Spotlight on...

Dená Brummer

Keeping the emphasis on “public” in public relations and marketing

photo of Dená BrummerDená (McClurkin) Brummer (MPA ’05) has always had a knack for communicating. Even her AP title—“Risk Communication and Government: Theory and Application for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”—gave one a hint of her future professional path.

Brummer is now a partner in Yellow Brick Creative Studio, a multidisciplinary public relations and design collective (Toronto, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and St. Louis), specializing in marketing, logo, Web, print, and video. She develops integrated marketing, sales, and advertising strategies for retailers and business-to-business companies throughout the United States and provides public relations support for a variety of consumer and business-to-business accounts.

This position follows a nearly two-year stint as a marketing coordinator for Valley Emergency Physicians in San Francisco, where Brummer managed a full-scale public relations and marketing program and provided strategic consulting and tactical implementation of successful marketing initiatives, including press conferences, analyst meetings, and media relations. It was during this consulting job that Brummer caught the self-employment bug.

“I was instantly addicted to the freedom of choice, endless possibilities, exciting challenges, and infinite chances to meet interesting people,” Brummer recalls. “So when we relocated again, I decided to partner up with a couple of my professional friends and former co-workers to start Yellow Brick Creative Studio.”

Prior to that, Brummer worked for just over a year as a public affairs officer at the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and for four years before that with the Georgia Department of Community Health as Deputy Director of Communications.

“At the Department of Community Health, I co-managed and supervised all day-to-day public relations and media strategies for a $11-billion-a-year agency responsible for the purchasing, planning, and regulation of health care for more than 2.1 million Georgians,” says Brummer. “I advised staff and senior management on communications issues and managed and directed a staff of five to provide full-service marketing and communications support for the agency in areas of planning and strategy, Web marketing, media relations, publications, development communications, and special projects.”

While at GEMA, Brummer managed the development of a full range of public affairs products and services to support the agency’s efforts. She also developed and managed the agency’s social media marketing campaigns and content, functioned as the agency webmaster, and implemented many facets of the organization’s media relations strategy.

So, what excites Brummer about her line of work? She responds succinctly, “Every project is a new adventure and a personal challenge. Creativity is more than just being different. It’s making something complicated simple.”

So how did Brummer get into public relations and marketing? Well, even before she came to IPA, she had had three years of experience in communications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Capital Planning Commission. She earned her BA degree from Clark Atlanta University in Mass Media Arts with a concentration in journalism.

With regard to the challenges she faces in running a business like hers, Brummer says, “A business has to move so fast in today’s marketplace to survive and thrive. It’s easy to become consumed by all the distractions. [The company’s] biggest challenge right now is team development, to keep the team motivated and growing. Our motto is ‘make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.’”

Reflecting on her time at IPA, Brummer insists that, while classroom experience is necessary, nothing beats real-life experience gained by working in the industry or field. “Working as a Legislative Fellow was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my professional career,” she says. “The work assignments were always challenging and exciting, and there was never a dull moment. Not only did this program provide me with excellent experience and understanding of state government, but it also provided me with skills that serve me well today in the private sector.”

Probably the most valuable skill Brummer gained from grad school was the ability to manage her own situation. She explains, “I had a very hands-off AP committee chair [Doug Tuttle] who required me to take the major responsibility for my curriculum as well as how I would be able to develop my interests into a viable thesis. This has been vital in my current role as a partner in a start-up firm.”

Brummer is quick to share this piece of advice with current students, “Be open-minded. When it comes to assistantships and internships, I encourage you to try as many things as you can and get exposure to as many things as possible because that will help you in the long run.”

When she is not working, Brummer likes to travel across the world with her five-year-old daughter and her husband, who is an ER doctor/hospital administrator. In her spare time, she co-leads a Girl Scout troop and spends her summers gardening.

Now seven years into her career, Brummer has a more mature perspective on her ambition of making this world a better place through activity in the public sphere. Early in her career, she admits, she had a five-year plan and a checklist to guide her every move. “Now that I am a mid-career professional,” she says, “I realize that it’s easy to garner titles and promotions but harder to make a meaningful impact.

“In lieu of plans, I now use as my mantra a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to direct my future aspirations. It goes like this, ‘Make a career of humanity; commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.’”

In terms of public service, we would all do well to remember those words.

Photo courtesy of Dená Brummer