As Morgan Smith-Williams accelerated through the ranks of Georgia’s state government, she found that having a trusted mentor was key. Participating in PRSA Georgia’s 360 Mentoring Program in 2019, she transitioned from following the boss to being the boss.
Since joining PRSA Georgia in 2014, Smith-Williams has sought out the informal advice of many Chapter members and mentors who helped her learn about the organization while also demonstrating moments of exemplary leadership. In fact, the Chapter’s support network inspired Smith-Williams to get more involved and most recently she served as PRSA Georgia’s Membership Inclusion chair.
An undergraduate of Vanderbilt University, she entered the PR world as a public relations graduate assistant with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) while earning her master’s degree at the University of Georgia. That led to her role as a communications specialist and then senior communications specialist with the GWCCA. In 2018, she jumped from that state agency to the Georgia State Capitol where today she leads strategic communications for the State Properties Commission, Georgia Building Authority and Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission.
A woman of many hats, interests and passions, let’s get to know Morgan-Smith Williams in her own words. What follows is the second installment of Chapter Chat, a member-focused profile series offering industry insights with candid commentary.
Question: What is the best public relations adage you’ve ever heard?
Answer: No comment is a comment. There’s always a way to respond to an inquiry or a crisis in a way that allows your audience to maintain that trust in whatever you’re doing. Sometimes you’re in a situation where you don’t know the whole story yet – you’re still learning, you’re still figuring it out. Honesty in those cases is the best policy. No comment is a comment, and no comment can tear down that trust wall.
Q: What are you hopes for PRSA Georgia in 2020?
A: Diversity in programming. Our profession is evolving. I think our members are going to be hungry for different ways to fulfill their training and development needs. One of the best additions that’s come along in recent years is the Chapter’s pre-luncheon seminars that are typically based in direct skill building like how-to-shoot video content or how to develop a crisis communications plan. I like the way that’s been structured. Every time I’ve been to the pre-lunch seminar, the program has been excellent.
Q: Do you have a mentor? If so, who is it and what have you learned as a mentee?
A: I went through the Chapter’s formal mentorship program, which was introduced in 2019 and is moving into its second year. Neil Hirsch, APR – a former PRSA Georgia president and current corporate communications leader at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – was my mentor. He mainly focused on helping in my transition from being managed to managing. It was invaluable.
Q: You originally had aspirations of becoming a lawyer. What led you to a PR career instead?
A: I went to Vanderbilt with my best law dreams. It was my senior year and I was supposed to be taking the LSAT. Instead, I did all kinds of other things living my best life in Nashville. My college work-study job was in the football communications office. I was doing real PR things. Next thing you know, it was the second semester of senior year and I still hadn’t taken the LSAT, I hadn’t applied to law school and I didn’t have a plan. Then, a really cool communications internship opportunity came up with the SEC (Southeastern Conference). My boss at the time said I should apply. I knew the SEC was a big deal because I was a football fan, so I applied for the internship and I got it!
Q: And that internship with the SEC led to an opportunity at the Georgia Dome?
A: After interning with the SEC, I still didn’t think of communications as something I could do for the rest of my life. I completed my master’s and moved back to Atlanta and thought I’ve got to get a “real” job. I thought back on all of my experiences and asked myself: What was I drawn to? What did I really enjoy? What did I love? Turns out it was communications. It just so happened that one of my bosses at the SEC had a connection with the Georgia Dome’s communications department and suggested they interview me. And you already know how the story went from there.
Q: What kind of things are you involved in outside of your job?
A: I am the Atlanta Board Chair for the American Cancer Society. That is a very fancy way to say that I’m leading the young professionals arm of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. One of our major initiatives every year is we host the Hope Ball, which is a $1 million-plus fundraising gala.
All of those funds go directly to the Hope Lodge in Atlanta, which is a 52-room residence for anybody who is undergoing treatment at Emory or Northside hospitals that lives more than 50 miles away from Atlanta and needs a place to stay. It’s a fantastic resource and it’s free to those who qualify and need the support. Obviously, it takes money to run though. Every dollar that we raise at the Hope Ball goes back to the lodge.
This also ties into one of my other passions, which is basketball. I’ve been involved in stats work for college basketball since my days at Vanderbilt Athletics. I currently serve as a seasonal stats crew member for the Atlanta Hawks, and I rotate between working the scoreboard, game clock, ensuring the coaches have updated stats, and writing game notes for media members.
I’m also passionate about event planning, which relates to part of my job at the Capitol as my department is in charge of all of the facility’s public spaces.
Q: If a Chapter member wants to have their birthday party at the Capitol, they should call your department?
A: No, we only do things for a public or governmental purpose. That’s my favorite line: public and governmental purpose. (laughs)