By Brianna Ford
From founding his own digital media company to tearing up the tenor saxophone at a local reggae bar, JaRel Clay is a busy man. In addition to his varied interests, he juggles multiple responsibilities in his role as digital director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, where he leads the division’s digital organizing and online strategy to fight trade deals that benefit corporations at the expense of people. A Pittsburgh, Pa., native, Clay experienced inequality at all levels growing up, and had a close family experience with police brutality that jumpstarted his interest in public advocacy.
In 2008, Clay founded Clay and Group (C+G), a digital media strategy company to provide media services for small businesses set up to serve local communities. Following his graduation from Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in applied communication studies in 2011, Clay came to Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s degree in professional studies, public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University. After graduate school, Clay landed a job with Edelman, a global PR firm, but soon realized he was better suited for a career in the nonprofit world. He worked as a digital content manager for the Center for a New American Security before joining Public Citizen in 2017.
Q: What does your daily work involve?
Clay: As a digital director at Public Citizen, I create and implement the social media and web strategies for our Global Trade Watch program. That includes working with Public Citizen’s allies on Capitol Hill, in labor unions and consumer groups to amplify our message and mission. It also includes creating videos, designing graphics for social media, assisting our field team with action alerts and managing five websites and eight social media accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Q: How did you first become interested in the public relations field?
Clay: My interest in the public relations field stemmed from witnessing the power of social influence and the “court of public opinion” at a very early age. My father was a victim of police brutality in 2004, and his journey through physical recovery and redemption made me realize that beyond the mandates of the court, what and how you say things matter. My father ran a stop sign, and a policeman followed him home, threw him to the sidewalk, beat him and took him to jail. We sued the police department for misconduct, and for two years, our family was contacted by the media, politicians and civil rights organizations who urged us to “own our narrative” outside of the court. At the age of 12, I realized that if we wanted our family to get justice, we needed to present our father to the public with intention and strategy.
Q: What advice do you have for young professionals hoping to be successful in the communications or PR fields?
Clay: The best advice I can give to young professionals is to never stop learning. As you move along in your PR career, you learn that what worked just two years ago may be outdated today. I have witnessed the most success from practitioners who continue exploring new trends and fully embrace new approaches to community and online engagement.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
Clay: I enjoy creating new experiences with my son around the Washington, D.C., metro area, playing tenor saxophone at a reggae piano bar on U Street every third Saturday and having near-death experiences with my personal trainer twice a week.