Rita Brogan • Written October 2013
Rita Brogan is chief executive officer of PRR, Inc. – one of the Northwest’s leading public affairs and communications consulting firms. Rita leads PRR to provide strategic communications and marketing solutions with focus on environmental, community, and human health. Since taking over the leadership reins in 1989, Brogan has led PRR with unwavering commitment to combine the firm’s individual passions and perspectives to serve a greater good. Rita and her team of 52 operate with commitment to social responsibility while positively benefiting the environment, remaining visionary in partnerships between public and private enterprises, and offering people a better quality of life.
As one of the largest independent public relations firms in the region, the 27th largest woman-owned business in Washington state, and the 81st largest public relations company in the U.S., Rita and her team have set an industry standard for social marketing, public involvement, and collaborative planning. Clients have included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Transportation, Group Health, Skanska USA, Greenroads Foundation, Nikkei Concerns, Seattle University, Aegis Living, and Uwajimaya, among others.
Rita’s commitment to community has translated from her professional endeavors to her personal life in her forty-year history of public service. She currently serves on the boards of the Downtown Seattle Association, Crosscut, the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation Development Authority and the Associates in Cultural Exchange International Advisory Council. At the University of Washington, Rita earned a Master’s degree in communications theory and methodology and a Bachelor’s degree in editorial journalism.
Her recognitions include:
Port of Seattle, Small Business Champion, 2013·Distinguished Alumna, UW Department of Communications 2012, King County Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year, 2011 · Women of Color Empowered, 2010 · UW Foster School of Business API Business Leadership Award, 2008 · UW Communications Hall of Fame, 2006 · Finalist, Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year, 2006 · Asian American Entrepreneur of the Year, Legacy Award, 2006 · MarCom Creative Award, 2004 · Telly Award, Bronze, Government Relations, Non-Broadcast category,2004 · PSRC Vision 2020 Award, 2002 · National Environmental Professionals' Presidents Award for Excellence 2002 · Award of Excellence, Video Category 2001, Puget Sound PRSA · Totem Award, Best Public Relations Campaign, 2001, 2000 · Summit Creative Award, Bronze, 2001 · Who's Who in America, 1993 · Who’s Who of Emerging Leaders, 1991, 1992 · Who’s Who of American Women · 1989, 1990, 1993 · Who’s Who of Women Executives, 1989 · Leadership Tomorrow, Class of 1986 · Outstanding Young Women of America
When I purchased PRR in 1989, my vision was simple: Do good. Have fun. Make money. Unlike traditional single service communication firms I wanted to deploy a more integrated communications approach. I wanted to harness the tools of public policy, community outreach, advertising, public relations and social science to serve the greater good.
My personal history was a key force driving this mission. As a woman of color I have had to address many prejudices and preconceptions during my life. I was born in Japan in the early 1950’s, the child of a US serviceman and a Japanese war bride. Jim Crow was alive and well in the American south, and when we moved there from Japan my mother was baffled as to whether she was supposed to go to the white or “colored” restrooms. Their marriage was not considered legitimate in several states.
As a bi-racial child who moved to another coast or another country every couple of years, I got many mixed messages. To most Americans, I was considered “different.” Some people took it upon themselves to inform me that I was adopted, or that my mother was a woman of ill repute. Others wondered why I might be offended when they “complimented” me on my English language skills (Imagine, no accent!). And, of course, there were lots of assumptions about what I might or might not be capable of, as a woman of color.
All the while, the civil rights movement was growing in America and worldwide, and I felt a compelling draw and a sense of responsibility to help advance the universal call for social justice.
My experiences and observations stirred a sense of responsibility and passion in me to help empower others to make those changes that would improve their lives, their community and their planet. It became my life’s work.
I got my start in social activism in the 1960’s and 1970’s fighting for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam and locally for issues such as the future of the Chinatown/International District. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Washington School Of Communications in Journalism at the ripe age of 20, and started graduate school in September, 1971. While at the University I was active in the ethnic studies movement and helped in the beginnings of the International Examiner with co-editor Mayumi Tsutakawa.
While in graduate school, I was appointed by Governor Dan Evans to the Washington State Women’s Council, and became chair of the Council after my first year. While there, we fought hard for the Equal Rights Amendment and conducted the first Comparable Worth Study in the United States, definitively documenting the fact that women are not getting equal pay for equal worth. I also worked to call attention to the occupational safety issues confronting Asian garment workers, cultural bias in professional licensing and abuse of wives of US servicemen through an organization that I co-founded with Dolores Sibonga, called the Asian-Pacific Women’s Caucus.
I imagine that it was because of this work that President Jimmy Carter appointed me in 1976 to the National Commission for the Observance of International Women’s Year, where I was privileged to work with women like Gloria Steinem, Coretta Scott King, LaDonna Harris, Maya Angelou, Jean Stapleton, Liz Carpenter and Ellie Smeal to shape the first National Agenda for women. For me it was like a boot camp in leadership for social justice and democracy.
Later, I was able to apply many of lessons I learned while on the Commission as staff to elected officials and as an agency director. I was incredibly privileged to serve as Legislative Assistant to Michael Hildt, when he was first elected to the Seattle City Council; to Dolores Sibonga when she was appointed to the City Council, and for a short period to Norm Rice, before Greg Nickels joined his office. I served as Randy Revelle’s Chief Land Use Advisor when he was County Executive, where he entrusted me with chairing the Taskforce on Farmlands Preservation (which brought King County’s farmlands and open space program back to life after it had been struck down by the courts) and the Taskforce on Growth Management (which developed the policy framework for King County’s first Comprehensive Plan in 1985, and on which Washington’s Growth Management Act was largely based). Later, as Superintendent of Public Transportation Development at Seattle Metro, I led a major reorganization of the agency to better respond to market demand and the need for integrated transportation services.
During this 20 year hiatus from the field of communications, I became increasingly troubled by the growing disconnect in our civic environment between the public and decision-makers, which was fueled by a quickly changing environment where news and current events have become more a matter of entertainment rather than information and empowerment.
And that is why PRR was created-- with the objective of providing citizens with information and tools that help them create a future of their choice, and providing decision-makers with information and tools to make better, more informed, and responsive decisions.
Over the last twenty-five years, every PRR engagement has focused in some way on community-building, human health or the environment. You’ve seen PRR’s mark over the years everywhere in the Northwest—advocating for air quality, waste reduction, disease prevention, transit, or community involvement.
PRR is consistently recognized nationally for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR’s client list includes Fortune 500 companies, federal and local government agencies, small businesses, hospitals, legislative bodies, developers, manufacturers and non-profits. Key to PRR’s success has been its multi-disciplinary approach—merging sound research, incisive strategy, sensitive outreach, and high impact creative services to change minds and behavior. There is not a single home in this region that has not been touched by the work of PRR.
PRR has been a communications pioneer:
- Serving as an early model for how social entrepreneurialism can work in a for profit context
- Using a cutting edge research and marketing tools for the purpose of public participation and engagement in decision-making
- Introducing some of the very first marketing and branding campaigns in the nation to increase recycling and create markets for those materials
- Saved water and energy by helping introduce American’s to ENERGY STAR products, front load washing machines, compact fluorescent bulbs, storm water management and a host of home and yard care products.
- Reduced violence against women, increased pedestrian safety, improved pediatric oral health literacy, trained medical examiners, helped communities prepare for disaster, children eat better and made schools safer
- Promoted car-sharing helped increase capacity on our roads, helped change how transportation is funded, redesigning the EPA’s Fuel Economy Label, increased ridership on trains and buses and hundreds more.
- Applying our subject matter expertise in planning, transportation and policy development to bring the public directly into land use and neighborhood planning has touched thousands of projects from Seattle’s new waterfront tunnel to the Bellingham Waterfront, Northgate, Rainier Vista, the Seattle Seawall project, Yesler Terrace redevelopment, the DC Streetcar Elizabeth River Tunnels in Virginia and South Lake Union).
- Helping companies like Starbucks and Nike advance their commitments to social responsibility through everyday business practices.
- Modeling our work and culture to benefit people, planet and place, well before the Corporate Social Responsibility movement institutionalized the term “triple bottom line” or “Community Based Social Marketing” or…
Today society faces unprecedented social and environmental challenges. PRR continues to respond with innovations that are measured by the results they generate. We are responding to the increased diversity of the country with culturally-appropriate ways to reach minority and immigrant populations. Our market research is increasingly sophisticated. We use computer enhanced visualization to help people understand project impacts and online town-hall meetings to gather input from people living across broad geographic areas. We are forging new kinds of public-private marketing partnership to make public dollars go further and business more successful.
Innovation will forever be integral to PRR’s DNA. We can’t help ourselves.
I will admit that there are probably easier ways of making money. But PRR has grown and thrived, and we have been able to attract and retain some unbelievable, multi-disciplinary talent. We’ve gotten a lot of industry recognition and we’ve made money, but along the way we’ve accomplished far more—for our community, our environment and for human health. None of PRR’s accomplishments would have been possible if it were not for the fact that PRR’s staff and leadership are personally and professionally aligned with the corporate mission of people, planet and place.
PRR’s core values are summed up in four words: Service, Community, Honor and Spark. We apply those values by doing great work for the greater good. It’s that simple.