Vanessa Anderson: From Awkward Black Girl to PR Powerhouse
By: Jessica Scott
When I started at the University of North Texas studying Journalism, I took a class on the history of public relations. Names such as Edward Bernays and Arthur W. Page were introduced to me but I had no connection to them. As a black Public Relations student I discovered that people that were in my ethnic group were rare in this industry. In 2019, I found that I was not alone in making that observation after being introduced to Vanessa Anderson. Anderson is the Owner and Senior Account Executive of AM PR Group, a boutique Public Relations agency that has worked in entertainment, philanthropy, music, and sports. Anderson has spoken about her Public Relations beliefs that have influenced me, such as:
Be honest about your capacity in what you can handle with a client
Always do your own research
Stay the course and always follow up with clients and contacts
”One of the things I had to learn along the way is that in order for me to be the best publicist I can be… is to really be honest with myself about what I can take on and what my bandwidth is,” Anderson said.
These rules for herself and her team have helped her agency grow to includes not just working with Celebrities but also partnering with Amazon Studios, HBO, Issa Rae Productions, and the Hallmark Channel.
An Awkward Black Girl
Anderson began her career in 2007 after graduating from Barnard College, Colombia University with her B.A. in American Studies. While Pursuing her degree, Anderson was Co-founder of the Hurricane Katrina relief group and the Presidential Advisor Committee. After graduation, Anderson began her career in Public Relations in the fashion and music relations field. That all changed when she met Issa Rae the creator and writer of the Awkward Black Girl sketch show on YouTube, and began handling all publicity for the show. “A lot of black publicist works on the music side,” Anderson said. “There are very very very few of us that is excelling in TV, film, or digital content. I feel that I have to stay and do my part and stay in it.” In 2010 Anderson founded her company, AM PR Group which is based in Inglewood, Calif. where Anderson grew up with her grandparents.
Representation Matters Anderson
has dedicated her career to advancing stories about people of color for almost 10 years in an industry where that can truly be a challenge. Anderson herself is of mixed-race heritage and has chosen to reflect her multiculturalism not only in the work she represents but also with her clientele and the people on her team. “I am very lucky to have such forward-thinking, creative, and intelligent women on my team,’ Anderson said. “The work we do is purpose-driven and we are devoted to uplifting and amplifying the stories and careers of people of color.” In 2021 Anderson acquired Ascend PR and become President of her company of her all-female team.
Anderson and her team are constantly looking for ways to strengthen the sense of community for people of color in Hollywood. Anderson is the creator and planner of the ‘Black Emmy Party' which is held after the Emmy Award Show for people of color in the entertainment industry to celebrate each other.
Carving a Way Forward
Anderson has said that one of the most important things that an up-and-coming PR professional can do is reach out to a mentor. While Anderson herself says that she did not have a female or a person of color to connect with and ask for advice at the beginning of her career, she has met people along the way that has helped greatly. “What's great about the time that we’re in now is everyone is a lot more accessible. When I first got into publicity, which was in 2007, there wasn’t Instagram. I think Twitter had even started. I wasn't able to directly talk to and find other black publicists to ask questions and pick their brains,” Anderson said.
Anderson credits industry veteran Tammy Golihew, the Head of Series Publicity at Amazon Studios, and Yvette Noel-Schure, the publicist for Recording Artist Beyonce, for showing her that you can have a long career in Hollywood and not sacrifice your integrity and values. As for what skills she feels are the most important to be successful in this field are the ability to write really well and effectively communicate.
According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12.2% of Public Relations management jobs are held by black or African Americans. Knowing this fact adds to the appreciation that I have for Ms. Anderson and all that she and her teams have accomplished. I have no illusions about the difficulty I may face entering into this profession but I have hope that I can carve out a place for myself no matter the odds.
About the Author
Jessica Scott is a public relations professional living in Dallas, TX. Jessica majored in Journalism with a concentration in PR and a minor in Marketing. She is anticipating graduating from the University of North Texas in May 2022.
https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/am-pr-group-acquires-ascend-pr-b outique-firm-1235042270/