Terrie M. Williams

The Interview

William Singleton: could you tell us a little about yourself and what influenced your life?

Terrie Williams: I was born and raised in Mt. Vernon New York. My parents have a very strong work ethic and that philosophy was passed on to me. I was thought of as being a Miss goody-two-shoes. My father was a truck driver and the company went bankrupt, and I thought that was the end of the world. My father pulled it together and got himself a partner and started his own trucking business and it’s been 20 years now. for me to I have that kind of example of enterepreneurship…As an adult, I have such greater appreciation for what it was he did and went through because it wasn’t no day on the beach. That message I got from my parents early on.

WS.: could you describe the difference between a publicist (P.R. person) and an agent?

TW: An agent is responsible for securing paid work for a client and a publicist or public relations counsel is one who heightens public awareness about the client and that can be any number of ways from being selective of the kinds of events a person would do, seeking out looking for ways to get introduced or to basically get stories. That’s the key difference.

WS: How did you become a P.R. master, or mistress, if you will? What steps did you take and what did you have to learn?

TW: I think it’s important to be able to strongly communicate one’s feelings, whether on paper or talking, and I think it important to read everything you get your hands on. Have a good feeling for what makes a good story. We skim 8 to 10 newspapers a day here (at the office), 40 to 50 magazines on a monthly basis. have a real good , strong sense about the kinds of things reporters, writer, editors are looking for. When I talk to people I immediately think “that’s a great hook, a great story.” I think it’s important to really hone the skill, and you can only develop in that area by absorbing everything you get your hands on.

WS: What sorts of magazines do you read?

TW: Everything. I am a news junky. Time, Newsweek, People, Rolling Stone, Ebony, Essence, Jet, Ebony Man, Advertising Age, Ad Week, Forbes, Fortune-Just every thing.

WS: Can you give us an analysis of a strong and effective P.R. campaign strategy?

TW: If we got a call to handle a new group, like Take 6, we have to look at the fact that this group has a strong gospel orientation. What we want to do is prepare the way where there is a wider radio air-play and audience appeal. We did not think that their music was limited to the gospel audience, so we had the challenge of trying to market them to the country. So what we did was put together a press kit, targeted it for the general media, not just gospel , and that included writing a biography about the group. The biography could tell how the group came together, how they are committed to education and what their interests are, and so on. We also included comments on the group’s first album from people who were really big in the business, like Quindy Jones and Anita Baker, and then we went about contacting various people in the media, sending them information press kits and trying to encourage them to do stories.

WS: Making the change from social work to public relations and communications is a big change. How did you make the change especially in the face of those who demanded to see your credentials?

TW: When I realized I wanted to get into public relations I had primarily a social work background. I took courses and I did a lot of volunteer work. That’s how I did it. I knew a couple of jazz musicians who were looking for someone to handle their public relations and couldn’t afford to hire anyone. I would write a news release to the media with photographs of the general public would know.

WS: What were the road blocks?

TW: Having people try to discount you. You’d go to them for help and they’d say ‘I don’t know.” Not having people open the door for you so you have to keep knocking on the doors. There were some people who didn’t want to give you the time of day at first but after a while they checked out the quality of our work and the list of our clients and then changed their minds. There were a lot of people who were kind to me then as well. That’s the reason I am very committed to passing on what I’ve been blessed with. It’s the only way to repay that kindness.

WS: Self-esteem. How did you enhance your self esteem?

TW: If someone said ‘you can’t , don’t listen. Try to find a way you can. You’ve got to believe in your. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. You can do anything you set your mind to do.

WS: A lot of people don’t know that you’ve done some very good work in helping young people. What sort of things have you done?

TW: I have a lot of young people working for me. You have to learn to market yourself. You have to figure out what makes you special and then become excellent at that. Remember to treat everyone that same way . Treat others the way you want to be treated. You never know who will be in a position to help you. Always take time to say ‘Thank you.’ n

The Story

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with one of your favorite stars? Perhaps Eddie Murphy, Take 6, new Edition, or Jackie Joyner-Kersee? In the field of public relations you can meet and represent a host of famous people like those just mentioned.

What does a public relations person do? They are responsible for making sure that their client is seen and heard about in an effective way.
Terrie Williams owns her own public relations firm, which has become one of the most prestigious companies in the country, rising faster than any other agency in the field of entertainment. She took only two years.

“Always do more than is expected of you and you will be a success.” This is the motto that Terrie Williams has lived by. A native of Mt. Vernon, New York, Terrie said that her parents were a major part of her success.. ” My parents have a very strong work ethic and that philosophy was passed on to me.” Terrie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and sociology from Brandies University in Waltham, Massachusetts. She received her Masters degree in social work from Columbia University in New York.

After graduating, Terrie worked as a social worker at the New York Hospital for 3 years. Realizing that this was not what she wanted, Terrie began to explore the world of public relations and communications. “I started by taking a P.R. course at the YMCA, and I did a lot of volunteer work, so that I would have something other than social work on my resume. I wrote news releases to the media for a year. One experience led to another. I volunteered at WWRL, a New York radio station, as an associate producer for the public affairs department.”

Bigger and better things soon started to come her way. In February 1980, she became the first employee and administrator of the Black Filmmakers Foundation. In 1981 she was named the first executive director of the Black-Owned Communication Alliance (BOCA), a trade association of Black media owners.

In 1982, Black Communications From this position, she moved on the Essence Communications, where she became vice president and director of corporate communications. She was the youngest person and the second female to hold this position in the company’s history.

While at Essence, Terrie wrote two articles, “How Women (and other Minorities) can Break into Public Relations, ” and “20 Ways to Promote Yourself in Business.” After writing these two pieces, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, and it was no secret: start her own business. In 1987, she did just that. her first client was none other than Eddie Murphy.

” I met Eddie Murphy at a party for Miles Davis and I heard on two separate occasions that Eddie was looking for an independent public relations person. The third time I heard it, I sent him a package and a letter. About two months later, I called and spoke to Eddie and he told me he’d gotten the package and would love to have me represent him. I was just overwhelmed because the opportunity to launch a business with Eddie Murphy was a dream turned into reality.”

Terrie’s dream became more of a reality when her client list increased to include Anita Baker, Take 6, Dawn Lewis , New Edition, Keith Sweat, Tri-Star Pictures, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Miles Davis, …and the list goes on. Terrie takes several steps to best serve clients. She puts together a press kit, which includes biographies and information about the client. After sending out the press kits she then contacts various people in the media and encourages them to do stories about her client. This helps her to get maximum exposure a cross the country.

Still, Terrie’s success did not come without discouragements. People she approached for help wouldn’t respond or open doors for her. Her hard work and perseverance have helped her overcome these obstacles and succeed.

Terrie has a lot of young people working for her. They learn how the public relations industry works. She encourages them to succeed. She tells them, “Never believe someone who tells them, “Never believe someone who tells you, ‘ you can’t do something.’ You’ve got to believe in yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to., You have to figure out what makes you special and then become excellent at that. Remember to treat everyone the same way, because you never know who is in a position to help you. Always take time to say ‘Thank you.’


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