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Kathleen McManus: Setting the Standard of Excellence in PR

Published on April 9, 2024, 11:19 a.m.
by CamiLee Downey.

Each spring, PRWeek awards leaders in the communications industry for excellence in the field. This year marks the 25th year of the PRWeek awards, and they stand to recognize the best of the best in the industry.

One alumna from The University of Alabama (UA) — and a recipient of multiple PRWeek awards — has set herself apart in the industry over her first three years after graduation.

Photo via LinkedIn

Beginning her journey
Kathleen McManus began her journey at UA in the fall of 2017 and knew from the start that she was interested in marketing. She began a life and style blog in high school titled Let’s Get Preppy. This venture gave her the chance to work with brands and do influencer marketing, which led to her interest in making a career out of working with brands.

She added public relations as a second major her freshman year after taking a few classes and attending a networking trip through the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ (C&IS) Industry Immersion program and did not look back. “I saw what agency life was like and was really excited by the hustle and community and getting to work on different clients at once,” said McManus.

UA and C&IS gave McManus many opportunities inside and outside of the classroom to gain experience. Her classes were hands-on, and she took the opportunity to join UA’s student-run PR firm, “Capstone Agency”:, her freshman year. She held various leadership positions in the agency, including firm director.

A stand-out student
In her senior year, McManus became interested in the PRWeek Outstanding Student competition, which prompts students to create a campaign targeted toward a brand or product. In 2021, McManus won the competition with her campaign promoting a recycled shoe brand during New York Fashion Week.

Photo via LinkedIn

“Being involved in Capstone Agency and PRSSA further supported my understanding of PR and what it takes to execute a successful campaign,” said McManus. She described this success as the culmination of the past three and a half years of involvement, classroom experience and mentorship opportunities.

For example, McManus said Capstone Agency helped her gain perspective on how to meet clients’ needs. “Getting to work with clients and understand their business objectives and how communications could support their business objectives was really important for the student award,” said McManus. “I was given a prompt to help a brand promote a sustainable shoe during New York Fashion Week, which was something that appealed to me from a fun standpoint, but I was also able to understand it from a holistic standpoint because of my experiences in Capstone Agency.” She was able to ground her insights, see research opportunities and map out a way to measure the campaign’s impact on the business through the different tactics she recommended.

In terms of hands-on coursework, McManus mentioned Platform Magazine and her PR Writing class as two classes that helped her hone her writing skills for the campaign’s written submission. “I had a lot of great mentors and faculty read over my submission before I sent it in,” said McManus. “Having mentors and industry experts from different areas of the industry was helpful because I got their perspectives on what I could strengthen.”

The power of mentorship
McManus has found mentorship a crucial part of growing as a professional in the industry. “Having a variety of mentors is really wonderful because everyone has advice or experiences that I think you can learn from,” said McManus. “In college, I always looked up to students who were a little bit older than me who had gone into the career path I wanted to pursue.”

McManus was paired with mentor Sarah Dougherty in her senior year through The Oakley Society within C&IS. “Sarah was the perfect match for me,” said McManus. Dougherty was living and working at an agency in New York City where McManus hoped to be after graduation.

Dougherty described her first impression of McManus as polished and professional. “She had an interest in the industry that is rare for students to show early on,” said Dougherty. Dougherty added that McManus “just gets it” when looking at the PR industry.

A PR rockstar
McManus remains at the first company she worked post-graduation: Lippe Taylor. In her agency work, she has adopted a “roll up your sleeves” attitude and has taken opportunities to be a leader even in a junior-level role.

Photo via LinkedIn

“I am really grateful that leaders at the company have recognized my drive, dedication and ability to lead, even on smaller teams. It has presented opportunities for larger roles on accounts and to represent the digital team on new business pitches, as well as to be trusted to grow client business and provide new offerings to them,” said McManus. “The company promotes my growth in those ways.”

McManus’s favorite project has been her work with Pfizer on an unbranded TikTok campaign. The campaign has now evolved because the client liked its initial success and wants to continue with the project to meet Pfizer’s objectives. She has had the chance to advocate for science in creative ways to help the client educate and reach its audience.

Her work with Pfizer won a SABRE Award in the issues management category in 2023. This award highlights the impact she’s made on the brand and its growth.

McManus attributes her receiving PRWeek’s Outstanding Young Professional Award for 2024 to a mix of factors.

“It has been a really good balance of internal and external leadership,” said McManus. “My work with Pfizer has been a great leadership opportunity and has helped grow the account so much organically.”

Similarly, she has influenced the way her team works with clients more efficiently and has been a leader inside the company on new business pitches. She also helps lead the Young Professional Task Force, which she and a co-worker started to meet with students from different universities, and she leads the agency’s internship program.

“I have enjoyed how I have been able to stand out as a leader inside the company and with my clients as well,” she said.

McManus is a young industry professional to watch and has already made a large impact on the industry and her clients. Where will her hard work lead her next?

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