MICHELLE-ANN Letman is a storyteller. She has built a reputation as the “PR Belle”, not only because she turns heads when she walks into a room, but because of her unique ability to uncover and tell the beautiful stories that matter. As the manager of public relations (PR) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Sagicor Jamaica, Letman has brought national attention to countless stories about others, for a variety of reasons. Her own story, too, is one that is worthy of being told.
Letman, who spent most of her childhood in Irish Pen, Spanish Town, was one of the more disruptive students at St Catherine High School until she started fourth form.
“I always tell people: Your start doesn't define you,” she began as she spoke with All Woman, admitting that it was a bit nerve-wracking to be sharing her own story for once. “I was a rebellious child. I've always been a bright girl, but I didn't focus in high school. I was a backtalker.
“In grade 10 I met a lovely teacher named Donna Vernon. She was my English teacher, and she was sassy. I saw her and thought: 'Well, she is sassy. She is being herself, and she is succeeding.' That's when I really got focused.”
Letman excelled in the arts and communication, and became the only student to matriculate to the Caribbean School of Media and Communication from her alma mater in 2005. She thought she wanted to be a journalist.
“I didn't know what it really meant to be a journalist, but growing up I was always fascinated by the fact that people's names were in the paper,” she recalled. “I wanted my name there. I wanted to write stories that everybody reads.”
By the time she got around to choosing her course, however, Letman found herself studying public relations instead.
“Though I wanted to be a journalist, I thought I could already write so it wouldn't hurt to learn something new,” she reasoned.
That confidence and audacity that caused her to leap boldly into the unknown has guided her steps to this day, along with her ambition to rise beyond where she was coming from.
“I've always been driven by not wanting to be poor,” the younger daughter of a taxi operator and a domestic worker said passionately. “I didn't want to become a product of my circumstances.”
Before moving into PR, however, the belle received her baptism in media as a reporter at the 186-year-old Gleaner, where she learnt valuable lessons and earned lifelong friends.
“But outside of the Gleaner as a foundation, my first real taste of corporate life was with Courts Jamaica Limited,” she said. “When I went to Courts in 2011 as a PR and promotions officer, I reported to the director of marketing. My boss at the time, Janet Sylvester, taught me so much in terms of discipline and being focused.”
It was rough going at first, and Letman was even put on extended probation until she came up to scratch, but within a year she had found her footing and was making strides. She left Courts in 2014 and did a stint with the Guardian group, before finding a home at Sagicor, where she has been for over three years.
“There is nothing wrong with not coming out the gate strong, because it's a learning process. You're going to learn along the way. It is about what you do with feedback. For me, when somebody gives me feedback, it means the person cares about me. It means they want to see you do better and excel,” she said in reflection.
“Sagicor has been my most extensive growth at this stage in my career and stands out as a milestone, as it is the longest place I have ever worked to date,” Letman, who was assistant manager of PR and CSR until January when she was promoted, added.
Her journey has not been perfect, but nonetheless it has been beautiful, the PR Belle said.
“Belle is significant to me because it signifies beauty, and beauty for me represents always doing your best and letting your light shine through your talents and the gifts that you have been blessed with.”
Through her Everyday Boss Belles feature series, Letman is also shining the light on other women who are doing their best to fulfil their purpose with passion.
“ Everyday Boss Belles was conceptualised out of my love of sharing human interest stories about people and their passions, and the inspiration behind why they do what they do,” she said. “I decided to focus on women because of the many women I see around me who I admire and who are doing great things. I believe it is important to support and celebrate other women.”
The series, which is being rolled out today, will share the stories of Alysia White, assistant vice-president and head of group marketing at Sagicor Group Jamaica; Sandrina Davis, country manager, International Samaritan Jamaica; Stacy-Ann Williams Smith, PR professional and creator and host of It's A Woman's World; Charissa Clemetson, digital and brand experience expert and freelance make-up artist; Dania Beckford, founder of Broadtail Designs and brand communicator; and Debbie Bissoon, media personality and entrepreneur.
The PR Belle, who is working on a book that chronicles some of her experiences and lessons learnt along her journey, is more audacious now than she has ever been.
“Perfection for me is not the aim,” she said. “Being a belle is about beauty — for me, that's beauty in just showing up and being myself. Every woman can be a belle. Beauty is everything I am in my profession, everything I am to my family, and everything I am to my friends. It's achieving and doing my best. It's no longer 'I want to do something'. It's 'I'm going to do this. I'm done trying. I'm just doing, because that's the only way I am going to learn'.”