Sharon Barlow Wright ’89
Sharon L. Barlow Wright, originally from Pittsburgh, PA, knew after one visit that West Virginia Wesleyan College would be her higher education home. At the time she visited campus, Wesleyan did not offer a public relations degree. However, that did not stop Wright, who would pioneer the first public relations program at Wesleyan.
“From the moment I first stepped foot on campus, I instantly knew it was the perfect school for me,” Wright said. “West Virginia Wesleyan checked all the boxes. As a young woman entering the school, it was important to attend a strong liberal arts college so that I would have a wide range of course offerings to better round out my degree. ”
Wright was assigned a guidance counselor shortly after arriving at Wesleyan, finding a friend in Bob Skinner ’75, now vice president for advancement. When Wright discovered the lack of a public relations program at Wesleyan, Skinner suggested she contract her major in order to take the courses needed. First, however, she had to present her research findings to the curriculum board for approval.
“I researched what the top universities offered their students in a public relations curriculum,” she said. “I created a spreadsheet and presented my plan for how this could work to the WVWC curriculum board. I will never forget that day. I was determined to stay at the college, and I knew my pitch to the committee would be compelling.”
Wright’s proposal was unanimously approved, and she became the first public relations undergraduate at Wesleyan. She knew, however, that her path would not be easy. She would have to pave the way for future public relations majors, leading by example. Focused on the future, Wright dove into her academic path quickly and fiercely.
“Internships are not hard to secure; you just have to find a way to set yourself apart from sometimes hundreds of others,” she shared. “To stand out from the rest of the graduates whom I knew I would be competing with from around the country, I focused on adding rich internships to my résumé.”
Six internships, to be exact. Among the list was a small advertising/public relations firm in Buckhannon, the Wesleyan Office of Admissions, a London-based public relations firm during a study abroad in her junior year, and the number one public relations firm in the world at the time, Hill & Knowlton.
“Following my very successful summer internship at Hill & Knowlton in their Newport Beach, CA office working on the account of a major car manufacturer, I was offered the opportunity to work in any office in their worldwide network,” Wright said. “I chose their Atlanta office.”
During her time at Hill & Knowlton, she worked promoting the firm’s involvement in the K-12 technology market for a large well-known computer company, heavily focusing on media relations to generate positive publicity for the brand. She was also a key part of the team that assisted in bringing the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta. After two years stateside, Wright decided a change of scenery was needed.
“I transferred to the firm’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Honolulu to spend another several years representing clients in the Pacific Rim,” she recounted. “Following this chapter of my career, I knew it was time to switch hats and become the client, to move to the corporate side of public relations.”
Wright then moved on to a position with Hyatt, a position she calls her “dream job.”
“As their Corporate Public Relations Manager, I traveled extensively opening properties and taking journalists from top tier media outlets in America to visit our hotels around the world,” said Wright. “I worked closely with media who wrote the stories about our brand to ensure their experiences were stellar. I also worked with our regional field offices to help train the public relations teams at the hotels, manage the brand standards for Hyatt, and ultimately increase the market share for the brand.”
After an exciting career at Hyatt, Wright took on several additional roles, including one with Fleishman-Hillard, the second largest public relations firm in the world. She also worked with a large Energy Group and AARP in Washington, D.C. before deciding it was time to settle down, get married, and raise a family.
“It was also time to be my own boss,” she said. “I opened my first public relations consultancy in 2003, and now own Loudoun Clear Marketing, LLC, a full service public relations and marketing firm in Northern Virginia. It feels so incredibly rewarding to be involved with several non-profits and to give of my marketing talents in everything I do. I am proud that I am able to bring my national and international public relations experience I have gleaned over the years to my clients in the region and across the country.”
However, even after graduating more than 25 years ago, Wright still says her time at Wesleyan was “second to none.”
“I took a situation that could have resulted in me transferring away to another institution to pursue my dream and instead turned it into an incredible experience for myself and all the other public relations students who followed,” she stated. “This is the value of a school such as Wesleyan. You can be anything you want to be – you just have to want it bad enough and put in the effort to make it a reality.”
Wright’s efforts in pioneering the public relations program at Wesleyan have resulted in the College graduating more than 200 students since its inception.
So what is her advice to current Wesleyan students who are working toward graduation?
“…have the courage, initiative, and confidence to stand apart,” she said. “If you do not, someone else will. Do not wait until your senior year to get started. Sit down and write your résumé now and imagine an employer at your dream job reading it. What will your résumé say?”