by Katrina Brown-Hunt
When Nicole Dye-Anderson was just out of college, she worked on the reelection campaign of then Senator Joe Biden. For the Delaware native—“I’m Delaware born, Delaware bred, and, when I die, Delaware dead,” she quips—it was a big honor. “I grew up with him as an icon.”
She also gained some wisdom from him. “He said once that his father told all his kids one life lesson, which now I tell to my kids,” she says. “‘Never complain, never explain, and never let ’em see you sweat.’ It became his mantra, and now it’s my mantra, too.”
Indeed, that grace-under-pressure mind-set is a vital part of her role as a media relations pro: she has worked in politics, advertising, and even the NBA, where crises can be a way of life. Now, she is the head of media relations for Barclaycard US, the stateside credit card arm of the 300-year-old British bank.
“While Barclays is well known in the UK, we’re still building the name in the US,” she says. The company is doing that with such branded cards as the JetBlue card and the Arrival Plus travel rewards card, allowing consumers to earn travel miles while making everyday purchases. “We are consistently winning industry awards for being best in class,” says Dye-Anderson proudly. “We’re neck and neck with Chase Sapphire—and they’re better known.”
Diversity Woman talked with Dye- Anderson about the changing rules in media engagement, adapting to different industries, and the pitfalls that can come from listening to the noisiest voice in the room.
Diversity Woman: What drew you into banking?
Nicole Dye-Anderson: I’m going be honest—I never saw myself in banking, ever. You go from the NBA to a credit card company? It’s been a journey. But I really loved the culture. I thought I was walking in for a pitch, and they asked me to help with their expansion. I saw the executives and I thought, “They’re wearing jeans and sneakers?” It had a kind of a start-up feel, and I thought, “Is this a bank?”
DW: Who was your biggest mentor growing up?
NDA: My mom. She worked two jobs to put us through school. She worked as a custodian at the University of Delaware and cleaned houses. She pushed education. She wanted to make sure I was in Girl Scouts, even though I was always the only little black girl. She would say, “Without education, you’ll never make it in life.” She had a reading difference, and when I was a kid we would go over my spelling words. I would get frustrated with her—I can’t believe it now. Later, she did get a high school diploma. She would say to me, or herself, about anything: “How bad do you want it? There’s nothing you can’t do—so long as you don’t compromise your integrity.”
DW: What was one of your best early jobs?
NDA: I interned at ABC at Nightline. All of the interns were poor, and we would eat in the green room. You could always tell when we were having a big guest because the food in the green room was wonderful. Before I got into PR, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to do broadcast, but the only internship was in PR. So I did that, and I realized, hey, I like being behind the scenes, gathering information and sharing it. And I got to know the real journalists: Sam Robertson, Cokie Roberts, Ted Koppel. This was in the early days of the Internet, and one of my jobs was to take the show’s transcript, pull out a quote, and put it on ABC.com the next day.
DW: How did you get involved with the NBA?
NDA: I was part of their associate program. They receive about 2,000 applicants a year and only choose 11. I had gone to the Howard Career Fair—during the same time as the DC Sniper. We got down there, and no one was there. Unless you were already on campus, no one was going. I see the NBA—and I am not a basketball aficionado. I’m five feet three inches and I don’t look athletic. And the woman says, “We have a certain kind of colleague we look for,” and I say, “Well, okay, here’s my résumé.” Two weeks later I get a call, and my mouth hit the floor. I talked to my husband and brushed up on basketball. They were looking not for a basketball aficionado but for someone who understood their brand.
DW: What did you learn from the experience?
NDA: I learned the fundamentals about PR marketing and brand marketing—like having concerts, events at the NBA store, doing red carpets, and crisis communications. My first month or so, the crisis with Kobe and the alleged rape happened. You get that call and you’re like, Oh my god. I really earned my chops there.
DW: Indeed, how much is PR acting—and how much is reacting?
NDA: The media landscape is changing. As newsrooms are shrinking, we are looking more to bloggers as experts, so I have spent a lot of time grooming those relationships. In years past, I would reach out to the Wall Street Journal or a producer for a show, but now I find myself reaching out to their sources. Now, when I read an article, I look to see who’s getting quoted, and then give them information. I want them to remain objective— I just want to be part of the conversation. They truly are the experts, and I feel like I learn from them, too. That’s always been my secret sauce.
DW: What is a mistake you’ve made in your career, and what did you learn from it?
NDA: At one point I taught some classes at my alma mater, and on the last day of the term, I told the students to stay behind if they wanted to talk more. As I was packing up, one student came up to me and said, “Mrs. Anderson, I’ve always been afraid to raise my hand in your class, afraid to speak. I always wanted you to call on me.” And I never had. She was an introvert, but when I spoke to her, she was so sharp. When I got in my car, I got teary-eyed because I didn’t pay attention to the quiet one in the pack. I’d go into class and say, “Give me your headlines,” and students would speak up. But I didn’t see her. I discounted her because I was too focused on the most outgoing, the loudest. Even today, when I’m in a room at my company, I make a point to speak to the quiet ones taking notes. Some will flush. Some are more comfortable one-on-one. But then I can bring in their point of view, and now they have a champion in the room.
DW: What book have you read recently that inspired you?
NDA: I’m listening to a couple of books on audio. One is Joel Osteen’s The Power of I Am and its positive affirmations: speaking positively over your life, your career, your family. It’s a quick read. I am stuck on that book—it has so many great nuggets and powerful affirmations. I believe in affirmations and speaking positively, like I’m the head, not the tail. I have uncommon ideas, uncommon creativity. My kids and I do affirmations every morning. DW
Katrina Brown Hunt is a frequent contributor to Diversity Woman.