2011 #MasonCOMM Alum: Roxanne Sutton

George Mason University All-Star Alumni

by Alexa Tironi

2011 #MasonCOMM Alum:  Roxanne Sutton

George Mason University alum, Roxanne Sutton, is many things: a communication expert, a marketing specialist, a mother, a wife— but above all, for a current Mason student, she is an inspiration.

Sutton serves as the director of communication for the National Recreation and Park Association. Starting as a marketing and communications specialist, Sutton has climbed the corporate ladder. As director of communication Sutton works on social media strategy, email marketing, media relations, all things writing, and hosts a weekly podcast.

And she loves every bit of it.

Roxanne Sutton

A fan of The West Wing, Sutton discovered a passion for communication after watching Allison Janney’s portrayal of a White House press secretary. She jokes, “And now I look back and just shudder thinking about that job. But I love, I think that’s really what inspired me…I just thought that looks like such a cool job.”

After earning her undergraduate degree in public relations with high honors and recognition in 2011, Sutton’s internship at PR firm Hill & Knowlton turned into a full-time position. Looking back, Sutton advises current students to treat their first job as an extension of their education, try everything.

“Learn everything you possibly can from how the fax machine works to, you know, how billing works, do all the extra things… do all the lunch and learns.”

Sutton explains the importance of asking for help, “One of the first things I was asked to do as an intern was to put together a media list, which is very common at a PR firm and in public relations. But I just had like, no idea how to do it.”

After taking far too long to complete the assignment, Sutton reached out to a colleague who was more than happy to help. She continued, “And now she’s still one of my really great friends.” 

Projects of Pride

In January of 2017, Sutton’s boss approached her with the task of creating a weekly podcast.

“I remember I edited my first podcast. It took me eight hours and I did a lot of it in the backseat of a car… I was pregnant at the time with my second kid and I was just thinking like, what have I gotten myself into?”

Sutton, however, took the project in stride and has produced more than 100 episodes. She is now joined by her colleague Cort Jones. It is the podcast’s initial difficulties that stand out in Sutton’s resume. She states, “it’s also one of those things that when we are able to take on a project like that, it just, it adds to your overall, package.”

In the past, Sutton worked with Disney on a campaign called “Meet Me at the Park Play Spaces” that focused on making outdoor play accessible to children and families. This campaign and the NRPA reached more than one million children and families, connecting them to nature and inspiring a healthy lifestyle.

July is Park and Recreation Month, and this past year the NRP highlighted actual parks and rec workers. “It was like a superhero theme and that was really fun…in light of COVID and a pandemic, it was just kind of amazing how those things came together and became even more important,” stated Sutton.

This particular campaign was joined by NBC and the Peacock App and members of the sitcom Parks and Rec. The community hero spotlight videos were hosted by none other than Jim O’ Heir, who plays the character Jerry Gergich in the mockumentary style comedy series.

Mason’s Impact

During her two years at Mason, Sutton attended a study abroad program in London. She served as a student representative to the Communication Committee. She remembers professors Mike Dickerson, a beloved Mason professor who recently passed away, and Susanne Lowery Mims as those who were the most influential.

Professor Mims reflected on what it was like to work with Sutton, as a student and a colleague saying, “There's nothing quite as rewarding as when the student becomes the teacher," said Professor Mims of Sutton, who returned to campus to speak to Mims' PR and social media class. "Roxanne is living, breathing proof that college courses -- plus a keen work ethic -- do indeed prepare you for not just a career, but a career that you love."

The network provided by GMU’s communication department connected Sutton with future employers and acted as a springboard for her PR career.

Sutton cites Mason’s impact in her career on tactical skills. She elaborated saying, “people take tactical and they’re like, Oh, well, yeah, you know, anyone can learn how to write a press release or put together a campaign…But like those skills, those really tangible skills ended up being really important.”

Mason’s diversity prepared Sutton for the conference room. Learning to work with others— addressing those who may not be pulling their weight, discussing different opinions and overall teamwork are all Mason attributes that fit perfectly in her career toolbelt.

Further Advice from the Field

 Getting into the good stuff, speaking from her experience climbing the corporate ladder, Sutton offered advice on how to advocate for promotions, raises and a fair salary. Sutton suggests people consider their current position, level of education and any place they’re going above and beyond in the field when researching their deserved salary. Ask, “what do people like me typically make?”

When aiming for a promotion, look into the qualifications and expectations of the position above yours. Then, start taking on some of those responsibilities. This makes negotiating a pay increase more effective.

She explained, “Sometimes even taking other job…if you can try to find another job and if you get an offer that’s higher and sort of use that as leverage to saying, ‘Hey, they’re willing to pay me X, Y, and Z, to do this.’”

If you make that leverage, however, Sutton warns that people need to be ready to actually walk away from their job, in case it comes to that.

In summation, Sutton urges young people to identify workplace balance. She states, “as a communications person… it can be very easy to keep your email on your…making sure that the social media posts that you did doesn’t have negative comments.”

Even if checking those comments is in the job description, it’s important to set parameters. Keep work-life balance in mind when looking for an employer.

Sutton explained, “And what are the perks beyond healthcare? You know, is there an investment in me as a person? Are they going to invest in things like diversity equity and inclusion training?”

She continued, “I guess my point is that you want to kind of know that they’re invested in your whole person… And I think that’s, that’s really important. I think some of the best bosses you could ask to get are the ones who want to see you succeed beyond your career at just that one location.”

PRNewsPRNews recently named Mason’s communication department as one of the best U.S. programs for advancing the careers of PR professionals based on elements such as the variety of learning options and how Mason prepares students at all levels (BA, MA, and PhD) for career success. Majors, minors, and graduate students in the Department of Communication all have an opportunity to learn about communication theory and research, as well as the fundamentals of effective communication in each of these areas of communication.