Chapter Chat: Neil Hirsch, APR

Neil Hirsch, APR, had visions of becoming the next Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings.

Set on studying journalism at the University of Georgia, that plan shifted the summer after his freshman year when he landed a public relations internship at an Atlanta hospital system.

He fell in love with PR and never looked back. Or as fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy would say, “That escalated quickly.”

While Neil didn’t become a network anchorman, he is an anchor in Atlanta’s PR community and for PRSA Georgia.

With nearly 20 years of PRSA membership under his belt, he has served in various leadership roles for the Chapter as a co-chair of multiple committees, as an officer of the Board of Directors and as 2014 Chapter President. Meanwhile, his professional PR journey has taken him from an account executive at Cookerly Public Relations to head of communications at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), with stops at Ford Motor Company, Solvay Pharmaceuticals and Novelis along the way.

A much-awarded and decorated Chapter servant, there is still much more to learn about this PR leader, and that’s the mission of Chapter Chat, a member-focused profile series offering industry insights intertwined with candid commentary.

Let’s get to know Neil Hirsch, APR, in his own words.

Question: Describe what you do in your “day job.”
Answer: Alongside a group of gifted communicators and great people, I help shape the external and internal narrative for our Global Marketing and our Commercial and Technology teams at IHG Hotels and Resorts. Our team is responsible for PR, internal and executive communications and owner and hotel communications for the two of the largest functions in the company. We get to communicate about our 16 hotel brands – some iconic and some brand new – and all the important programs and initiatives that are underway to drive our business forward. As with other companies in the travel sector, our world looks very different right now given the impact COVID-19 has had on our industry. The work our teams are doing is even more important right now.

Q: What advice do you have for PR and communications graduates entering the workforce during a pandemic, especially the hospitality industry?
A: I think you have to be patient and open. Regardless of how well prepared and experienced you are entering the real world, it’s going to take time. You need to cast a wide net. You don’t have to find the dream job, but think about how you can apply your skills and acquire new ones in that role – and how it will help lead you to the next step in your career.

Q: How has the communications industry changed since you joined the profession?
A: Communications at its core has not changed. Of course, we have new tools and channels and technology that allow us to work more efficiently. The end of the fax machine and getting my first Blackberry are probably two moments that transformed how we work.

Q: What is one “unofficial” skill or experience that you’ve put to use at work?
A: I’m a planner. At work, it means I’m the one who thrives in building structure, processes and timelines. In my personal life, it means I’m the keeper of the household calendar, builder of itineraries for vacations and payer of the bills.

Q: How has COVID-19 tested your crisis communications acumen?
A:  Crisis communication and reputation management have been core parts of my roles across multiple industries for most of my career. However, I’ve never experienced anything like this that has brought entire sectors of the global economy to a screeching halt. Having said that, the principles of best-in-class communications don’t change. We continue to focus on transparent and timely communications in what is an incredibly dynamic environment. It’s times like these when organizations are facing unprecedented challenges, that communications – and we as communicators – really have the opportunity to demonstrate our value.

Q: Do you have a go-to source for staying current on PR industry trends?
A: I really have no single source. PRSA programming and LinkedIn content are always helpful, but it’s probably what I can learn from those around me that is most valuable. I’m really fortunate to work alongside a group of smart and very diverse communicators that I can bounce ideas off of and learn from every day. I thrive off of working with a team that can help make my ideas better.

Q: PRSA Georgia has benefited from your leadership. How have you benefited from the Chapter?
A: I’ve grown up as a professional in PRSA Georgia. Relationships I’ve built have led to some of my most important career moments. Some of the best hires I’ve ever made have been through PRSA Georgia connections. Learnings from professional development programs have kept me sharp and challenged my thinking. Most importantly, I’ve met some of my closest friends through PRSA Georgia.

Q: What motivated you to volunteer as a mentor for PRSA Georgia’s 360 Mentoring Program?
A: It’s simple. Mentors played – and continue to play – an important role in my own career and development. I try to pay it forward as often as I can whether it’s helping make a new connection, providing my perspectives or just listening to someone who needs an ear. And I learn from those I mentor too and make great new connections.

Q: What are your hopes for PRSA Georgia looking forward (beyond COVID-19), and where do you see the organization heading?
A: Like many organizations, this type of crisis will likely serve as an important catalyst of change for PRSA Georgia. How we deliver programming and build connections may look and feel different. While it’s difficult work for our volunteer leaders, it’s exciting to consider what PRSA Georgia might look like a year from now. Regardless of any changes, I’m certain PRSA Georgia will still be focused on advancing our profession and the skills and abilities of each of us.