The character Olivia Pope has forever changed the way people think about PR and crisis management. Most assume it’s all about coming up with elaborate stories to cover up other people’s mistakes. But what happens when you work in PR and your client is a mouse with big ears? Shawn Turner manages external communications for Disney Consumer Products’ $9 billion classic portfolio which includes global brands Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh. She has also managed corporate communications and public relations for Disney Store North America, the retail division of Disney Consumer Products, representing more than 220 retail locations across North America. A brand targeted at kids may seem easier to “handle” but since Disney is one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, all eyes are on Shawn. Especially during the launch of the first Disney Store in Times Square, for which Shawn led the PR campaign. Keynote speakers at that event were Disney CEO Bob Iger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg… No pressure right?
Luckily for Shawn, she is a PR pro who has a deep passion and respect for the field. A strong writer, Shawn started her career off as a journalist, but felt stifled by the lack of career opportunities. She enjoyed thinking strategically and covering local city council and board of education meetings wasn’t cutting it. “I wanted more variety in my day… a lot goes into developing a PR campaign. You get to write and be creative,” she says. Shawn made the switch to PR after meeting “networking guru,” the late Pat Tobin. Those in the PR field may have heard of Pat, a legend who ran the boutique agency Tobin & Associates and founded the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS). BPRS serves as an advocate and resource for African-American PR professionals. Pat’s influence on Shawn’s career can’t be denied. When Shawn left Tobin & Associates she went on to work for multi-cultural integrated marketing firm Lagrant Communications and later served as senior account executive with global public relations agency Rogers & Cowan. Because she considered Pat a catalyst in launching her career, when Shawn re-launched the Los Angeles chapter of the BPRS it was partially to honor her memory. The LA chapter had lapsed but Shawn stepped up to handle the re-launch and even got Disney on board to host the launch event. “It was really important to have a mentor and I strive to continue to do that as BPRS-LA president,” Shawn says.
The consummate professional, Shawn manages a day packed with team brainstorms, and meetings with synergy partners –Disney PR teams from other divisions, like TV. She formulates storylines and drops exclusives on media outlets. “I try to keep it interesting. For example, with the classic portfolio, we positioned Minnie as a fashion and style icon. She’s on runways in Paris and Milan. We launched a collection at Forever 21 and Old Navy for her. We even launched a nail color line with OPI.” Pretty innovative and hip for a brand that has been around for ninety-one years. Shawn says that it’s definitely easier in some ways working for such an established brand and throwing the Disney weight around a bit. When media outlets recognize a brand they are more likely to pick up the phone when you call. But it isn’t always a cake walk. Shawn says that with consumer goods the battle for press coverage can be tough depending on the product. “When I first started it was harder [to pitch] Hannah Montana wigs. You have to come up with a fresh approach to make it newsworthy.” And this twelve-year veteran is good at what she does. She was named one of PR Week’s “40 under 40–Ones to Watch” in 2011 and ran a key film franchise product launch for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which became one of their top merchandising programs of 2009. After the campaign ran she recalls, “I was at the Cheesecake Factory and saw a little girl with a Tiana doll and I was so proud. I love being a part of something that makes people happy.”
If balancing Disney PR and BPRS wasn’t enough, Shawn has served as director of marketing and communications for the UCLA Black Alumni Association. An advocate for mentorship she focuses on giving back through her work with BPRS and UCLA. “It’s important for like-minded people to… come together, be visible, find solutions, and gain access to areas we might not have access to.” Shawn and the BPRS team are hosting an end of the year celebration for college students and young professionals this month and a PR bootcamp in June. Check their website www.bprsla.org for more information. And keep your eyes on this rising star in the PR world. I know that just like Mickey, Shawn is set to be around – and successful – for a long time coming.