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From Jackson Hole to Birmingham: Hanlon Walsh’s “Untraditional” Public Relations Journey

Published on Nov. 16, 2022, at 2:00 p.m.
by Seth Self.

“As a strong PR practitioner, we all have that natural leadership drive, but some of the best, rising stars out there are the ones that know when to lead, and when to embrace learning from others.”

That’s how Louise Oliver, president of Peritus Public Relations in Birmingham, Alabama, described one such leader in her own company: Hanlon Walsh.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Walsh joined the Peritus team in 2018, but his journey to public relations began much earlier and occurred differently than the norm. This profile will delve into the life of Walsh and his unique expedition into public relations, one that has led him to acclaim so eagerly gifted from his colleague.

“My path to PR was quite a bit untraditional”

A graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, Walsh was not a public relations major; instead, he obtained a degree in business with an environmental studies minor.

“After school … I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Walsh said. Upon graduation, he moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he traveled and worked in hospitality for three years. At that point, Walsh said he began to reconsider his career path after experiencing burnout in that industry.

“My path … was quite a bit untraditional,” Walsh noted, explaining that he had originally considered going back to school for a graduate program in journalism. Ultimately, he opted to pursue a job in communications instead, discovering that it allowed for a “happy medium” in utilizing his strong writing skills while operating outside of journalism itself.

Photo by Frank via Adobe Stock Images

It was at this time that Walsh decided to move back home to Alabama and discovered Mobile Baykeeper, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting Mobile Bay. There, Walsh interned and worked part time before joining the staff as a communications coordinator and later communications director.

“That was really where I got my main start in the communications field,” Walsh explained, noting that his passion for the environment coupled with his environmental studies minor prepared him well for the role.

Encounter with Peritus

After working at Mobile Baykeeper for multiple years, Walsh began to feel like he had successfully served both his city and community, so he started to look again at a change in his career.

Enter Louise Oliver and Peritus Public Relations.

Oliver and Walsh go way back, as both are natives to the Mobile area and knew each other prior to working as colleagues at Peritus. “We stayed in touch throughout his communications journey,” Oliver said, acknowledging that when Walsh set his sights on a new professional journey, they connected about a potential move to Birmingham and the company.

Oliver was impressed by Walsh’s soft skills, listing his abilities to listen well, garner trust and communicate effectively as those that set him apart from other PR practitioners.

“He can absorb what people need, and then effectively communicate to solve problems,” Oliver said.

Since joining Peritus in 2018, Walsh has worked on a number of projects. While “it’s really different every day” — as Walsh said no two days at Peritus are truly the same — he was quick to point to one recent campaign focused on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in Alabama as one of his favorites.

That campaign, which amplified the Trail’s launch, communicated the history of the Civil Rights movement by bringing in individuals such as civil rights heroes and state tourism directors to connect the issues and events highlighted with the present day. Public relations work like this — that focuses on bringing together communities and sharing impactful stories — requires thoughtful listening and engagement skills, such as those listed by Oliver to describe Walsh.

“He does wellness … well”

One other area in which Oliver emphasized the intangible value Walsh brings to the team is prioritizing mental health. As Oliver put it plainly, “He does wellness … well.”

Oliver described how Walsh plays an integral part in organizing team wellness checks and “walks the talk” in not only stressing the importance of mental health to others but also prioritizing his own. Walsh frequently takes walks and exercises; as a lover of the outdoors, it helps him to get away from the stresses of the communication industry.

“I love exercise [and] being outdoors, and organizing mental health and team wellness checks,” said Walsh. “At Peritus, we give people the space to … figure out what mental health and wellness means for them and express it however they need to best.”

Walsh largely credits Oliver for fostering an atmosphere where mental health and wellness are highly valued; not only does she help plan events outside of work for the team, but she also encourages employees to explore their interests beyond the 9-to-5 workday.

“Louise [Oliver] … does a good job of encouraging people to pursue their own passions outside of work,” he said. This often includes what Walsh refers to as a side hustle, an activity or passion that involves using your interests to relieve stress from work or life. Examples from Peritus employees include freelance design and Walsh’s own work with running communication for an online tennis blog and podcast.

The “side hustle” and the PR journey

Walsh, a standout tennis player at Birmingham-Southern, has always been a follower of the sport. It seems to fit, therefore, that he writes for a tennis media company in his spare time.

A friend and college teammate of Walsh, Will Boucek founded The Tennis Tribe to explore the sport through writing, blogging and as an online content hub. In his work with the company, Walsh helped Boucek create content, gain traction on social media and connect with more tennis industry professionals.

“I’ve helped him build up his blog and online presence,” Walsh said, noting that he writes several articles a month covering the professional tennis tour. Further, the blog is continuing to gain access to more events in the sport.

“We’re starting to build up more and more credibility, where we’re getting accepted with media credentials to cover professional tournaments,” Walsh explained.

Building credibility, trust and an online social media presence are all skills crucial to PR. In that way, Walsh’s “side hustle” comes full circle to benefit both Peritus and his own public relations journey.

That journey, which began in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has impacted numerous people, places and communities in various ways. Walsh’s public relations experience may not be traditional, but his influence on the field is textbook, whether it is writing about tennis, working with clients of Peritus, or simply listening to his fellow employees or friends. No matter the job, Hanlon Walsh’s public relations skills shine through.

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