I had the pleasure of interviewing Rida Bint Fozi, the Managing Director at the TASC Group. Rida’s work has included high-profile crisis clients the Trayvon Martin Foundation and the Heather Heyer Foundation, two organizations born of high-profile crises that captivated the nation and continue to play a critical role in the national dialogue on race. As a result of her incredible work across numerous clients, Rida was an inaugural recipient at the PRSA-NY 15 Under 35 Awards.
Rida’s work for the Trayvon Martin Foundation encompassed strategic top-to-bottom development of this campaign. She managed media relations for Trayvon’s parents and their legal team during the criminal trial, and developed strategic partnerships to benefit the Trayvon Martin Foundation after the verdict was reached with celebrities including Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z. Due to her outstanding work, Trayvon’s parents were universally praised by key leaders and President Obama for exhibiting grace and dignity in public after the verdict. The campaign led to the development of the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently a docuseries about Trayvon’s life was produced by Jay-Z and aired on BET and the Paramount Network.
For the Heather Heyer Foundation, Rida managed the strategic launch of the foundation within a 10-day period after Heather’s death. She worked to launch the foundation publicly with an exclusive in the New York Times and brokered an appearance by Heather’s mother (and Foundation founder) Susan Bro at the MTV Video Music Awards to raise awareness about the Foundation and its cause. Her work helped Susan raise thousands of dollars which will go towards scholarships and supporting Susan’s mission. One year later in August 2018, the Foundation is flourishing and Susan has become a national spokesperson and thought leader on activism and is working on a book deal to share more about Heather’s life and activism. Rida has a great strategic mind and has managed crises with tact and cool-headedness, but also with compassion. This combination of skill and thoughtfulness makes her a truly unique communications crisis pro.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I sort of stumbled into public relations. I attended college to study English Literature with the hopes of becoming a writing instructor, but upon graduation I was hired to work on internal communications for ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America), a national nonprofit I began volunteering with at the age of 11.
At ICNA, my work mostly consisted of content management, but a little while into my tenure ICNA brought on an external public relations firm called The TASC Group to help them with an anti-islamaphobia campaign. This was my first exposure to PR, and I found that I really enjoyed working behind the scenes on impactful public-facing campaigns. I began to explore opportunities in the field and decided to reach out to The TASC Group for an internship. They worked with a lot of nonprofit organizations like ICNA, striving to make important but overlooked stories heard. That focus really appealed to me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Back in 2012, TASC was hired by Trayvon Martin’s parents to help them navigate the media barrage after the murder of their son and I was placed in a prominent position on the account. When I first met Tracy and Sybrina what quickly stood out to me was their sincere graciousness, so this is what we built our image development around. We built a strategy around protecting their morals, integrity, and character, making strategic decisions about their media opps so that they could remain true to themselves.
The culmination of this work for me occurred when President Obama began talking about Trayvon’s parents, specifically praising them for their grace and dignity. First off, having the President of the United States comment on your client is surreal enough, but having him unknowingly acknowledge the success of the work you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into…that really floored me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wouldn’t call it funny at the moment, but I do have one story that comes to the top of my mind:
I am very detail-oriented and try to be extremely thorough. Early on in my career, this sort of came back to bite me. I had landed a major interview opportunity for one of my clients, and knowing the stakes of the opp I poured a lot of energy into trying to get together all of these details for this opp to share them with the producer on the segment, prioritizing putting together information instead of keeping an open line of communication with the producer. Well, this was a mistake — they ended up canceling because they hadn’t heard from me! So, that was great…
My big lesson from that was to overcommunicate with members of the media, especially when you don’t immediately have all of the information they are asking for. Being open and present to them allows them to be more successful, which in turn allows me to be more successful for my client. Everyone ends up happier.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
All of my clients are quite interesting, but I guess there are a few that stand out at the moment.
We’re working with UNITAS, an anti-trafficking organization that recently released the first in a series of digital comics about trafficking. The goal of their work is to reach kids online and educate them about trafficking before they’re approached or lured by traffickers, who often prey on young people online.
We also work with an ocean exploration initiative that is going out and exploring the ocean with scientists and researchers and creating beautiful, compelling media content to bring those stories of the ocean back to the world. They are already moving the dial on getting the world more engaged with protecting and caring about the world’s oceans.
Finally, I would mention Tyler Loftis, an NYC-based painter who is focused on bringing modern American art back to the forefront of American culture (OR making visual arts more mainstream in America) by drawing attention to talented artists in communities around the country. In mid-November, we helped him put on Portraits For Purpose, a charity auction that featured nine portraits Tyler painted of famous celebrities (including designer Kenneth Cole, Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli and boxing icon Muhammad Ali). Tyler worked intimately with each of these sitters, painting many of them in person in his studio. Each sitter then chose a charity, and 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their portrait were donated to their charity of choice. We ended up raising over $200,000 for nine different incredible organizations!
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
More than anything, PR is learned on the job. There is no doubt that whatever you learn in school will come in handy because PR exposes you to so many things and requires you to be knowledgeable in so many fields, but at the end of the day, the job is about your ability to synthesize information, be attentive to details, express confidence and be communicative. Anybody interested in the field should look into internships and put themselves in a space where they can absorb a lot, take on responsibility and grow their skill set in a variety of ways.
The other piece of advice is that PR is constantly shifting; make sure you are staying abreast of trends and changes in the industry and learning all the new ways you can share your client’s work with the public.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Networking in PR is a must; so much of the job is meeting and connecting with people.
You also have to keep in mind that networking is not something that just happens at industry events, especially in PR. It grows through every relationship you have, whether it is the barista serving you coffee on your way to work in the morning or the reporter you are working with on a major story. To me, the key is authenticity — having a genuine desire to listen to people has an incredible impact.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I love Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. It’s an incredible book about management styles and has really helped me be more thoughtful and impactful as a manager.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This may sound a little cliché coming from a communications professional, but I would love to launch a movement for people to communicate better with each other. I think that people don’t listen enough, so this would really be about listening more to each other. As a global society, we could do really well if we listened to each other and took the time to consider what other people say and think about the “why” behind those thoughts.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
The first thing would be “there is no right answer.” I have a very different approach than my colleagues to client communications, and both work equally well, although it was important to figure out how to let them complement each other. It is important to stick to your guns and stay authentic in how you interact with people and approach situations.
The second would be “always work with your client’s goals in mind.” Be collaborative with your clients and work in sync with them as to what approach works best for them to address their goals. Sometimes you have great ideas, but they won’t work for what your client is trying to accomplish. Every tactical part of your campaigns should come back to accomplish your client’s goals.
Third, “good research is the foundation of any great campaign.” This is where you should spend most of your time. I’ve been most successful when I take the time to figure out exactly why a story works for a particular outlet or reporter. Without that research in place, you are shooting in the dark, and that is going to make you more annoying to the reporter and less successful overall.
Fourth, “there is a give and take between you and a member of the media — it is not a one-way street.” You provide a critical resource to a reporter, and they provide the critical media attention you are looking for. It’s important to remember that reporters are trying to answer questions, and you work with the expert or the product or company that can answer those questions. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and by understanding this you can not only advocate better for your client but also create lasting relationships with members of the media who will understand that your goal is to help them tell their story.
Last, I would say that “reporters are people too.” You shouldn’t be afraid to reach out, have conversations and talk through why you think your client has a great story or is a great fit for their coverage. When I first started, I was so terrified of calling reporters up; I had to constantly remind myself that they were simple people that I wanted to have a conversation with. The worst possible outcome was that they would say no to a pitch — and that would help me be more effective next time I approached them with a story because I’d know what did or didn’t work for them.
Once, I reached out to an AP reporter, who cut me off mid-pitch (she was really busy) to tell me that this wasn’t an AP story. But instead of just hanging up, I spent 10 seconds explaining why I thought it actually *was* a great story, and by the end of that chat she was bought in. This really ties into everything else I’ve said today: you have to keep in mind that you have done your research and you are reaching out to this person because you truly believe this is a good story for them.