A tribute to Charlotte

The folks at Charlotte Agenda were kind enough to encourage me to share my Charlotte story with a wider audience, so I wrote a little recap that was posted today. The six years I spent in Charlotte were impactful for me for many different reasons, and it felt really good to look back with intention and remember how many people played a role. I am thankful.

A full copy of my pScreen Shot 2015-06-25 at 6.10.07 PMost is below.

Thank you, Charlotte. 

I still vividly remember driving to Charlotte nearly six years ago on moving day. It was pouring rain. My eyes were set on the UHaul driven by my husband in front of me, the Atlanta skyline barely visible in my rearview mirror, and a hefty dose of fear that was hard to swallow.

Three months before that day, I lost my job. My husband was a part-time youth minister, and we had patched our lives together while we tried to figure out the next step. A church in Charlotte came calling, so we packed up our one-bedroom apartment and took a leap of faith.

We were greeted at the door of our new apartment in South End (we were the first tenants at Circle – now Post South End) with two buckets of fried chicken and two gallons of sweet tea from Price’s Chicken Coop. Not to mention the 20 people who showed up to help us unpack that UHaul. I should have known, then, that I was home. It took me a few months to really open my heart to Charlotte, but once I did, I never looked back.

Several jobs, friendships, experiences and memories later, it is time to leave the city that I have grown to love. Charlotte has changed quite a bit, even in just six years. But its soul remains the same.

As I reflect, I wanted to leave you with seven lessons from my time in Charlotte:

Lesson 1: You are not alone: The #SMCLT story

I was a work-from-home freelancer when we first got to Charlotte. Though I had a built-in church family through my husband’s job with Pritchard Memorial Baptist, it was difficult to make friends. At the time, Meetups weren’t yet popular, social media was still growing, and I didn’t have enough money to join a true “professional” networking group. So, to avoid the trap of never showering before 5pm each day, I started looking up other ways to begin plugging into the community to find my “place.”

with Logan Stewart and Genevieve JoosteEnter Social Media Charlotte: a newly-formed group of people who were all interested in better understanding social media and, for some, working in the field. Though these weren’t my top two goals in life, I decided to attend a couple of breakfasts to try and meet a few like-minded people and maybe learn a thing or two. Little did I know that it would lead me to such a solid group of people. Some of them became my true friends and confidantes (like Genevieve Jooste, who became my freelancer-at-Starbucks friend who read my proposals and encouraged me), others hired me (giving me a much-needed confidence boost – thanks Bo Hussey and Aleigh Acerni) and still others have acted as connectors for me in the six years since (there is no better example than Logan Stewart!).

The point is not that #SMCLT was such a good group. The point is, no matter what your interests or needs, there is a group for you in Charlotte. The “Charlotte Way” is all about collaboration and idea sharing. There is no excuse for you to ever be alone. We are stronger when we are together. And when we take showers.

Lesson #2: Remember to breathe.

Charlotte gave me room to breathe. Soon after moving in, we discovered Freedom Park. I remember thinking, “oh, this must be the real Charlotte.” Something clicked in me. The diversity and vibrancy of the people in that park made me feel comfortable, even peaceful. Something about how it was (and still is) a safe and welcoming place, connected via the greenway to so many different neighborhoods, spoke to me. My husband and I visited many times over the years. We walked around the lake and talked about work, church, our future. On the day we adopted our dog Murphy, the first place we took him was Freedom Park. It was part of our home. I even bought a David French painting of the park for my husband for our fifth anniversary.

Rail TrailHere’s the best part, though. Charlotte seems to get that feeling too, and is working hard to create more and more spaces that allow us to breathe, interact, play, and observe. Romare Bearden Park is a great example, but just wait until First Ward Park and the Charlotte Rail Trail come to life. Spend time in these places and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Lesson 3: Education is for life. 

I never planned to go back to graduate school. For careers in Public Relations, journalism or communications, it isn’t really all that necessary. But soon after I started working with Goodwill in a PR/social media role, I stumbled upon a program that almost seemed too good to be true.

Knight School graduationFor me, the Knight School of Communication at Queens University was a game-changer. I don’t know what it was that led me to it, but from the minute I stepped into the first class, it felt more like a calling. Spending evenings in conversation with students from different backgrounds about communication theory taught me so much more than I ever expected. Over 2.5 years, Kim Weller inspired me, Mac McArthur challenged me, Zachary White encouraged me. The school’s mission is to prepare consumers and creators of communication messages to become engaged citizens, advocates and leaders in the communities they serve. I could go on and on about this program, but ultimately what I learned is the importance of challenging ourselves, pursuing knowledge and thinking critically. I apply what I learned at the #KnightSchool in my life daily, and I couldn’t be more thankful that it was part of my Charlotte experience.

Lesson 4: Open your eyes.

After I joined Charlotte Center City Partners, I was asked whether I would like to be part of the Community Building Initiative (CBI) Leaders Under 40 program. Without knowing much about the program, I agreed to take part. Little did I know, that decision would change my entire perspective, challenge my assumptions and biases, and open my eyes to better understand not only Charlotte’s story, but my own story as well.

The program pulls together young leaders from a variety of public, private and non-profit groups in Charlotte to meet monthly for one year in hopes of preparing them to understand and strive for racial and ethnic inclusion and equity in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. We talked about our biases, we were put into situations of poverty and exclusion, we got on a bus and toured Charlotte neighborhoods on the west side and the east side, we learned about Charlotte’s history and we talked one-on-one with those who lead Charlotte today. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Not everyone will be in a place to go through this program, but everyone DOES have the ability to open their eyes. Here are a few ways I suggest you do so:

Lesson 5: Support local (with thanks to Kim Lawson)

Kimberly Lawson recently wrote her own beautiful homage to Charlotte upon moving to Atlanta, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Her message was this: I cannot stress enough how important it is to shop, eat, drink and indulge in the businesses and projects of people who actually live in Charlotte. I love knowing that my dollars and patronage are affecting folks I can actually see face to face. You should, too.

I couldn’t agree more, Kim (or say it with more grace or eloquence). I had the privilege of working with some of the business owners of the 7th Street Public Market, along with some small business owners in South End and Uptown during my time with CCCP. I have to confess that I didn’t “get” what the big deal was about shopping local until spending time with these business owners. For them, the choices you make with your dollars say something very important. Read Kim’s story, read Katie Levans’ 50 ways to #CharlotteFirst when you spend money, then go spend your money better. (Side note: also, read Jeremy Markovich’s Charlotte Magazine story about his move to Greensboro – great read.)

Lesson 6: Just ask.

Kristen MirandaThis one is simple. In my experience, Charlotte’s leaders – the “movers and shakers” – are very, very open to talking to you. Most of them genuinely want to help people. Not just fancy, rich, powerful people. All people. You just have to ask.

I saw this first-hand many times during my time in Charlotte.  When I went to PRSA meetings and events, it was less about competition for the best jobs or appearing to have it together, and more about helping one another and admitting that we are all in this together. Just ask Amanda DeWeese – former president of the chapter, she also happens to be a former dance team comrade from my high school in Birmingham! Many of my friends in the media were the same way. Just ask Kristen Miranda, WBTV anchor and one of the brightest stars in Charlotte. She gave me my first “break” as a new PR pro here, and became a close friend. I saw company CEOs and nonprofit leaders say “yes” when asked whether you could buy them coffee for an hour of their time, or whether they would allow your kid to shadow them, or whether they would give you advice about a particular issue. Michael Smith and Moira Quinn are wonderful examples, as are LaRita Barber, Tom Murray and countless others.

Most of the leaders I came into contact with said “yes” when I asked them for help. A bunch of people have helped me along the way. They have taught me how easy and important it is for me to help others, however I can. We’re all in this together. Just ask.

Lesson 7: Get connected.

Probably the number one question I got asked after I started working with CCCP was “how can I be more ‘in the know’ about what’s going on?” The truth is, there isn’t a silver bullet that is going to package up exactly the information you’re looking for and drop it in your lap. The folks behind Charlotte Agenda and a few others in town are working on making that process a little easier, but the true response is this: You have to put in a little effort.

If you’re interested in events, it’s pretty easy to sign up for weekly emails through a number of publications. If you want to know about what’s going on at the government level, find out when the meetings are, put them on your calendar and go. Pay attention to the flyers in your favorite spots. Care about economic mobility? Sign up for updates about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. Read the news.

Basically, it boils down to this: Don’t be passive. Be an active member of the community. Charlotte is better because of each additional voice that is part of its story. I was lucky to add my voice for a few years.

To me, the Queen City is like a beautiful Southern front porch, inviting you up to take seat on a breezy afternoon with a cool glass of lemonade while you share stories with your neighbors. Thank you for letting me sit and share with you for awhile.

Murphy at Fido Fest

A new path

A few weeks after I started working with Charlotte Center City Partners, our CEO Michael stopped me on the street and gave me this piece of advice: “I want you to develop your own voice. Don’t just expand on what we’ve done before or try to assimilate to what exists here. Your perspective is unique and valuable.” Not only did his words stick with me and continue to encourage me during my time with CCCP, they also represent my Charlotte chapter.

When my husband and I moved to Charlotte in 2009, I had been through a layoff and was struggling to survive – much less grow and thrive – as a communications consultant and freelance writer. I had a few years of experience, but I was hungry for more. I wanted to stretch myself, continue learning and improving, get out of my comfort zone and find a path that really fit me – not just a path that I was supposed to want.

Over the next six years, I was able to do all of those things and much more. I ate breakfast and met smart people at Social Media Charlotte (shout out to my #SMCLT folks!), joined a strong and passionate team at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, dove into a life-changing master’s degree program with the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, and finally, I found my voice after joining CCCP as Director of Communications.

A bunch of people have helped me along the way. What I’ve taken away from my experience so far is how easy and important it is for me to help others, however I can, as they try to find their voice as well. We all need to help each other. We’re all in this together.

That being said, I’m excited to announce that I am joining a team at a unique company that is doing exactly that.

After my husband found an amazing job (and church family) in Greenville, S.C. a few months ago, I knew I would eventually want to join him there full-time. I thought it would be difficult to find a job that fit me, so I stayed with CCCP for as long as possible. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong about finding the right place for me.

the-iron-yard-logoI’m joining The Iron Yard as Communications Director in their Greenville headquarters. I’m going to apply my passion for all things communications, writing, and content strategy to a company whose mission is all about helping people – in this case, helping people gain skills, confidence and connections as they pursue careers in tech, or launch startups, or develop new ideas. It’s a pretty cool place – read more about it here. And they were nice enough to write about me joining the team, too.

The Iron Yard is going to open up a whole new world for me. I have tons to learn but I couldn’t be more ready to jump in with both feet. For those who I’ve worked with in the past, thank you. I hope our paths will cross again. Thanks for walking along with me on this lifelong journey.

Changing media landscape in Charlotte: Hyperlocal is in

We have a fairly new crop of hyperlocal media outlets and blogs popping up in Charlotte. I put together a quick recap in case you are interested in following along (and many of you already are!).

Though most of these have significantly smaller audience numbers than traditional media outlets, they can often have a very targeted audience (for most of these, it’s a millennial and Gen X audience, well connected and engaged, local). If you know of other sites or outlets, please let me know and I’ll add them to my list!

(Note: if this is a topic that really interests you, I suggest you also read this great article on Neiman Lab that explores what the boundaries are when it comes to journalism today, and how the rise of digital tools is changing who defines journalism.)


Charlotte Five – launched in 2014 by the marketing/advertising department at the Charlotte Observer. Has about 5,000 views per day. Mission is to “make Charlotte the smartest and most connected city in the world. Great cities matter.” Here’s a Nieman Lab story about the format. Publish Charlotte’s “top 5 news and entertainment stories” each day at 7am. Sign up for newsletter here.


Charlotte Agenda – newly launched site and newsletter that publishes a handful of short articles each weekday morning and afternoon. Founded by Ted Williams, who started Charlotte Five a few months ago (see above). Stated mission is to “make Charlotte the smartest, most human city in the world” (sound familiar?). Topics include neighborhoods, beer, entrepreneurs, cool jobs, and working out. UPDATE: Views are now hovering in the 10,000/weekday range. This popular story about Chantilly has 3,600 views so far. Sign up for newsletter here. From Ted: We have no interest in scaling to other cities – instead of going wide we want to go deep. We bleed Charlotte. We’re in love with this city.


We Love CLT – Site launched in 2014, with mission “to support and bring together a community that isn’t defined by the industry you work in, the people you know or the place you are standing at this very moment.” This group hosts a speaker series once a month, plus a weekly newsletter sent each Friday. Click here to sign up for the newsletter. They encourage people to share online using #WeLoveCLT.


Charlotte Community Radio – newly launched non-profit local digital radio station, site and newsletter run by volunteers. They want to provide “a forum for people, issues and events that traditionally lack media access by promoting user-generated content and citizen journalism in an effort to engage the local community.” Arts, cultural and music programming will be produced or hosted by local artists, performers, musicians, storytellers, DJs, etc. Number of listeners/viewers unknown.

Other hyperlocal outlets (some are still in infancy, some are more established):

Detailed Block (thanks James for the tip!) – founded by local Charlotte residents and entrepreneurs who desire to change how local media is viewed and consumed. The site strives to connect the community with information pertaining to high growth Charlotte startups, while providing a quick snapshot of important news and discussion about the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Offline Media (thanks Andrew for the tip!) – says their mission is “challenging people to live more interesting and memorable lives.” (a little vague, but it’s essentially a curated list of events and happenings by place).

QC Independent Radio – Born out of a love and appreciation for the classic radio format, as well as a vision for what the digital age can bring, QC Independent Radio aims to redefine the radio experience. (hat tip to Stephen!)

Life Inside the Loop

The Queen City Buzz

Popular hashtags to search for local content:




#gifwarsCLT (funny)


#instabeerupCLT and #cltbeer (beer lovers unite)

Lessons in reporting: Here’s to you, Dan Charles

Dan Charles, food and agriculture correspondent, NPR Morning Edition
Dan Charles, food and agriculture correspondent, NPR Morning Edition

I think NPR’s Dan Charles should win an award. Not just for writing or reporting – though I am certain he is deserving of awards in those categories. I have never followed Dan closely, although I enjoy his reporting on Morning Edition. But one of his stories last week has stuck with me for days now. Not because of the topic or content, but because Dan made three choices. He chose to:

  1. Admit that he had incorrectly reported something
  2. Educate himself and get to the bottom of the story
  3. Report a follow-up story, correcting himself and better educating listeners

After one of his stories about Iowa and farming and nitrates aired a few weeks ago, Dan received what he called a “disappointed email” from a listener, who was frustrated that he had blamed the nitrate problem on fertilizer only. The listener, an expert in this topic, hears this story all the time but knows that it’s not the whole story, and is having a hard time stopping the spread of false information.

I won’t go into the topic – click here to read the story if you’re interested. My interest is in how Dan responded. Instead of ignoring this email or getting upset, he says, “as soon as I read it, I knew that she had a point.” He did additional research, followed-up with the listener, and created a follow-up story to clear up the issue and help educate listeners.

When I heard this follow-up story on the radio one morning during my commute, I was floored. In a time when the news media is measured by how quickly news stories can be published, how much interest they can generate (shock factor is key), and how much money they can make for advertisers, it was so refreshing to see that there are still reporters working to get things right, dig deep and be a true resource.

Thank you for restoring my faith in the media industry, Dan. Here’s hoping more will follow your lead.

Defining and unbinding PR in 2015

PR in 2015 - image courtesy of Blue Rock marketing
PR: Image courtesy of Blue Rock marketing

The past couple of years have been quite a blur for me and for my career. Since joining Charlotte Center City Partners as Director of Communications, I have held on tight for an amazing roller coaster ride of learning, experiencing and understanding the role of PR and strategic communications in a variety of contexts. In late 2013, I was honored to receive the PRSA Charlotte “Young Professional of the Year” award, and in May 2014, I graduated from the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte with my Master of Arts degree in Communication. My experience in graduate school opened my eyes to a completely new way of thinking critically – about communications, about work, and about life. Below is an excerpt of an interview where I talked about how the program was meaningful to me and how it is meaningful to the Charlotte community.  

As I approach a decade of experience in the world of PR, I can’t help but notice how very different this profession is depending on the context of the job, the industry, and the advancements in communications technology. It goes without saying that digital media tools continue to change HOW our industry does its work, but it does not change WHAT we do or WHY we do it.  In the agency world, we help our clients reach their business goals by reaching their clients. In the nonprofit world, we help achieve the mission of our organizations by telling compelling stories (and often by acting as a triage for never ending requests!). In the corporate world, we do the above, plus measure and report often. In all cases, we must continue to be strong writers and storytellers, using the most appropriate tools and techniques available.

PRSA young professional of the year award Lelia 2013
Honored to accept the 2013 PRSA Charlotte young professional award, alongside my husband.

In the last few years, I have begun to consider myself a communications professional rather than solely a PR pro. The national industry organization for PR pros, PRSA, adopted the following definition of PR in 2012:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

While I completely agree with this definition of PR, specifically in that PR is a process, most people continue to associate PR with media relations, or simply writing press releases. In my day-to-day experience, writing press releases takes about 3% of my time. Thinking about what I do as communications strategy rather than PR helps me feel less bound by any definitions – old or new. It also helps “unbind” any pre-set assumptions that colleagues have when they come to me with a communications need. For example, perhaps a colleague wants to “promote” an upcoming event, and he or she assumes that traditional media relations is the way to go. But, after thinking through some questions, perhaps we determine that a promoted social media campaign and direct email might better reach the target audience. Or, perhaps a video is the way to go. That “a-ha” moment, when I can help someone crystalize their goals and figure out the best strategy to meet those goals has become my favorite part of this career I love.

Lelia on morning news WCCB 2014
On a morning news show in Charlotte in 2014.

Of course, being on TV is always fun, too! I have so many learnings to share that I have accumulated over the last several years, and my hope is that this blog can become a platform in which to share them. It’s a great way for me to look back and make sense of my own experiences, and my hope is that it will help other communications and PR professionals do the same. Communication is a process, after all.

Now, I want to know: What is your job title? Does it reflect your day-to-day work?

Learning from Charlotte leaders

Image courtesy of bgavideo.wordpress.com
Image courtesy of bgavideo.wordpress.com

A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to attend the Charlotte Businesswoman of the Year award luncheon honoring Laura Schulte of Wells Fargo.

North Carolina’s newly-appointed secretary of commerce Sharon Decker offered the keynote address. She talked about lessons she has learned from Charlotte’s great leaders, including Joan Zimmerman, Bill Lee, a homeless woman and a Buddhist monk. As a current student of leadership, I was really interested in Decker’s perspective.

What Charlotte greats have taught me (Sharon Decker)

  • From Bill Lee, Sharon says she learned that “you’ve gotta use what you’ve got.” When she asked him about whether she should get a degree in engineering to advance her career, he taught her that her perspective as a non-engineer was meaningful.
  • From Ellen, a homeless woman, Sharon learned that every human has value, needs purpose and love. She had encountered Ellen one day when she asked Sharon for directions to the hospital. Ellen suffered from mental illness, and fell into homelessness after both of her parents had died. She told Sharon, “I’m not sure where I go from here, but I’m sure there will be another way to make a life.”
  • From Joan Zimmerman, Sharon learned about priorities. After she started the Lynnwood Foundation, she received a letter from Joan. In the letter, Joan told Sharon that she was so proud of her, that she knew Sharon was working hard and that she wanted to remind her to set priorities – knowing what is first in your life, and loving by those priorities.
  • From Rolfe Neill, Sharon learned how to listen. After he read about her in an article, Rolfe reached out to Sharon and said that he wanted to meet her. “I had never had someone listen so intently to my story,” she said after meeting him. His listening touched her, and she never forgot the power of taking the time for real conversation.
  • From a Buddhist monk, Sharon learned what she considers her most important lesson – to be still. The greatest risk to us today is that we don’t know how to be still, she said. Sharon learned to meditate and “hear her own heart,” and she said that we miss things because we don’t listen to the story.

What I admired most about Sharon’s story is that she strives for balance and she is so open to opportunity. She doesn’t try to cover up that finding balance as a successful corporate executive, mother, wife and community leader is hard. Her transparency and honesty draw people in, and are impactful leadership traits.

BWOYlogoWhen introducing award recipient Laura Schulte, Charlotte Observer president and publisher Ann Caulkins described Laura with words like customer-focused, calm, direction, identity and said that Laura “steps up.” In Laura’s remarks after receiving the award, she said that the number one key to Wells Fargo’s success in the Charlotte community has been its goal of making sure that every team member understands why he or she does is important. “Why are we here? Of course making money is a business goal, but I come to work because our customers have a lot going on, and we want to build lifelong relationships with them,” she said.

Connecting customer service to team member engagement was the theme of Laura’s speech. “I believe the responsibility of business goes beyond making money,” she said. “Philanthropy, civic engagement, volunteering…local leaders know that this is what a community needs to thrive.” She also mentioned that it’s important to hire great people and then get out of their way – a great example of empowering others.

Each of these women taught me that there is not one road to being a good leader, and that they share many of the same struggles that the rest of us deal with. A recurring theme that continues to emerge in these discussions is emotional intelligence, a sense of self-worth and understanding, and a talent for helping others feel valued.

Choosing words

We all know that the “face” we put on each day – in our interactions with coworkers, our conversations with strangers, our social media presence, etc. – does not always reflect how we truly feel. For my Goffman fans out there, of course I’m talking about our “front stage” vs. our “back stage.” For those of us in PR, marketing or communications, this juxtaposition is something we think about often.

How we communicate is often a balance of how we feel and how we want to present ourselves. It’s not just the words you say or write, it’s also the meaning behind them. Were you short with a coworker because you are having trouble at home? Are you using your best grammar in an email to your boss because you are hoping for a good performance review?

The thought that I want to leave with you today is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and was shared on Facebook by my friend Jen.

Emerson quote

Know that you are given a fresh start every day. Every day, you can choose how you communicate with others. Words are very powerful – choose them wisely.