One To Watch Out For: Rebecca Denison

October 14th, 2009 | Shonali Burke | 12 Comments

I’ve “talked” so often to Rebecca Denison recently that I’m liable to forget I haven’t met her IRL yet. Tell you what, this young lady knows the right way to network.

Rebecca, a “new professional,” and I first connected on Twitter, where she asked if she could pick my brain on career options. I said, “yes.” Then we set up a time to talk, and I was impressed with her lack of entitlement. So now I’m doing whatever I can to help her with her career goals.

Rebecca’s an odd cookie. I say that in a good way, because here’s someone, very new to the field, wh

o’s in love with research and measurement as it applies to PR. When was the last time you met someone like that? So I thought a Q&A with her would be interesting. You can also read more from Rebecca on some pretty cool blogs, including those of Lauren Fernandez, Mark Schaefer and Heather Whaling. Oh, and on her own as well (highly recommended).

Tell me about yourself. Brag a little.

I’m a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the best undergraduate journalism programs in the country. I studied biochemistry for two years at UNC until I realized that my heart just wasn’t in it. Despite switching to the journalism school, I never lost my analytical mindset and critical thinking skills, and I think that this really gives me an advantage. I also feel like I’m on the cutting edge, so to speak, as I was in the first class on PR measurement ever taught at UNC.

I have two sisters (one older, one younger) who have truly become my best friends as we’ve grown older and more mature.  I am an avid college basketball fan (Go Heels!) and love to run when I have time. I’m fun and bubbly and rarely get embarrassed, but I do end up laughing at myself a great deal of the time. I have a loving boyfriend, who I am excited to visit in Australia next month.

You’re unusual in that you’re a new PR professional who’s extremely interested in research and measurement, an area that many pros grapple with even after years in the business. How did this come about?

My passion for PR measurement was instilled in me by Katie Paine.  I really credit Katie and my professor, Dr. Craig Carroll for where I am today.  Dr. Carroll helped me choose the best courses to hone my measurement skills and asked me to work with him for a variety of extracurricular programs.

During my first class in the journalism school public relations sequence, I heard a guest speech from Katie Paine about PR measurement, and I fell in love. Because it was my first class in PR, I assumed that this was something everyone in the industry was doing, and I was interested to be able to help measurement grow and change. I talked with Katie after the class and ended up taking an internship with her at the end of the semester which lasted through the end of my collegiate career. What I learned while working with her shocked me: barely anyone considered measurement to be as important as I did. My professors at UNC and Katie all taught me extreme importance of measurement, and it’s hard for me to understand why there are folks out there who still haven’t embraced it in their own work.

Once I discovered my passion for measurement, but realized that there wasn’t a degree program which would fit this passion exactly, I knew that a degree in public relations would be the best choice. I learned a great deal about the industry and about PR, and I think this only enhances my ability to understand PR measurement.

Working with Katie has given me the absolute best experience in measurement, and I was able to work with one of my professors, Dr. Carroll, to find a specific passion.  I helped him with the Carolina Observatory on Corporate Reputation which studied how the reputation of the top 50 companies in North Carolina were portrayed by the media.

Now that I have graduated, I am eager to become more involved with social media monitoring and measurement.  Particularly I am really excited to help measurement grow and change with the social media space.

What are your observations on the state of measurement in PR?

I am still surprised at how new PR measurement seems to be. Because of my own timing, hearing about it in my very first PR course and then being part of the first PR measurement course, it’s something that has always been an integral part of PR in my mind. I cannot understand public relations without the measurement and research aspect.

It’s encouraging to see that lately PRSA and the Institute for Public Relations have both endorsed measurement, so to speak.  The PRSA recently sought to come up with universal measurement standards, which is definitely a great step in the right direction. As I said before, I’m still baffled by the number of companies and professionals that don’t seem to understand the incredible value and necessity of measurement. I’m even surprised at what kind of research passes as acceptable. Some clients I have worked with only want to know how many mentions they have, which to me is just the bare bones, skimming the surface. There is so much else to learn and know.

Have you found PR different in practice than what you were “taught” it would be?

I’ve found that PR measurement can be so much more than what I was taught. There are so many different dimensions, and it really all depends on what a client wants and what is possible. I haven’t had any traditional PR experience outside of the classroom as I’ve been solely pursuing measurement. I have noticed that measurement is not as pure as it was taught. I understand that there are practical limitations to some measurements that just weren’t addressed in the classroom.

You’re also extremely interested in social media. What’s the RD take on SM?

Social media is the next big thing, well, it is the big thing. Everyone is talking about social media, and it seems to be the opinion that almost all companies need to be moving into social media in some way. For me, I’m just thrilled to be able to watch the space evolve and match measurement to new types of needs. As conversations happen more and more, how will measurement change? What new metrics will there be tomorrow? It seems that new tools and metrics are popping up every week, and I just want to be part of it!

What’s your dream job/client?

My dream job would be to be able to work as a consultant or with a small company doing measurement. I would really love to be able to start from scratch with a client, and to figure out what kind of measurement to do based upon their needs and how they want to measure success. From there I want to be able to perform the actual measurement, write the report and help the client understand exactly what the data is telling them. If possible, I would even like to help become more involved in the strategy moving forward based upon research.

Your must-have PR/industry related books are…

The books that I’m reading right now (or want to read) are Trust Agents, Twitterville, Measuring Public Relations and Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.

Isn’t she something? Rebecca, you’re an absolute delight. One to watch out for, for sure.

Who are the other young professionals you’ve come across who you think are the future of our profession? What makes them special? Do give the props via a comment below.

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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Gordon G. Andrew
Gordon G. Andrew

As a old flack, I'm happy to see bright young minds like Rebecca join the PR profession. I share the consensus view that measurement is important, but practitioners should not lose sight of the fact - particularly on the agency side of the business - that some clients really don't care about quantitative evidence. I once presented a thoroughly researched and well-reasoned advertising media plan to the CEO of a mid-sized energy company. My plan for this client consisted of targeted placements in appropriate vertical trade publications, and demonstrated a tangible ROI. When I was finished, he said, "I like what you're suggesting...but don't the large energy companies advertise in Forbes, Fortune, Business Week and The Wall Street Journal?" My client knew it was not cost-effective for his company to advertise in those big-ticket publications. But he wasn't looking for ROI. He wanted ego gratification...and that's exactly what I delivered. My advice to Rebecca: always be prepared to throw your research out the window.

Heather Whaling
Heather Whaling

Shonali, I love this post. Like you, I've been very impressed with Rebecca, on Twitter, blog comments, etc. It's exciting to know that there are people like her who grasps the "business" end of PR -- measurement -- so clearly, despite being relatively young. Rebecca, there are people with decades of experience who still don't get this! I can't wait to see where you go ... and I look forward to more Twitter chats! :)

Heather (@prtini)

Sheema Siddiqi
Sheema Siddiqi

Great interview- I've "spoken" to Rebecca a few times via Twitter and she's always great. Glad to see fellow Gen Y-er's doing awesome things!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Thanks for your comments, all, and Tom, thanks for sharing the love. You guys are great.

Tom O'Keefe
Tom O'Keefe

Great job, Shonali. I couldn't agree more. I "met" Rebecca on Twitter recently and she is definitely one to watch out for!

Others to watch out for (I love that) include Jess Lawlor (@jesslaw), Nick Lucido (@nicklucido), Katie Wall, (@GoKTGo), Sheema Siddiqi (@SheeSidd), Diana Mergiotti (@DianaMergiotti), and Sasha Muradali (@SashaHalima). They're all future pros in PR and Communication that will definitely make some noise!

Thanks and great interview,


Teresa Basich
Teresa Basich

What a fantastic spotlight post! Very nice job, Shonali. I think Rebecca is totally deserving of this.

Rebecca, what I love is how committed you are to furthering this very important aspect of PR. I don't have anywhere near the experience you do focusing on measurement, but I see how vital it is in the changing PR and marketing fields, and you're definitely leading the way. I think you're also a great role model for your peer group because you see the true business value of social media.

Good luck in all you do -- you're a force to be reckoned with!


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