Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR) named three young communications professionals as their 2015 Emerging Leaders Awards honorees: Sarah Coppersmith, Emily Rasowsky and Shannon Toher. The Emerging Leaders Awards, held June 16, is an annual awards and cocktail reception that recognizes leaders in public relations and communications, among young women (aged 23-30) who have significantly impacted the communications field and the D.C. community. After the awards, we asked the honorees to provide us a bit of background about themselves. Below is our interview with Shannon Toher.
Why did you get in PR/communications?
While in college, I interned at a local radio station and divided my time between producing music and promoting the station at local events. I became enthralled with the events and the opportunity to connect with people, build rapport and share stories. That internship opened me up to a profession in communications and the range of possibilities in this ever-growing field.
After speaking with professionals in marketing, advertising, website design and public relations, I realized how perfectly communications could marry my love of story-telling with my background in fine arts. So, I took an internship with a local public relations agency and never looked back!
What lessons have you learned that you want to share with others?
The biggest lesson I learned is that it’s okay to ask questions. When I first started in PR, I thought questions were a sign of weakness or laziness and I was afraid that my colleagues would judge me for not knowing how to do something. I wasted so much time and energy researching answers to things that coworkers would have willingly shared with me.
Don’t be scared to ask questions because you will learn more from the person next to you than you will from Google. Engage with a colleague outside of the office – maybe over coffee or lunch – so there are no distractions. Soak up everything that you can. Some of the most enlightening and educational conversations I’ve ever had have been over a cup of coffee.
Who are your role models?
I am continually inspired and motivated by Pattie Yu, founder of The Yu Crew. In this challenging field, Pattie has always remained a beacon of light, positivity and kindness. She is an eternal mentor and someone who gives as much to her community as she does to her career. Pattie has introduced me to so many talented, good-hearted people this past year and I only hope that I can return the favor to a young professional one day.
How do you think you can make a difference in the coming years?
Wow, that’s a heavy question! I think this would come from my work with nonprofits and especially smaller nonprofits that are just getting their feet wet with communications. I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of wonderful organizations that have a great story to tell – from giving high school dropouts a second chance at education to building healthcare infrastructure in impoverished communities – but don’t know how or where to tell it. By introducing cost-effective digital tools like blogs, GoFundMe, YouTube and Storify, we’ve been able to share that story and amplify a very significant and meaningful message. Most importantly, organizations start to understand the power of communications and see it as an important part of their larger business/operations strategy.
I hope to continue working with small nonprofits in the future and I would like to make communications as accessible and as effective for them as possible.
If you didn’t go into communications, what field would you have gone into?
I would probably have done something completely different like landscape architecture. Maybe that’s wishful thinking from too much HGTV but I think it is a fascinating job. Landscape construction can have such a positive impact on urban environments and it can completely change the way we look at and interact with a space. Unfortunately, my green thumb is lacking so I think I’ll stick with communications.
What are the things you like to do when not at work?
Like 90 percent of D.C., I can’t get enough of running, so I’m usually outside logging miles. Running has become a really healthy release for me and a way to connect, or is it compete, with my sister who is also an avid runner. I also love wondering around D.C. and stumbling upon all of the great markets, events and fairs this city has to offer. There’s never a dull moment!
(Photo by Ruby Ella Photography)