Early on in our PRSA-SV #FridayForum chat, Visa’s Head of Global Employee and Executive Communications Stacey Zolt Hara shares,
“First and foremost, I am a writer.”
From reporter to press secretary, and later as policy director for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), her focus was always on how to truly make something matter around the proverbial kitchen table. On campaign tours across rural Illinois, Zolt Hara recalls, “I spent a lot of time sitting in the backseat of the car, with newspapers in my lap, trying to understand what people cared about and trying to insert our narrative into the existing discourse, rather than creating something net new.”
Having started her career as a reporter for publications such as Roll Call, Zolt Hara experienced impostor syndrome early on and had to learn quickly how to move in the halls of power – a world that she was just starting to navigate. “My career had a step-stool approach to it, where aspects of one role overlapped with the next and then the next,” explains Zolt Hara.
She describes her move from politics into the agency world as “a rescue” from the punishing schedule and barely living wages of political reporting. She relished the agency experience, and learned how to sell by doing great work, nurturing relationships with clients and by growing teams that were “armies of happy warriors, in it for the win.”
Zolt Hara notes that, even though her experience working in Chicago could have been construed as very parochial, after moving overseas to Singapore, she found the same dynamics at play: ethnic and racial politics drove business engagement in community affairs in similar ways in Malaysia as it did in Illinois.
In her current role as leader of employee and executive comms at Visa, Zolt Hara takes a different look at the way executives engage with employees, applying what she learned from her policy and agency background. She focuses on the values that Visa has and how they express themselves within the company first and then externally.
In the current environment, after two years of turbulence and uncertainty, she appreciates that every employee brings their own lived experience to work. And that employers need to be extremely thoughtful about how they engage with their people and how often. To illustrate that, Zolt Hara shares that early on in the pandemic she sometimes worked from a treehouse that she had designed and built for her son – certainly not the first place you’d expect a comms leader to hold court.
Zolt Hara considers herself extremely fortunate to work for Visa, a company that takes action first and then tells the stories. Impact and DEI comms are part of her broader remit. Her approach is always to start within the four walls of the company to make change, ensure diversity and uphold values – and then extend it to the world. The Visa Black Scholars and Jobs program is just one of many examples of the company’s commitment to education and job creation for underrepresented communities.
To find out how you can join Stacey Zolt Hara and the VISA comms team, check out the VISA careers page: https://usa.visa.com/careers.html