6 questions with: Porter Novelli’s Ayanna Robinson

We caught up with Ayanna Robinson of Porter Novelli to learn what excites her most about the future of communications and the underrated tools she uses daily.

With nearly three decades of experience in the communications industry, Ayanna Robinson, chief client officer at Porter Novelli, continues to drive change in spaces where Black women are often underrepresented and undervalued as counselors and executives. 

We caught up with Robinson to get her take on the future of comms pros and the communications industry for our new “6 questions with” series — an update of our classic “Day in the Life” profiles.

What book, podcast or other media do you recommend to other comms pros?  

Robinson: The Harvard Business Review and listening to featured speakers on the Master Class series are go-to sources to learn from a cross-section of high-caliber global leaders and experts. The breadth of topics covered, and the experts featured keep me informed, inspired, and stimulated.

What’s your favorite tool you regularly use for work? 

Almost daily, I tap into data sources that enable the team to understand our clients’ say-do gap, identify critical insights and validate assumptions that lead to developing powerful and impactful campaigns. The power of data and analytics is underrated!

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What excites you most about the future of communications? Communications now has a seat at the table as a critical business partner. This elevated position extends beyond garnering media coverage to focusing on building meaningful connections with stakeholders. Increasingly, brands that embrace the opportunity to do business better will be best equipped to tell stories that are credible and meaningful to their stakeholders.

What communications challenge keeps you up at night? Among the many downsides of the pandemic is the lack of development of the next generation of talent. We have been hindered in our ability to teach through modeling and real-time feedback. Emerging professionals do not get to observe how we navigate tough conversations with clients, pitch ideas, or coach colleagues. Our industry must identify new avenues to accelerate learning and development to ensure that the skills gap doesn’t persist.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career? 

As a woman of color, being the first and only to inhabit a room or space within my organization or when engaging with a client has been both meaningful and exhausting. Black women are often underrepresented and undervalued as counselors and executives so it’s important to use this space effectively to advocate for others. When I was able to walk into a meeting and the clients acknowledged me as the team leader and respected/followed my strategic counsel, it was apparent I had the capacity to drive change. I’m proud to have curated and cultivated diverse high-performing teams who are unapologetic in their quest for excellence. What was once a challenge now serves as a great inspiration.   

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten? 

I have always been a very strong advocate for others. I believe in creating space and opportunity for others and helping them achieve their goals.  A mentor challenged me to consider using those same skills for myself. As a working mother, I have always been grateful for the opportunities given but not bullish in asking and pushing for what I want to achieve my professional goals. I have been told to ask for what I want. Getting a “no” answer leaves me where I was before asking the question and a “yes” gets me to my desired destination. It’s a 50/50 chance! 

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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