40 Under 40 2016: Michelle McKenna

VP, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, 37

Michelle McKenna’s 15 years in corporate comms have been a blend of crisis planning and response, media relations, reputation enhancement, and risk mitigation and more recently communication challenges related to cyber issues. For a decade at Hill+Knowlton and previously at Public Strategies, she has worked with top brands including P&G, Target, UPS, and Volkswagen and has become one of the agency’s most valued crisis managers.

McKenna’s leadership and expertise have consistently led to expanding business opportunities on cyber issues in particular, and she has spoken at client forums and SXSW on the subject.

The combination of McKenna’s drive to go the extra mile and multi-industry expertise has left her mark on numerous business aspects, including having taken the helm of one of H+K’s most important client products, Flight School. She has helped take the immersive crisis-simulation tool from a novelty to an essential training service that has helped countless companies and institutions prepare for high-risk situations.

McKenna seizes opportunities to help others. She volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, National Public Radio, a readiness program for first-generation college-bound students, an annual coat drive for children, and the Junior League of Austin.

In 2011, when wildfires devastated more than 1,600 homes in an area east of Austin close to her hometown, McKenna led an ad hoc donation drive among colleagues, friends, and anybody else she could buttonhole. She drove countless round trips between Austin and Bastrop to help provide small doses of temporary relief to those going through a major personal crisis.

Beyond actively engaging with PRSA chapters in Washington and Austin, McKenna speaks to student groups and aspiring PR professionals. She has acted as a local internship coordinator for H+K and in 2013 helped create a pilot for one of H+K’s first formal mentorship initiatives.

She works very closely with H+K’s junior staff on a day-to-day basis, giving them exposure to strategy discussions and decision-making while providing perspective on how their work directly contributes to the end goal. Her reputation as a mentor has resulted in multiple requests from junior staff to be paired with her for H+K’s formal women’s network.

- McKenna doesn’t just say yes or no — she explains why.

- Prior to joining H+K, she worked at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, in Washington, DC.

- McKenna is an unabashed Francophile and aspiring gourmet cook.

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