Meet Kelly Swanson: Founder and President of Swanson Communications

Photo Credits: Kelly Swanson

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kelly Swanson, founder and president of Swanson Communications, a public relations and marketing firm. Through owning her own business for the last 25 years and working in the sports and public relations world, Ms. Swanson has witnessed the evolution of this industry first hand. During our conversation, we discussed the course of her career and she provided helpful advice to individuals looking to break into the industry. She noted the importance of garnering the trust of her clients, which include the likes of boxing great Floyd Mayweather and NFL and former Buffalo Bills defensive linemen Marcell Dareus. Ms. Swanson’s success is no doubt attributable to her consistent hard work and dedication to her craft. Her story provides inspiration to future generations of women aspiring to have a career in the field of public relations and the sports industry.

We began our conversation by talking about the development of Ms. Swanson’s career. She grew up a sports enthusiast in North Buffalo, New York. She moved to New York City after college with the dream of working at a big operation, such as ABC Wide World of Sports, the biggest sports program at the time. She soon found then there were not many opportunities for women in that arena and quickly realized her love of sports would not be enough to land her a job. She understood the necessity of developing a skill, something that would be beneficial to these companies where she was hoping to work. That is when she turned to public relations and pursued her career next steps.

Swanson began working at a small agency, all the while learning her skills with much on the job training. Writing, listening and selling were essential to succeed in the industry. And that she did. She worked at that agency for nine years before making the risky, but rewarding, decision to go out on her own and established Swanson Communications. She noted the inherent ups and downs with owning your own business, but she also relished the freedom to work with certain clients, an opportunity that may not have been available without starting her own business.

The typical day for Ms. Swanson varies. As a business owner, she stressed that there is no time to slack off. She needs to work even harder, to sell her business and expertise to her potential clients, because the success of her business is always on the line. Aside from the constant responsibility of running her business, Ms. Swanson notes that the industry specific work ebbs and flows depending on the time of year. Her business does a lot of project work for the clients, so her schedule varies depending on the needs of each specific project and her clients. At the end of the day, she said it was simple—show up and do the work.

Initially, when Ms. Swanson was discussing the evolution of her career, she noted that in the beginning of it, there were not many opportunities for women in this industry. Building off of her comment, I asked her if she found that being a woman in the sports world has been a challenge. She found that it has, and, as a woman in the business, there is a higher degree of uncertainty. However, she has never let this reality become an excuse. Swanson shared that she grew up with three brothers and one sister. She was always competing with her brothers and her parents never treated her any differently from them. She has brought this experience from her childhood into her professional career. She noted she just “worked as hard as [she] could to overcome the inconsistencies, including financial security, between what a man might be offered and what a woman might be offered.” Her hard work and perseverance have paid off as demonstrated by the success of her business over the last 25 years.  

I then asked Ms. Swanson whether she has seen any improvement for women in the sports industry throughout the span of her career. She found there has been improvement over the years, specifically that there is more opportunity for women in sports now. She attributes this to the realization that women are very capable and have certain skills that complement the marketing and public relations industry. “I would recommend this career to any young woman.”

I then asked Ms. Swanson if she had any advice for individuals hoping to pursue a career in the sports industry. She stressed that a love for sports is not enough to break into this industry. Developing a skill set that complements the industry is important and being able to earn and maintain the trust of clients is crucial in the public relations and communications. She develops very close relationships with her clients, but she stresses the importance of knowing where to draw the line and not get caught up in the fame or excitement of working with a professional athlete or celebrity. Her clients count on her to provide candid advice in sometimes tough situations; she needs her clients to know they can trust her. Understanding how to maintain this relationship with clients is a skill Swanson said takes a long time to develop, but it is crucial to her work.

To end our discussion, I asked Ms. Swanson to share a couple of the major highlights from her career so far. She reminisced on the Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor fight, an event the whole world was talking about and one for which her company was in charge of all the publicity. Not only this event, but Swanson reminisced on her time working with Floyd Mayweather for the last 15 years, a relationship which has helped to expand her business and travel. One last highlight she mentioned was her company’s continued success over the last 25 years.

I am incredibly thankful to Ms. Swanson for taking the time to speak with me. Her career provides an inspirational example of a female paving the way in a male dominated industry, taking risks, and reaping great rewards for these risks.

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