From the Oaks

Write Your Legacy: Rebecca Roussell ’06 brings her skills back home

Rebecca Roussell ’06

By Eddie Francis,
March 29, 2023

In February, Dillard began a partnership with Current Global, a global marketing company. Junior and senior public relations students have been engaged in a “master class experience” that is designed to expose them to professional communications work with members of the Chicago-based Current Global team. One Dillard alumna who has been involved in the project is Rebecca Roussell.

With more than 15 years of experience in marketing communications, Roussell has built an impressive resume. She is the senior vice president of DEI communications at Current Global. The 2006 graduate of DU has also done work with Nielsen as the senior director of its Diverse Intelligence Series, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services as the deputy director of diversity, equity and inclusion and the Business Enterprise Program, and the Spears Group as the director of special events. Throughout her career, the New Orleans native has worked with such clients as FedEx and Kingsford and produced branded activations at major festivals including the Essence Festival of Culture. She has been recognized by the Diversity Action Alliance as a Distinguished Communicator of Color, as one of Diversity MBA Magazine’s Top 100 Under 50 Emerging Leaders and as one of WVON-AM’s (Chicago) 2023 40 Game Changers Under 40. Roussell was also named to The Chicago Defender’s ‘Women of Excellence’ coveted list as well as the Dillard 40 Under 40 list. 

his interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Eddie Francis (EF):  What were students’ initial reactions to the project?

Rebecca Roussell (RR): I would say excited. I like the fact that it’s a small class (seven students). It’s very intimate. We really started to talk about some of the clients that (Current Global) worked for, and they were able to see themselves in a space where they would be able to participate and support. They’re actually working with a small Black-owned business based in Chicago–Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding. So, having something real and tangible to actually be able to work on, I think, really is exciting to them.

EF:  Is this a path that you saw yourself taking when you were at Dillard?

RR:  So, the path that I saw myself taking at Dillard was a journalism path. I worked at WDUB, and I was an editor and reporter for the Courtbouillon. So, I was really, really more focused on journalism. That really helped me, and propelled me to where I am currently in public relations. Dr. (Jinx) Broussard was one of my professors who stopped me in my tracks (freshman year), and really wanted to make sure I knew the importance of writing. That changed my trajectory; because I just wanted to be on TV. But I’m so glad that I did get the fundamentals of that, and wrote for the newspaper and also the internships that I had gotten in journalism. Because of that perseverance, the commitment to wanting to be great, wanting to be noticed and really wanting to put Dillard on the map, that’s what really helped me get to where I am today.

EF:  I was tickled to find out that you worked on (Kingsford’s “Preserve the Pit” campaign)! I was in the store, and I picked up a bag of charcoal because I recognized BMike’s (Brandan Odums’) art on one of the bags. Talk about that campaign.

RR:  Kingsford is one of our clients; and, going on year three, has had a commitment to the Black barbecue community. As we know it, Black pitmasters are really the foundation and the contributors of what we know today as American barbecue. And so, we helped Kingsford elevate that story.. I didn’t work on that campaign the first year, but for the second year, designing the bags was a particular creative element that we thought would absolutely be great. We really wanted to look for artists who not only were just visual artists, but embodied being a storyteller and really preserving African-American history and culture. And so, I immediately thought about BMike. When he was selected, I was overjoyed, because it was definitely the connection to NOLA that made me beam with pride. I felt like putting my city on the map and really highlighting the talent here is always important for me in my career. And it is always surreal when I get to create with the home team!

New Orleans-based visual artist, Brandan “BMike” Odums, looks at a mural he painted in Memphis, Tennessee for Kingsford’s “Preserve the Pit” campaign.

EF:  Having been in PR, I think PR professionals play a pretty significant leadership role in organizations or with clients. How do you see PR professionals’ roles?

RR:  I think it’s important, because we understand reputation. We understand how to protect reputation, we understand how to market institutions or market products. It’s an innate skill set on how to put your best foot forward. We understand how to be level-headed in the moment of crisis or how to counsel or guide (crisis) in the appropriate way. And we understand that most of the time, you’ve got to take your personal feelings out of this in order to be very effective. We’re like toolboxes, if you will, that can really help companies, people and brands protect their image. We also help them creatively create awareness about their brands. And build excitement around what they have to offer.  

EF:  Dillard’s partnership with Current Global addresses DEI in the PR industry. What does that mean to you?

RR:  There’s still a lack of diversity in this industry. If you look at PR, You could probably argue that it’s more women, but it’s still very much a white male-dominated field. You’re starting to see that change; it’s just a slow change. I know that there is definitely a lack of access and also a lack of being intentional and flexible about recruiting. (The PR industry) has got to change our equation, and we have to change how we approach it. When I took this job (at Current Global), I knew that I was probably going to be the only person that looks like me in these rooms, and that has been the case. But I think I have the fortitude to continue to do this, because I have a passion for it and immense support from my agency and industry peers.And I just know that it is up to me to really be able to share my experiences and these opportunities with students that look like me in schools that I attended, so that they can have the same opportunities in the future. So many people helped me and it is my duty to make sure those efforts don’t live in vain. So that’s why this Master Class is so important. It’s an innovative, unique way for Dillard students to see the possibilities beyond the Oaks.

Learn more about Rebecca Roussell by visiting her LinkedIn profile.