Challenges, rewards mark careers in public relations, pros say


Katie Adams, Terry Rhadigan and Ann Thomas were the guest panelists.


Careers in public relations can be challenging and time-consuming but also immensely rewarding, according to a panel of professionals who spoke by Zoom to Detroit Mercy students March 9.

Ann Thomas of WJR radio said her morning starts early but her days are never the same.

Terry Rhadigan, a General Motors executive, agreed.

“It is long hours,” said Rhadigan. “We start early, we end late, we’re always on call. But no two days are ever the same, and that’s the best part.”

The panel, which also included Weber Shandwick executive Katie Adams, was hosted by adjunct professor Alexandra Hichel of Detroit Mercy’s communication studies department.

The event began with the introduction of Detroit Mercy’s partnership with Loyola High School in Detroit. (See this story for details.)

Loyola’s communications team is led by Marketing and Communications Director Roger Jankowski.

The partnership between professor Hichel’s principles of public relations class and Loyola’s communications team has been a “win-win” for both schools, said Thomas, executive producer at Detroit radio station WJR, where she oversees the work of all other producers.

Straight out of graduation from Michigan State University, Thomas started her career as an intern at WJR.

Now, she is the recipient of several awards for her work on and off air, and she serves as a board member and chair of marketing at Loyola.

Katie Adams, an executive vice president at Weber Shandwick, leads the firm’s Detroit office, and is in charge of the Chevrolet, Buick and GMC Communications global account. She is also a Loyola board member.

Panelist Terry Rhadigan is executive director of global communications and citizenship at General Motors, where he is responsible for internal communications, corporate giving, diversity, equity, inclusion and more.

Over 20 students logged into the event.

While staged for communication studies students, those from different majors were welcome.

Hichel’s students submitted questions in advance. Others asked questions using the chat feature in Zoom.

What is it like leading large and successful companies?

Adams said her job has changed due not only to the Covid-19 pandemic, but also because the world of public relations and communication as a whole is always evolving.

“It’s the Big Show, like it is really the Big Show. It’s global,” said Adams.

She said that even though she works in Detroit, she and her team are responsible for content that will be seen all over the world.

Is exciting and rewarding to be the “storytellers” for major companies, she said.

Content is consumed differently today from the way it was consumed before the pandemic, she noted.

“Since Covid hit, Americans spend 14 hours a day online,” she added. “So that means they’re consuming content differently today, they’re consuming news differently today… So we have to think differently about how we reach consumers with content.”

One student recognized March as Women’s History Month in her question asked Ann Thomas about her struggles as a woman in the field.

“I had to work really hard. I had to work harder to be noticed,” she answered.

When interacting with peers and even superiors, she said that she was vocal. While she was always nice and polite, she never missed an opportunity to speak up and hold her own, she said.

Her advice to young women making their way into the public relations field is to be professional and to seek other women in the field for help because they are usually willing to help other women.

Terry Rhadigan was asked about his responsibilities specifically related to diversity, equity and inclusion.  

“We want to be the most inclusive company in the world, and we also want every other company to be the most inclusive company in the world, because if everybody aspires for that then it’s going to be a win for society,” he responded.

Though diversity, equity and inclusion have not been a part of his responsibilities with GM for long, he said he has learned that it truly does touch every aspect of GM’s business.

Each panelist offered advice for not only those interested in the communications world but the corporate and professional world as well.

The key take-aways for students: work hard, be professional and, most importantly, follow your dreams.