Rachel Noerdlinger: The sky is most definitely the limit

Dec 31, 2009


Special to the AmNews

Published: Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:05 AM EST

There are some high profile positions at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) that are headed by young Black women. One of those women is Rachel Noerdlinger, the executive vice president of communications, who has been working for the civil rights organization for 11 years.

Noerdlinger, 39, told the Amsterdam News in a phone interview that every day for her at NAN is different.

Her day usually starts around 5:30 to 6 a.m. with a briefing with Rev. Sharpton on the day’s social issues that vary, especially with high incidences of gun violence in communities around the city lately, she said. Noerdlinger never really knows what she is going to have to tackle, but since there are 45 chapters around the country, she says NAN no longer has one agenda: It works on social justice issues around the country.

Noerdlinger, a single mother of a 13-year-old son named Khari, has an extensive and varied résumé in public relations that keeps on expanding.

She was appointed on the Diversity Advisory Board of Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising, marketing and public relations international agency, where she helps guide the agency on various aspects that impact people of color. Noerdlinger also works on the Madison Avenue initiative that she explained is a program with the National Action Network that looks at various corporations around the country and studies how they are working with communities of color, adding that since African-Americans and people of color are some of the biggest consumers, “it’s only right that we get a piece of the pie,” she said.

Noerdlinger is the executive producer of the annual Keepers of the Dream Award at NAN; does independent PR with law firms; has clients of her own; and is expanding into her own PR and consultation firm, Noerdlinger Media, which will focus on crisis management, event management, damage control, PR and consultation.

And her résumé will get a little longer to include author, since Noerdlinger is well into a memoir about her experience as a “trans-racially” adopted baby and how it has affected every aspect of her life. Noerdlinger was adopted by a white family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she was a baby. She will address, in her memoir, how she applies her unique background to her current life, along with topics about President Obama’s presidency and the theory of his influence on a “post-racial society.”

Talking about her background in the phone interview while she was on vacation with her family in Colorado, Noerdlinger said, “When I was younger, I was somewhat of a chameleon and sort of blended in anywhere I went. Later in life, I think it made me much more appreciative of diversity in the country.”

And in the world of PR, which Noerdlinger says comes naturally to her because of her background, she has had clients such as the late Johnnie Cochran and handled Rev. Al Sharpton’s presidential campaign in 2004 as his press secretary.

Reflecting on that experience, she says it was a really intense time in her life, but at the same time very rewarding.

“For one, it was a whole new exposure to the aspect of the media that I had never been exposed to. When you’re dealing with political reporters and political pundits, you really have to sharpen your skills. Each day we were under public scrutiny in terms of every move that we made and being judged in some way.”

Although Noerdlinger successfully tackled that new endeavor, she admits that when she entered the field of public relations, she did not have any experience.

After leaving college, she was in limbo about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Graduating from Mills College, an all-girl school in California, she went on to grad school at Teachers College of Columbia University. She said it “just seemed like the natural next step” after teaching various subjects to middle school students in Gambia, West Africa, in a program. She then got accepted to Columbia and came to New York City in 1993, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“It was just too theoretical, too abstract—too many books, just too much,” she said.

“I had no PR background whatsoever, but a friend of mine, when I was at Columbia grad school, mentioned to me that he had heard of this woman name Terrie Williams and that her firm was accepting interns, and I wanted a desperate out.”

She didn’t really have too much background on Williams, the public relations “guru” and author of “Black Pain; It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” but got an internship from Williams that very same day.

She ended up working with Williams for eight years, eventually becoming vice president of the Terrie Williams agency. Sharpton came in as a client to the Terrie Williams agency where Noerdlinger and Rev. Sharpton “developed an amazing rapport,” and the rest is history in the making.

Even though some people may have doubted her ability in public relations, especially after leaving grad school, she says she continued to press forward.

“I am an athlete. I was a tomboy growing up, so any obstacle I see as a challenge. I’ve always looked at life like that,” she said. “So it was more of an incentive for me to succeed.”

You can contact Rachel Noerdlinger at [email protected] and