Spotlight on 2018 Rising Star Winner: Kelsey Leavey

Kelsey Leavey is a digital content strategist at The Hodges Partnership, where she has grown as a public relations professional for nearly five years. She received her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), double majoring in Communications and Political Science, and her master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations from Virginia Commonwealth University. As a student, Kelsey gained valuable PR experience interning at CarMax and RichTech. She is a proud member of PRSA Richmond #IamPRSARVA. 

Outside of work, Kelsey volunteers both her time and professional expertise, serving as the secretary of the board for Celebrate! RVA, on the marketing committee of Big Brothers Big Sisters – Richmond, Tri Cities, Hampton Roads and the Greater Virginia Peninsula, and supporting the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation’s social strategy and marketing efforts. She also teaches at the Institute of Philanthropy at the University of Richmond and is the co-host of It’s a PR Podcast, a podcast covering trends and topics in the public relations industry in Richmond. On most weekends, you’ll find her walking her rescue dog Hazel by the James River and eating at some of Richmond’s best restaurants for her blog (co-authored with fellow Hodger Megan Irvin) Let’s Share a Dish.  

What does receiving the Rising Star award mean to you?

It really is an honor to be receiving the Rising Star award, being recognized by those in your industry who you’ve worked with is such a cool feeling. It makes me think back to last year when one of our principals, Josh Dare, was honored with the Thomas Jefferson Award of Excellence and how shocked, surprised and grateful he was to be receiving such an honor. I share many of those same feelings.

How did you decide to get involved in the public relations industry?

I’ve always been fascinated by the news industry, which ultimately evolved into becoming interested in public relations. When I was in eighth grade I applied to be a part of a high school program that specialized in mass communication and wrote my essay about Katie Couric — that’s how much I loved the news. I even went into my first semester at Virginia Tech thinking I was going to be a journalism major, but that’s when I took my first real journalism class and I actually had to get out there and interview people I didn’t know. Being an introvert, that was a reality check and quickly after switched my major to public relations. I love that I still get to tell stories from what feels like a journalist point of view and that there’s a creative element to what I do every day.

Do you have a highlight when you think of your career thus far?

One highlight that I’m particularly fond of is a project I worked on relatively early on in my career. I was a part of a team at The Hodges Partnership that did media relations for an international nonprofit here in Richmond, which often meant responding to crises happening across the globe. One of the crises we helped the nonprofit respond to was the Ebola crisis in Senegal. It was our job to connect the nonprofit’s experts on the ground with international reporters to tell the story of the people, children in particular, impacted by the epidemic. We were able to make connections with a handful of big name outlets and ultimately ensure that children were getting the help they needed. It was such powerful and purposeful work, and it isn’t often that the projects I’m working on have an impact of this magnitude.

How did you get involved in PRSA Richmond? What has been your experience as a member thus far?

I joined PRSA Richmond shortly after starting at Hodges. I saw how much of an impact the organization was having on many of my colleagues and wanted to take advantage of all of the learning and networking opportunities that PRSA offers. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more people in the PR community here in Richmond. And that the networking doesn’t actually feel like networking, especially when you’re getting to work with so many great professionals on things like the public service and awards committees. I’m always pleasantly surprised at the strength of our chapter, which in my mind is comparable to cities much larger than Richmond!

What advice do you have for young professionals?

My advice for young professionals is to never stop learning. I think part of the reason I’ve been able to gain the respect of my colleagues, is that I have such a hunger for learning new things/for refining the skills I’ve started building. In an agency environment sometimes it feels like everyone is going a mile a minute and I try to add value to the team knowing that not everyone has time to be reading the latest and greatest social media trends. I try my best to share the insights I’m taking away from the professional development sessions I attend and the webinars I watch, with my coworkers and our clients. Admittedly, I get very passionate and excited about things that a lot of people find burdensome —which leads me to my second piece of advice, find something your passionate about and run with it!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

The field of public relations has already changed so much since I started my career just five short years ago, and I cannot wait to see how it continues to change for the next five years.