This month’s Member Spotlight interview features WWPR Member and Woman of the Year honoree Lauren Lawson-Zilai, Director of Public Relations and National Spokesperson, Goodwill Industries International.
Q: How did you get started in communications?
A: I started off as a publicity assistant at Penguin Putnam after an internship at Simon & Schuster. I had just graduated from the Denver Publishing Institute in an intensive graduate level course focused on all aspects of book publishing. I had taken on a minor in communications after quickly realizing my initial career decision as a high school English teacher wasn’t the right career for me. My love of reading plus my interest in PR led me to my first career. As a publicity assistant (Think of Bridget Jones in the Bridget Jones’ Diary), I was responsible for writing press materials, preparing press kits, coordinating author mailings, executing launch parties and book lectures, and facilitating author tours and book signings. This was in the days before social media. I was there for six months before finding a better opportunity at Time Warner Books (now Hachette Book Group). I had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous celebrities and authors including, David Baldacci, Charlotte Church, Don Knotts, Robert Kiyoski, Cybil Shepherd and others.
Q: What inspired you to get involved with WWPR?
A: I joined WWPR after moving here from NYC. I had an interest in transferring to the nonprofit sector and thought WWPR would provide me with the right opportunities to expand my skill sets and introduce me to people with relevant expertise. The WWPR community is intimate, so there are many ways to build your network and find colleagues to brainstorm with as well as build your friend base. My first assignment with WWPR was as chair of the pro bono committee, providing strategic communications counsel to two local nonprofits, Safe Shores and Doorways for Women and Families. My team provided public relations services valued at nearly $290,000 to Doorways, enabling women and their families to create pathways out of homelessness and domestic abuse. I then served as vice president, president and past president. It was during my tenure as WWPR’s past president that I launched the Emerging Leaders Awards, a program specifically designed to recognize up-and-coming women in the PR field.
I am very appreciative to the role WWPR played in my life as it was the stepping stone to garnering a PR job at the Children’s Defense Fund and beginning my nonprofit career path. It was also an honor to be recognized as a finalist for WWPR’s 2014 PR Woman of the Year award.
Q: What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment professionally?
A: The ability to align my calling with a cause and serve as a voice for people with disabilities and disadvantages in order to enhance their quality of life has been my biggest accomplishment. For instance, in my role at Goodwill Industries International, I worked on the launch of an initiative to serve women veterans, which was both a timely and critical effort, as the number of women in our armed forces is increasing, and they face challenges such as homelessness, abuse, and lack of credentialing and childcare. As part of this, I had the opportunity to sit in the First Lady’s office and strategically plan with members of her Joining Forces team. While the goal of our initiative was to serve 3,000 women veterans in two years; we tripled it in the first year by serving 4,700 women veterans, and that number is still growing. I’ve also been part of a collaboration called MyFreeTaxes, a joint initiative of Goodwill, National Disability Institute and United Way, and funded by the Walmart Foundation. That initiative provides free tax filing, both online and in-person, for people in a certain income bracket. Last year, more than 1.5 million people were able to get their taxes done in-person for free, enabling them to use that money to invest in their families’ future.
However, my biggest accomplishment has been receiving the following awards: the 2014 PR News PR People Awards: PR Professional of the Year: Nonprofit/Association and the PR News’ 2014 Top Women in PR. Work is an important part of human identity and knowing that my colleagues in the PR industry are inspired by my work, passion and engagement is a true honor, and has been the biggest accomplishment of all.