How I got here: April Mason of Violet PR on the rise of AI and upholding integrity

April Mason shares a lesson she learned the hard way from her decades of experience.

Violet PR President April Mason brings over two decades of PR expertise, specializing in captivating storylines and campaigns for diverse clients. Formerly VP at Development Counsellors International, she excelled in economic and real estate development across various destinations. Prior to founding Violet PR, Mason is proud to have earned a national PRSA Silver Anvil Award for Tacoma, Washington’s “America’s #1 Wired City” campaign. Founded in 2010, the PR firm aims to shine light on community leaders, developers and designers making a difference in the world. Mason champions women-owned and minority-owned businesses, and leads influential groups in brownfield site restorations.

The moment I’m proudest of in my entire career is when I: 

Rather than just one moment, there are a series of moments I can cite, starting with moving to New York from Kansas City for my first agency job in 1999. Just two years later, we won national accolades for a national PR campaign I managed on behalf of Tacoma, Washington: America’s #1 Wired City. We changed the image of Tacoma from an industrial center to a high-tech destination through coverage in the New York Times, Seattle Times, BusinessWeek, Associated Press, Inc. magazine and dozens of other outlets. My excitement for my PR career was officially off to the races. 

Another huge moment was the decision to form Violet PR in 2011 and quit a full-time job I had at the time. I had always envisioned I would work for other people, and the leap to business ownership seemed risky and impossible. Yet, market forces (i.e., the Great Recession) pushed me to reach out to my network and solicit my own clients for the first time. Realizing I could make it on my own without a safety net felt huge.

Finally, just this year in 2024, Violet PR achieved status as the top boutique agency in the economic development space, winning a PRSA Silver Anvil. I couldn’t be prouder of this accomplishment as it represents a true pinnacle in my nearly 30-year career working with cities, regions, states and countries in telling their economic development stories. I love the work we do to generate news coverage for our clients – particularly those “underdog” regions that are often overlooked by top tier NYC/DC-based media.  

One thing that worries me about the future of my profession is:

The rise of artificial intelligence. While I don’t fear that it can replace humans (yet!), I do think people graduating from college aren’t necessarily developing the writing, critical thinking and creative skills needed to do public relations as effectively. AI can also blur the lines between what’s real and what’s fake, complicating the accuracy and integrity goals of our jobs. 

The decline of journalism is equally concerning, with reporters having fewer resources and being paid far too little to do real, meaningful journalism. There has been a lot of damage done to journalists by politicians’ claims of “fake news” – and at the same time, outlets are now sometimes even owned by billionaires with agendas. Will the next generation know what sources to trust, and how to report and understand news? 

As public relations professionals, we have a duty to share correct information, quotes, images and videos. I hope it doesn’t get to the point where distinguishing between fact and fiction becomes nearly impossible. 

The most underrated skill in my profession is:

Understanding what makes news. Many people come out of college with exceptional social media and technology skills, enabling them to design graphics and shoot / edit videos. But the core reason clients hire us is to generate news coverage that reporters and influencers will want to share. If you don’t know how to spot and shape a news story, you won’t make it in this business. It’s a very hard skill to teach.

One piece of advice I would give other people in my profession is:

I have several pieces of advice:

  • Make sure you read the news all the time – from many sources and points of view. 
  • Listen more than you talk. PR people are often talkative, but it’s more important to wait to speak and think your responses through carefully. 
  • Do not attempt to fake it or B.S. anyone as it will come back to bite you in the end. Clients often think their stories are newsworthy when they aren’t, and there are PR people that will promise coverage when they can’t. Don’t do that!! 
  • Finally, honesty is always the best policy when it comes to your mistakes. I’ve had situations where we inadvertently put out inaccurate information and, though difficult, I’ve had to fall on my sword and apologize to a client or a reporter. 

My professional motto/mantra is:

Never stop learning and growing.

A lesson I learned the hard way is:

In certain cases, there is no way to make a client happy. Be honest when this happens. Serve clients with integrity, and if they are unhappy and you can’t fix it, recommend someone else. Apologize if you are wrong and pledge to do better next time. There will be other clients that value your services; focus on finding and serving them well.

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

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