Chapter Chat: Denise Grant, Den Mother

Denise Grant, Chief Operating Officer and “Den Mother” to PRSA Georgia’s 830 members, began her affiliation with the Chapter as many of us do: as a member.

In 1983, while she was working in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s public relations department, Denise and husband Jim discovered they were about to be parents of twins. Deciding a part-time job would best help create the work-life balance they needed to raise a girl and boy simultaneously, she applied for the new position of Chapter Administrator created by PRSA Georgia, of which she was already a board member.

“I thought it would be a good thing to do for a year or two,” said Denise.

Nearly 37 years later, under her guiding hand, the Chapter has grown to be the second largest in the nation, and Denise’s role has grown with it, evolving into a full-time career as Executive Director and then Chief Operating Officer. She is also the Chapter’s unofficial historian and archivist, saving every piece of Chapter memorabilia: documents, stories, anecdotes, photos, charts and so on.

You may think you know Denise Grant, COO, but let’s get to know her better in her own words.

Question: Describe what you do in your “day job.”
Answer: I manage the day-to-day operations of the Chapter. This includes providing assistance to members who have questions or are looking for information (think one-stop shopping), maintaining the ever-changing member database, supporting committees with their respective projects and events, offering counsel to Chapter leadership, overseeing the Chapter’s finances and contracts and serving as a liaison for the Chapter with National PRSA. In general, I like to say, I make sure the trains are running on time.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since your first year with the Chapter?
A: Technology is a big one! When I started, we published a monthly newsletter, which required a laser printer that cost several thousand dollars and weighed a ton. Then along came a way to communicate with members that was much faster than snail mail and could be done at any time of day or night. It was called email. Next, social media made its debut.

With the launch of our website, members had the ability to register for meetings and events online instead of having to make them over the phone. One of the more recent changes that both committee volunteers and users have really appreciated is the ability to submit Phoenix Awards online. (No more driving across town through rush hour traffic to make the 5:00 deadline to deliver those binders!)

Q: How do you juggle the many communications with the Board and all the committees and keep it everything organized?
A: I have created an extensive system of folders, both in Outlook and on my desktop. I’ve learned over time the types of emails and information I will likely need to access at some point, so I am diligent about saving them to their respective folders throughout the day.

Q: With your institutional knowledge, how do you pass along best practices learned from the past, and keep new generations of members from repeating any mistakes?
A: When I’m talking with Chapter leaders and committee volunteers as we begin to work on various events and programs, I share the lessons that were learned from previous years so they can use that information to guide their planning and decision-making for their current effort.

Q: What is the most satisfying aspect of your PRSA experience?
A: One of the most rewarding things I do is getting to know our members. When I can help someone who wants to become involved with the Chapter find just the right committee to join or suggest a way they can participate in that would be meaningful for them, that’s a “win-win- win,” for the member, the Chapter and me.

Q: Where do you find your inspiration?
A: Our members are my inspiration. Here’s a good example. I’ll scroll through our database of 830 members from time to time, looking for a volunteer to help with an event or task, to serve on a panel or judge some awards. I’ll see a name and think, my goodness, I have known that person since they were a PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) member! Then they were a new graduate, then they became a member of the Chapter, then they joined a committee and now, a few years later, look at all they’ve accomplished for our organization and their career! What a privilege to be a small part of that.

Q: Is there a particular anecdote of something that happened at a Chapter event that stands out in your mind?
A: Several years ago, we had a lunch meeting at what was then the Tower Place Hotel. I was sitting at a table in the back of the room. As the speaker was finishing, big blobs of wet plaster started falling from the ceiling and plopping on our table. The plops started getting bigger and coming down faster. I quickly left and asked a hotel employee to send someone from maintenance ASAP. It wasn’t long until two guys came running down the hall with a huge ladder and were ready to storm the ballroom. I held them back until the president adjourned the meeting. By then, big chunks of the ceiling were falling, and the people at that table were standing back in amazement at what was happening. We did not meet at that location again.

Q: What’s one unofficial skill you’ve put to use on behalf of the Chapter?
A: A few years ago, I participated in a program called the Stephen Ministry through the United Methodist Church that I attend. The program trains individuals to learn how to really listen to people as you support them and help them cope with what’s happening in their lives: in essence, to be a friendly ear. I like to think I’ve been able to use those skills for our Chapter members – to listen, to celebrate, even to commiserate at times.

Q: In these days when communications technology like cellphones, email, texts and social
media are ever-present, are you ever “off duty?”
A: Some of our volunteers work on PRSA committee activities in morning before their “day job” begins. Some of them finish their “day job” and turn to their PRSA projects after 5:00 p.m. or in the evening. Others squeeze PRSA assignments into their schedule throughout the day or tackle them during the weekend. And, our members may have questions or need assistance at any point in time.

Technology has allowed me to take PRSA Georgia with me on my travels to the Great Wall of China, crossing the Andes in South America, exploring the Australian Outback, driving through the desert in Jordan…and many more places around the world, so I’m available to our volunteers and members anytime, anywhere. My motto is “We may doze, but we never close.”

A: You’re an avid traveler. What’s your favorite destination of all time?
Q: My husband and I have been to all seven continents. They are all special in their own way but the one that stands out is Africa. I was never particularly a nature-lover but to complete my bucket list of traveling to all the continents, I had to visit Africa. Going on a safari in South Africa was a life changing experience for me. I’ve heard people say that Africa gets in your blood, and it’s absolutely true.

For those who might wonder if I have finished traveling after my journey to Antarctica, not at all! Egypt is high on my list, along with Machu Picchu and India. Of course, France—not just Paris—is “always a good idea.”

This year’s big trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand was cancelled due to the escalation of the pandemic shortly after my husband and I arrived in Hanoi. We literally flew around the world for a trip that didn’t happen.

For my immediate travel, I can’t wait go to Washington, DC, to see my daughter Katie and her husband Justin, and to Houston to visit my son Bryan, his wife Lauren, and my grandchildren Beatrice (4 ½) and William (19 months) – who will be joined by a baby brother, Henry, in late September.

Q: Keeping the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, what are your hopes for PRSA Georgia the rest of this year and beyond?
A: I want our Chapter to continue to be recognized by National PRSA as progressive, innovative and a role model for other chapters across the country. Also, serving our members at all levels of experience, to be resources for them and to help them advance in their careers is always at the top of my list. And I want to see our current leaders focus even more on identifying and developing our emerging leaders who will guide PRSA Georgia in the years to come.

Q: And what about the nickname as the Chapter “Den Mother”?
A: I think it’s really special. One way “Den Mother” is defined is as “a woman who plays a supportive or protective role for a particular group of people.” It’s my honor to serve in that role as our PRSA Georgia Den Mother.

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