Bennett a valuable mentor to PR students

Photo of Thomas Bennett at FAMU courtesy: Christian Whitaker

Thomas Bennett, a senior vice president at FleishmanHillard, is pivotal in leading the global health equity business for the renowned public relations, communications, and marketing company. With 22 years of diverse professional experience spanning sports, healthcare, tech, and financial services, Bennett’s expertise is focused on ensuring consumers have fair and just opportunities to achieve their highest level of health.

Bennett’s motivation for his work in health equity is deeply personal.

“I draw inspiration from my 73-year-old mother-in-law’s situation. She is a Type-2 diabetic living in a rural Mississippi town. Despite having local doctors, the need for more quality care due to the rural setting underscores the importance of health equity,” he said.

“I envision a world where everyone, regardless of their ZIP code, race, or socioeconomic status, has equal opportunities, care, and services. Health equity involves dismantling institutional and discriminatory barriers both within and outside the healthcare system, addressing issues such as racism, sexism, poverty, and unequal resource distribution,” Bennett added.

His commitment to health equity extends beyond professional duties. Bennett’s personal goal is to contribute to eliminating health disparities and inequities, striving for overall health equity and improved health literacy. Through his work, he aims to make a tangible difference in the well-being of individuals like his mother-in-law.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bennett is the youngest of two siblings. His parents, married for nearly fifty years, have diverse backgrounds in the United States Air Force, the United States Post Office, and General Motors financing.

“I grew up in a Christian household, learned valuable life lessons, including the importance of self-confidence, hard work, and staying true to oneself,” he said.

Bennett pursued his higher education at Fisk University in Nashville, which provided him with a quality education and instilled a deep understanding of Black American history and the diaspora. The university’s notable alums like W.E.B. Dubois, Nikki Giovanni, and the late US Rep. John Lewis played a crucial role in shaping Bennett’s worldview and preparing him for the corporate and natural world.

While initially an English major with dreams of sports broadcasting, Bennett’s career trajectory took a turn during his spring semester in 2001. A flyer in the cafeteria advertising an annual PR conference by the National Football League caught his attention, leading him to attend the event with the encouragement of a professor.

Networking with public relations directors from various NFL teams, Bennett secured an internship with the San Francisco 49ers’ public relations department during their summer training camp. This transformative experience marked his entry into the public relations profession and set the stage for his current work at FleishmanHillard.

Recognizing the importance of alumni support, especially for HBCUs facing financial disparities compared to predominantly white institutions, Bennett actively contributes to Fisk University. He encourages fellow alums to do the same, acknowledging that alumni donations are a vital lifeline for HBCUs, impacting students, campus facilities, and the overall quality of education.

Since 2017, Bennett has been an active member of PRSSA, engaging with the PRSSA Dallas chapter and serving as a national board member. His focus within PRSSA has centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion, with recent emphasis on ensuring that all PRSSA students, particularly those in HBCU chapters, have the necessary resources and tools for success in entering the job market and the public relations profession.

This commitment is Bennett’s way of giving back, as evidenced by his recent visit to FAMU, where he participated in several Q&A sessions with students. He is also conducting a virtual resume workshop at FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Room 2016.

Joshua Morain, president of the FAMU chapter, said, Mr. Bennett has proven time and time again his devotion to the advancement of HBCU students in the world of public relations since the day I met him. He understands the needs of HBCU students of color and is willing to extend resources and share his expertise to aid our success.”

Bennett is vocal about the need for more diversity in public relations. He cited, “Statistics from the Diversity Action Alliance show that only 10.1% of individuals in PR/communications are Black, with a more pronounced disparity in director-level positions and above, companies need to emphasize the need to create and promote diversity.”

For public relations majors entering the job market, Bennett offered valuable advice: “It is important to clarify career goals, align work with personal values, optimize resumes and LinkedIn profile, prioritize networking, cultivate hard technical and soft skills, and prepare thoroughly for interviews.”

As someone with over 22 years of experience, Bennett recommends agency life for its dynamic nature and diverse challenges. His short-term goal is continuous improvement in core competencies through professional development, with the ultimate objective of becoming the CEO of a global agency.

Bennett’s journey is a testament to the intersection of personal passion and professional commitment. As he continues to advocate for health equity and diversity within the PR industry, Bennett’s impact is felt not only through his leadership role but also through his commitment to mentorship, education, and giving back to his alma mater and the community at large.