In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Aprill Turner. Aprill is a public relations professional with more than 15 years of experience working with nonprofit and corporate clients, as well as elected officials. Aprill currently leads media strategy to elevate the issue of prosecuting youth in adult criminal court at the Campaign for Youth Justice.
PRSA-NCC: You're on year six with the Campaign for Youth Justice. That's a long tenure for communication professionals in D.C. What keeps you there?
Aprill: I have had a wide variety of communications experiences in Washington, D.C., and New York. I had the opportunity to cut my teeth on Capitol Hill for seven years, worked on several political campaigns, then went to New York to work for a PR firm, and have also had the chance to do some communication consulting. Each experience allowed me to see what I loved and didn't love so much about communications, which led me to my passion: advocacy communications and "practicing public relations with a purpose.”
The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is a great organization with an important mission, to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating of youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. I love the staff and advocates that we get to work with and their commitment to ensuring kids are treated like kids and are not incarcerated with adult inmates. The thing I enjoy most about working at CFYJ is getting to raise awareness and move the needle on an issue that is not really widely talked about. I also love having the opportunity to conduct trainings across the country with formerly incarcerated youth and their family members that have been impacted by this harmful practice.
PRSA-NCC: You are pursuing a Ph.D. in strategic communications from Regent University. Will you tell us about your dissertation topic?
Aprill: I am currently in the doctoral program at Regent University pursuing my Ph.D. in Strategic Communications. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in this program and how it pushes me to think about communication in a holistic perspective. I am now in the dissertation phase of the process, and I am working on a qualitative study on race and media, looking at how young men of color that have encountered the criminal justice system are portrayed in the media and how that affects the presumption of innocence or guilt. I chose this topic because I think it is vitally important and it is an issue I have had the opportunity to interact with a lot through my work at CFYJ, as the issue affects so many young men of color.
PRSA-NCC: You've worked with nonprofit and corporate clients. Do you think communicators are especially suited to one environment over the other, or can a professional easily jump between these styles of business?
Aprill: I think it is totally possible to transition between types of businesses and many of the same skill sets are needed for both, but ultimately it comes down to where your heart is. While none of us should do anything we are not totally committed to, I think working for a mission- minded nonprofit organization really requires fully embracing that mission. It would be a pretty hard job to do if you didn't. Along the way I have turned down opportunities for nonprofits and corporate entities whose missions didn't really move me. A passion for the mission is a must.
PRSA-NCC: OK, help us all out: What's the trick to obtaining earned media?
Aprill: Haha, I wish there was a magic potion! I think it really comes down to fostering and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. While that may sound cliché, it is true. Some of my best friends in the world are journalists, making them pretty easy to talk to and to pitch, as well as a resource for pitching, fine tuning pitches or contacts. I truly value my memberships with groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists (I've been a member since I was 19) and the National Press Club, so that I can make and maintain those contacts. It is much easier to call someone that you are connected with than it is to send out cold pitches. I think public relations professionals should be extremely diligent about trying to make personal connections with journalists and should take full advantage of the membership categories that exist for communicators within journalism organizations.
PRSA-NCC: You've taught at Loyola University Maryland and Morgan State University. It's time for my favorite question: What's the most important lesson you teach?
Aprill: It never fails to surprise me what public relations textbooks don't teach and what the curriculum does not cover, which unfortunately is what really happens when you are in the job. For example, I see few textbooks that cover topics such as pitching, so I leave time for it and we do class exercises. Students get in front of the room and try to give me their best pitch as I play a not-so-nice reporter on deadline that acts bothered that they called. It proves to be a little nerve-racking for them and also a lot of fun, and it provides a little of a dose of what might actually happen on any given day. I don't want them to walking into their first jobs saying they don't know what pitching is or have no experience with it all.
PRSA-NCC: You hold a master's degree in political communication and fundraising from The George Washington University. How does the education in fundraising help you as a communicator?
Aprill: My time at GWU was a formative one that provided me an education but also exposure to how politics, campaigning and fundraising intersect. It was a great place for a communicator and political junkie like myself. While I did use the degree to do some political campaigns, I quickly saw that I didn't love being on the road all the time and losing elections, so I focused on issue campaigns, such as the Campaign for Youth Justice. Having an understanding of fundraising is important when someone is working at a non-profit because it provides a sense of what is important to donors and funders. As an organization's communications and development staff have to work so closely together to make a compelling case as to why people should give, the background in fundraising is helpful.