Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, on Building Community
By Amy Jacques
Name: Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA
Title: CEO Hartman Public Relations
Favorite downtime activity: Being with my family and grandchildren, yoga, Pilates, walking, traveling, reading — especially about WWII
3 dinner guests: Jesus, Nancy Pelosi and Wanda Sykes
Favorite book: “The Splendid and the Vile”
Best leadership advice: Seek first to understand and always be kind.
Favorite quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” — Winston Churchill
How did you first get started in your PR career, and how did you eventually come to start your own agency?
A high school teacher in Starkville, Miss., told me I needed to go into broadcasting and set me up at the local radio station to give a weekly report on what was happening at the school. That action planted the seed for a career in communications. But once I was at Ole Miss, I decided to earn a double major in both broadcasting and journalism. Public relations was not a major at the time. But my first job out of college was doing PR for the rival university at Mississippi State.
My 48-year career included working for a university; MARTA, Atlanta’s public transit entity; The Coca-Cola Co; three top global PR agencies; and AFC Enterprises, a $4 billion public company and owner of Popeyes, Church’s Cinnabon and Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Starting my own agency, which is 13 years old this year, grew out of turning a challenge into a great opportunity. When I left Weber Shandwick in Atlanta after eight years as president, I started my own agency in 2010 in the middle of the recession. The Coca-Cola Company, Honeywell and its Superfund Cleanup Site in Brunswick, and TVS Design Architects followed me to Hartman Public Relations. Not a bad way to start out!
How has the role of public relations changed as the restaurant space has grown over the past few decades?
As with all industries, almost everything is online, with restaurants leading the pack on the use of social media. Restaurants also use AI to research their customers and to streamline their procedures.
Good community relations and social responsibility never go out of style. I was cleaning out a storage area of my home recently and came across a “paper” press kit for Popeyes and Church’s Chicken announcing their intention to become the first worldwide sponsor of Habitat for Humanity. AFC built 300 Habitat for Humanity Homes in 21 countries around the world. I couldn’t throw the press kit away! It was an extraordinary program that changed the lives of so many people from the homeowner to the restaurant teams and the nearby communities.
But one thing has not changed, and that is building genuine and good relationships with people and organizations that matter most to you, your clients or your company.
You were recently inducted into the Georgia Restaurant Hall of Fame as an inaugural member. What does this honor mean to you?
This was an extraordinary honor for me. The GRA chose two restaurant operators and a PR person as its three inaugural members. This shows you the power of the PR profession. It is critical to the success of every business.
Helping others through community service is also a top priority for you. Talk about this work, and what you have learned along the way.
Serving in leadership roles and volunteering to help organizations is the right thing to do but it also helps solve social issues, builds stronger communities, and builds equity and fairness for all people.
Volunteering your time and making donations is also an important part of building your network. It is not just who you know, but who knows you and knows of the quality of work you do.
The rewards for your work are often surprising. I worked with my then-CEO of AFC Enterprises on raising funds for The Carter Center’s Endowment campaign. In fact, the CEO would come in every Monday and say, “Do you mind calling these 10 CEOs?” Out of the blue, I received a call from President Carter who wanted to personally thank me bringing in the last $50,000.
You are a marathon runner and a former pilot. How have these experiences helped inform your PR career?
Running marathons and earning my pilot’s license taught me perseverance, getting out of my comfort zone, setting goals, and then working hard and smart to achieve them. I think that I got the perseverance gene from my father, a B-26 radio operator and sadly a World War II POW, whose courage and perseverance taught me many lessons.
What advice do you have to share with the next generation of communicators?
Be a good listener. Be genuinely authentic — care about the person as well as the topic of the day. Become emotionally intelligent. Be an active learner forever.