Breaking Through the Rainbow: Meet Alumnus James La Russo

Born in New York, alumnus James Jack La Russo graduated from JCU in 2009 with a Major in International Affairs and a Minor in History. He’s currently working as Senior PR & Communications Executive in New York at Denihan Hospitality, a private hotel management and development company of upscale, luxury, boutique, and lifestyle hotels in North America. He recently won an award for the PR Campaign “Breaking Through the Rainbow, Love & Lipliner” for James Hotels, NYC, which resulted in more than 100 million media impressions.

James La Russo

James La Russo

Tell us a little about your time at JCU.
My time at JCU was truly magical. The years flew by quickly, but I formed incredible personal and professional relationships that still stand strong today. The most fascinating aspect of my time at JCU was being exposed to such a diverse community. I was attending class with students whose parents were ambassadors in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The international and global perspectives of my peers made every class interesting and the interactions with both professors and other students really fostered understanding and self-awareness within a diverse campus community.

Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
I moved back to New York City in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis. I was very fortunate to find a job in magazine publishing, thanks to JCU alumna Raquel Nayberg Slavin, who was working at InStyle Magazine and introduced me to the job. Working at InStyle magazine, I learned the ins and outs of magazine publishing and digital content strategy. I stayed in the publishing industry by also working at Saveur Magazine and National Geographic.

I was later employed by Time Inc (InStyle’s parent company at the time) to work across their larger portfolio including Travel + Leisure, Departures, and Food & Wine. But with the changing economy and advertisers not interested in buying print ad pages, the magazine industry was faltering. Consumers still loved media and reading content, but it was, and is today, absorbed differently, so I knew it was time for a career move. I then landed a dream job focusing on PR and Communications at Denihan Hospitality.

Congratulations on your award-winning PR Campaign Breaking Through the Rainbow, Love & Lipliner for James Hotels, NYC. Can you tell us more about it? What was your inspiration?
I became a board member of NYC & Co. (The New York City official Tourism Board) Hotel PR Committee in March of 2018. As a committee member, I was involved in preparing for the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and NYC was awarded host city status for World Pride. Given the cultural significance of the Stonewall anniversary, I wanted to do something educational and fun to commemorate the LGBTQIA+ community in NYC. I made the hotel an official sponsor of World Pride, as well as the exclusive hotel partner with the Stonewall Community Foundation to raise money for their cause. The Stonewall Community Foundation helped curate a special photography exhibit in the hotel for the month of June called ICONS, which showcased icons of the LGBT community with historical significance.

We also created an event called Love & Lipliner, an evening of “drag” education with makeovers. Guests from any gender background could buy tickets for a drag makeover from top queens like Brita Filter and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Nine contestant, Alexis Michelle, among others. The money raised in ticket sales went back to the Stonewall Community Foundation. My favorite part of the night was seeing press and journalists (some of whom were straight males) getting drag makeovers from our queens. Successfully, the Love & Lipliner PR campaign resulted in 133 million+ media impressions, $2.7 million ad equivalency, 20 stories secured, and a staggering 8.5 million+ social media impressions.

How did your previous experience in publishing help you in the PR industry?
My background in publishing, and the relationships I formed, has helped me tremendously in the PR industry. I am working with HSMAI, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, on their new 2020 field guide for digital marketing (5th edition), re-writing their PR chapter. The key to effective public relations, in crafting a narrative or simply having a conversation, is relationship building. Creating and maintaining relationships with the press or members of the media is as important as building relationships with current or potential customers. Thankfully I formed great friendships with editors at all the magazines that I worked at previously.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career change?
I would suggest finding a mentor in the new field you are trying to break into. Sometimes people are hesitant to hire someone from a different field, but a mentor can help identify the skillset you have that can apply to your career change. Being able to show your strengths and your abilities is always key! And sometimes you need an outside perspective to understand your true value.