The Strategic Communicator | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020
"If it scares you, it’s probably worth trying it."
GET TO KNOW HOLLY
Meet Holly Roberts. Strategic Communications is her M.O. As the daughter of a self-proclaimed “prepper,” Holly was raised to be prepared for crises. Learn all about how she got to where she is today as a risk and crisis communication specialist in her extended interview.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
I regularly tell people that as the daughter of a self-proclaimed “prepper,” I grew up being ready for crises. However, I became interested in communicating about risks and crises the day after the Virginia Tech Shootings in April of 2007. I was in an undergraduate Public Relations class at the University of Oklahoma and a policeman walked into our lecture hall to interrupt our professor. As the policeman walked out, our professor, Dr. Shari Veil, calmly asked a student in the back to lock the back doors and then return to his seat. She then told us to get our cell phones and hold them above our heads once we had retrieved them from our bags. When everyone’s hand was raised, she asked us to move underneath the windows and told us that we would need to sit close together because everyone needed to squeeze against the brick. Once settled, she then told us that we were on lock-down as there was a gunman on campus. She pointed out that we were holding our phones in our hands and that we could now call anyone we thought needed to know about the situation. While shocked, everyone remained on the floor and started calling loved ones, roommates, and employers to let them know what was happening. In the end, we did not have a gunman on campus. Rather, there was a college student carrying a black yoga mat which was misconstrued as being a rifle.
In the class following this incident, Dr. Veil talked about how there are times when you need to tell people what they need to do before you tell them why they do it. From that moment on, I was emphatically hooked on the idea of crisis communication and sought out opportunities to learn more. Interestingly, Dr. Veil wound up being the committee chair for my thesis when I went to graduate school to study risk and crisis communication!
What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?
I think one challenge was simply being from a small town. Please hear me when I say that I am unbelievably grateful to be from that small town in Oklahoma (Go Wampus Cats!), but it also meant that the vastness of the world was lost on me. It took a lot for me to leave my town after high school, and even more to not return to it.
Did someone help you get to where you are today, like a mentor?
The biggest mentor in my life has easily been my father. While we chose different career paths, he has been my biggest ally, problem-solver, and encourager, and I’m lucky to be his daughter.
Additionally, I have been so blessed to have strong female leaders at every stage of my life. From cheerleading coaches, to grad-school advisors, to bosses, I have had so many women take me under their wing and their wisdom has made me who I am today. I was also fortunate enough to not only learn from my Grandma, but also my Great Grandmother – both of whom were full of fire and life.
What do you love most about your job?
So many things! I love that my job led me to Washington, D.C., and while I will likely not be here forever (I get so restless!), I love the thrill of working in the nation’s capital! I also love that effective communication not only changes perceptions, but it also allows us to develop our own stories and legacies. When my clients have important news to share, I’m thrilled to help spread the word.
Boss Lady Icon
Queen Deborah (from the Bible) and Dolly Parton
Football season. Boomer! 😉
Jackie O’ and Kate Spade
Can't Live Without
My sister, Heather. She’s my soulmate.
Staycation or Vacation
Mountains or Beach
Dogs or Cats
Left Brain or Right Brain
Apple or Android
Describe yourself in three words.
Determined. Blessed. Adventurous.
Your life philosophy is…
If it scares you, it’s probably worth trying it.
What is the best piece of advice you received?
“It’s not the grades you make, it’s the hands you shake.” As a university lecturer, I absolutely think grades matter, but I also think that networking is a life skill!
If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?
Ireland! I recently did DNA testing and it seems that those are my people! My sister and I are actually planning a trip to visit soon.
What’s something you cannot live without?
My sister, Heather. Hands down. She’s my soul mate. I had to wait three whole years for her to get here and gosh, those were tough years. She keeps me grounded while simultaneously supporting me in every crazy idea I’ve ever had. She’s such a strong, philanthropic-focused woman, and I learn from her daily.
Name a book you read that positively shaped you.
Believe it or not, Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar” is always good for my soul. I find her candid assessment of the ups and downs of daily living (especially for young women) to be comforting. I read it again every few years. Additionally, He’s Just Not That into You was a life-changing for me in my mid-twenties!
If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?
I actually started college as a physical therapy major and admit that there is still interest there! That said, dance led me to physical therapy, and I think I could be quite happy teaching dance to five-year-olds for the rest of my life.
How do you unwind or relax after a long day?
I am a big, hear me, BIG, fan of the bath bomb. I also have the best little fur baby in the world (Boston) so relaxing with her is always good for my soul.
The most rewarding aspect of your job is…
I am sincere in the belief that communication is essential to driving societies forward. As a communication specialist, I take pride in helping government agencies communicate with the people they serve. Moreover, my career brings me meaning and fulfilment as I’ve found a path that plays to my strengths. While I believe all people have individual strengths, passions, and roles to play, I find fulfillment in the fact that I have truly found mine.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?
“You are exquisite and worthy of greatness!” This is a mantra that I say to friends (and myself) frequently. We so often get wrapped up in other people’s expectations that I wish I could remind everyone, even if only for a moment, that we’re all wanted, we’ve all been given unique talents, and we are all worthy of amazing things.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, and in the path I’ve chosen. Accepting that my path is different than many of the people around me has been profoundly freeing and frankly, it makes me love and relate to them more than when I felt like we were supposed to be living the same life.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I routinely try to gain perspective by reminding myself that whatever it is, it doesn’t affect my ability to get into the gates of heaven. I take a deep breath, and dive back in.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)
I invested in myself during my sophomore year of college by taking a semester off and pursing an internship with The Walt Disney Company. That internship undoubtedly shaped the rest of my life. There was a lot of pressure to stay in school and finish on time, but I made the choice to take some time to chase that dream. It may have cost me a little, but the rewards were, and continue to be, boundless.
Name a confident woman of character who you look up to? Why her?
There are simply too many to pick! I’m a big fan of Deborah from the Bible because she led an army to war when a man was too scared to do so. I love Dolly Parton because she’s not embarrassed to wear and say whatever she wants. I love Esther from the Bible because she was willing to die for her people and accepted that perhaps, that end would be the reason she had been created. Seriously, this list could just keep going and going.