Ten Rising Stars:Alison Pitzer

26 Director of marketing and communications, JumpStart

26 Director of marketing and communications, JumpStart

Alison Pitzer, the 26 year-old, one-woman marketing and PR team at AmeriCorps organization JumpStart, has her share of disadvantages.

The nonprofit's fiscal calendar mimics the school year and it often does not find out a percentage of its funding until three months before the next year begins. In 2003, AmeriCorps learned that it was slated for massive budget cuts due to budget mismanagement.

What followed was a "trial by fire attempt to call attention [to the attempt] to save Jumpstart and AmeriCorps," says Pitzer, the organization's director of marketing and communications. The immediate response involved grassroots PR to get the issue covered in any and all media outlets. Accustomed to proactively pitching feel-good stories about the impact of Jumpstart's services, Pitzer had to immediately change her tack.

"We were talking to people in different beats in the most comprehensive media relations strategy we've done," Pitzer says. "This was a reactive, call-to-action policy."

Kate Miller, director of communications for Jumpstart sponsor Pearson Education, says she was amazed by how quickly Pitzer snapped into action by helping place ads, collecting letters of support from the sponsors' senior executives, and placing news stories and op-eds.

The end result was that AmeriCorps' and Jumpstart's plight was mentioned in over 55 newspapers and magazines, according to Jumpstart CEO Rob Waldron. Eventually, AmeriCorps received a $184 million funding increase, ensuring the nonprofit and its organizations could continue their respective missions.

"There was a lot of pressure to get the message down to Washington," Miller says. "I was shocked by how quickly she built a team to get our message together."

British-based Pearson Education, subsidiary of Financial Times publisher Pearson, was looking for a cause in the US that aligned with its education mission.

Miller, and reps from other corporate sponsors like Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters, work with Pitzer on campaigns, but Miller calls her "a one-woman shop."

When Pitzer was an undergrad majoring in liberal arts, she took an internship on the Hill. At the time, she had been considering the pursuit of a journalism career, but she got much more hooked on supplying the news, rather than covering it. She began her career as an intern at Cone Communications, working on the interactive team, and was then hired as a freelancer until August 2001. She found out about the position at Jumpstart from Pearson, a Cone client, and began working there in October 2001.

She fully appreciates the resource limitations, which propels her to carefully monitor how she expends them.

"As with any nonprofit, your resources and time are limited," Pitzer says. "But if Starbucks says, 'We're launching a new credit card, can you help us with events?', we'll make it work."

Due to the limited resources, Pitzer gets to wear many marketing hats, a rarity for many PR professionals old and young.

"We don't have the luxury of seeing ourselves as a PR shop or a marketing shop," Pitzer says.

She cited a recent campaign she handled that reached out to college students. The campaign featured advertising, brochures, events with corporate partners and media placement in college newspapers.

Outside of limited resources, Pitzer says that media outreach can be challenging because both the organization (10 years old) and she are young.

"The media likes to cover issues and companies that are known," Pitzer says. She combats this by exploiting the influence of the corporate sponsors and selling the message.

 "Once you get someone to pay attention, they're very interested if you have a story to tell," Pitzer says.

While many of her peers are working in corporate communications or for large agencies, Pitzer is happy at her current post.

"To work for a cause that fundamentally changes lives, not many people can say that," Pitzer says.

"She could be anywhere, with any corporation, running any PR effort," Miller says. "It's really luck for them and lucky for us [that she's here]." To return to the list, click here.

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