Finding a Place to Belong

Michelle Olson believes in the power of community, of being part of something bigger than herself. “You can make anything better when you feel like you belong,” she says.

This belief has framed her professional life in the public relations industry and provided a foundation for her volunteer life.

Olson is a notable business leader and entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience in public relations and integrated marketing. She is currently managing partner at Lambert, a full-service communications firm with offices in Michigan, Texas, New York and Arizona.

A 1985 graduate of MSUM, she was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 2021.

Olson’s interest in public relations was sparked when a high school guidance counselor told her the field would give her opportunities to write, plan events and get active in her community. MSUM had a strong public relations program, so Olson applied – albeit late.

As a result, she spent her first year living in a cold basement apartment while working several jobs to pay tuition. She had little time to make friends or get involved in campus life. She wanted to return home to the Twin Cities area, but her mother refused to let her quit.

“Part of my resilient nature comes from that first year,” Olson says. “Life got much better after that.”

Her sophomore year, Olson moved to on-campus housing. She joined the campus chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), the national organization for students interested in public relations and communications.

“These were the people just like me,” Olson says. “They wanted to tell stories and write.”

She poured her energies into PRSSA, eventually winning third place in a national contest and being elected Midwest district director, a position that allowed her to travel around the country. These were possible because of her MSUM experiences, which included multiple internships and opportunities for chapter leadership.

“I found my community,” Olson says. “This was where I was supposed to be.”

As a professional, Olson has developed communications strategies across industries, with particular expertise in healthcare, land use, hospitality and sustainability. She launched her career in Minneapolis, but made her mark in Arizona where she has established relationships with business leaders, government staff and officials, influencers and media.

In 2002, she started her own agency and moved into a home office where she built a desk from two file cabinets and a broken door.

One of her first big projects was opening an arena for the Arizona Coyotes, a National Hockey League team. Later, her firm helped to open a sustainable ranching community in Colorado – a project that later led to working with Clint Eastwood on his plans for a sustainable community in California.

In 2014, she sold her company, which had grown to a staff of 13, to a New York-based agency.

She credits her success, partially, to staying curious. It’s a quality she encourages newcomers to the public relations field to embrace.

“Curiosity can lead you down some wonderful paths,” she says. “You can’t know everything, but you can ask a lot of questions.”

This year, Olson is chair of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the national trade organization she first joined as a student. She also has served as advisor for the organization’s student body and mentors students and young people interested in the career.

She volunteers because she appreciates the mentorship she found as a student and young professional. These are the communities that helped her on her journey, the communities that helped her belong. And it all started at MSUM.

As a part of this year's MSUM Giving Day (Oct. 28, 2021), Michelle and Jody Olson are providing a $1,000 matching gift for PRSSA when 10 donors give to the School of Communication and Journalism.

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