Amid Red Cross PR shake-up, veteran Howe departs for Pearson

Howe will join Pearson on May 4.

Laura Howe
Laura Howe

WASHINGTON: Laura Howe is leaving the American Red Cross after 14 years to join education and publishing company Pearson as VP of media and communities for North America.

Howe steps into the role on May 4. She will aid Pearson in telling the story of how it improves the lives of educators, parents, students, and local communities through learning, said Shilpi Niyogi, Pearson's SVP for North American corporate affairs and global government relations, in an emailed statement. Howe will report directly to Niyogi.

She succeeds Susan Aspey, Pearson's former VP of media relations. Aspey left the role in February to join Cengage Learning as SVP, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Pearson is looking to move beyond traditional methods of communicating with the public into an area where it can share its mission through digital media and two-way discussions, explained Howe.

"I am looking forward to helping Pearson tell its story in a proactive, interactive way, and making sure we have all the pieces in place to promote and protect the organization’s reputation," she said.

She added that she’s honored to be part of a company with such a strong social purpose because "education has really been a building block for everything I have achieved in my life."

Most recently, Howe served as VP of PR for the American Red Cross. She held the position for five years, managing communications teams for services to armed forces, biomedical services, international services and preparedness, health and safety services, disaster public affairs, media relations, and social media.

She also served as one of the primary spokespeople for the organization and led its crisis communication efforts.

In 2012, Howe designed and launched the only social media command center devoted to humanitarian efforts, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Jana Sweeny, who formerly served as the Red Cross’ director of international communications, has stepped in as interim VP of PR, while the organization seeks Howe’s replacement. She reports to chief public affairs officer Suzanne DeFrancis.

"We are sad to lose [Howe]," said Sweeny. "But I am excited for her; I think her new role sounds interesting."

Sweeny, who has served at Red Cross for 19 years, is also departing the organization in December when she moves to Nigeria with her family. She said her replacement as director of international communications is yet to be determined.

Additionally, the Red Cross’ director of media relations Anne Marie Borrego left the organization earlier this month to serve as director of media and public relations at United Way Worldwide, according to her LinkedIn page. Her replacement at Red Cross is also yet to be determined, Sweeny said.

Last October, journalism nonprofit ProPublica and National Public Radio published an investigative report claiming the Red Cross "botched key elements" of its response to Superstorm Sandy.  

Published on the two-year anniversary of "Frankenstorm" Sandy’s touchdown, the report alleged that the Red Cross was unprepared for Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, and was more worried about its own image rather than logistics.

In response, the Red Cross posted a "myth-versus-fact" document on its corporate blog, highlighting what it believes the media companies left out.

Following that, the organization posted a blog entry, penned by Howe, that it claims "pulled back the curtains" on the outlets’ reporting tactics. One of the tactics listed in the blog includes "hounding" Red Cross volunteers with unwanted phone calls to the point of calling their neighbors and relatives to track them down, according to the nonprofit. It also highlighted why it believes Americans should continue to trust the Red Cross despite the story.

Before joining the Red Cross in 2001 as PR director, Howe was a broadcast reporter and anchor in Missouri and Alabama for more than eight years, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Howe was one of PRWeek’s 40 Under 40 honorees in 2013.

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