Prudential’s Michele Stellato leverages PR skills to fight ALS

Prudential’s technology comms director was diagnosed with ALS in June 2020.

Stellato founded Fight ALS Now, an advocacy group, and became active in Her ALS Story.
Stellato founded Fight ALS Now, an advocacy group, and became active in Her ALS Story.

RUTHERFORD, NJ: Prudential Financial’s director of technology communications Michele Stellato’s path to becoming a champion in the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) occurred unexpectedly. Yet marshaling her PR expertise, she was determined to take meaningful action.  

In June 2020, doctors diagnosed Stellato with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The neurodegenerative disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, is fatal. Patients have an average life expectancy after diagnosis of two to five years, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery.

The news was devastating. But the 32-year-old comms professional decided to take on the disease, by telling her story, making noise and being a voice for people with ALS and other disabilities—to make a difference.

“My goal is to shine light on hope and the future,” said Stellato. “I don't want my story to make people just feel sad. I want it to inspire them to take on the challenges in their own lives and realize that we all have the power to make change happen.”

After more than seven years in corporate communications at iCIMS, Stellato began her job at Prudential Financial in September 2020.

Now, with her employer’s encouragement and support, she has expanded her comms role to advocate for people with ALS and for those with a wide range of disabilities. 

Shortly after her diagnosis, Stellato had posted information on her personal social media channels. But now, on Prudential’s blog, Stellato has shared her story with an even larger audience.

“Living and breathing communications every day gave me a really good foundation,” she said. “When you're doing technology communications, you have to keep it simple. You have to tell a story. Now, I’m engaging people about a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has a lot of unknown causes.”

Prudential’s resources, supportive environment and inclusive culture were strong factors, motivating her to join the company. She pointed out that the HR department wanted to learn more as she worked to improve healthcare and workplace cultures to accommodate people with disabilities.

Stellato founded Fight ALS Now, an advocacy group, and became active in Her ALS Story, a group of women diagnosed with ALS before their 35th birthday. The organizations strive to educate people about the disease, improve insurance and Medicare coverage, and push for ALS legislation to accelerate the drug pipeline and patient access to clinical trials.

On October 28, Project ALS hosted a gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, raising over $900,000 to support new ALS treatments, according to Stellato, who was one of the event’s co-hosts. She noted that roughly 200 attendees came to the venue, joined by another 100 guests via livestream.

Her ALS Story - 2021 Project ALS Gala from Project ALS on Vimeo.

Stellato emphasized that change requires involvement beyond people in the ALS community. She hopes that PR professionals will get involved, understanding their industry’s importance and influence.

“They can use their PR superpowers and share my story because raising awareness alone is huge,” she said. “The more people, and the more that the media knows about this, the more we can get the attention of legislators.”

She added that having the PR skill set is an honor, with communications and storytelling at the heart of making change. 

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