Cheryl Overton, Hall of Femme 2019

President, Egami

What would you do if you weren’t in PR?
Realistically, I’d be a lawyer. That was my intended career pursuit, but I decided to take a gap year after undergrad to work as a paralegal and apply to law schools. That period gave me a chance to experience the practice of law up close, which prompted me to revisit my love of communications. Instead of the law, I decided to apply to journalism school, and the rest is history.

My fantasy alternate profession would be a chef. I love using my hands to create and express myself and still sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu instead of university.

Last time you experienced a fist-pumping victory moment?
Earlier this month my team pitched a piece of business and, while there were long hours, scrapped production, and awkward rehearsal moments during the process, in the presentation room, everything worked. The mood was familial. We were cohesive. The content flowed seamlessly. The client team was smiling and nodding at all the right moments – everything just clicked that day. We walked away on such an energy high, we all felt like winners. That fist-pumping feeling is all the more sweet having learned we actually did win.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment? What did you learn from that moment?
I’ve had several "agony of defeat" moments over the years – failed business ventures, job opportunities, and relationships – that when they ended felt like a gut punch and made me question everything from my abilities to my sanity. In the work setting, I recall interviewing for a communications role at a company in 2013. Things were going extremely well until the round I encountered "the scowl" (that’s the nickname I gave her). Even before hellos were exchanged, her energy and mind seemed closed to my candidacy. Nothing moved her, not anything I presented or the positive reviews from her colleagues. I was dead in the water, and she made it clear I was a non-factor who was wasting her time. The tears flowed freely on the flight back to New York City. The job disappointment was the least of it. I felt worthless, like I was losing faith. I remembered the words of two wise women whom I admire – Oprah Winfrey and my grandmother, Barbara. Oprah once said, "If you live a big life, you’re going to get big lessons." My grandmother would say, "What’s meant for you will be for you." I came to realize dramatic rejection was my big lesson, the universe’s way of letting me know that wasn’t my job and my true opportunity would come. I learned (or was reminded) that faith makes you resilient – it's like vibranium for what plagues you.

How long ago was the last time you took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
January is my birth month, and it’s my annual tradition to take a beach vacation. This year was no different, except it was my 50th birthday celebration and I wanted to create an indelible memory. I decided to choose a destination from my fantasy honeymoon travel list (places I’d determined to save for my honeymoon) and instead make it a #50moon with family. I chose the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean east of Kenya. There, I did nothing for two weeks except wade in warm emerald green waters; eat my fill of local curries and indigenous fish and seafood; read at leisure, completing seven books over the trip; idle away the hours in conversations both silly and deep; and fall asleep to the sounds of crashing waves and wake up to birds chirping. I beheld the perfect sunset 10 evenings in a row. I even restarted my workout routine. I was fortunate to have a chance to stop and smell the frangipani and mignonette, which restored my mind, body, and spirit. I returned fired up to tackle the first quarter.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
We sell ourselves short sometimes. It’s improving, but I wish we had the bravado I see agencies display in owning the assignment, "demanding" ownership of narrative, and being unafraid to ask for proper funding.

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
Last year was a banner year for Egami Group. A decade of reputation and roster building came together with a milestone anniversary, a rockstar team, satisfied clients, and the appointment of its first president. The organization really shone thanks to the widespread industry recognition for our Procter & Gamble campaign, The Talk. We were truly humbled by becoming the first black, woman-owned agency to receive a Cannes Lions Grand Prix.

Words to live by?
Trust who you are, be humble, and always thank God.

Favorite drink?
Tito’s martini shaken very cold and hard. I garnish with a twist during the spring/summer months and three olives in fall/winter.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
You are physically the most perfect you’ll ever be – wear the string bikini and eat the cupcake.

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
Continue to coach, mentor, motivate, connect (and cajole if I have to) women to unapologetically ask for what we want. That’s not always about money, and we sometimes find ourselves in assignments, situation-ships, compensation, and benefits that don’t honor our true selves. I want us to confidently define our wants and advocate for ourselves unapologetically.

Who are the three people, living or dead, you would like to host at a dinner party and why?
My favorite photographer, Carrie Mae Weems, for her unique ability to tell truthful and emotional stories; the great Jacques Pépin to join me in the kitchen, sipping wine and sharing stories while preparing the meal; and Idris Elba, because eye candy is a mandatory course at any dinner party I host.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
I’ve saved you a seat with your parents and grandparents. Aunt Dotty has your favorite crab cakes all ready for you. Welcome home.

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