Chapter Chat: Rachel Cushing

Rachel Cushing describes the transition from college life to the professional world in a word: brutal.

Add in dual pandemics – COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustice – and things aren’t getting any easier for today’s graduating students and young professionals trying to establish themselves in the industry.

Remembering what it felt like to be that struggling young professional, Rachel is devoted to molding the next generation of communications pros – serving as co-chair of PRSA Georgia’s College Relations Committee and teaching as a guest lecturer at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. She has also served as a tutor at her alma mater, Agnes Scott College, helping students from the school’s Center for Writing and Speaking prepare for interviews, presentations and speaking engagements.

Working with students and young professionals is her way of repaying the support, guidance and opportunities she was afforded when first making her way into Atlanta’s PR and communications scene. After landing at Decatur’s Lenz Marketing as a public relations coordinator in 2013, she is now the agency’s media director, while her volunteerism is getting noticed too. She was inducted into this year’s PRSA Georgia Forty Under 40 class and was named May’s Chapter Champion.

This edition of Chapter Chat, a member-focused series featuring candid commentary along with industry insights, spotlights one of PRSA Georgia’s rising talents.

Let’s get right to it and find out more about Rachel Cushing – in her own words.

Question: What advice do you have for recent PR/communications graduates entering the workforce in our current environment?
Answer: Take advantage of the hyper-digital professional environment. Make sure your online presence, including social media, is really buttoned up and reflective of what you have to offer potential employers. Similarly, prioritize virtual networking. In some ways asking for a quick call (compared to a coffee date or in-person meeting) is an easier, lower-pressure ask. Use that to your advantage!

Q: Can you elaborate on what you do at Lenz?
A: I currently serve as the Media Director at Lenz, overseeing the agency’s social media, digital content, advertising and media relations initiatives. In my 7 years with the agency, I’ve had the pleasure to work hands-on with clients in the healthcare, nonprofit, higher education, small business, home services and entertainment industries. I also manage a fantastic team of four who keep me motivated and excited about my work every day.

Q: Where do you find creativity and inspiration?
A: There is no doubt that my brilliant colleges and amazing clients at Lenz are a regular source of inspiration and creative drive for me. One of the perks of agency life is getting to experience the constant flow of new ideas, projects and solutions. Just being around that keeps your creative juices flowing. I’m also a firm believer that communications and marketing professionals have a responsibility to be tuned into and learning from larger cultural shifts and trends happening around us. Recently, I’ve been deeply inspired by the creativity within the Black Lives Matter movement to challenge problematic ways of thinking and communicating.

Q: How do you spend your time outside of the office/away from work?
A: When I’m not in the Lenz office (during non-pandemic times), you can find me eating my way through Atlanta, exploring the many outdoor wonders around the city, talking politics or spending time with my partner, James, and our three fur babies: Marie, Rivers and Roux. More recently, we’ve been taking advantage of the big front porch on our Grant Park home to host lots of socially distanced hangs with friends and family, as well as finally tackling our long list of home improvement  projects.

Q: What can you tell our readers about your experience as a guest lecturer at Emory University?
A: Guest lecturing at Emory has been one of the highlights of my career. My supervisor and mentor, Mike Killeen (VP of Marketing here at Lenz), has taught the Healthcare Marketing course for Emory’s graduate-level Public Health program for the past four years. Last year, he asked my colleague Christine Mahin (Lenz Accounts and Operations Director) and myself to guest lecture at his Digital Marketing class. We had a blast and returned again this year to cover the same class. The thing I love most about the experience is being challenged to think about marketing from an outsider’s perspective. The students in this program are working towards becoming public health experts, not marketers. That pushes us to frame the conversation around a different set of priorities and goals.

Q: What is the professional accomplishment that you are most proud of?
A: When I first started at Lenz as a PR Coordinator back in 2013, I worked in the Public Relations Department which was made of two full-time employees (myself included) and focused mostly on traditional media relations and editorial work. Fast forward 7 years, I’m now overseeing that department (now called the Media Department) which has grown to include five full-time employees and produces all the owned, earned and paid media work for our clients. I’m extremely proud of the way I’ve been able to shape the department and evolve the quality of work we’re providing for our clients. Of course, none of that would be possible without the talent of my team and the support I’ve had over the years from agency leadership!

Q: What is one unofficial skill or experience that you’ve put to use in the workplace?
A: Empathy. It’s always something that’s come naturally to me, and the older I get the more I appreciate how it impacts my professional life. Whether it’s working through a workplace conflict, processing difficult client feedback or even just approaching a project with a fresh perspective – practicing empathy can really be a professional superpower.