The Importance of doing the work before leading the work

MSU Strategic Communication graduate, Cassie Cotton, has become the inaugural President of Lansing-based public relations agency, Piper & Gold. This makes her a prime example of how to work your way to the top, and shows the importance of doing the work before leading the work.

Cassie Cotton, President of Piper & Gold

After being hired on as an entry level account executive in 2018, Cotton quickly connected with the CEO and the agencies’ goals of striving to be impact driven and help make a difference not only in the local community, but nation-wide through communications work.

Moving upward

In the years following, Cotton made leaps upward, moving into a senior level executive role, transitioning to a people and talent management role, soon after to the chief of staff, and then into the company’s first presidency role last year.

Piper & Gold Team Photo


“When you’re able to have open conversations with leadership, they’re able to envision you as a part of that leadership journey for that organization’s success,” said Cotton.

She shares the secret to climbing your way to the top is really in finding an organization whose mission you connect with, and then living out that mission and those values every day.

“The CEO and I had a lot of dialogue around what I wanted out of my career journey, and we were able to roadmap what the future could look like for both me and the organization together,” said Cotton.

Cotton praises Piper & Gold for being a people centric organization, and touches on the importance and continued work of cultivating a culture where you invest in your people. In their case, this dual leadership model has been a great way to support both their employees and their clients.

Doing the work, and then leading the work

When it comes to communications specifically, she talks about how being a strong practitioner in the field first, is essential. Having the experience of being in the weeds and doing the work, with everything from social, to media relations, to community engagement, etc. set her up for success when she then transitioned into a leadership role and started leading that same work.

“It was important to ground myself in the tools and the skills of the role first, and then look for what’s next in those leadership opportunities," said Cotton.

The P&G team with their winning PACE Awards. This is mid-Michigan’s highest honor of public relations awarded annually to practitioners who have successfully addressed a contemporary issue with exemplary professional skill, creativity and resourcefulness.


Gaining formal training

Cotton’s journey to grad school really began when she kept finding herself leading teams, and coming into managing positions, but without any formal training. She knew education could help open more doors for her.

The StratCom program’s flexibility, along with our organizational leadership class options are what really stuck out to her.

“When I took the Catalyst Thinking in the C-Suite course it allowed me to really visualize what my future could look like in a leadership position within communications. It literally created that blueprint for me,” said Cotton.

Cassie Cotton and fellow StratCom classmate, Danielle Deneau at graduation.

Expanding your skillset and your network

Cotton speaks to her appreciation of the people she connected with during her time in the program, and even after. She explains how the faculty have always been very available for support post-graduation, and to even just run things by them as industry professionals.

“When I’m thinking about hiring for positions within our own agency, often the first place I go to look is StratCom because I know the rigors of the program and the types of skills you’re learning,” said Cotton. “The quality of candidates that come out of the program I’ve always been impressed with.”

What’s next?

“I believe inequities exist and I think that communications play a pivotal role in our society in changing and impacting those,” said Cotton.

She explains how this is her main motivation behind continuing to impact her community while moving forward in her career.

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