In addition to managing Fellows, James plays a key role in strategy development and works with staff in program planning, addressing subject content and speaker selection.
Before joining the Council, James was the director of public relations and strategy for the Tennessee Hospital Association. She also provided oversight of THA’s Agenda 21, an internship program for minority students.
James has nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, social marketing and grassroots advocacy. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in women’s studies from Miami University (Oxford, OH).
Ketner Group: You have a long history in public relations and marketing through a variety of industries. Clearly, you love what you do. What is your favorite thing about PR?
Yolanda James: My favorite thing is the problem-solving, finding that solution to your client’s problem. It’s that constant task of making the puzzle pieces fit. The solutions are equally as exciting. Often, I’m asking questions, such as:
Do you want to do press conferences? Will you meet with community organizing and public affairs? What’s your target audience? How can we draft impactful bylines? How can we reach ideal publications and use the right channels to achieve your goal?
KG: What do you think differentiates really great PR professionals?
YJ: The true greats are flexible, especially those on the agency side. In PR, you have to expect the unexpected and embrace it. In many instances throughout my career, I’ve worked with professionals who were able to pivot and deal, revise talking points or take new information and then draft a news release or document accordingly.
Secondly, the truly greats write and edit well. They know when to add a transition and when to delete a bunch of fluffy run-on sentences.
In my new role at the Nashville Health Care Council as the director of Fellows and content strategy, I still use all of these skills every single day (even though I am no longer responsible for PR).
KG: How do you see the PR/marketing industry in Nashville evolving in the next five years?
YJ: Nashville is a growing city and it is growing not just by population, but by industry. Health care accounts for more than 270,000 jobs locally, with Nashville-based companies operating in all 50 states. Facing unprecedented growth, the city will need more PR and marketing professionals who are effective at promoting their companies at a regional and international scale.
KG: You’re incredibly involved in your community. What is one of the biggest challenges Nashville is currently facing and what have you been doing to address it?
YJ: Top of mind is the massive growth that’s happening and making sure that everyone — native Nashvillians, women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ community — continue to experience advancement from it. Nashville has an opportunity to not be like other growing cities that have reached their peak only to come up with excuses for why the rising tide is not lifting all boats. We’ve built healthcare, tourism, music and entertainment dynasties. Surely, we can figure out how all Nashvillians can not only be invited to the table but also given a piece of the pie and a fork to eat and enjoy it.
To help with this, I am a Board member of the Tennessee Diversity Consortium. TDC focuses on creating positive community impact where peers gather to offer support, exchange best practices and become better diversity leaders.
KG: When you’re not in the office, what do you enjoy doing on a personal level?
YJ: I love reading. Besides my Bible, I have 7 books on my nightstand right now: Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”; Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?”; “O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose”; and Jasmine Guillory’s “The Proposal”.
For my business brain, I have “The Memo”, “Multipliers” and “The First 90 Days”. They will all be completed by November 1, possibly before then!
I also love music and dancing, especially to hip-hop and 80s and 90s music – any genre.
New obsessions include hiking and people watching. There are so many cool places in Nashville for both of those.
KG: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?
YJ: I have received a lot of great advice. The best PR nugget I’ve been told is “No matter the typo, no matter how many misplaced commas or semicolons, nobody died.”
The most useful personal advice comes from my dad: “Yolanda, people’s reactions to you are not about you. It’s about them.”
Remembering that keeps me grounded and humble on my most amazing days, and that motivates me to keep smiling and moving forward on my worst days when I really want to crawl home and listen to B.B. King on repeat.