Aerial Ellis joined the Mass Communication department this year as the Wells Fargo Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor and is excited to join the nest. A Memphis native, Ellis is a public relations industry leader. She has taught around the world and is the managing principal of Advisory 83, a communication consulting agency. Ellis earned her undergraduate degree in speech communication from Tennessee State University and her master’s degree in mass communication from Middle Tennessee State University. She also earned a global executive doctoral degree from the University of Southern California.
Q: How does it feel to become our department’s new Wells Fargo Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor?
A: It feels great to be at NCCU. As an HBCU alum, my desire has always been to teach at one and be able to be in a position for students, particularly students of color. I am thrilled to be here.
Q: What was your journey to NCCU?
A: I graduated from Tennessee State University. About a month after, I started my PR firm and started to take clients in the sports and entertainment arena. I had several internships while I was an undergraduate, and they led me to the opportunity to build a lot of different relationships with people who were in Nashville and areas related to the industry such as Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles.
Nashville is a very busy city when it comes to entertainment. A lot of people come to Nashville to network and go to concerts, events, and things of that nature.
I worked in a radio station so I would end up connecting with a lot of those people where I was always in the room.
What prompted me to start my own business was that the job market was so difficult to get into even with several internships and tons of experience as an undergrad and a graduating senior.
I was getting a lot of rejections from job opportunities. I just decided that instead of waiting for someone to give me a job I would make a job. So I started my own PR business.
I launched that business and ran it for seven years and then I merged that business with a colleague to start my second PR firm. In the process of starting that second PR firm, I ended up with an opportunity to teach at Lipscomb University in Nashville, a private Christian school that needed someone to revamp its PR program.
That led to more opportunities to work with PRSA, and the PRSSA Chapter on campus, as well as the local professional chapter in Nashville. And that led to working with other professors on presentations and events and things of that nature to sit on various committees at boards within the PR industry.
After teaching for ten years and running my own business I eventually transitioned to my third business, a consultancy called Advisory 83.
One thing just kind of led to another and I knew that it was time for me to move from that position and pursue something else so that’s what landed me at NCCU.
Q: What made you get into public relations in the first place?
A: I was a mass communication major at TSU. It was double digits ago so there was no PR concentration but only two PR classes you could take only as electives.
I took those classes and in one particular class, one of the professors pulled me aside and said, “I really think you are good at writing, problem-solving, and strategy. I think you need to really consider PR as a career.”
I thought, “Hmm.” I knew about marketing but didn’t know about PR. I was a big news head as a kid and always wanted to watch the news and read newspapers, but I always wondered who was the person who gets the stuff on the news. It can’t just be the producers at the TV station or the writers.
Someone has to be making the connection. It wasn’t until I took that class at TSU that I realized that it’s a PR person that does that.
Q: What is your favorite part about teaching?
A: My favorite part about teaching is allowing my students the opportunity to get those light bulb moments. Just the chance to impart knowledge, information, wisdom and ways to see what they can be.
Whether I’m giving something very textbook focused, or a personal experience about something I’ve gone through myself as I’ve had my journey through the industry, I love seeing what my students do with the information, seeing them process it, and taking it to get a job or internship.
Q: What are you most excited about for the future at NCCU and your role?
A: We’re excited about the development of the Public Relations Advisory Board Council. We are bringing in professionals from all over the country to learn about the concentration, and the department, and to contribute their expertise and knowledge to help our concentration and our department grow.
I’m also excited about what Dr. Hall and the rest of the faculty are doing to grow the department and invest in the students in new, engaging, and innovative ways.
I think that the energy and intentionality are very clear. The faculty and staff in our department truly care about the students and their future. They also care about your well-being as a person. So that’s important. I’m grateful to be amongst colleagues who care about the whole aspect of the student.
Interview by James Burrell
This story also appears in the NOMMO spring 2022 newsletter published by the Mass Communication department. Go here to view the full newsletter: NOMMO Spring 2022