From MSU to meeting Rosa Parks, an Ole Miss alumna shares her PR journey

Ellen Weaver Hartman with Hank Aaron, former MLB baseball player.
Ellen Weaver Hartman and Claudia D’Avanzo, Ellen’s colleague, with Hank Aaron, former MLB baseball player. He was the Home Run King at 755 and was one of the best players on and off the field. Ellen traveled with Hank all over the country promoting Arby’s Church’s and Popeyes. 

Belen Deloera
Oxford Stories

A Starkville native who got her start in Mississippi State University’s Public Information Office is now leading her own PR agency in Atlanta after a lengthy career that has brought her face to face with American icons.

Ellen Weaver Hartman, who graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1973, has worked in communication for more than 40 years for global PR agencies like The Coca-Cola Company, AFC Enterprises, and the government. She is now CEO of her own Atlanta PR agency, Hartman Public Relations.

Founded by Hartman, APR, who earned accreditation in public relations from the Public Relations Society of America and was selected for the College of Fellows, Hartman Public Relations provides strategic counsel and program execution expertise in many industry segments, including food and food service, professional services, manufacturing, media and communications industries.

Services range from marketing communications, media relations and issues management, to crisis communications, media training, and CEO and corporate reputation management.

Weaver Hartman decided to attend the University of Mississippi instead of MSU to get out of her comfort zone and grow in an unfamiliar environment.

“That’s a good lesson that I carried through my whole career is to challenge myself, to do better, be better, and to get out of my comfort zone, and do things that I’m not used to doing,” said Weaver Hartman.

While at UM, Weaver Hartman pursued a double major in broadcasting and journalism, encouraged by her former high school teacher. She still uses these majors today. After graduation, she had two job offers – to work as a reporter at The Jackson Daily News or in public relations at MSU.

PRSA College of Fellows Dinner 2015 with her Mississippi Friends.
PRSA College of Fellows Dinner 2015 with her Mississippi Friends.

While working in Mississippi State’s Public Information Office, her former high school principal called her and asked if she could teach a journalism class during her lunch hour. With her boss’ approval, Weaver Hartman taught the class and took students on field trips to the Starkville Daily News and The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

Like journalism ethics, the Public Relations Society of America also has a similar code of ethics, which she practices daily, including accuracy, honesty, identifying more than one source and proofreading.

She said networking is also an important part of growing your career.

“Building a network of your family, professors, outplacement director and internship director is very important,” Weaver Hartman said. “You need to build your own personal board of directors that you can go to for advice on how to get an internship, how to do your resume, and contacts they might have.”

Due to her network, Weaver Hartman’s church minister suggested applying for the assistant editor position at Presbyterian Survey magazine, the official magazine of the Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta, where she covered civil rights and women’s rights topics. She later worked for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transport Authority as a public relations manager.

MARTA was the gateway to many memorable experiences. She learned about city politics and how to apply it to her role.

Weaver Hartman worked with key board members, such as the late Joseph Lowery, one of the creators and vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization. She worked with the late Ralph David Abernathy, a civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief aide, who marched with him to Washington, D.C. 

She even met Rosa Parks.

“It was an amazing time to be at MARTA,” said Weaver Hartman.

Hartman PR CEO Ellen Weaver Hartman stands with a co-worker who is holding a camera and tripod inside a business.
Hartman PR CEO Ellen Weaver Hartman stands with colleague, Mitch Leff, who is holding a camera and tripod at the Krystal 85th anniversary event.

She later worked two years for Coca-Cola, developing the company’s financial and annual reports. Then, she worked as the head of PR for small agencies and for three global PR Firms, including Manning, Selvage & Lee, FleishmanHillard, and served as president of the Atlanta office of Weber Shandwick for almost nine years.

Weaver Hartman served as a Top 12 officer of AFC Enterprises, the parent company of Church’s Chicken, Popeye’s, Cinnabon Bakery Restaurant, Seattle’s Best Coffee and the franchisor of 4,000 restaurants in 21 countries.

While at AFC, she expanded her communications role to serve as vice president of diversity management and investor relations. She became a leader in the food service industry, serving on industry boards and committees.

John W. L’Abate, senior writer at Delta Community Credit Union in Atlanta, said Weaver Hartman was persistent in managing media relations. Her technique was to build long-term relationships with writers and pitch stories that were relevant to them and her clients.

“She was at a PR agency working for a fast-food client and was trying to get a journalist (whom she knew) interested in some of the company’s philanthropic efforts,” he said. “She had a lot of solid facts and interesting anecdotes that would help make a good story, but it took inviting the journalist to Atlanta to help us build a Habitat for Humanity home that made the story for the publication.”

Weaver Hartman faced a challenge when management laid off top officers at an advertising and PR agency where she was working during the 2008-2011 banking crisis and recession. She was told not to call her clients. Instead, they called her and asked, “Where are we going next? We are staying with you as our PR and crisis counselor.'”

Having three blue chip clients, Coca-Cola, TVS architects and Honeywell become the impetus for starting her own agency, now 10 years old.

“The lesson for anybody is don’t let failure stop you,” Weaver Hartman said. “Make something good of the experience. 

This is Ellen Weaver Hartman. She is CEO of Hartman PR in Atlanta.
Ellen Weaver Hartman. She is CEO of Hartman PR in Atlanta.

“My future goal is to keep providing excellent service to (our) clients and helping the next generation of PR people to succeed,” said Weaver Hartman.

Weaver Hartman said she became successful because of her parents. Her mother was a fabric artist, who fully attended to her daughters while earning a master’s degree. She taught in several school districts. Weaver Hartman’s father owned three local businesses. Today, she is a role model for her children and grandchildren.

Her daughter, Anna Hartman, said it was impressive to see her balance her life and career when she was on the leadership team at Weber Shandwick.

“She’s amazing under pressure,” Anna Hartman said. “Even cooler though was watching her pivot from an executive position at a global PR Agency to starting her own PR firm from scratch. In the face of a changing industry, she was not afraid to start over.” 

For current students interested in PR or journalism, Weaver Hartman said good oral and verbal communication skills are important. So is being a good storyteller, interviewer, listener, and gaining access to good sources.

“These are the skills that you need to take with you since you will always use these skills,” Weaver Hartman said.

Anna Hartman said her mother taught her not to be afraid to ask, and to develop a sense of humor.

“If you ask with humility and professionalism, there’s a good chance you’ll get what you want, or at the very least, you’ll get close,” Anna Hartman said. “The worst that could happen is someone says ‘no,’ so honestly, what do you have to lose?”

“As for humor, first, it is disarming to most everyone, so it automatically makes it easier to have tough conversations. Second, humor is memorable, so it helps others remember your name or your pitch more easily. Third, and most importantly, humor makes you more resilient when you make a mistake or encounter a challenge.” 

“If you can laugh off your mistake, you are less likely to beat yourself up for longer than you need to. Being able to find joy, even in rough patches, makes you much more likely to overcome whatever life throws at you.” 

Weaver Hartman said obtaining internships and learning multimedia skills are also important for PR. 

Ellen Weaver Hartman is pictured with President Jimmy Carter, who signed the photograph "Best Wishes."
Ellen Weaver Hartman is pictured with President Jimmy Carter, who signed the photograph “Best Wishes.” Ellen have served on The Carter Center’s Board of Councilors and The Rosalynn Carter Caregiver Institute for almost 20 years.

“Today, a reporter has to do everything,” Weaver Hartman said. “They have to come up with the idea for the story, come up with the questions that tell the story and get the best answers, write the stories, photograph the story, and shoot video of the story, and publish everything.”

She encourages everyone to make continuous learning your core principle.

“Be a constant learner,” she said. “Just because you graduate from college doesn’t mean you stop learning. You need to continuously keep learning. Become an expert.”

Weaver Hartman also shared life advice.

“Be kind,” she said. “There is no reason for anyone to treat another human being rudely anywhere. There is no reason to not treat people with courtesy and respect, even if they do not treat you that way.”

Anna Hartman, who now works in corporate philanthropy for Habitat for Humanity, witnessed Weaver Hartman’s kindness in action.

“She brings people flowers when they are sick,” she said. “She mentors young professionals. She organizes hygiene kits for the homeless.”

“My job is to build relationships with prospective donors and steward relationships with existing ones. I like to think that I inspire philanthropic service for a living — which I absolutely learned from Ellen Hartman.” 

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