late nights, and other days you’ll get out of the office early and be able to have a drink with friends, but it's important to understand that it is a long process. That has helped me stay inspired. People might use the word motivation to describe how they got where they are, but to me, motivation is just a timely concept. Some days you will feel motivated, and some days you won't. It depends on your mood, the weather, and other factors. To me, it’s more about dedication. If you’re dedicated and committed to something, you’re more likely to stay the course and come through every single day. Rather than running on motivation, which fluctuates, I think people need to focus more on keeping their eye on what they have committed to, stay dedicated to it, and work back from there.
BT: What would you say are some practices people can indulge in to build this resilience and make sure they develop this dedication? Some people swear by podcasts, yoga, or exercise — do you have anything personally that has really helped you?
AP: A big part of it is that I surround myself with people who inspire me and who live life the way that I think it should be lived. There are a set of values that I am attracted to in people, and the moments in my career where I have not been as motivated or on track were probably when I wasn’t spending time with people who were in line with my values. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been important to me to keep a group of friends, colleagues, or people in general around me, people who are on a similar path and who value the same things. An added bonus is I basically get free counseling. If you have a group of friends who are all going through something similar, or who are in a place that you want to be, it is great to be able to ask them to share their stories and experiences. You all teach one another. It’s very cool to see how much I’ve learned from the company I keep. I also try to read a book every month. I mostly read non-fiction, although I do love a novel once in a while. It’s difficult to keep this up with my work schedule, but I try my best. Reading stories about people who have come before you really adds perspective. Looking at life in one way is limiting, so it’s always good to take into consideration how others have lived it and build your own idea of what your future should look like or what success looks like because it’s not binary. There used to be a concept of what success looks like, back in the day: "doctor, lawyer, banker." Now, it’s "mother of three, community organizer, or even jack-of-all-trades." It’s nice to gather perspective from friends or books that I’m reading to define what success might look like for me.
BT: You mentioned that it really helps to have a strong network of people around you who can give you advice, support you, and help you figure things out. What are some things to keep in mind for people who want to build that network and maintain those relations with people that can really help them and help others down the line too?
AP: A big part of mentorship is making sure that it’s a "two-way street." Equally as much as you want advice, wisdom, or energy from people, you also have to bring something to the table. I’ve always structured my mentorship relationships as a "two-way street." Part of that is finding ways to add value and be helpful, even if you are the mentee. If you see an article that you think your mentor might find interested in or something that might help them in their business, just send it to them as an FYI. Be equally generous as you are taking resources from mentors. I was very lucky years ago when I got to know Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, Vice Chair of the board of Starbucks, and a member of several other public company boards. I was initially afraid to meet with her, because I knew I had to come to the conversation saying: “Here’s the relationship that I’d like to build, and here’s why it’s advantageous to you.” When you start the relationship by only asking for a favor or just asking for something, that’s when a mentorship relationship is not going to work. That’s why I was very pleased when at the end of our first meeting, she asked me to let her know if there was anything specific that she could do for me. I said "no," emphasizing that I would just love to stay in touch. I remember that she later sent me an email saying that she loved being in my orbit. To me, that was a success. It meant that being associated with me was equally as valuable to her as me being able to associate with her. To this day, I’ve never needed a thing from her, but just knowing that she’s there as a source of counsel, support, perspective, and even just a guiding light to look at and model my life after... that’s more than enough.
BT: There’s a great deal of focus today on encouraging more diversity in the workplace, but there are still certain obstacles that certain groups have to face more than others. What advice would you offer to those who might be facing those difficulties because of a different identity and how can they overcome them?
AP: It’s always important to view what makes you different as your asset, not your liability. You also have to remember that diversity is not just diversity of identity, but also diversity of thought. What makes you different, whether it be how you like to spend your free time or your racial identity, can add a new perspective in the workplace that may be extremely valuable. An example of this is one of the first large M&A transactions I did at my current job. I was working with a publicly traded company that was acquiring an African American hair and skincare company. It was very cool to know that my unique perspective as someone who was actually a consumer of those products helped me know what risks existed for stakeholders and consumers, what the company would have to overcome when it acquired this asset, and what reputational landmines they had to be aware of with this deal. I was better prepared than anybody, and it wasn’t just because I was an M&A expert, it was because I was someone who had first-hand experience with the product. That was an experience where being the youngest, blackest, female person in the room was actually advantageous. There will be those moments where what makes you different is actually an asset to your company, and you’ll find ways to apply your identity or your unique perspective to creative ideas or solutions.
BT: What are some specific pieces of advice or quotes that have really stuck with you over the years and have really inspired you?
AP: One of my favorite people once said to me that: "having a plan is useful to be successful, but true success comes from being nimble and being open to possibilities." I think that I was always very action and plan-oriented for most of my career, and I have recently begun to really open my mind and realize that my vision for success can shift and sometimes there are opportunities that pop up that I would never expect, or that aren’t the plan that I should look into. It has been nice to allow myself to have some more flexibility in how I approach my career and not be so stringent about what is good and what is bad, or what success is and what failure is. Another quote that I love is actually the Latin motto of my dad’s alma mater, Orare et Laborare, which means To Pray and To Work. These are two core tenets that have always been important to me in my life. It means, "keep your faith up and stay the course and work hard." I always keep it on a post-it note on my desk, just as a reminder of my core values when things get tough.
BT: As a college student, thinking back, was there ever a moment when you felt unsure of where you were going in your career, and what do you think really helped you solidify your vision for your future?
AP: I’d say for the entirety of college, until the middle of my senior year when I got a job offer, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and so I figured it out by doing as many internships as possible and trying different things. My first internship was interning at a fashion magazine, then I tried fashion PR, then I tried public affairs and government relations, and I somehow landed in the financial sector, so you just never know. But what I did know was that I loved to write, research and analyze, so that’s how I ended up being attracted to journalism and communications. But my career has shifted. Now, what I do is a lot closer to consulting. I think it’s really important to do as many internships as possible, try various things, and get your hands dirty. Also keep that running list of what you enjoy academically. Not by subject... not just "math, science, or engineering," but by skill... like "research, writing, analysis." Essentially, break down what you're interested in into core activities and competencies so you can discover what you enjoy and find that you’re good at. Then, look at different careers through that same lens and say: “In this role, this is what my day-to-day would look like... how similar is that to what I like to do in my academic career?" Then, you can build your dream resume from there. Don’t focus on how much money the entry level salary is, or how it looks to other people. Focus on what you can be successful at and what you love. The money will certainly follow if you’re inspired and love to come to work everyday.
BT: You provided a lot of insight throughout this entire interview, but are there any last comments that you would really like to share that you think young people today could benefit from hearing?
AP: No matter what stage you are in your career, it’s important to think of how you can be of service to others: whether that be getting involved with a charity in your free time; mentoring a peer or someone younger; or just connecting people who maybe could be helpful to each other in the future. Always think of how you can be of service to others, not only because it’s simply the right thing to do, but also because it can really benefit you and your career later. Good things come full circle. I’ve definitely benefited from a lot of great relationships that I’ve developed over time because of moments when I’ve shown people kindness in the past. Now, these same people have come back to me with new business opportunities and crucial introductions to others. My advice is to start giving back early, no matter if you're a junior or senior executive. Remember that no matter where you are on the food chain, you’re always in a position to help. It's your responsibility, and it will help you in the future.