UGA PRSSA hosts Ron DeFeo, Senior Vice President of Global Communications for American Airlines 

By: Sara Lawrence

Ron DeFeo, the Senior Vice President of Global Communications for American Airlines, was PRSSA’s guest speaker on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. DeFeo told us about his career and the different lessons he learned and steps he took to become successful in the field. 

DeFeo earned his undergraduate degree in communications at Depauw University with a Journalism focus, aiming to be a reporter when he first started. He only took one PR class and no business courses, which he later regretted. He wanted to start a full-time job, but instead settled for a $5 per hour internship at Cohn & Wolfe in Atlanta for 4 months, in which he learned his first lesson: play the long game.

DeFeo’s first real job was at Ketchum for 4 years, where he was educated in PR and client service. This job motivated him to get involved in the field of media relations, where he volunteered for Lowe’s Great Safety Adventure (a traveling exhibit that went around to local schools) and worked as a 24/7 media practitioner for 3 years. Here he learned to get to the core of the work. 

DeFeo agreed to work with the brand Clorox, where he had a serious tie to sales and his first introduction to brand managers. He started to see where communications fit in with business and learned how important it is to attach yourself to the business. DeFeo then took an honest look at himself and realized that he wanted to go back to school because he lacked business knowledge. He decided to pursue an MBA here at the UGA Terry College of Business which led to an internship at Cox. 

After this, he took a field job at Home Depot, where he once again decided to play the long game. DeFeo ended up spending 8.5 years here where he truly learned the craft of PR and moved up into leadership roles over the course of his employment. He took a Human Resources position that no one else wanted and learned to lean into the tough, hard assignments as he dealt with issues and crises in Director and Senior Director Roles. 

He loved his job at Home Depot but still wanted to grow and expand his skill sets, so he took a job as the Vice President of External Communications at Darden for 3.5 years. In this role, he dealt with a year-long proxy battle between two investors which resulted in a whole new board and the COO becoming the CEO. Even when things settled down, DeFeo still wanted to be tested. 

DeFeo took his most recent job as the Senior Vice President of Global Communications at American Airlines, and has spent 6 years here, with no plans of leaving soon. It is full of 24/7 action, with endless opportunities to help the business and teams, and requires navigation through all kinds of issues, which was most recently COVID. 

DeFeo was an amazing, successful speaker and left us with key lessons to keep in mind: 

  1. Play the long game 
  2. Get to the core of the work 
  3. Attach yourself to the business 
  4. Take an honest look at yourself 
  5. Lean into the tough, hard assignments 
  6. Attitude matters 
  7. Get outside perspectives from mentors and family 

Come join PRSSA on October 5th at 6:30 p.m. on zoom for our Student Internship Panel!