Ginger Hardage: Hall of Fame 2015

SVP, culture & communications, Southwest Airlines

What lessons do you wish you knew before starting a career in PR?
The importance of collaboration and the benefit of getting buy-in from a large group of people before you launch anything and, if at all possible, make sure that the majority of your ideas come from the people who are going to be most impacted.

What advice do you have for aspiring PR pros?
For people in their first few years in PR, take risks and take on as many projects as you possibly can. If you’re in a job that is not giving you everything you need, start asking for more assignments until you find a job that is perfect for you. Everyone is looking for that type of person who is extremely curious and has a capacity to handle a variety of projects.

What has you most concerned?
We have substantive issues to address in our society and world. It sometimes bothers me when trivial matters rise to the top. Our industry can have a major impact on working on societal issues.

Who is or was your mentor?
My career at Southwest has had the most influence on me. Working here has afforded me so many opportunities to work on projects ranging from employee engagement to emergency response.

You learn something from everyone you work with, for, or around, so it goes back to curiosity and being open to different learning experiences. I learned a lot about working with people because my parents owned a grocery store and our home was attached to the store, so I spent my early years with the public.

That was a great foundation for learning that not everyone thinks the same way and the importance of trying to understand the perspectives of others before trying to persuade them. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Perform at the level of the job you want, not the job you have. Also, I’m a member of Arthur Page, and one of the Page principles is: Practice public relations as if the whole company depended on it. And I think that is a truism.

Ginger Hardage oversees the activities that nourish the unique culture at Southwest Airlines and the internal and external communications function for the largest domestic airline, ranked by most customers carried.

She is a member of various executive committees at Southwest and leads its "Best Place to Work" initiatives. Hardage is an avid public speaker at universities and organizations ranging from Google to Princeton University on topics related to "Building a Brand from the Inside Out."

PRWeek has named Hardage to its Power List on several occasions and previously named her one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Public Relations. As a nationally recognized PR professional, Hardage was distinguished as one of Texas’ Most Powerful and Influential Women in 2010; received the National Public Relations Achievement Award in 2009; was named "Legendary Communicator" by Southern Methodist University in 2007; and was selected for the James C. Bowling Executive-In-Residence Lecture Series at the University of Kentucky in 2005.

The Texas Public Relations Association (TPRA) named her its PR Practitioner of the Year for 2000. That same year, the Southwest Airlines Corporate Communications Team was named the Top Communications Department in the nation by PRWeek.

In 1999, the TPRA also recognized Southwest with its highest corporate honor, The Lone Star Award, for consistently placing a high priority on the practice of creative PR.

Hardage serves on the International Board of Trustees for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Arthur W. Page Society, and is president of the Trinity Commons Foundation. She previously served on advisory boards of Novartis in Basel, Switzerland; Business Civic Leadership Center, an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce; Big Brothers and Sisters of Metropolitan Dallas; Southwest Cares; and the Council of PR Firms.

She is a past president of the Dallas Chapter of the International Association of Business Communications; a past member of the Southern Methodist University Public Relations advisory board; and formerly on the Texas Tech Rawls College of Business advisory board. Hardage is also a member of the Arthur W. Page Society and is a graduate of Leadership Texas.

Before beginning her career at Southwest in 1990, Hardage held a variety of marketing and PR positions at Maxus Energy Corporation, Diamond Shamrock Corporation, and Life Insurance Company of the Southwest.

Hardage earned a BA in advertising/PR from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and was recognized as an outstanding alumna by the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech.

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