Alumni Award Profile: Yolanda Taylor Brignoni

Alumni Award Profile: Yolanda Taylor Brignoni

April 17, 2023

The following is one installment of a series recognizing alumni and friends who will be honored at the 2023 Grady Salutes celebration on April 28, 2023. For more details, please see our posts about our Fellowship honorees, Alumni Award recipients and Dean’s Medalist.

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Congratulations to Yolanda Taylor Brignoni (ABJ ‘98), recipient of the 2023 Mid-Career Achievement Award.

Brignoni is the VP of External Affairs and Communications at Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), a nonprofit organization working to prevent pediatric HIV infection and eliminate pediatric AIDS.

Brignoni has more than two decades of experience directing strategic communications campaigns for government, corporate and nonprofit clients. Through these campaigns, she works to motivate action and fuel social change; she is passionate about helping others and making a difference in the world around her.

An active member in many organizations, Brignoni is involved in ColorComm, Public Relations Society of America and Jack and Jill of America. She was also handpicked to serve on the communications board for Optum Labs, and in 2020, she was selected to be on the Forbes Communications Council. 

Brignoni interviews Ebony Thomas, now president of the Bank of America Foundation, about the importance of Juneteenth as part of Axios’ “View from the Top” executive series.

Brignoni has won several awards for her work in communications and journalism, including recognitions from Adweek, PR News, PRWeek and the Georgia Press Association.

Prior to working at EGPAF, Brignoni served as the head of communications for Axios Media, and the organization won its first Emmy under her leadership.

Brignoni graduated from UGA with Bachelor’s degrees in Newspapers and International Affairs, and she received her Master of Public Administration from George Washington University. She is inspired by her family and attributes her success to her hard work and curiosity.

What experience during your time at Grady College had the biggest influence on where you are today?

Grady offered me opportunities to explore all of my career interests – writing, storytelling, journalism, politics, international affairs – in one place. I wrote for The Red & Black, interned in the public relations department at the Georgia Museum of Art, and even looked into becoming a DJ for a campus station. Grady also helped me secure a summer internship in Sen. Max Cleland’s press office that completely cemented my love for politics, foreign affairs, and all things DC. With each opportunity, I gained real-world experience and a better understanding of what would be a good fit for me once I left college.

What skills, values and/or circumstances do you attribute to your success?

Curiosity and hard work. I have always been curious about the world and its people – how things came to be and what makes people tick. The hunger for knowledge led me to continue my education in graduate school and to be constantly seeking new opportunities to learn new things and expand my skill-set. Coupled with my curiosity, I have an incredibly strong work ethic. From a young age, my parents stressed to me that you do the best job you can do at whatever you are assigned. I carried that with me into my working life too. Transitioning from newspapers to public relations required a big learning curve; I threw myself into every task – eager to learn. I would volunteer to do whatever I could in order to be exposed to new aspects of the industry and learn. I knew I did not know everything, but no one could outwork me and I knew practice made progress. That can-do attitude, and dedication to excellence, opened doors for me. Executives would seek me out to add me to their team, and as my reputation grew, additional opportunities followed. I would also credit my Southern upbringing and values for my success. Southerners pride themselves on being honest and living with integrity. Those values are the foundation of how I have lived my life. The reporters – and colleagues – I have worked with know that they can depend on me to give them what I can when I can – straight with no PR “spin.” I treat people how I’d like to be treated.

Brignoni smiles for a picture at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2022 while serving as Axios Media’s head of communications.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

I would tell her that everything will not go according to her plan, but she will be so much better for it. I was (and still am, to some extent) a big planner, and I had my whole post-collegiate life mapped out. I was going to be a newspaper reporter who worked her way up to a big newsroom such as The New York Times or The Washington Post. But six months after starting my first journalism job after graduation, my paper closed down, and a few months later, I was back home and at The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga). The Telegraph was my hometown paper where I interned during high school and during UGA breaks. I never thought I would be back there; it definitely wasn’t part of my plan. But it ended up being the best thing for me at the time. I became much more connected to my craft and was surrounded by a community who taught me, loved me, and nurtured me. When I left Macon to come to Washington, DC, for my first job in public relations, I knew I was ready for whatever DC would throw at me. My time in Macon taught me that situations that at first look like setbacks can also be opportunities – to grow, stretch and learn. Now, instead of being so focused on what is next, I try to enjoy the present and embrace whatever lesson I am meant to learn at that stop on my journey.

What motivates you?

I describe myself as a do-gooder who knows how to get things done. I am most inspired and energized by work that helps others – whether supporting global women and girls at the United Nations Foundation, arming people age 50+ with health information to live their best lives at the AARP, or now, at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, fighting for an AIDS-free generation. It’s a privilege to use the skills that I have to make a difference in the world around me.

What does this recognition mean to you?

Brignoni (middle left) takes a picture with staff of the United Nations Foundation at a charity launch benefiting the UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign: a global effort to highlight UN programs for adolescent girls. The national tour won PR News’ 2011 award for launch public activities.

It is such an honor to be recognized by an institution that has shaped so many heroes of mine, including Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Deborah Roberts, and Maria Taylor. These are women who look like me, had similar dreams as mine, and have gone on to live extraordinary lives. Grady grounded me and helped set me on the path I am on now. Would I be living and working in Washington, DC, now if I had not first attended a summer political journalism program at Georgetown University? Would I have known it was even possible to go to DC if I had not first had Grady and Baldwin College professors who believed in me and championed me for that program? I would hope so, but I am extremely grateful that I had UGA’s support behind me as I took that first step. I hope my story will be an inspiration for others as they venture out into the working world.

Tickets to Grady Salutes: Celebrating Achievement, Leadership and Commitment on April 28, 2023, are available for purchase. Register here.