Sherry Crawley thinks of herself as a translator: taking naturally complex and difficult topics like climate change or housing equity and making them relatable and relevant to a target audience.
“I really see a lot of the work I do and what other PR professionals do in that general way,” she explains.
Understanding her audience and targeting her messaging is something she’s been doing pretty much her whole life.
Today, she has owned and operated Sherry V. Crawley (SVC) Strategic Communications for nearly five years and helps clients with everything from storytelling training and message development to speechwriting.
High school to higher ed: How Sherry (eventually) landed in PR
After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1998, Sherry spent three years in the classroom as a high school language arts and journalism teacher — she considers this role to be one of her most challenging but rewarding jobs.
From there, she transitioned from high school to higher education, doing communications for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded grant project at Georgia Tech.
Combining her experience in education and interest in environmental issues, she took on a role at Zoo Atlanta to improve partnerships and communications so that more students could learn about conservation. Learning about species loss, climate change and other issues led her to global conservation organization The Nature Conservancy. She worked with TNC for a decade, managing all marketing and communications for Georgia as well as other states and leading education, volunteer and conservation initiatives.
After honing her skills and refining her interests at TNC, and learning how strategic communications can help organizations achieve their missions, Sherry was in the market for new challenges and opportunities.
She decided to open up her own consultancy business where she could simultaneously use the network, knowledge and skills she built over time while satisfying her curiosity and desire to make an impact.
A lesson about timing
Instead of following her initial path into journalism post graduation, she opted to become a teacher, recalling, “it was an amazing job, and still the hardest job I’ve ever had. Being 22 years old staring down a room full of 16-year-olds is hard.”
It offered Sherry a unique opportunity to take what she learned about journalism and teach students that they really do have the power to share their stories.
She took that goal with her to the zoo where, despite their fantastic suite of education programs available, she felt they were still missing some obvious opportunities to connect with teachers and students as well as make a bigger fiscal impact for the zoo itself.
Almost immediately after arriving, she helped them to revise their direct mail campaign targeted at teachers. Despite the mailed brochure being beautiful and containing a coupon incentive, redemption rates on the offer were lower than anticipated.
When Sherry discovered they were mailing the brochures during the summer, anticipating having them at the top of every educator’s mailbox on the first day of school, she realized what the problem was.
“Most teachers arrive on the first day of pre-planning after a much deserved break, go into the workroom and immediately everything in their inbox that doesn't look super important just gets thrown away,” Sherry explains. “Most of their beautiful brochures ended up in the trash.”
At the end of the day, no matter what industry you’re in, timing matters.
“When I took over marketing for the education programs, we mailed it a few weeks into school when teachers were settled,” she says. “They knew their kids’ names and if they were willing to take them on a field trip or not. We saw education revenue increase substantially under my leadership and I'm proud of that. Those experiences as a teacher definitely influenced my ability to be a thoughtful communications professional.”
The transition to solo PR pro
While working for TNC, Sherry brought what was then a pilot education program down to Atlanta, eventually managing the statewide office’s volunteer program and initiating an Atlanta urban conservation program within that organization.
While a hugely rewarding role, it required a wide variety of knowledge and skill, putting Sherry in charge of everything from digital communications to social media to internal communications and media relations.
To help cultivate meaningful relationships with key reporters TNC worked with regularly, Sherry brought in fellow Solo PR Pro member Anne Isenhower, a veteran of the media relations industry with 25+ years experience in national and global communications.
Together, they worked in close partnership to identify and pitch newsworthy stories sharing the Conservancy's outstanding work with a broader audience.
After a few years as what she calls a “generalist” in her role there, Sherry reached a point in her career where she was “tired of doing all the things.”
“There were things I was doing at the Conservancy that I was good at, but that I didn't really enjoy anymore,” she says. “And vice versa there were things I had to do that maybe I thought were really fascinating but I wasn't very good at.”
As she considered what was next, she looked around at other jobs out there, even interviewing for a few positions, but couldn’t find anything that felt right.
During that period of confusion and discovery, her friend Anne was very encouraging, helping to show her the non-traditional career paths available to her.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person who would say Anne was my ‘strike-it-out-on-my-own’ mentor,” Sherry jokes.
Beyond helping Sherry to find her footing as a solo, Anne also guided her through the early feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence that sometimes come along with starting a brand new venture.
“The great thing about the support I received from Anne and others is that it helped me to see you can have a path that pushes you towards doing more of what you love and spending more time on the things you’re good at,” Sherry says. “I’ve said that to a lot of younger professionals over the years. That’s the sweet spot, right? That’s what we’re all looking for.”
A desire to make an impact
From a young age, social impact has been important to Sherry. And now, being a consultant allows Sherry to continue that same type of work for organizations close to her heart who are “doing such incredibly important work to make the world healthier and more resilient.”
Putting her communications expertise to the test, she focuses a great deal on strategy and helping organizations figure out how to use the capacity and resources they have available to achieve the most good.
“And getting to work with a wider variety of organizations allows me to connect things like conservation to other global issues like affordable housing, equitable parks and green spaces and just access to health resources,” she says. “So many of these issues really are connected.”
Sherry attributes some of her success to the meaningful relationships she’s been able to build over the years, both with fellow communications pros like Anne Isenhower and the organizations she’s been fortunate enough to work for.
With nearly five years as a solo under her belt, Sherry is paying forward all the great help and advice she received in her early years.
“Something I often tell folks who come to me and are considering this path is to get to know some other people who do this full time and I bet they’ll have some work they can throw your way,” she says. “The Solo PR Pro group is a great place to be in terms of extending your own capacity and building your network.”