Burr Co-Founder Receives Taylor Award
“Co-editors of a brand new magazine: it sounded so ... trendsetting. How historic it would be to start a tradition of journalistic excellence apart from the daily hard news of the Stater ...” wrote the Chestnut Burr Magazine’s co-editors in the 1986 inaugural issue.
They were right. Now known as The Burr Magazine, the project Laura Gordon, ’87, and C. Thomas Lewis, ’86, started as students in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) now has a rich 31-year history of journalistic excellence.
Gordon, one of those co-editors, is the William D. Taylor Award 2017 recipient, the highest honor JMC bestows upon its alumni. Just as she made a lasting impact as an undergraduate by starting Kent State’s first student magazine, she has made a tremendous impact upon the public relations and communication industry as general manager of Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm.
Based in Washington, D.C., Gordon oversees Edelman’s health, federal government services and employee engagement sectors. Her clients include major pharmaceutical and biotech companies, hospitals, health insurers and advocacy organizations. But as a journalism major and throughout the first part of her career, “it would have never occurred to me to do PR,” she said.
Gordon realized a passion for writing about health and medicine while covering the health beat for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. She went on to work for Medical Tribune, where she wrote specifically for an audience of doctors and other health professionals.
“I really had to know my stuff,” she said. “I had to learn how to understand what was significant when a journal article came out: What does that really mean for people, and how big of a deal was that? It was such great training.”
Still, it took a lot of convincing for her to make the switch from journalism to public relations when Edelman approached her with an offer to oversee editorial services for the firm’s health clients. Gordon still remembers the advice one of her co-workers gave her as she adjusted to a new industry.
“She said, ‘Stop trying to be us. Be you. There’s enough of us. Bring your skills as a former journalist to the table, and talk about what you know,’” she said. “To this day, that’s some of the best advice I’ve received. I tell that to young people now. ... Just because you don’t sound like everybody else – that’s actually a good thing. Try to preserve that as long as you can.”
Gordon’s experience working with clients in the health and medicine industries over the years has made her appreciate the important role journalism and communication play in building healthy communities.
“For a person who wants to educate themselves about something they have, or a condition they think they might have, or for someone who just wants to be healthier, there’s no easier time than now for people to be empowered to find information about health topics and conditions,” she said.“That’s an amazing thing.”
In addition to working with health clients at her job, Gordon is on the board of the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and she volunteers with the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She advises both organizations about their communication strategies and has participated in forums and committees with health professionals.
“The neat thing is that it surrounds me with people who aren’t in PR,” she said. “Working with people in different disciplines to improve people’s health is very personally rewarding.”
Gordon also believes strongly in helping today’s JMC students. In 2015, she established the Beverly and Ralph Buterbaugh Promising Scholar Award in honor of her parents. The scholarship supports a top-achieving high school senior entering JMC throughout all four years of college.
“I think we have to remember that having even a little bit of a leg up can change a person’s outlook and opportunity,” she said. “I love being able to support someone who is so dedicated and energetic, embarking on his or her own career. It’s an exciting place to be.”
The impact JMC faculty – particularly Carl Schierhorn, emeritus associate professor, and Tim Smith, emeritus professor – had on Gordon’s time as a student has stuck with her through the years.
“I tell colleagues and anyone who will listen about the support and mentoring relationships I had with my professors,” she said, citing Schierhorn’s recommendation for her internship that led to her first job and Smith’s “tough love” for student media staff members. “They truly took an interest. They really cared about my education – and my future. Maybe that happens at other universities, but I felt like it was a pretty special thing at Kent State. I felt extremely lucky.”