April White, founder and CEO of Trust Relations, is a public relations veteran and official TEDx speaker. The founder has nearly 20 years of industry experience counseling and implementing campaigns on behalf of clients across numerous industries, from Fortune 100 companies to startups.
Beyond her work with clients, White’s passion for the PR industry extends to thought leadership and content creation.
Additionally, White showcases her dynamic personality and industry knowledge through her role as co-host in two original podcasts: “The PR Wine Down” and “Trust Relations: The Podcast.” These platforms allow her to engage with audiences, share valuable knowledge, and foster meaningful discussions about the world of PR and beyond.
We caught up with White to get her take on the future of the communications industry.
What book, podcast or other media do you recommend to other comms pros?
At the risk of sounding self-promotional, I actually think our podcast, The PR Wine Down, is a great and super fun resource for communications pros. Every episode includes a horror story that I think most PR pros can relate to, on some level, which adds a humorous twist while also providing an opportunity for my co-host Laura Schooler and I to discuss what that poor soul could do (or could have done). Over the years we have started to attract a number of high-profile guests, whose insights are invaluable, and we work hard to include actionable topics and tips for professionals at all levels, whether they are entry-level or seasoned. A few notable guests include Greg Galant, CEO of MuckRack; Allison Carter, executive editor of PR Daily; Doug Spong, founder and former president and managing partner of Interpublic Group’s Carmichael Lynch and Spong; Gem Pinkney, the UKTV PR rep for the hit PR drama series Flack; and Diana Neille and Richard Poplak, directors of the documentary “INFLUENCE: the Rise and Fall of the World’s Most Dangerous Public Relations Company.” But don’t just take my word for it! The PR Wine Down podcast was named Gold Winner of the international 2023 Hermes Creative Awards and also just won The 2023 Bulldog Reporter’s Best PR Podcast Award.
What’s your favorite tool you use regularly for work?
I don’t know what we would do without Slack, honestly. As a fully remote team spread across the country—and now world—Slack helps us stay connected and organized in real-time. It also provides an invaluable platform for us to interact on (and even joke on) in a way that builds a sense of community and camaraderie. We have a random channel where the team shares personal news and whatever is inspiring them or making them laugh, a general channel for all agency news, a TR University channel for ongoing education-related topics and insights, and also a series of dedicated channels for each account team, internal team, etc. that helps keep us in sync across multiple time zones. In addition, most of our clients use Slack, so we create shared Slack channels with them where the account team can ask the client contact(s) questions related to quick-turn media opportunities, share placements as they hit and help them recognize us as a highly accessible extension of their in-house team. The many emoji reactions and hilarious gifs available on the platform also make it as fun to use as it is practical and can provide some much-needed comedic relief at times—especially when things get frustrating or stressful.
What excites you most about the future of communications?
As the world changes and people become increasingly skeptical of paid content, ads and even influencers, there is a real opportunity for PR to step in as the only means of establishing and/or budling a brand’s credibility among its target demographic(s). Today’s public is much less impressed by companies that pay for recognition and much more impressed by companies that take noticeable, meaningful actions that organically earn them attention. But the onus is on us, as their PR practitioners, to ensure we’re aiding our clients in developing or enhancing their credibility by counseling them to do what they say before we say what they do. This means we need to reject the antiquated approach to PR that relied too heavily on smoke and mirrors spin and aggressive framing, and instead replace it with Trust Relations (TR), as I call it. This approach encourages clients to align their actions with their narrative(s), so their “story-doing” matches our storytelling. This is, far and away, the fastest way for any brand to build and maintain trust among an increasingly skeptical public that is putting more and more pressure on companies to openly stand for their values.
What communications challenge keeps you up at night?
On the flip side of this incredible opportunity for PR (or TR, as I say) to build and/or maintain brand credibility in an increasingly meaningful way is what concerns me most: the plummeting credibility of the media. A new Gallup and the Knight Foundation survey shows 50% of respondents believe most news media outlets intentionally misinform the public to adopt a particular point of view. This is horrifying for many reasons, but it’s especially alarming for PR pros since our superpower is our unparalleled ability to help brands build their credibility through earned media placements. But the only reason this works is because the media is credible. In other words, when the media writes about our clients, they get a credibility boost from that media outlet’s credibility; the more admired the outlet is, the bigger the “win” is. But what will happen to the PR profession if the mass public continues to distrust the media? This is the question that keeps me up at night and why I have written extensively about this issue—and what we, as PR pros, can do to address it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Starting a PR agency out of thin air, without any capital or assets beyond an impressive resume and terrible website site I made myself on Wix, has been—far and away—the biggest challenge of my career. I built my own agency to address some of the pain points and issues I saw in the industry. I wanted to create a more inclusive and kinder environment with a better work-life balance and ensure account teams are always led by senior practitioners who are truly qualified to work on their accounts—and actually want to represent those brands. (We always ask every team member, before assigning them to an account, if they feel they have the capacity and want to work with that client.) It was, and still is a noble cause. But if I knew how challenging it would be going into it, I might not have had the guts to try. I’m so glad I didn’t know because we have actually manifested what I dreamed up—and, as a collective that all saw the same beautiful vision, we have made it a reality. The outcome has already exceeded my wildest expectations, which humbles me to no end, and now we have an amazing team of amazing humans who are incredibly talented professionals that work together and have each other’s backs, demonstrate mutual respect, and don’t leave us. The end result for clients? A consistent team that loves showing up for work and works together rather than a revolving door of new faces.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
My dad always says, “They call it work because it’s work.” While he’s right, there is also something to be said for following your dreams and doing what you’re passionate about. Whatever you desire, with the very fabric of your being, you can and will create if you stick with it. And you can and will make money at whatever you love and do with an unwavering commitment and unstoppable passion. It does, however, mean that you need to have an all-consuming focus that borders on insanity at times and blocks out all other distractions that could pull your unified focus. If you have that, you can do whatever you set out to do. So, I like to pass along that advice instead: Do what you love with wanton abandon and then you’ll achieve your dreams.
Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.