Kelly Williamson’s secret to success? Stay nimble and listen.

The APCO Worldwide president shares what it takes to be balanced, humble and hungry for more than the status quo.

Kelly Williamson, APCO Worldwide president, North America, is one of Ragan’s 2023 Game Changers, sponsored by Omnicom,  a distinction that recognizes the PR and communication industry’s revolutionary leaders.

Williamson, who has served in her role since 2018, oversees 400 people. From starting as an intern in 1999 to specializing in corporate reputation, Williamson has flourished in her position, leading the opening of APCO’s Raleigh office.

She also broke barriers as the youngest female member of APCO’s Global Leadership team, advising global companies to transform their business and be prepared for what’s ahead.

Williamson is an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To set the stage for her recognition at Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference, Nov. 6–8 in Austin, we asked Williamson to share her advice for those joining comms and how to succeed in corporate and public affairs and more.

What’s your best piece of advice for up-and-coming communicators?

It is incredibly important for up-and-coming communicators today to really learn the business and the environment that we’re operating in. What’s really important is understanding the political, social and environmental things that are happening in the world. It’s everything from local to global and truly being curious and understanding how that really does affect how we communicate and engage each other.

What do you think is the biggest skill for communicators in the reputation protection field to master in the next five years?

Critical thinking. Having a balance and perspective when we choose to communicate – and the skill to develop that – is understanding the environment. It is listening to all perspectives, and it is knowing what the values are of the organizations and applying that critical thinking to the situation.

How can comms professionals in the corporate and public affairs space stay nimble and adaptable in this ever-evolving field?

Talk to and listen to each other. There are so many similarities and challenges that communicators are up against in terms of the external pressures and internal expectations of our employees. We as professionals have a responsibility to understand that. To listen and help each other come together in a way that is productive,

What is a mistake you’ve made in your career, how did you solve it and what did you learn from it?

Relatively early in my career, I did not listen to one of my clients. I felt like I had the answer. Unfortunately, in the end, the client decided that they didn’t want to continue with the project because she needed a partner who would listen to her. That lesson made me stop in my tracks and reflect on how I can be better.

 How can comms professionals grow into a leadership role in this industry?

I’ve always tried to be willing to try new things. I’m challenging myself and constantly evolving and learning and making new relationships that I’ve been fortunate enough to foster over the years.

Don’t miss your chance to celebrate Williamson 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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