Alumni Spotlight: Brandon Wilson, '02, President and CEO of Wilbron, Inc.
Brandon Wilson, APR (Accreditation in Public Relations), is the President and CEO of Wilbron – a public relations and creative agency committed to positively impacting businesses, communities, and the lives of others. Wilson, ’02 (Corporate Journalism), has been instrumental in establishing community relations for Birmingham Education Foundation, and implementing Career Academies at Birmingham City Schools. As a result of this work, Career Academies experience a 40% increase in student enrollment each year. Wilbron is the national agency of record for INROADS, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization for preparing underserved youth for corporate leadership.
We caught up with Wilson on a recent visit to Auburn, where he served as a panelist for the student chapter of PRSA.
How did you choose to attend Auburn?
I applied to Auburn University as a result of a bet.
While I was in high school my family was constantly faced with issues related to poverty. One of the most severe plights of our poverty was having to manage homelessness during the start of my senior year.
Understandably, as a result of my personal circumstances, choosing a college was not very high on my list of priorities. That changed when one of my teachers, an Auburn alumna, challenged me to complete a college application. She bet me $20 that I wouldn't complete and return the Auburn University admissions application by the time her class period ended. In need of the money, I took her up on the challenge. With a smile, she handed me $20 once I completed the application, and then quickly took it back because it was needed to cover the application fee.
Months later, while my family and I were staying at a truck stop motel in Birmingham, I received mail from Auburn University. Stamped on the envelope, in gold foil letters, was the word “Congratulations!” I’d been accepted into Auburn University.
That was the moment my entire life changed. And that $20 was the best money I’d never won.
How did you choose your major?
Inspired by the same teacher that challenged me to apply to Auburn University, I enrolled in the College of Agriculture. As background, this teacher was the adviser of my high school’s FFA chapter (formerly known as Future Farmers of America). FFA is a non-profit organization that promotes careers in agriculture. My initial major was agricultural journalism.
However, once enrolled, I was unable to secure any scholarships in the College of Agriculture.
Quite randomly, I received a call from a professor in the School of Communications and Journalism. He was so interested in having me enroll that as part of his encouragement, he offered me his support and guidance in applying to become a New York Times scholar. I accepted his offer, applied, and earned the scholarship. I accepted the scholarship offer and became a corporate journalism major.
What was your Auburn experience like (what did you do as a student? Organizations you belonged to?)
My time as a student at Auburn University was quite unconventional. As a student employee for the Office of Student Affairs, I often worked closely with the late President William F. Walker, and served as a student liaison to him and other leaders relative to policy issues (and from time to time I had the pleasure of riding on Auburn University's private jet).
Memories of my time working with President Walker, and others, serve as pillars of my incredible Auburn experience.
Before serving as a student representative for the Office of Student Affairs, I served on the cabinet for Auburn University’s Student Government Association, and became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Do you have a favorite Auburn memory?
One of the fondest memories I have of my time at Auburn University is being awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award— the highest leadership honor given by Auburn University each year. Each year, the award is given to one female student, one male student, and a non-student who exemplify qualities of selflessness and leadership.
What was your career/academic path after graduation?
Auburn University prepared me for career success. The leadership values instilled in me during my time at Auburn University helped me smoothly make the transition from intern to employee at a public relations agency in Birmingham. One of the first clients I served was Subway— the national sandwich chain. This experience provided me with the courage to start my own public relations agency in 2006.
Did the College of Liberal Arts prepare you for this path?
If so, how?
In addition to gaining transferable skills like leadership and hard work, the College of Liberal Arts provided me with an education that gave me the technical skills, knowledge, and capabilities needed to compete and distinguish myself from my peers. The education I received from Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts was unrivaled. That education helped me quickly propel the ranks of the communications industry to become an influencer.
As an employer, what qualifications do you seek in a job candidate?
As an employer, I am most impressed with job candidates who are curious. I believe that having an appetite for new knowledge is vital to success in the communications industry. We are living in a time of tremendous transition in the communications industry. This transition is predicated, in large part, by the influence of sharable content and social media platforms. Job candidates who are curious and eager to explore innovative communications platforms will be well positioned for career success.
What advice would you like to share with today’s College of Liberal Arts student?
Question everything. And in doing so, reach out to industry leaders to request informational interviews. One might be surprised at how open and willing established communications professionals might be to honor such requests.
Can you talk about a moment in your life when being a liberal arts grad made the difference in a professional situation? (i.e., a job interview?)
Being an Auburn University Liberal Arts graduate has helped me make relationship inroads with so many accomplished communications executives and professionals. Early in my career, this benefit was quite significant. My first job in public relations was offered to me by an Auburn University College of Liberal Arts graduate. I am forever grateful to him for giving me an opportunity.
Do you find that most employers prefer candidates with a liberal arts background? If so, what kinds of qualities do liberal arts grads possess that give them the edge?
I will resist the temptation to speak broadly about other industries. However, what I do know is that the diversity of curriculum offerings in the College of Liberal Arts is such that it prepares well-rounded graduates. My time at Auburn University exposed me to the theories that solidify newsroom convergence; the philosophies that protect journalistic integrity; technical applications of journalism and photography; and helped me become proficient using broadcast newsroom equipment.
Graduates of Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts have every opportunity to develop a plethora of skills and knowledge that will benefit them in their career of choice.
In what ways do you think that alumni can give back to the College?
Alumni should always give money to support Auburn University when possible. However, there is no greater investment than time spent with students. Through organizations like Public Relations Society of America, alumni can remain connected to students and use the platforms provided to them through professional organizations to pass along experiences and guidance to help prepare the next generation of industry leaders.
Last Updated: May 17, 2017