PRWeek Pride in PR: Phil Nardone

President and CEO, PAN Communications

Phil Nardone founded PAN Communications 27 years ago and has grown the firm to five international offices and one virtual office. Most recently, Nardone led PAN through two acquisitions, both of which kept his No. 1 vision in mind: to create a firm with shared values, exceptional work ethic and employees as passionate for their craft as he is. His enthusiasm for people management and desire to drive transformation in the industry has helped shape the next generation of PR professional.

“As a leader, nothing is more important to me than our people. Improving client relations practices and reaching business goals stems from building a culture where employees feel passionate and empowered to succeed. When this is accomplished, we’ve done our jobs right,” he said.

Nardone’s depth of experience has led him to several industry recognitions, and he is a member of the PR Council Board of Directors and has spoken at several industry-leading events.

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What are the challenges and responsibilities for LGBTQ communicators working in today’s polarized and febrile social and political environment?

We face the news every day as communicators. It reports on our lives, our rights and even the crimes against our community. In the midst of legislative and judicial uncertainty for our community, LGBTQ communicators should be aware that how they feel and think matters and can influence others both professionally and personally. Speaking up also supports other marginalized groups who need a voice. 

It’s also imperative to lead with heart. Creating conversations is a critical aspect of our profession, and to bring that skillset to our collective passion to create and foster equality is not only an opportunity, it's a calling. This question is well-timed, as I’ll be speaking on this very subject at the Museum of PR’s event on Thursday: LGBTQ Rights on the Line: The Role of Communicators Advocating for Equality.

How can colleagues be true allies beyond Pride Month?

The LGBTQ experience goes beyond a single moment in time. The conversation must be continuous to sustain a trajectory of equality for our generation and the next. You might practice this in different ways, whether you share on social media, join a discussion group or attend LGBTQ events. Every act of allyship counts and can have an impact in fostering an inclusive culture. 

One small, personal example is how I choose to include a Pride-inspired company logo in my email signature year-round. Small or large, consistency and persistence is key. I want to lead by example and show that Pride can be celebrated year-round. The reality is that LGBTQ conversations and issues must be relevant always, all 12 months of the year.

How important is it for young LGBTQ PR pros to see people like them in the senior ranks of the industry as role models to emulate? 

Representation is imperative. One moment that stands out to me comes from my experience as an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, something I’ve done for 20-plus years. One student who I had the pleasure of getting to know told me: "I cannot believe how freely and confidently you say the word ‘husband’. I sit in your class each week waiting for you to say that word." He lived in a very conservative community and rarely if ever heard another man talk so openly and honestly about their husband. He needed to have those conversations to reimagine its meaning and his own definition of himself. And despite what my lecture may have been that week, my role as a communicator — a gay communicator — was more fulfilled that day than perhaps any other.

What advice would you give young LGBTQ PR pros making their way in the industry?

Show up as your authentic self when you come to work. If you can’t be yourself, you can’t be your best, and you will never be able to do your best work if that’s the case. Listen to the voice inside, and if it doesn’t feel right, step away. When you are interviewing with an agency or company, interview them as much as they are interviewing you. Listen for the cues that let you know you are not only able to bring your authentic self to work, but that they also value that. Look at their values, what they speak out on. That’s how you’ll know they’re the right employer for you. Those who want you to bring your full self to work also get your best work.

Describe an example in your career where you faced discrimination based on your sexuality or gender identity?

My example comes from my own experiences coming out and the fear of discrimination and the impact that would have on my career. When I came out as a gay man 20 years ago, I not only worried about my family's reaction, I was also worried about how it might impact my growing agency. Would clients and colleagues think I was dishonest? Would prospects not want to work with an openly gay man, or an agency run by an openly gay man?

I chose the honest, direct approach: I refused to hide who I was, and I embraced being who I am. Before I knew it, I started receiving notes from clients, employees and prospects applauding my honesty. I also can’t tell you how many employees over the years have shared their story with me because I shared mine. That’s really powerful.

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