Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of spotlights highlighting the work of some of our alumni in celebration of Black History Month. Please watch for more profiles in the weeks to come.
Simone Banna works as a strategic partnerships manager in sports for Twitch, a live streaming platform for gaming and sports. Before joining Twitch, Banna worked for five years with the National Basketball Association, where she focused on digital strategy and content partnership. Banna graduated magna cum laude from Grady College in 2014 with a degree in public relations.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
To me, Black History Month is the acknowledgment of the rich, nuanced history of Black people in the United States. More importantly, Black History Month is a celebration of Black people and Black culture. In recent years, the latter has become even more critical. Beyond the sometimes painful history of Black people in the United States, there are incredible moments, traditions and trends by Black people that deserve to be celebrated.
What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success as a career professional?
The on-campus organization that I credit with jump-starting my career was Creative Consultants. Creative Consultants was Grady College’s student-run PR agency that connected ambitious PR students with businesses and nonprofits in the greater Athens community.
While internships and on-campus jobs provide great experience, the average college student rarely gets an opportunity to grow a business. Through Creative Consultants, I was an account executive for an Athens-based yoga company. Our team provided sophisticated PR, marketing and digital services that had a measurable impact on the business. That was incredible experience to speak to in interviews, especially as a college sophomore.
I recall my interview for my internship at the NBA, and the hiring manager basically asked, “Do you have any non-yoga related examples?” Although I had several internships at the time, the experience I got through Creative Consultants was the most translatable to the “real world.”
What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?
I firmly believe that one way to overcome racial inequality in the United States is to create opportunities for Black people. Recently, tech giant Apple announced a hub for historically Black colleges and universities in my hometown of Atlanta, a developer academy in Detroit and a venture capital fund for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. To me, this was an incredible example of a company creating opportunities for Black people.
As a Black woman in sports, entertainment and tech/media, I recognize that Black people have been some of the biggest contributors to these spaces (e.g., #BlackTwitter). Professionally, it has become even more critical that I advocate for monetary investments that create opportunities for Black creators, Black athletes, Black musicians, etc.
What advice would you give to young students of color who will soon enter the workforce?
As a Black person, a woman and the daughter of an immigrant, I was programmed to believe that I would never have any power over my career. I’d often hear that I’d be rewarded if I kept my head down, worked hard and played the game.
My advice for young students of color entering the workforce is to understand that you can control your career. In my six years since graduation, I’ve learned that being passive will stall career growth. Be active and take control of your career. That means – network, ask for that six-figure salary, pitch your idea to your company (or another company), move to another city, dump that job if you’re not developing.
My other piece of somewhat-related advice is to figure out what you want in your career — and your life — early on. Don’t fall into the trap of only aspiring to be a VP with a corner office managing a team of 10. Figure out what would make you truly happy and chase that.
What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?
The two most impactful Grady College courses that I took were public relations administration with professor Lynne Sallot and public relations research with Professor Kaye Sweetser.
PR administration trained me to think about PR as a complement to business strategy. The main project in PR administration was a comprehensive PR audit of a publicly-traded Fortune 500 company. That one major assignment laid the foundation for how I’ve leveraged my PR background in my career to focus on strategic partnerships and branding that helps companies and entities achieve real business goals.
Professor Sweetser was ahead of her time with her PR research course curriculum. In 2013, I learned about data and analytics, social media, social media analytics, reporting, SPSS and marketing research in her class. The skill set that I formed in Professor Sweetser’s PR research class has been critical to my career growth.
February 3, 2021 Editor:
Megan Mittelhammer, Megan.Mittelhammer@uga.edu