S&T Live Recap: JCPenney’s Michelle Sing on Leadership and Finding Your Wings

While ICON 2022 buzzed with the excitement of people happy to be gathered in person again, PRSA’s conference in Grapevine, Texas, also gave PR pros the chance to hear about the latest trends in the communications profession.

“Connecting metrics from communications back to business performance continues to be tough, but we’re making progress,” thanks to the tools and technology now available, said Michelle Sing, head of communications and philanthropy for JCPenney, during the Nov. 14 episode of S&T Live. The livestream interview was broadcast from ICON 2022 — the first roadshow for PRSA’s monthly series on LinkedIn.

“More than ever,” she said, “authentic storytelling is coming through as a theme that communicators need to strengthen” to reach wider audiences.

The rising influence of communications in the business world is another theme that emerged during the conference, Sing told John Elsasser, Editor-in-Chief of PRSA’s award-winning monthly publication Strategies & Tactics and the host of S&T Live.

“The many flashpoints we’ve seen over the last 36 months have given the communications function added importance and credibility,” she said.

Sing, who studied journalism and still has a passion for news and telling stories, has two parallel responsibilities at JCPenney — communications and philanthropy.

“In my mind, the two are integrated,” she said. “I think of what I do under a broad umbrella of communicating what the company stands for and reputation-building. Comms and philanthropy both feed into that. It’s all about living out our values externally and bringing our mission to life.”

A 120-year-old retailer, JCPenney has long had a presence in small communities across America. The company’s philanthropic efforts support charities at local and national levels — and provide stories for the 18 people in Sing’s integrated communications and philanthropy teams to tell.

“The skill set for philanthropy is more around identifying the right partners and deciding what the program would look like,” she said. “And then our comms colleagues help tell that story in a positive way through different channels.”

Becoming a leader

As a manager, Sing has taken pride in working hard and producing quality work. But as you grow in your career to become a leader, “It’s about enabling others and clearing a path for people to do their best work,” she said. “For me, it means relinquishing perfectionism and letting go, ceding control to my team.”

At the same time, she pushes the people she leads toward a higher standard of quality that elevates the entire team, she said. “It’s not always an easy balance to find, but it’s something I try to do.”

To become a trusted adviser to the C-suite, “doing your job well, being accountable and having a pulse on business matters” are all important, she said. “But you also have to get to know the leaders and their values, so you can develop authentic communications strategies.”

In your PR career, “When you see an opportunity for yourself, take it,” Sing said. “You’ll find your wings.”

You can watch the playback here.

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