A Tight Family's Ties in Public Relations

A Tight Family's Ties in Public Relations
Allyson Pittman Gattin

Allyson Pittman Gattin choked up a little describing the small professional pin she got in February from her mother, Stacy Sells, a veteran communicator who had received it from her own father, Little Rock PR pioneer Bob Sells, in 1996.

“I get emotional when it comes to my grandfather,” said Gattin, whose pin says “APR, accredited in public relations.”

She represents a rare third generation in one family to gain accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America, a first in Arkansas and perhaps in the nation.

“My biological father passed away when I was 3 weeks old after a car crash with a drunken driver,” Gattin said. “My grandfather and grandmother stepped up to help raise me. I was very close with them, and I got a little emotional when I did my presentation, and I’m getting sentimental now talking about it.”

Bob Sells would take little Allyson to work with him sometimes at Southwestern Bell in Little Rock, where he led communications for 30 years. After retirement, he started the forerunner of the Sells Agency in Little Rock, now run by son Mike Sells, and taught university-level PR. He died in June 2017, just 31 days before his wife of 60 years, Georgia Sells, followed him. “It was a very rough time for the family,” Gattin said.

Five years later, Gattin has grandpa’s pin and a strong foothold in the family business. She started a new job last week as public relations director at The Peacock Group in Little Rock.

“Families share many traditions,” Stacy Sells said, pointing to dynasties in medicine, law and politics. “We seem to be drawn to … PR and marketing. I think it was simply the dinner-table effect. A day in the life of a PR practitioner is never the same. It’s an easy career to become attracted to.”

Gattin agreed. “Over the years I soaked in so much from my grandfather, mother and uncle.” But like her relatives, Gattin did not choose PR at first.

She followed her grandfather’s footsteps studying journalism at the University of Missouri, envisioning a broadcasting career. Then she discovered the school’s strategic communications and PR offerings.

Bob Sells had planned “a bold career in journalism,” but that “lasted five years before he was drafted into the PR field,” Stacy Sells said. “He recruited me to work for his one-man PR practice, and then I was able to learn from the master.”

Growing up, “Mike was going to be an actor or a preacher; he went into PR,” Stacy Sells said with a warm, raspy laugh. “He’s a wonderful man. If he weren’t my brother, he would still be my best friend.”

Stacy Sells works from home now, mainly writing, a decade after an advanced breast cancer diagnosis began a long-odds march to recovery. One reason her father drew her into PR was to help ease her pain as a young widow.

“And when I pinned his pin on Allyson, I felt that her grandfather was there, and proud of her,” Stacy Sells said.

Bob Sells was a giant in the local PR industry: Arkansas PRSA chapter president, chairman of the group’s Southwest District, and eventually a member of the PRSA College of Fellows. The local annual PR excellence awards named their best of show prize the Bob Sells Award.

Gattin’s job at The Peacock Group closes another loop in the family circle. Twenty years ago, as an agency executive, Stacy Sells hired Denver Peacock at the prominent Little Rock marketing firm CJRW.

“It was a courtesy interview when Denver was coming back from Washington,” Stacy Sells remembered. “I had allotted a half-hour for it. Two hours later, I got up from our talk, walked down the hall and said I was hiring this guy.”

So hiring Gattin was the perfect twist, Peacock said. “It’s really meaningful to me that 20 years after Allyson’s mother hired me at CJRW, I got the unique opportunity to hire her daughter.”

Two other APR honorees joined Gattin this year, Mary Claire Hill of MHP/Team SI in Little Rock and Douglas Shackelford of Central Arkansas Water. They were pinned by Keli Jacobi, the Little Rock chapter’s APR chair and a lecturer of public relations at UCA. The local chapter consistently has one of the best APR success rates in the nation.

Meanwhile, Gattin has her hands full with the new job and two daughters under 5. “We have 4-and-a-half-year-old Nora Grace and 1-and-a-half-year-old Willa,” she said, “fiery and spirited, like everyone in the family.” Their dad, Ryan Gattin, is a Little Rock financial adviser.

Grandma Stacy is already looking ahead. “I’m anxious to see what careers Allyson’s two daughters will pursue.”