By Zoë Ihaza
Linda Blakley is a results-driven communications professional with over 20 years of experience in the public relations industry. Blakley currently serves as vice president for university communications at DePaul University in Chicago. She has expertise in strategic communications, media relations, crisis communications, and other disciplines in the industry.
Blakley grew up in North Philadelphia and decided to move to Chicago to study at Northwestern University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in integrated marketing communication. Going off to school was her first time away from home and she began to learn her place in the world. At Northwestern, Blakley discovered her passion for corporate public relations.
After Blakley discovered her path, she sought out mentorship relationships with industry professionals. She found that her mentors often reinforced her desire to be in the industry. In particular, her mentorship with Ron Culp who is professional director in DePaul University’s graduate program helped her take risks in her career.
As a Black woman in the industry, Blakley navigated in a white-dominated field by participating in self-directed professional development. In search of professional development, she attended the Executive Leadership Council’s Mid-Level Managers’ Symposium, which is a two-day conference that is designed to expand Black professionals’ opportunities, and readiness to advance in careers. This was an impactful experience for her because she was able to affirm her workplace experiences and strengthen her network with other Black professionals.
Throughout Blakley’s career trajectories, she has worked in several diverse workplaces. She stresses that in the industry, there is a lack of visibility for people of color. Blakley reminisces about her time at Golin where she saw the agency’s diversity efforts firsthand. During her time there, she saw that Golin became more mindful of diversity and inclusion through its initiative to have a chief diversity officer. In addition to Golin’s diversity initiatives, Blakley notices that her experience at DePaul has revealed even more visibility in diversity. She states that DePaul is committed to diversity in the classroom and including diverse voices in administration as well.
As public relations practitioners are disproportionately assigned to projects that are related to diversity, Blakley noted that while in early assignments she completed projects that focused on multicultural audiences. She ultimately chose another path. She found advancement in the corporate arena came from learning the business – in her case soft lines retail at Sears – and through experiences that helped build competence as a communications counselor. Throughout her career, she worked to stay curious and willing to grab opportunities to stretch professionally.
Blakley has some final tips on how diverse professionals can navigate through a white-dominated industry. She offered the following two tips:
- Work at companies that have values that align with their own
- Reflect on a company’s leadership to see whether they are practicing the company’s values.
Zoë Ihaza is a Master of Arts Candidate for the Public Relations & Advertising Graduate Program at DePaul University. Zoë enjoys blogging and curating media content. She aspires to be a media planner at an advertising agency. Connect with her via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/zoë-ihaza.This feature is part of an ongoing series of student interviews with diverse leaders in communications.