Leah Seay is an issues management spokesperson at Amazon, where she serves as Amazon Operations’ main media contact for litigation, theft, global social media issues, and customer service issues – dealing with the company’s most difficult scenarios. Prior to Amazon, Seay worked at General Motors (GM) where she led state and local public policy communications in Washington, D.C., executed creative campaigns for the Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet brand communications teams in Detroit, Michigan, and managed manufacturing and labor communications at the Flint Metal Center, in Flint, Michigan. Her career highlights at GM include hosting the global reveal of the first-ever mid-engine Corvette and managing a cross-country manufacturing roadshow for GM’s CEO and Executive Vice President of Manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of work she is an active mentor through The LAGRANT Foundation and the 2021 chair of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Emerging Leaders Committee.
What professional steps did you take to get to where you are now?
While there have been multiple steps that have led me to where I am today, one of the most important has been insisting on the highest standards in everything I do. When I was in middle school, my mom hung a sign above my bedroom door that says, “Whatever you are, be a good one,” and that still sticks with me today. This motto has remained foundational to my career, and has driven me to dive in 100% to every opportunity I’m given.
My first role out of college was in public policy communications at General Motors, and while I was excited, I was HORRIFIED that I had zero policy experience. I was working in an office full of senior executives who had decades of experience on the Hill, and I was responsible for counseling them on the company’s state and local policy communications strategy. This was clearly a sink or swim situation. So, I focused on learning everything I could about public policy – subscribing to policy media outlets, attending local events, building relationships with policy experts in D.C. (I even spent weekends reading legal dictionaries, which I slightly cringe as I say this). Within months I became a go-to resource for my leaders and was confident consulting on strategy for complex topics like autonomous vehicles and legislation.
This motto is in the back of my mind each time I take on a new assignment. Whether I’m working at a brand on a new product launch, or managing global issues, I’m persistent about being immersed in that space and seeking opportunities to learn, which allows me to be a strategic counselor for my business partners.
Follow up, looking back, was there an inflection point of growth?
While I still have a lot to learn, a good deal of my growth has been driven by raising my hand for tough assignments and looking around corners. Throughout my career, I’ve taken on rigorous projects that I wasn’t necessarily qualified for, but was confident enough to tackle anyways. Thankfully, I’ve had great leaders who’ve empowered me to trust my instincts and have championed my tenacity.
One of my favorite assignments to date was hosting the global reveal of the first-ever mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette - the most anticipated vehicle reveal in GM history. Just weeks before the event, the team was finalizing the show and hadn’t selected a host for the reveal – a tremendous responsibility usually given to senior leaders or experts at talent agencies. In an attempt to help solve a problem for my leaders, but doubting I’d actually make the cut, I raised my hand for the role (mind you I had never done broadcast previously…not even a class in college). After learning about the team’s needs, I laid out why I was a strong choice, gained leaders’ approval, and landed the gig. I wrote my own content, traveled to Tustin, California and hosted the reveal in front of a live audience and hundreds of thousands of people who joined online across the globe.
One piece of advice that you would give your younger self?
Choose a strong tribe. I’ve always valued community but have come to cherish this even more as I’ve grown older. My friends encourage me, ask me tough questions, and aren’t afraid to call me on my BS. They provide diversity of thought and challenge me to invest deeply in my people, passion and purpose.
What does mentorship mean to you? And how has it impacted you personally?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors who have played a pivotal role in each season of my life. They provide valuable coaching and feedback that I likely wouldn’t get elsewhere. I’ve also found great value in having a diverse group of mentors to provide differing perspectives.
Because I’ve experienced the power of mentorship first-hand, I’ve committed to paying it forward to others. I mentor public relations professionals and students, both informally and formally, through The LAGRANT Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to increasing the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations.
For those interested in learning about how to get the most out of mentoring relationships, The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations has a great resource guide on the topic!
How has COVID-19 affected your role at Amazon, particularly as an issues management spokesperson?
I joined the team in the middle of the pandemic, so navigating a new role virtually was my greatest hill to climb. I love in-person brainstorms, coffee catch-ups, and being able to lean over and get a teammate’s gut check on a statement - all of which isn’t possible right now. Thankfully, we’ve managed to find alternative ways to maintain our innovative and collaborative culture, so I’ve adjusted with ease.
Any predictions for the future? Where do you see the industry going?
Without a doubt, the future of PR is data-driven. Each day PR professionals use data and research to study trends, guide storytelling, and support strategy. I expect to see more of this as company’s lean into hiring practitioners who aren’t just great writers but are people who can quickly analyze data to help businesses make informed decisions.
Where can we find you?
Trying a new brunch recipe, at barre or spin class (virtually for now), or volunteering through The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. I love building relationships and am always open to connecting on Linkedin.