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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with LaTricia Woods of Mahogany Xan Communications

In 2018, I had an idea for a national network of multicultural and LGBTQ owned and operated public relations agencies. The idea was inspired by my friendship and collaboration with LaTricia Woods of Mahogany Xan Communications. I took the idea to LaTricia, and she said yes before I even finished my pitch! And from that conversation, The Change Agencies was born and later launched with four other partners.

 

Now, a little more than five years later, The Change Agencies includes 13 agencies across the country and counts African American, Asian American, Native American, Hispanic and LGBTQ public relations firms in its membership. We’ve launched tools like our CHANGE Audit and It’s Not Pie and we’ve highlighted the thought leadership of our members on a variety of topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion both in our industry and in society generally. LaTricia and I are now the co-leads for the network, so it only makes sense to start a new year with a feature on her.

 

LaTricia is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional with more than 28 years of varied experience in public relations. She began her career as a municipal Public Information Officer before starting her own firm, Mahogany Xan Communications, ten years ago. She holds both Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Wichita State University and has won numerous awards in both Kansas (where she started her career) and Arizona (where she lives now). Most recently, LaTricia achieved her certification as a One Million Black Women: Black in Business Graduate from Goldman Sachs after being selected as a participant in a national competition.

 

LaTricia is also a public relations industry leader having served as Chair of the 2023 Spring Conference of the PRSA Counselors Academy in New Orleans. She is currently the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the PRSA Counselors Academy (and is largely responsible for the fact that I am the Chair of the 2024 Spring Conference since she asked me to serve as her co-chair for last year’s conference).

 

I’ve known LaTricia for less than 10 years, but it feels like we’ve been friends and colleagues forever. LaTricia is indomitable and gets more done in less time than most people I know. She’s not just smart, but strategic, and she knows both when to speak and when to listen. I know how lucky I am to call her friend and colleague and I can’t wait to see what we do next as we continue to collaborate, not just on The Change Agencies, but on public relations industry leadership opportunities as well.

 

I’m thrilled to start a new year highlighting The Change Agencies, and the work and accomplishments of my TCA partner and co-founder LaTricia Woods as well. My thanks to LaTricia for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.

 

Q: Why is an initiative like The Change Agencies needed? What role do you see it filling in the marketplace?

 

A: The Change Agencies is needed for several reasons.

 

First, it provides a safe space for a network of like-minded agency owners to connect authentically and creatively. We are free to have open and thoughtful discussions on our views and how we can best work together to provide a positive impact for our clients, our industry, and our communities.

 

Second, ours is an industry that has been slow to advocate strongly for diversity at all levels, from new public relations practitioners to the C-Suite. After years of providing tips and tools on how companies and agencies can diversify their ranks, we decided to be the solution instead of providing solutions.

 

Third, DEI is not a fad, and its need is not going away. As companies continue to navigate these ever-changing waters, they need experts who can guide them. The Change Agencies meet that need.

 

Q: Why should clients hire one or more of The Change Agencies to help them “change the way” they “communicate across cultures?” What benefits do you see from organizations hiring us?

 

A: Today’s consumers are savvy, informed, and engaged in the issues that mean the most to them, and for many, that includes DEI. They will see disingenuous communication a mile away. They are looking for authenticity, honesty, and value-driving messaging. They want to be met where they are and want to be seen for who they are and the value they bring to the table. The Change Agencies can help companies bridge the gaps that they have; by working with The Change Agencies companies have a dedicated team of change agents with the professional depth and acuity that we bring to the partnership at a fraction of the cost of building an internal team.

 

Q: How has your career experience helped you in building and managing The Change Agencies? What lessons have you learned that have applied to this work?

 

A:  Throughout my career, I have almost always been the first or the only. In Wichita, I was the first Black female Public Information Officer. In the City of Maricopa, I was the first Black Public Information Officer. Or, serving on committees, I am often the only person of color. As such, when we set out to build The Change Agencies, what I wanted was to help build an organization that when you looked around the table, you saw our communities represented in all their beauty and their brilliance.

 

Being the first and only, your voice is often stifled, either directly or indirectly, and I wanted The Change Agencies to help amplify voices and uplift professionals from a myriad of backgrounds.

 

And, quite frankly, as the first and only, you are continuously on the receiving end of questions or messages that stereotype, marginalize, or minimalize you. Or you are in a place where being your authentic self may be perceived negatively. I wanted The Change Agencies to be a network where we could work to change that narrative in two ways: one, through the work that we create for our clients; and two, by the example of how we work together as a network.

 

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

 

A: One day, when I was serving as the public information officer for the City of Wichita, Kan., we had a very difficult day. It felt like we were taking arrows from all sides: the City Council, the press. It was an exceptionally daunting time for the organization. I remember that as I was packing up to leave, the City Manager and a great mentor, Chris Cherches, said to me, “At the end of the day, you must let it go. You did your best today and you left it all on the field. It will be what it will be. Now, let it go and let’s prepare for a new day.”

 

How often do we take the woes of the office home with us, never really shutting down, only to begin from the heightened point the next day? Or think of it this way: in the Phoenix area, where I live, the summers can be particularly brutal. The reason is that the ground never has the opportunity to fully cool down. So, if the high is 114 degrees and the low is 90, the next day starts from the 90-degree point instead of a 60-degree point, making it able to reach those high temps even faster.

 

So, we have to take the time to reduce our temps at the end of each day. That is a goal I’m working on this year.

 

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

 

A: As public relations practitioners it is imperative that, in addition to the other roles that we perform for our clients, we also serve as the conscience for our clients. We are best equipped and prepared to see issues from a 360-degree landscape and with that lens, we can best guide our clients to stay on the right side of societal issues, and of history.



 

 

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