Necole Merritt | Gagen MacDonald

Insights & Events / Let Go & Lead / LG&L Interview

Necole Merritt

Aug 11, 2015

Fast Facts


New Orleans, Louisiana

Number of employees:


Time in current role:

1 year

Previous experiences:

• Group Vice President Corporate Communications, Entergy Corporation (current) • Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Morehouse School of Medicine • Corporate Vice President of Public Affairs, Cox Communications • Executive Director of Corporate Communications, AT&T • Senior Director of Corporate Communications, BellSouth Corporation • North Central Region Public Relations Manager, General Motors Corporation • Western Regional Corporate Communications Manager, Saturn

First job:

Engineering Intern on the Detroit People Mover for SEMTA (Southeastern Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Leader you admire the most:

Nelson Mandela

Questions & Answers

You’ve held senior communications positions at many Fortune 500 companies including Saturn, BellSouth, Cox Communications, and now Entergy. What led you to these opportunities? Did you have a strong mentor guiding you along the way?:

The opportunities that have come to me have been because I was prepared. One of the distinguishing factors that has contributed to my success is my ability to understand how to apply my communications skills to help a business move forward.

I owe my success to a number of people including my parents, teachers, and mentors. One mentor who has been integral to my success is Ron Culp, whom I met during an internship with Sara Lee Corporation. Throughout my career, Ron has been, and continues to be, a good friend and mentor. I have known him for more than 30 years. There have been other mentors, particularly women, who have helped me by offering a different perspective about how to navigate my career.

What were some of the leadership challenges you’ve faced along the way?:

The majority of leadership challenges I’ve faced have been related to my age. I was given numerous leadership opportunities early on to manage others who were career veterans. At first, it was difficult because in many cases they had children my age. But once we established respect for one another, we formed lasting partnerships and it worked well.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is the importance of meeting people where they are and treating each person like an individual. You also have to recognize that people’s problems become yours, so you have to be a good listener and be solution-oriented.

How do you manage your work-life balance?:

I tend to compartmentalize my work and personal life pretty well by keeping things in perspective and determining what is really important and what is not. About four years ago, I made an important life-changing decision to leave the workforce and focus on my ailing parent. My family is one of the things I value most in life, so when faced with a choice, they will win every time.

What communications principles are most important to you?:

All of the [Arthur W. Page Society] Principles are important to our industry, but the one that stands out to me the most is “telling the truth.”

Telling the truth is an integrity thing for me. One of the most important assets a company has is its credibility. Public relations professionals are charged with protecting the reputation and the brand of the company. What a company does and says needs to line up, and if it does not, it certainly makes our job much more challenging. The management team’s actions and integrity also need to align. As professionals, it’s important to be transparent and to right our wrongs.

How do you help protect your company’s reputation?:

I have always been told that the best-managed crises are the ones you never hear about. Reputation management begins before a crisis ever occurs. This includes building reputational capital with key stakeholders, acting in alignment with the company’s core values, and being able to execute a well-thought-out plan.

When a crisis presents itself, what are the first steps you should take to control the situation?:

It all depends, because all crises are not the same. Generally, there is a lot of work going on (both internally and externally) to assess the situation, engage the appropriate internal stakeholders, and determine the best course of action to mitigate any potential reputational impact.

How has your knowledge of different industries helped you in your current position?:

Because I have had the opportunity to sit in every seat in the function and glean best practices from other industries, I now have a better understanding of how great communications can help achieve business results. Applying best practices from other companies to the existing framework of a current company helps to enlarge the perspective and capacity of the communications function.

What advice can you give to emerging leaders to help better their leadership skills?:

As a field, public relations is typically very results-driven. Results are important, of course, but PR is also about the people, the relationships that you make, and the ability to collaborate across the organization. People enjoy working with people whom they like, who are capable, and who share the same vision. In addition, employees like to be led by people who genuinely care about them and the organization, and will give them an opportunity to grow. Find a leader whom you admire, and who is recognized as a good leader, and emulate that person’s behavior.

My advice is simple: be nice, say thank you, and be polite.

What do you think defines a good leader?:

John Maxwell has a lot of great books and principles I follow. Five Levels of Leadership is one of my favorites. All of his levels of leadership are very relatable wherever you start in a job and whatever type of leader you want to become.

The exceptional leaders I’ve learned from are the ones that have given me good feedback and have valued what I bring to the table. Some people are natural leaders and some people aren’t. You can learn something from everyone. Even if someone isn’t a great leader, you can learn from them what not to do.

How do you build the corporate character of your company?:

We are in the process of a cultural transformation, so right now we’re defining what we want our corporate culture to be. We want our employees to unite around delivering on brand promises, and we are doing research across all parts of the company to see what best resonates with our employees and stakeholders. The corporate character ’ who we are, what we stand for and how we behave ’ is core to our culture.

How do you keep your employees motivated?:

First off, our leaders have to believe in our brand and what it stands for. The next step is to help employees understand that vision and get them excited about it. For example, our CEO likes to engage employees by spending time with them in the field and understanding their reality. Employees also have the opportunity to connect with our CEO through quarterly “lunch and learns,” video “huddles,” a blog, and numerous face-to-face meetings and visits.

How do you deal with the barriers of being a woman in a leadership role?:

That balance can sometimes be difficult to navigate. My advice would be to find your voice and make sure you are delivering your message in the right context. Learning the language that resonates with the right people is key. I have had many male role models ask me for coaching on a number of occasions. It’s refreshing because they are always very open and honest with me and don’t sugarcoat anything.

What does “Let Go and Lead” mean to you?:

To me, “Let Go and Lead” means that you have to trust your people and trust the process. Understanding that you cannot do it all on your own. You’ll actually do your best work through the people you empower to do the job.

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