Denny’s Veleisa Patton Burrell on embracing tech and the changing comms landscape

The senior director of public relations and crisis at Denny’s talks trustworthy messaging and setting boundaries.

Veleisa Patton Burrell, senior director of public relations and crisis at Denny’s Corporation, has been named one of Ragan’s 2023 Game Changers, sponsored by Omnicom, an honor recognizing the individuals in the communications and PR industries leading the charge.

Patton Burrell is an accomplished counselor known for her expertise in integrated communications, encompassing media relations, content development, digital communication, and executive visibility. She excels in assisting clients in conveying their value through consistent storytelling across various platforms, earning them media coverage and enhancing their reputation with employees, partners, clients and industry peers.

Patton Burrell specializes in corporate communication support and reputation management for clients spanning various industries, and was part of FleishmanHillard’s True MOSAIC practice, a global community of multicultural counselors. She joined FleishmanHillard in 2020, following her experience running Narrative Evolution, a marketing communications firm, and holding communications roles at notable organizations.

In October 2023, she took on her latest role at Denny’s as senior director of PR and crisis communications. Patton Burrell is also involved in mindfulness and yoga, and her volunteer work includes leading the Dallas chapter of ColorComm, earning recognition for her achievements in the field.

In anticipation of her recognition at Ragan’s Future of Communication Conference, Nov. 6-8 in Austin, we asked Patton Burrell about her advice for communicators and embracing change in the industry.

What is one challenge communicators should be prepared to face in the next year? And what is one opportunity they might be able to embrace?

I think a challenge that is ever-present, but also increasing, is trust. Trust clarity of the message, who’s saying it and why they are saying it. You need to build a relationship with the audience, whether that’s your internal audiences or your customers, or if you’re in the B2B communication space, understanding what it is that people are looking for. What experience are they looking to have? What expertise are they seeking, and then delivering that in a way that people say, “I believe that.”

What do you think will be the most important skills or tools for communicators to master in the next 5 years?

Not to sound like a Luddite, but I think the way that our agencies can use technology.

This is very much speaking from an agency perspective, but even our clients are asking us, “What do we need to know about technology? How is it going to impact trust? How are we able to combat misinformation and disinformation? How do we continue to show up as the experts and build the relationships that we need to have to get our leadership or our subject matter experts out there?”

As much as my brain would like not to have to really go down the path of, “What does this mean for me?” But it’s absolutely happening right now.

In-house, we have to ask ourselves what tools we need to use. What technologies can we leverage to ensure we’re reaching people in a way that makes sense for them? Because not everybody wants to read a long email or watch a long video. What is the channel strategy that we can use and the technology to achieve our goals?

What’s your best tip or piece of advice for communicators looking to pursue leadership roles?

Really be yourself. One of the important things about showing up as a leader is thinking about the ways that I felt when I had good leadership versus the ways that I felt when I had leadership that I wasn’t connected with or that I thought wasn’t connected with helping me build a path in a career. I wanted to take what worked well and what didn’t work well and incorporate that in a way that made sense to me.

One of the best compliments that I got from a co-worker was, “I heard you’re the Queen of Boundaries.” In creating those boundaries, since we’re in the service industry, you can’t say no to everything. You must have a clear vision of the life that you want to create for yourself and assess what you absolutely have to do because it’s part of your role and it’s important to how you advance your career. Then look at what’s not critical.

I can be a solutions-oriented person while still holding my boundaries. I think that is an important part of leadership. Otherwise, you think it’s everything all at once, you feel overwhelmed, then you feel like you drop the ball and you find yourself burnt out.

Don’t miss your chance to celebrate Patton Burrell and more Ragan’s 2023 Game Changers at our Future of Communications Conference, Nov. 6–8 in Austin, as well as our satellite Comms Week events in cities across the U.S. and U.K.

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