PRWeek Pride in PR: Sarah Shoup

Account supervisor, The Sway Effect

Sarah Shoup has worked in a variety of marketing, PR and internal communications roles for nearly a decade. In April she joined The Sway Effect as account supervisor, focusing on content creation and working with the agency’s C-suite leaders to write opinion pieces, speeches and more.

Shoup arrived from KWI Communications, where she worked with Fortune 500 clients such as Chick-fil-A, Cox Communications and The Home Depot on successful campaigns to increase brand awareness and employee engagement. She provided communications support for various business areas and programs including diversity, equity and inclusion, supply chain, hospitality, product development, corporate social responsibility and innovation.

Prior to KWI, Shoup worked at Avondale with a specialization in management consulting, and at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, where she promoted Atlanta’s innovation narrative. She was a recipient of the 2020 PRSA Georgia’s Forty Under 40 Award.

Shoup attended Georgia State University and currently resides in Atlanta.

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

As a community that continues to be suppressed and attacked, there will always be challenges in and outside of work. In light of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, the LGBTQ+ community is fearful of what is next. We have a responsibility to speak up and accurately represent the community in our work, with our clients and the brands we serve.

How can colleagues be true allies beyond Pride Month?

Don’t just ride the rainbow washing wave, be authentic in your statements and mean what you say. There’s nothing more discouraging than having a supportive conversation but then finding out the same person made a homophobic slur. Be open, honest and respectfully curious. If you aren’t sure, just ask. But don’t put all of the work on your LGBTQ+ employees, do some legwork and research as well because it shows you actually care. Recognize your biases and realize that there’s always something to learn.

Celebrate the impact LGBTQ individuals have had on the PR industry. 

Others before me paved the way for the LGBTQ+ community to be what it is today. There was a time when publicly displaying a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex was forbidden. Progress was made due to years of activism and fighting, but also because of those in public relations and journalism who openly spoke about their sexuality to give the LGBTQ+ community a voice. Rachel Maddow, Robin Roberts and Anderson Cooper are just a few who come to mind and continue to actively use their platform for good to give visibility and representation.

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? Who were your mentors?

Representation matters. I grew up in a small southern town where queer role models were far and few between. My journey would have looked a little different if I felt OK to question things sooner. The same applies to my career. As a leader, I want to help others feel confident in who they are and safe enough to speak up. I’m fortunate I’ve had strong, supportive female leaders who opened many doors and encouraged me since day one of my career. At the start of my career, I was sitting at the same table as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and was given exposure to so many opportunities early on because of great leadership. While not queer, Hala Moddelmog, Jennifer Sherer and Leah Gladu were mentors and I would not be where I am without their help. Today, I’m fortunate to have a supportive team and founder, Jennifer Risi.

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

Share what you’re comfortable with but don’t change who you are, find organizations that are supportive. Don’t settle, create a community and seek mentorship. Take up space and go into the situation with a straight white male mindset.

PR is regarded as an LGBTQ-friendly industry. How true is that perception? Describe an example in your career where you faced discrimination based on your sexuality or gender identity?

It depends on the company and geographic location. Whenever I’m interviewing, if I’m ever given the opportunity to insert my sexuality into the conversation, I will. Sure, you can always research the company beforehand and they may claim to be inclusive, but the way someone reacts to a statement about sexuality is more telling.

I’ve turned down offers from companies because of the reactions I’ve received about this before. It’s unfortunate, but you become really good at reading reactions, expressions and the subtle acts of distaste.

I had to take this approach on because of previous roles where discrimination happened. Two examples come to mind. During a meeting with a venture capital investor, I had to present a plan alongside a white male colleague. The entire time the investor kept his eyes on my colleague and when I asked questions, he would answer by speaking to my colleague. After the meeting, my colleague made a statement that he thought the investor was deliberately ignoring me because I was a woman. I wished he would have spoken up in the meeting and said something because while it was validating, I didn’t feel heard or seen. I’ve also worked with some very conservative brands before and was asked to be removed from an account because of my sexuality.

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